August 23, 2013

Garcia's Record Collection

A recent post listed all the concerts Jerry Garcia is known to have attended:
The musicians Garcia saw live were often the same ones he heard on records, so I decided to make a companion post listing the most important records he is known to have listened to over the years. This can be considered the other side of Garcia’s music education.

One way to approach this would be to list all of Garcia’s covers and the sources he used. This will not be that post. For those interested, you can check out this site which lists all his covers and where they came from:
Originally, I thought this would just be a short post of something like “Garcia’s Top 20 Records,” but its scope expanded considerably. Thanks to his frequent interviews, it’s possible to partially reconstruct Garcia’s listening history over the years – with many omissions, but we can still follow the main trends on his record player.

The search was a tricky one, and much is missing. You’ll notice that Garcia was frequently asked what he was listening to, and just as frequently gave the vaguest answers – “I listen to everything” being the most typical. But he often talked at length about the artists who were important to him.
Naturally, he spoke a lot more often about certain musicians who’d directly influenced him, so a lot of stuff we know he heard or covered never got mentioned. You won’t find any discussion here at all of, for instance, Indian or classical music, nor of other San Francisco rock bands; and you can search in vain for a single mention of Van Morrison; but other random artists will pop up sometimes. Garcia would also usually talk about a musician’s work in general, rather than a specific album of theirs.
This article also leans heavily toward his earlier years, when he was soaking up various influences – there’s a dramatic falling-off in the number of musicians he talks about after the mid-‘70s, versus heaps of detail about the early ‘60s.

Garcia personally learned guitar styles from several different players in the early years, but he also learned from listening to albums that he would copy; so a parallel narrative here is how Garcia worked on his guitar & banjo techniques in the early years. Alongside the music he listened to, I also tell the story of Garcia’s guitar studies, up until the Dead started. (After that is another story; since in the ‘70s Garcia continued his music studies more from Howard Roberts guitar-books and Merl Saunders sessions than from albums.)

Source notes are at the end.
Any comments on additional info I haven’t found would be welcome – I’m sure there are many records I’ve overlooked!

“To be alive in America is to hear all kinds of music constantly – radio, records, churches, cats on the street, everywhere music, man. And with records, the whole history of music is open to everyone who wants to hear it. Maybe Chuck Berry was the first rock musician because he was one of the first blues cats to listen to records, so he wasn’t locked into the blues idiom. Nobody has to fool around with musty old scores, weird notation and scholarship bullshit. You can just go into a record store and pick a century, pick a country, pick anything, and dig it, make it a part of you, add it to the stuff you carry around and see that it’s all music.” [1]


For Garcia (as with many kids), in his early childhood, records were objects of fascination in themselves, rather than for the music on them:
“When I was little, we used to go to the Santa Cruz mountains in the summer, and one of my earliest memories is of having a record, an old 78, and I remember playing it over and over on this windup Victrola. This was before they had electricity up there, and I played this record over and over and over until I think they took it from me and broke it or hid it, or something like that. I finally drove everybody completely crazy.” [2]
Garcia also recalled, "My family was a singing family, on the Spanish side, every time there was a party everybody sang." [2a] His cousin Daniel remembered the family singalongs when he was young: “After dinner there would inevitably be singing… We’d sing for hours… We’d sing American songs mainly – George Cohan, show tunes, popular tunes from the ‘20s, ‘30s, ‘40s.” [3]

Garcia's family encouraged him to be musical. "There was always instruments around the house because of my father, and my mother played piano a little, and I had lots and lots of abortive piano lessons...I couldn't learn how to read music, but I could play by ear." [3a]
But as a kid, there was little indication Garcia would grow up to be a musician. “Music was something I was not good at. I took lessons on the piano forever, for maybe eight years; my mom made me. None of it sank in. I never did learn how to sight-read for the piano – I bluffed my way through.” [4]
His brother Tiff concurred: “We both hated it. Even though I was older, Jerry was better than me, but neither of us liked to practice, so we never got very good.” [5]

There were plenty of records in Garcia’s home – his mother played piano and listened mainly to classical records; his father (who’d led a nightclub orchestra) liked swing-band records, like Glenn Miller & Benny Goodman. Tiff Garcia remembered, “There was always music in the house, either records or my dad playing. He had played clarinet mainly with his group, but I feel like I saw him playing saxophone more at home. There are pictures of me and Jerry with his saxes and clarinets.” [6]
Jerry distantly remembered the sound of the clarinet from his early childhood; but his father died when he was young. He later said, “I’ve looked at some of the arrangements that his band played. I remember poking around and looking at them, and I thought they were pretty hip. I would have liked to have been able to experience his music… He was a genre player, like I am; an idiom player.” [7]
His mother’s bar had a jukebox; Blair Jackson reports that it was “mainly filled with a mix of big-band music and sentimental ballads.” [8] They also had a radio at home – Garcia said: “I was a radio kid before I was a television kid, and on the radio you could hear all sorts of stuff. But this was the tail end of the Forties kind of music…stuff like Frankie Laine… They did have a nice quality to them, and so did all those Mitch Miller arrangements, and Guy Mitchell… Burl Ives was maybe the main popular folk voice of that time, a guy who did folk and did kids’ stuff. The Weavers, too – I remember being really impressed as a kid by their versions of ‘Goodnight Irene,’ ‘So Long It’s Been Good To Know You.’ I don’t think of those kinds of songs as direct influences.” [9]
Garcia also particularly remembered the Lucky Lager Dance Time, a '50s radio show which played the top hits and early rock & roll.

Garcia would come down with asthma every so often as a kid; his older brother Tiff recalled, “Every time he got sick, he got something. I remember he got his first 45 record player and some records when he got sick.” [10]
Garcia seems to have been about 11 when he was getting his first records. Tiff remembered a record from 1953 by Rusty Draper: “He had a kids’ show on in the afternoon when TV first came out; and in fact, one of the first 45s Jerry ever bought was a song called ‘Gambler’s Guitar.’ It was sort of countryish and it had some riffs in it, little guitar solos, and I think that’s part of what got him and myself interested in that kind of music.” [11]

Another hit from 1953 was one of the first “rock” records, Bill Haley’s ‘Crazy Man Crazy’ – Tiff said: “I remember going out with a friend to this record store on Mission near Geneva called the Record Changer, and buying this record, ‘Crazy, Man, Crazy,’ which was Bill Haley’s first release out here – before ‘Rock Around the Clock.’ I bought it on 78 and Jerry bought it on 45. He got a pretty good 45 collection, because my mom, being in the bar business, used to get all these 45s from the jukebox. We had tons. Most of those weren’t rock & roll, but there was some good stuff in there.” [12]

