Celebrating the Life of Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia

BERKELEY, UNITED STATES - MAY 22: Jerry Garcia performing with the Grateful Dead at the Greek Theater in Berkeley on May 22, 1982.
Clayton Call/Redferns

On August 9th, the world will celebrate the life of legendary artist Jerry Garcia. Garcia passed away 28 years ago to the day. Chances are, if you were going to concerts from the late 1960s through the 1990s you’ve seen Jerry Garcia perform. Garcia, the legendary artist who co-founded the Grateful Dead, performed 2,314 shows in his life, and might have performed more had Garcia and the band not dealt with exhaustion and health issues. The world-famous guitarist was also known for being the principal songwriter and vocalist for the 2006 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award-winning band. Since Garcia was born on August 1st and passed away on August 9th, Deadheads everywhere use the phrase “Days Between” to celebrate the life of the legend.

GRATEFUL DAWG, Jerry Garcia, 2000.

©Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy Everett Collection

Garcia was perhaps always meant to be a famous musician, given his parents named him after famous Broadway composer Jerome Kern. Garcia’s dad was a retired professional musician when he had Jerry, even further creating a path for Garcia to grow up and follow in his footsteps. When Garcia was just four years old, he and his older brother were outside chopping wood for their dad, but while they were playing a game with the axe, his brother accidentally chopped off most of Garcia’s middle finger.

Garcia was determined to not let the injury affect his life too much, even saying he used the missing digit as an advantage when he was a kid and showed it off to other kids in his neighborhood. The injury became so synonymous with Garcia that fans of the Grateful Dead will get merchandize with the outline of the hand with the missing finger, including my dad, who still has a bumper sticker with the creepy-looking outline.

GRATEFUL DEAD: MEET-UP AT THE MOVIES, (aka 9TH ANNUAL GRATEFUL DEAD: MEET-UP AT THE MOVIES), Jerry Garcia performing with The Grateful Dead on June 17, 1991 at Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey, 2019.

Trafalgar Releasing/Courtesy Everett Collection

The Grateful Dead was such a unique band in so many different ways including the way they made and performed music. Musician and writer Lenny Kaye once said of the group: “Their music touches on ground that most other groups don’t even know exists.” For the range of their influences and the structure of their live performances, the Grateful Dead are considered “the pioneering godfathers of the jam band world.” Although it is not a role he ever wanted, it was clear to fans and members of the band that Garcia was the leader of the Grateful Dead and the band was going to go as far as Garcia took them.

FILLMORE, Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead, in a documentary of their concert at the Fillmore West, SF, 1972.

Everett Collection

One of the most unique and impressive characteristics about Garcia and the Grateful Dead was their ability to never play a song the same way twice. Something that speaks to just how great of a touring band the Grateful Dead was is although they only had one Top 40 single in their 30-year career they still remained among the highest-grossing American touring acts for decades. Deadheads will debate about what the best all-time Grateful Dead concert was, but their performance on May 8, 1977 at Cornell University’s Barton Hall is on the very top of that list, and was even added to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in 2012.


Where Are They Now - The Seventies
Want More?

Where Are They Now - The Seventies

June 2022

Who can forget all the great TV shows, movies and music of the ‘70s?

Buy This Issue