As Jerry got into rock music, he followed Tiff’s lead: “My older brother was a big influence. He was, like, four years older than me, so I listened to the music he listened to. He was into very early rock & roll and rhythm & blues. I remember the Crows – you know, ‘Gee’ – very early, before it actually started to become rock & roll. ‘Gee’ was sort of the borderline. It was basically black music, the early doo-wop groups. I love that stuff. Hank Ballard and the Midnighters were a big early influence for me. My brother would learn the tunes, we would try to sing them, and he would make me learn harmony parts. In a way, I learned a lot of my ear training from my older brother.” [13]
Jerry, Tiff, and their cousin Daniel would try harmonizing on doo-wop and R&B songs – "My brother and my cousin and I when we were pretty young did a lot of street-corner harmonizing - rock & roll, good old rhythm & blues, that kind of stuff, pop songs..." [13a] Daniel recalled, “Some of the songs the family used to sing, like ‘Down by the Riverside’ and ‘In the Evening by the Moonlight,’ an old Stephen Foster song, Jerry and I spent a lot of time harmonizing on that.” [14]

One film in 1956 had a big impact on Jerry – Daniel said, “I remember going down to the Fox Theater on Market Street and 11th when they had the debut of Rock Around The Clock, and that place was jumpin’! Jerry and I and two girls went to see it together. We came out of that movie with the burning desire to be rock & roll musicians. I remember him telling me, ‘We can do that; we can play like that.’” [15]


Garcia told the story of his first guitar many times. So often, in fact, that I’ve devoted a whole post to his various accounts:
But in short: after his 15th birthday he got an electric guitar, but did not know how to tune it, and by his account, it took months before he found someone who could show him the right tuning and a few basic chords. He did his best to learn rock & roll tunes by ear, though.

His cousin Daniel was excited to see Jerry’s new guitar: “I went over to Jerry’s one day and there he was fiddling with this guitar, an inexpensive, used guitar. He was plucking it but didn’t really know what to do with it. He knew how to hit a few notes, but he couldn’t form a chord yet. He couldn’t have had it more than three days. And I was so impressed, that very day he and I went down to that hockshop on Third Street and I bought my first guitar for $25. He helped me pick it out – a lovely little acoustic guitar. So we started to learn it on our own and from a few books. We learned together and we played a lot together.” [16]
They played together frequently in ’58-59, practicing in Daniel’s home, or at the park, or in trips to Lompico: “We used to go up to Cazadero and sit in the family room and smoke Bull Durham cigarettes and play our guitars for hours… We’d play Chuck Berry, Bill Haley, everything… Mostly we played by ear and copied records… Mostly we played standard stuff – ‘Church Bells May Ring,’ ‘Whispering Bells,’ Everly Brothers songs…we played ‘Donna’ by Ritchie Valens.” [17]
They even wrote a few songs together, and Tiff would sometimes join them: “Jerry and my cousin Danny and I played some Wilbur Harrison tunes up on the dance floor [at the Lompico Lodge]. They were playing guitars and I think I was beating on a cymbal and a box.” [18] It was kind of an informal group, the “Garcia Brothers” – though conspicuously missing from Jerry’s later recollections. (Except for one reference, Jerry seems to have completely blotted Daniel from his memory!)

“I taught myself to play, and pretty soon I was fluid in a primitive way. I picked up a trick or two from my cousin Danny – he knew some rhythm & blues – but the most important thing I learned was that it was okay to improvise. ‘Hey man, you can make it up as you go along!’” [19]


“My first guitar was an electric guitar, and my first love on the guitar was Chuck Berry. He was my guy. When I was a kid I got all his records and I’d just try like crazy to learn how to play them… I’d listen to a record and I’d try to figure out what the guy was doing, and it was virtually impossible to do because of the way I had my guitar tuned.” [20]

"When I got that guitar, a Danelectro, a good cheap pawnshop guitar - very cheap but nice and loud - I was beside myself. I was so happy to get it. I wanted to be an artist but I fell in love with rock & roll - Chuck Berry, Little Richard. I lean more to the rhythm & blues, the black music, because that's what I listened to first. Later I listened to the crossover guys, the rockabilly guys, the white guys - Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins - those kind of guys, I loved them too. You know, the real stuff." [20a]

“When I was 15, I fell madly in love with rock & roll. Chuck Berry was happening big, Elvis Presley – not so much Elvis Presley, but I really liked Gene Vincent, you know, the other rock guys, the guys that played guitar good: Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly, Bo Diddley. And at that time, the R&B stations still were playing stuff like Lightnin’ Hopkins and Frankie Lee Sims, these funky blues guys. Jimmy McCracklin, the Chicago-style blues guys, the T-Bone Walker-influenced guys, that older style, pre-BB King stuff. Jimmy Reed – Jimmy Reed actually had hits in those days. You listen to that, and it’s so funky. It’s a beautiful sound, but I had no idea how to go about learning it.” [21]

“Chuck Berry, from a very early age, was it for me. I liked the classics: Little Richard – not for the guitar but for the music – and I loved Gene Vincent and the Blue Cats, and the guitar player in that band [Cliff Gallup]. That was a great, nasty little band. I loved Eddie Cochran, and I loved James Burton’s playing on Rickie Nelson records – those little 4-bar and 8-bar interjections James would stick in there were cool as hell. Those guys were gods for me.” [22]

Garcia was also exposed to acoustic blues playing for the first time, on a Big Bill Broonzy album:
“When I was first loving rock & roll and I was fumbling around with my first electric guitar, my old Danelectro, my teacher at art school used to play records while we were painting. He played a Big Bill Broonzy record that I was in awe of; it was the first time I heard anybody play acoustic blues. I ran out as quickly as I could, saved up enough money and bought that Big Bill album. I listened to it, but it never occurred to me to try and play like it. [laughter] I absorbed it unconsciously, and it started to turn up years later.” [23]

(The teacher was Wally Hedrick, who later told Blair Jackson, “I had no idea Jerry was even interested in music; he never said a word to me.” Once Jerry saw him playing a banjo in the school’s jazz band and asked, “What is that thing you’re playing?”) [24]

In the fall of 1959, Garcia joined his first band at Analy High School in Sebastopol, the Chords (“featuring the Golden Saxes”). Garcia called it “easy-listening stuff – businessman’s bounce, high school version;” they played mainly big-band tunes like ‘Misty’ and Billy Vaughn songs at high school events. [25]
“I went for a while into rock & roll, like about two years perhaps, and I played more or less unsuccessfully with a little two-saxophone and piano band [with an] electric guitar and amplifier about this big, little pea-shooter of an amplifier.” [26]
“I played my first gig at Analy. We had a five-piece combo: a piano, two saxes, a bass, and my guitar. We won a contest and got to record a song. We did Bill Doggett’s ‘Raunchy,’ but it didn’t turn out very well.” [27] McNally reports that Garcia’s playing was “extremely primitive” at the time, so the bandleader had to adjust his capo for him.

Tiring of school, Garcia fled to the army in the spring of 1960. “It started me into the acoustic guitar; up until that time I had been mostly into electric guitar, rock & roll and stuff. I was stuck because I just didn’t know anybody that played guitar, and that was probably the greatest hindrance of all to learning the guitar… I used to do things like look at pictures of guitar players and look at their hands and try to make the chords they were doing – any little thing. I couldn’t take lessons…so I had to learn it by myself and I just worked with my ear.” [28]

Garcia took a guitar into the army - “I brought an electric Sears Silvertone, the Harmony model. I was just a three-chorder then. I was self-taught, and I had never met another guitar player, actually, until I got into the army. Then I met this recruit who played a little bit of fingerstyle, and I was totally fascinated by it… Before [meeting Marshall Leicester], I loved music but I wasn’t learning. A guy showed me a finger-picking pattern, and I sat down and worked and worked until I could do a coupla respectable quick-picking rolls on the guitar.” [29]
“That’s how I got into fingerpicking the acoustic guitar,” Garcia said. [30] Once he left the army, Garcia seems to have abandoned the electric guitar for acoustic. (He even turned down a Fender Jazzmaster guitar an army friend tried to sell him…)


Out of the army and loafing around, Garcia met Robert Hunter in the spring of 1961: “He played a little guitar, we started singin’ and playin’ together just for something to do… [We played] dippy folk songs. It was before I got into a purist trip.” [31] They played things like ‘Michael Row the Boat Ashore,’ ‘Banks of the Ohio,’ and songs from Joan Baez albums. [32]

People who knew Garcia then sometimes mention him playing songs off Baez records.
When Garcia met Barbara Meier, “on the way home, he sat in the backseat playing a song to [her] from Joan Baez’s first album, ‘Don’t Sing Love Songs, You’ll Wake My Mother.’” [33] (This was ‘Silver Dagger,’ the first track on the album.)
Tom Constanten said, “He sang songs like ‘Long Black Veil’ and ‘Fennario.’ At one of those wild party scenes, he did a version of ‘Matty Groves’ that silenced the party in awestruck wonder. He played songs like you would have found on the first couple of Joan Baez albums.” [34]

Garcia later referred to Joan Baez’s first album (which came out in late 1960) as the start of his journey into folk music:
“When the whole folk-music thing started happening, I got caught up into that… When Joan Baez’s first record came out I heard it and I heard her finger-picking the guitar. I’d never heard anything like it before so I got into that, and I started getting into country music, into old-time white music, mostly white spiritual stuff, white instrumental music, and I got into fingerstyle, the folk-music-festival scene, that whole thing; and I was very heavy into that for a long time…” [35]
“When I got into folk music, I never got into it behind the lyrical content. I never was into the protest songs… What first attracted me was the sound of it and those kind of modal changes and so forth, and the sounds of Joan Baez’s voice and the sound of her guitar, and then into the more complex forms, and finally what I really got into was the instrumental parts… I started out into folk music by listening to the Kingston Trio and so forth, and as soon as I realized that I could play better than any of them, I lost interest in them and went on to something else!” [36]
(His girlfriend then told the story of him going to see Baez's concert at Palo Alto High in the summer of 1961: "He watched Baez intently saying, 'I can do that! I can beat her technique.'" [36a] By 1963, he’d become disenchanted with Joan Baez. Sara Garcia, who was friends with Baez, remembered, “He didn’t like her because she wasn’t a musical purist and he didn’t think she played very well… [She was] on the cover of Time magazine and getting all this publicity, she had a record that was becoming successful, and it just didn’t seem right.” [37] “Joan and Jerry weren’t really friends. He resented the fact that she had records out and he thought he was a better musican. He felt competitive with her and didn’t care for her nontraditional approach to music – the way she took from any source and personalized it.” [38] )

At the time, Garcia was still under the influence of the Kingston Trio, the biggest commercial “folk” band of the time, who had launched the folk boom back in ’58. He was soon to join a more traditional folk crowd, though, who held the Kingston Trio in contempt.
“After I got out of the army, I fell in with Hunter, and we were influenced by the folk scare – the Kingston Trio and that kind of stuff. I didn’t know how to find my way into that kind of music til I met some people who were more involved in it, like Marshall Leicester… He turned me on to bluegrass music and to old-time stringband music. He played a little frailing banjo, and introduced me to the Reverend Gary Davis. I heard that sound, and I just had to be able to make it.” [39]

Marshall Leicester remembered meeting Garcia: “In the summer of 1961, I came back from college and I walked into Kepler’s and saw this guy playing a 12-string guitar. What I remember hearing is that song ‘Everybody Loves Saturday Night.’ In general, the picking in those days was sort of somewhere between Pete Seeger and the Kingston Trio. I asked to see his guitar and struck up a conversation… I knew how to do a kind of Elizabeth Cotten pick that was a technical challenge to him. Once I showed him how to do it, he picked it up in nothing flat.” [40]
Leicester was not keen on songs like ‘Everybody Loves Saturday Night’ – “one of those kind of Pete Seeger ‘love your worldwide neighbors’ songs in which the verses are the words ‘everybody loves Saturday night’ in about fifteen languages – sort of the last gasp of the politically oriented folk music of the ‘30s and ‘40s. I think I asked to borrow his guitar and play some of my kind of music on it, and I think we were mutually impressed with each other… He was playing more strum-stuff, Kingston Trio-oriented songs. He wasn’t playing melodically oriented guitar at all. I think he’d gotten away from rock & roll too, so he wasn’t using a flatpick either. So I taught him how to play stuff like ‘Freight Train,’ and he just took it and ran with it on his own – I never saw anybody learn how to do something as quickly as he picked up on that. So from there he went and made himself into someone with a sense of style… Jerry was just playing the guitar at first, but then of course he took up the banjo and got really good at that too.” [41]

Somewhere around that time, Garcia first heard bluegrass music records and became interested in playing banjo, a new instrument for him. “I didn’t really start to get serious about music until I was 18 and I heard my first bluegrass music. I heard Earl Scruggs play five-string banjo and I thought, that’s something I have to be able to do. I fell in love with the sound and I started earnestly trying to do exactly what I was hearing.” [42]

Garcia would often account for his love of bluegrass by connecting it with childhood memories of listening to country music on the radio.
“The first time I started to study what was going on in [bluegrass] music was 1961. I heard bluegrass music, and there was something about that music that was very familiar to me. I think that it was speaking to my memories of listening to the Grand Ole Opry every Saturday night when I was a small kid. Something about the sound of it, the harmony, the way the music works. Then I decided I had to learn how to play five-string banjo.” [43]
“My grandmother was a big Grand Ole Opry fan. Now, this is in San Francisco, a long way from Tennessee, but they used to have the Opry on the radio every Saturday night all over the United States. My grandmother listened to it religiously. I probably heard Bill Monroe hundreds of times without knowing who it was. When I got turned on to bluegrass in about 1960, the first time I really heard it, it was like, ‘Whoa, what is this music?’ The banjo just – it made me crazy.” [44]
(His older brother Tiff disagreed with Jerry’s memory here, though: “She wasn’t into country music. Jerry is fantasizing all this… She’d been to the Opry, but she didn’t listen to it on the radio.” [45] )

Garcia started getting into Folkways Records, a label that specialized (among other things) in releasing old-time, folk, and blues music – their albums were something of a bible for folk musicians at the time. “The direction I went into music was Folkways Records, field recordings, that sort of thing, and old-time blues and old-time country music, and I got very serious about it for a long time.” [46]

Harry Smith’s Anthology of Folk Music, from 1952, was one of the most important and influential Folkways releases in unveiling an earlier world of American music. It was certainly a revelation for Garcia. Robert Hunter remembered, “Back in 1961 there was only one copy around our scene, belonging to Grace Marie Haddie. The six-disc boxed collection was too expensive for guitar-playing hobos like me and Garcia, even if we had a record player, or a place to keep a record player. Grace Marie had a job and an apartment and a record player. We would visit her apartment constantly with hungry ears. When she was at work, we’d jimmy the lock to her apartment or crawl through the window if the latch was open. Had to hear those records.” [47]

Garcia had never heard these old-time 78s from the ‘20s and ‘30s before discovering the Folkways records, but soon found that there was a collectors’ network that had much more. “Once I found out there was such a world, I met guys who were into 78s and collected them. So then I had access to them and I could mine that resource. But I had no consciousness of it before the Folkways stuff came out. For me it was the Harry Smith anthology that showed me that there was this vital, rich, primitive form with these guys sawing away on their fiddles and banjos and singing in these creaky old voices. That was very exciting for me. I knew the blues version of it to an extent, because by then I’d heard Blind Lemon Jefferson and some of those other early guys, but before Folkways I didn’t know there was this other white music in America.” [48]

Hunter pointed out that they learned folk music mostly from records, not from other musicians. Garcia added, “And tapes too. Getting into that world was like opening a magic door, because I met all these people who had live tapes of bluegrass. That's what really did it for me, because live, the music sounded so energized and beautifully detailed. That point of view of the one microphone on all those bluegrass recordings allowed you to hear the depth of it — you'd hear the instruments coming toward the microphone and then moving away. You'd hear them playing the little holes and doing all this wonderful dynamic stuff.” [49]

David Nelson remembered one of these tape collectors: “We were nuts for bluegrass. Back then, you couldn’t get this music in record stores. You had to know some real big-time collector. One lived up at Stanford; I think his father was a professor. We would go over there and pester him to play tapes for us because he had a collection like the Dead tape system now. People would give us copies and we’d trade tapes of different bluegrass gigs. So we’d actually get to hear the real thing, not a studio slicked-up version. I remember going over there lots of times, sitting on that couch and listening to stuff. I would just never get tired of it. All these other guys were older than me; so when they decided that was enough, we had to go. I’d always be saying, ‘Oh, can we hear some more?’ Jerry would say, ‘No. Don’t make him mad. Don’t piss him off, Nelson. Don’t wear out our welcome.’Because we wanted to be able to do that most any time. That was where I first heard the Stanley Brothers live, and Flatt & Scruggs live, and Clarence White, the guitar player. It was amazing.” [50]


In late 1961 & 1962, Garcia was playing in several different American idioms. Dave Parker said, “At that time he was sort of exploring the roots of American music and playing a lot of old-timey stuff. He played a lot of songs by the Carter Family, for instance.” [51]

Sara Garcia started singing with Jerry when they met in 1963: “By the time I met Jerry, he'd begun to collect every recording he could lay his hands on of not only bluegrass but old-timey music. We would study them note for note, whatever we could get of the traditional singers who were still alive and picking — the Carter Family, Doc Watson, Clarence Ashley, Jean Ritchie. We listened to the Anthology of American Folk Music, with lots of old timers on it, reissues of great old 78s from the '30s. A record of whaling songs by Ewan MacColl. Mike Seeger and the New Lost City Ramblers. Jerry and I drew upon these sources for the songs we performed together and also as an acapella quartet with Suzy Wood and Marshall Leicester. That was a high point for me; those times singing together.” [52]
She also remembered, “The Rooftop Singers came out with this old Gus Cannon song, ‘Walk Right In,’ and we thought, ‘Oh, we can do better than that.’ That was our plan.” [53]

David Nelson recalled, “At the College of San Mateo Folk Music Festival [in November 1962], Jerry did a three-part thing where he started out doing solo stuff from the old ballads. Then he got into the twenties and thirties with stringband music; we’d be an old-time stringband and play old stuff. Then, modern age; we played bluegrass in the third section.” [54]
According to David Parker, the audience was not so thrilled with Garcia’s solo spot, where he did ballads and Carter Family songs: “He was playing guitar and singing. It was funny, because he didn’t go over too well… Most of the audience was fairly clean college kids into the Kingston Trio and the slicker kinds of sounds, and this sort of authentic old-timey stuff was a little strange to most of them… Then the next group that came on started by saying, ‘This song we’re going to do is not by the Carter Family,’ and that got a big laugh.” [55] (Hunter called the audience a “baffled crowd of scornful noninitiates.”)

One girlfriend remembered him spending most of his time in ‘61 out on the street practicing fingerpicking – he was under the spell of Elizabeth Cotten now, and in the blues style, had also discovered Gary Davis. One friend, David McQueen, said, “He was listening to a lot of Reverend Gary Davis at that time.” [56] Blair Jackson reports, “Barbara Meier’s father had given him a stack of rare blues 78s, which Jerry dutifully studied.” [57]

When Garcia studied a record, he really studied it: “I wasn’t playing guitar so much, I’d picked up the five-string banjo in the army. I listened to records, slowed them down with a finger, and learned the tunings, note by note.” [58] Blair Jackson writes, “Jerry said he spent hours listening to records slowed down to 16 rpm to learn solos off them.” [59] David Nelson, who was in one of Jerry’s groups, also recalls, “We used to slow records down or play with the same track on a record over and over again to learn things.” [60]

McNally writes, “Marshall also lent Jerry a copy of Flatt & Scruggs’ ‘Foggy Mountain Breakdown,’ and he fell in love with it…. [In summer ‘61] Garcia had acquired a portable phonograph, and he spent the summer studying Elizabeth Cotten-style guitar, as well as Flatt & Scruggs.” [61]

Bluegrass was becoming his main love, and over the next couple years, the banjo became his primary instrument. Garcia said of the banjo that he was drawn to “the sound of the instrument, and then the fire, the speed and all that. I was attracted to the intensity of it, really. And I was drawn to that incredible clarity – when something is going along real fast and every note is absolutely clear. That, to me, was really amazing – the Earl Scruggs instrumentals…the Mercury album that’s got ‘Foggy Mountain Breakdown’ on it and ‘Pike County Breakdown.’ I just couldn’t believe the sound of it. It was just startling.” [62]

Of banjo players, Garcia said that Earl Scruggs was “the number one, primo influence” – but he also listed Don Stover, Allen Shelton, Ralph Stanley and JD Crowe. “Those are my favorite banjo players. I think there’s something about [three-finger] rolls – you know in those days, pre-Keith banjo style, you either played rolls, or else there were guys who played single-string stuff like Don Reno and Eddie Adcock. I preferred the kind of problem-solving thing of trying to figure out how to make melodies work out of rolls.” [63] (Don Stover played with Bill Monroe and the Lilly Brothers; Allen Shelton was with Jim & Jesse McReynolds; Don Reno was in Reno & Smiley; and Eddie Adcock was in the Country Gentlemen.)
Garcia also saw Bill Monroe’s band down at the Ash Grove in 1963 with a new banjo player, Bill Keith. Sandy Rothman recalled, “Garcia reacted to Keith’s playing immediately… From that point on I didn’t hear Jerry work as hard on any other banjo technique. With great diligence he set to work mastering the entire fretboard, ‘Keith-style.’” [64]

Jazz music was also one of Garcia’s interests – Blair Jackson writes, “Danya Veltfort remembers Garcia sitting around Phoebe Graubard’s apartment in the summer of 1961 listening to Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain and Coltrane’s Soul Trane over and over… Garcia also attended the Monterey Jazz Festival that autumn and saw Coltrane there.” [65] It would be years before that kind of music was an influence on Garcia’s playing, though. (There wasn’t much room for Coltrane-type playing in bluegrass!)

Garcia’s interests were also displayed in his teaching. He later mentioned he’d make tapes for his guitar students “of a whole bunch of kinds of music that would include the guitar that would all be technically pretty easy but attractive to the ear, like the Carter Family.” [66]
One of his students, Dexter Johnson, recalled: “I brought a Kingston Trio and a Highwaymen record. That strumming thing, ‘Tom Dooley,’ I was into that. His music at the time was more Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and Bill Monroe. He actually threw aside the albums I brought… He told me to listen to Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, and in blues, Lightnin’ Hopkins… He started teaching me ‘Wildwood Flower’ [by the Carter Family] and various forms of thumb-picking. For six months, that was all we did. Then he started me finger-picking, ‘Freight Train,’ Elizabeth Cotten. He turned me on to Mike Seeger and the New Lost City Ramblers.” [67]

The Ramblers were a very important inspiration for Garcia in these years – they were the most prominent old-time revivalist band, who’d released a few albums on Folkways. Charlotte Daigle recalled, “I remember him coming to visit me, discussing the New Lost City Ramblers and saying that was the direction he wanted his music to go in.” [68] Marshall Leicester said, “In those days we all wanted to be Mike Seeger, so we were all trying to learn to play five or six instruments.” [69] (Garcia himself even took up mandolin and fiddle – very briefly.)

David Nelson observed, “The New Lost City Ramblers were a real hip source because they drew from so many different sources themselves.” [70] Leicester said that in 1962, “Our repertoire was always about 80 to 90 percent from the first few New Lost City Ramblers records and reworked; and then a few other things from elsewhere, like the tapes that Adams Otis had and Chris Strachwitz’s records. So we got a pipeline directly into the music and not just as mediated by a band like the Ramblers.” [71]
This page shows the setlists for a couple Garcia shows from ‘62/63, and you can see how many of the songs were taken from the Ramblers, just in these two shows:

Garcia would also refer to the Ramblers onstage as a source, for instance at one show in ’62: “The song we’re gonna do now is one that’s sung by the New Lost City Ramblers. If you’ve ever heard the New Lost City Ramblers, you know that they play mostly old-time music, and this is an approximation of the same sort of thing. Except that we’re not the New Lost City Ramblers, contrary to popular opinion. They don’t look like us!” (Someone else chimes in, “We have to settle for the Kingston Trio.”) [72]
And in another ’62 show: “We’re back again to do a little of the old-time hill music that we stole from the Ramblers, and they stole from old records, and the musicians that were on the old records stole ‘em from their fathers, and things like that. So it’s all part of the oral tradition, and that’s your lesson in folklore for tonight.” [73]

Garcia was very conscious of getting most of his repertoire from records, and would sometimes make fun of that onstage. Some banter from 6/11/62:
Garcia: “If you’re wondering why in an old-timey band you can’t understand the words very well, it’s because we don’t know them, and we can’t figure them out off the records, so we make up our own as we go along.”
Leicester: “They’re all scratchy.”
Garcia: “…That’s our voices, not the records. The fact is, we don’t have any records.” [74]

Garcia was a dedicated folk-music scholar in those days (Bruce Hornsby would later call him a walking encyclopedia of folk music). Blair Jackson writes that “Jerry also spent hours studying and learning how to play Child ballads…which his friend Danya Veltfort used to copy out of books in the library for him.” [75]
Garcia later talked about the origin of folk-music records, and how they’d become sources for other musicians as far back as the ‘30s:
“The reason we have all this early folk music on records to begin with is, the standard ploy [in the ‘20s & ‘30s] was to record local music so the companies could then sell phonographs to the people in that area… But in the process they inadvertently preserved a huge amount of American folk music. The ‘race records’ were the same deal. But it allowed someone in Memphis to hear what a guy in Mississippi was doing, and I think that made a lot of people better players because they had new influences. At the same time, though, it confused up a lot of the locally-specific stylistic content of the music you hear in ‘20s music. By the ‘30s, it had already started to swim around a lot.” [76]

Garcia’s scholarly side peeks out in one song introduction from 1962: “The songs that we’ve been doing have been mountain soungs, roughly recorded maybe between the ‘20s and ‘30s, on commercial recording labels such as Columbia and Vocalion, Bluebird, and such. One of the songs that’s been a consistent favorite with country groups, dating from the old string bands up to modern bluegrass, and with ballad singers to a great degree – and lately, I’ve discovered, with more commercial folksong groups – in my opinion, one of the loveliest mountain ballads there is. It’s a song called ‘Man of Constant Sorrow.’” [77]
This particular song, Garcia would sing a cappella, the way he’d heard it done on record – a true sign of a hardcore folk devotee. At another performance of this song, Garcia says, “Before there were a lot of instruments around in the mountains, and way back in England and Scotland and so forth, songs were mostly sung unaccompanied… I’d like to do it unaccompanied, the way I heard a man named Roscoe Holcomb do it.” [78] (Garcia is no Holcomb; but then, nobody is.) Sometimes at these early shows he refers to the bands he learned songs from, such as Charlie Poole & the North Carolina Ramblers, or the little-known Coon Creek Girls.

Other folkies in the area were impressed by his studies. Peter Albin said, “He knew who did everything. He did his research.” [79] As one example, David Nelson recalled, “I’d ask Gar a few questions at parties, about pickin’ and stuff like that, and he was more than happy to tell me about finger-picking styles, who to listen to and where to research it. I remember one time I asked him where he got songs like ‘Days of ‘49’ that nobody had recorded, and Garcia replied, ‘Putnam’s Golden Songster; check it out, man.’ To this day, I’ve never found Putnam’s Golden Songster.” [80]
Garcia was referring to Put’s Golden Songster, published in 1858 – ironically, an earlier edition of it is now readily available online: (though the Songster actually didn’t have ‘Days of ’49,’ which was written much later).
Many years later, Garcia was asked about the Western ballad tradition. “Unfortunately, there isn’t much of one… There were mostly parodies. Like if you try to find music from the Gold Rush, they’re mostly parodies of popular songs of the time, with jokey Gold Rush lyrics. ‘Days of ‘49’ is an example of that. You’d get these songs about miners and stuff, tall tales… So the music is not particularly rich. This is apart from the cowboy music tradition, which is a whole other thing, and actually relatively recent… It was developing a tradition after the fact.” [81]


The bluegrass tape collector at Stanford that David Nelson mentioned was Brooks Adams Otis, a banjo player who’d connected with other old-time 78 collectors like Chris Strachwitz (of Arhoolie Records), and was also getting bluegrass field recordings from Mike Seeger. He and Eric Thompson shared their tape collections with friends, and Garcia was able to hook into this network. Sandy Rothman said that Otis “introduced a lot of us to bluegrass in the early days in the Bay Area.” Otis recalled “the pleasures of being an initiate and being involved with something that nobody else knew about and finding records that were extremely rare.” [82]
Otis also taped shows locally, including the Kentucky Colonels shows at the Cabale in 1964. He would have music parties at his house with players like the Colonels, and taped pickin’ sessions there too.[83]

Taping was fairly common in the folk and bluegrass world – as we can see in Garcia’s case, with at least eight of his performances taped from ’61-64, and even several of Pigpen’s, by various friends. So when Garcia and Sandy Rothman made their trip east in May 1964 to check out the bluegrass scene, part of the plan from the start was to tape all the music they could. Garcia said, “I sort of employed a scholarly approach and even went through the South with tape recorders and stuff recording bluegrass bands.” [84]

When they left, Sandy Rothman recalled, “We went to this Payless store and bought boxes of 7-inch reel tapes to take with us, and Jerry had his little Wollensak [tape recorder] with him. We had our instruments and the car was full. I don’t think we had clothes or food or anything like that, but we had lots of tapes… It was really a pilgrimage for the music because we went around and heard a lot of music and we filled up all those tapes with live shows that we collected from people taping back there, and we taped a bunch ourselves. Later, Jerry said many times, ‘We were just like deadheads are today.’” [85]
In Bloomington, Indiana, they met tape collector Marvin Hedrick, who’d been taping shows at the Brown County Jamboree since the ‘50s. Rothman said, “To us, that was like finding the end of the rainbow, and we ended up staying there for a couple of weeks in his basement – you know, a couple of weirdos from the Bay Area copying all this tapes.” [86] So in that way, their trip was a success: “We got our pot of gold; we got a whole case filled with tapes.” [87]

They also went to see Bill Monroe on May 24. Their friend Neil Rosenberg recalled, “Jerry made a tape at the Brown County Jamboree. What I used to do, and Mike Seeger used to do, and Alice Gerrard used to do, is go up to the performer before the show and say, 'Can I tape the show?' and they'd usually say yes and then you'd set your mike up onstage or you'd actually tape your mike to the house mike stand. So you got really good recordings if you were careful about placing the mike, because everyone played into one mike anyway. Jerry recorded the afternoon show of Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys.” [88] (Unfortunately, McNally reports that Garcia’s tape was ruined by an electronic hum.)
Garcia & Rothman continued on to other bluegrass shows with the tapes rolling; for instance they taped the Osborne Brothers in Dayton on May 28.
Garcia remembered, “There was a time in my life when I was one of those guys who toted around a tape recorder. I used to follow bluegrass bands around and record them. I was of the analytical bent. I was a comparer – this show was better than that, and blah blah blah. But that was sort of a different me.” [89]
That was one reason for Garcia's genial attitude in the '80s toward taping: "I used to be a bluegrass music freak, and I spent a lot of time taping bands. I loved being able to do it, and I loved having the tapes afterwards and being able to trade them around. I think that's healthy stuff." [89a]

After Garcia returned to California with his stash of tapes (I wonder how long he kept them?), he realized that bluegrass was going to be a dead end for him, and changed direction.


Garcia had met Pigpen back around ’61, and the two soon became mutually admiring friends. Garcia even introduced Pigpen on a live tape from ’62: “Perhaps those of you that heard Ron play the harmonica were impressed by his playing, but there is another side to this, even more impressive I think – even though he’d be the last to admit it…” With Pigpen’s father being an R&B DJ, Peter Albin noted, “He had a fantastic collection, including a lot of old blues 78s.” So the two of them communed over the blues – Garcia remembered, “I spent a lot of time over at the Pigpen house… I sat in his room for countless hours listening to his old records… We’d play records, I’d hack away at his guitar, show him stuff.” [90]

But the two seem not to have played together onstage much until Garcia got into jugband music in early 1964. Jim Kweskin’s Jug Band was the initial inspiration – David Nelson remembered, “We saw the Jim Kweskin Band on the Steve Allen Show at somebody’s house in Berkeley, and we’d heard their record, and that sounded like a lot of fun, so Jerry decided we’d get together a jug band.” [91]
Out of that came Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions, with Garcia, Pigpen, a young kid named Weir, and any of their friends who could join in. They took a lot of their repertoire from Jim Kweskin’s Jug Band – in fact, in the single July ’64 recording that we have of them, seven of their songs were taken from Jim Kweskin’s first 1963 album Unblushing Brassiness. (Several other songs that Kweskin covered would also slip into the Grateful Dead’s setlists.)

But they soon expanded their search for more material to cover. McNally writes, “They began with Kweskin’s records, and then his Folkways sources. Then Weir’s friend Michael Garbett [who was also in the band] discovered a trove of original Bluebird Record Company 78s in his mother’s attic… Tom Stone brought in records by Jesse Fuller.” [92]
Weir later recalled, “At one of my friends' house there was this collection of old 78s. And there were loads of old Bluebird records, the race records. And Garcia and I would listen and play. This was an amazing collection. Old jazz, Bessie Smith, and we did jug band versions. We learned that pretty thoroughly.” [93]

Weir went into more detail about how the ‘rivalry’ between bands led to a quest for more obscure stuff to cover: “Jug bands were big at the time and one thing that really gave us a leg up was that just after we formed, I was at a friend’s house and discovered his folks’ collection of old Bluebird “race record” 78s and it was a treasure trove of obscure down-home blues. There were no reissues then so no one had heard this stuff and that gave us a lot of material which none of the other guys were doing. Then we also discovered Jesse “Lone Cat” Fuller and that gave us the rest of what we needed to be a viable contemporary jug band. Someone came up with a live tape and we just put that out, but unfortunately it doesn’t contain many of the songs I’m talking about.” [94]

It’s likely that they saw Jesse Fuller at some point; in an early ’67 interview, Garcia mentions, “I haven’t seen him in the last two years.” [95] Garcia and friends certainly saw Jim Kweskin’s Jug Band at the Cabale in March 1964, so that may have alerted them to other cover songs that weren’t on Kweskin’s album.
It’s hard to say just how many of McCree’s songs actually came from the original jugbands of the ‘20s and ‘30s; reissues of that material would have been scarce, though some 78s may have been available from collectors, as well as that Bluebird stash. But Garcia’s choices of covers notably leaned toward the famous Memphis Jug Band and Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers. Blair Jackson notes that Cannon’s ‘Big Railroad Blues,’ “Garcia learned in 1965 off a four-song British EP Eric Thompson owned.” [96]

Interviewed in 1964, Garcia’s scholarly side surfaced again as he analyzed the sources of his jugband: “I think there are about four major categories of music that we actually play, and we boil it down under the name of jugband music. Actual jugband music is a sort of early blues-band music that was recorded during the '20s and '30s, not sophisticated music; it might feature guitar and harmonica played blues-style, kazoo, possibly a five-string banjo, possibly a jug, which acts as a tuba does in an old-time dixieland band. That is one of our major areas of material, one of our sources. Another is early dixieland, you know, New Orleans jazz. We get some 1920s, 1930s popular music, and a lot of - not a lot of, but a certain amount of more recent blues, from within the last 10 or 15 years, that includes some very recent, within the last 3 or 4 years, rhythm & blues songs. So we have quite a large area, and it makes it more fun for us, and certainly more satisfying because it doesn't restrict us to one particular idea or one particular style, and the result I think is pretty interesting.” [97]

By 1965, though, the jugband had run its course, and Garcia was turning his attention more to recent blues and R&B. He was also rediscovering his love of rock & roll, thanks to the British Invasion…


Garcia remembered of the early ‘60s, “When I was away from rock & roll it was going through the whole Frankie Avalon, Fabian phase and all this plastic nonsense. And it didn’t have much vitality. I sort of lost interest in it ‘cause the vitality, the energy in it had gone into other channels. For me, it was in folk music… During all that time I’d occasionally turn the radio on to a rock & roll station, there would be this utter pap, terrible, featureless music. And that was really an insult. The rhythm & blues station I wouldn’t mind listening to, but even in that, the rhythm & blues at that time was going through some sticky changes. It was all very dull; it was before Motown had come out, before Phil Spector had been around. And there wasn’t anything exciting going on, there were no new ideas.” [98]

The Beatles’ first US album, Meet the Beatles, was released in January 1964, shortly before their famed American visit. David Nelson remembered Garcia’s reaction:
“Garcia called me up and said, ‘We’ve got to go down to St. Mike’s Alley now. They’re playing this group, the Beatles. They’ve got the album and I want you to check it out.’ So we went and got coffee and sat there looking at each other, listening on the sound system to the Beatles’ first album; the ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ album. After every song, we’d look at each other. I was going, ‘This is going to make me puke, man.’ He said, ‘Oh no, give it a chance. Let’s listen with an open mind.’ [Nelson was pissed that the Beatles weren’t like “real” R&B like Jimmy Reed, Fats Domino, or Hank Ballard.] … After each song, it was like, ‘Pretty good. Good harmony; like in the bluegrass band. Yeah, they do sing good harmony.’ We finished the album and we both looked at each other and said, ‘Okay, what’s the verdict? What do you think?’ And we both gave it the iffy sign. Not the okay sign – it was iffy.” [99]

Garcia was turned on to the Beatles not so much by their albums as by the Hard Day’s Night film, which came out in August ’64. Seeing it, he realized, “Hey great, that really looks like fun… They were a little model of good times… The Beatles were light and having a good time and they were very good too, so it was a combination that was very satisfying on the artistic level… It was like saying, ‘You can be young, you can be far-out, and you can still make it.’ They were making people happy.” [100]

At the same time, the Rolling Stones were competing for attention with more authentically R&B, less poppy music. Garcia thought, “The Rolling Stones’ music was not that much of a surprise, because I’d listened to a lot of rhythm & blues, and early Rolling Stones was similar to that music, although not as well done. But the Beatles were doing something new and they had great musical ideas and a great thing going. Plus, seeing the movie Hard Day’s Night was a turn-on.” [101]

I haven’t seen any Garcia references to specific Beatles albums later on, but it’s clear that he remained a fan and always praised them. (For instance in the April ’67 radio show where he and Phil Lesh briefly gush over the Beatles’ recent innovations in pop music.) Garcia & the Dead would also later make a habit of covering various Beatles songs.
The Stones, though, were a much more important influence on the Warlocks.

Garcia said, “For me, the most resonant thing was hearing the Rolling Stones play music that I'd grown up with, the Chess stuff. That was surprising because it was music that had already happened in my life, and then hearing it again, it was like, ‘Right, that would be fun to play.’ In the Grateful Dead's earliest version as a bar band the option was to play Beatles stuff or Rolling Stones and we always opted for whatever the Rolling Stones were doing – because we had a better understanding of where their music was coming from.” [102]

When the Warlocks formed, despite having many folk & jugband songs still in their repertoire, the largest part of their identity was as a blues and R&B cover band. As Garcia said, “We were kind of patterned along the same lines as the Rolling Stones… Me and Pigpen both had that background in the old Chess Records stuff – Chicago blues like Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters and people like Jimmy Reed, Chuck Berry. It was real natural for us, and we even did those kinds of tunes in the jug band. So it was an easy step to make it into sort of a proto-blues band. The Stones were already doing all the old Muddy Waters stuff.” [103]
And: “What we were playing back then was basically a harder, rhythm & blues-oriented rock & roll, especially Pigpen’s stuff. We were going for a sort of Chess Records school of R&B – Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. Those are the records we stole a lot of our tunes from.” [104]
The Warlocks took at least nine songs specifically from the Stones’ first three US albums, and probably more back in ’65 that don’t survive on tape – although in some cases, I can’t say whether they’re copying the Stones’ cover or the original song. We can at least say that they decided to cover quite a few of the same songs.

Garcia kept up with the Stones later on, too, as both the Dead and the Stones moved into new directions. For instance in an early ’67 interview, the DJ praises the album Aftermath and says, “They’re broadening their musical idioms so much.” Garcia agrees and adds, “Between the Buttons has a lot of amazing stuff on it.” [105] Garcia would also do a couple Stones covers later in the Garcia Band.

The Warlocks learned cover songs the old-fashioned way – by listening intently to the records. Sue Swanson remembered their first rehearsals at Dana Morgan’s store: “They did a lot of traditional stuff, ‘I Know You Rider’ and things like that. They would listen to a lot of 45s to learn songs. My job was to change the 45s. ‘Play that part again!’ It was a crummy little phonograph that would sit on the counter at Dana Morgan’s.” [106]

Garcia named one record in particular that the Warlocks studied – the R&B instrumental ‘Cleo’s Back,’ which hit the charts in October 1965.
“Remember that old Junior Walker & the All-Stars instrumental ‘Cleo’s Back’? That was also real influential on the Grateful Dead – our whole style of playing. There was something about the way the instruments entered into it in a kind of free-for-all way, and there were little holes and these neat details in it – we studied that motherfucker! We might have even played it for a while, but that wasn’t the point – it was the conversational approach, the way the band worked, that really influenced us.” [107]
(Interestingly, the Butterfield Blues Band also played this tune at their L.A. shows in February ’66, while the Dead were in town – possibly the Dead might have seen them do it.)

Garcia also cited Junior Wells’ album Hoodoo Man Blues, which came out in late 1965 – the Dead picked up Schoolgirl and You Don’t Love Me from this album the next year.
“We didn’t get ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’ from Muddy Waters or whoever. Our version came from Buddy Guy and Junior Wells. I remember listening to that record endlessly when we were down in L.A. [Feb/March 1966] There was something really snaky about it, so we went that approach, which was sort of a different feel and a different melody even.” [108]

Garcia’s return to the electric guitar was a major shift, as Garcia had to start the learning process anew. He hadn’t really gotten that proficient on it back in the ‘50s – “I put my first real energy in music into the five-string banjo. That was the first time I ever said, ‘How do you do this?’ It was like cracking a combination lock. I slowed the records down and painstakingly listened to every lick and worked them out. I did a complete breakdown, as close as I was able, to learn how to play bluegrass banjo. And having gone through that process with banjo, when I went to electric guitar I knew how to learn it. And my taste in music is kind of informed by the banjo in a way, too. I like to hear every note. I like that clarity and separation of notes. And that characterizes my guitar playing, too. So I came at it sort of backwards.” [109]
Looking around for models he could use, his first stop was the blues guitarists. “My first orientation was learning from my ear. So I learned from records – Freddie King, B.B. King extensively… That was my first exposure, mainly because the Bay Area didn’t have that many guitar players back when I started playing, and there really wasn’t a lot of local information, or at least I wasn’t able to uncover it.” [110]
“I think Freddie King is the guy I learned the most volume of stuff from. When I started playing electric guitar the second time, with the Warlocks, it was a Freddie King album that I got almost all my ideas off of, his phrasing really. That first one, Here’s Freddie King, later it came out as Freddie King Plays Surfin’ Music or something like that, it has ‘San-Ho-Zay’ on it and ‘Sensation’ and all those instrumentals.” [111]

From a different genre, seeing the fiddler Scotty Stoneman with the Kentucky Colonels in early 1965 was also a huge influence on Garcia: “I get my improvisational approach from Scotty Stoneman, the fiddle player, who is the guy who first set me on fire.” [112]
This was a player Garcia mainly saw live, rather than hearing on records, although Garcia did add, “His playing on the records he appears on, mostly anonymously, is this incredible blaze. He’s like the bluegrass Charlie Parker. They just recently released a live tape of the very show I was at, with the Kentucky Colonels [Scotty Stoneman Live in L.A.]; so you can get that.” [112]


Bob Dylan was also a key influence on the Warlocks, as he went electric around the same time they did. Garcia said a couple years later, “I never used to like Bob Dylan until he came out with an electric music. And I’m not sure why I like that more. I sure liked it a lot more. Boy, when Bringing It All Back Home came out. Yeah, lovely. Very fine guitar player. [Bruce Langhorne] It just all of a sudden had something going for it. And Bob Dylan was getting a little less heavy. He was having a little more fun…and that was a nice change. And I remember another thing that turned me on a lot was when I saw Bob Dylan on television, on the Les Crane show. [February 1965] When he went on there and sang those songs, you know, and just rapped insanely. Beautiful mad stuff. And that turned us all on, we couldn’t believe it.” [113]
Bringing It All Back Home was released in late March 1965; McNally reports that soon afterwards, “Garcia dropped by Eric Thompson’s house and heard Dylan’s new album Bringing It All Back Home for the first time, playing it over and over.” [114]
Garcia said, “I dug his stuff really from Bringing It All Back Home. Back in the folk music days I couldn’t really dig this stuff, but on Bringing It All Back Home he was really saying something that I could dig, that was relevant to what was going on in my life at the time.” [115] The Warlocks promptly covered She Belongs To Me and Baby Blue in their sets, the first in a long line of Dylan covers.

We can assume that Garcia remained a close Dylan listener for the rest of his days – though he never really mentioned specific albums after that, he kept picking new songs to cover in the Garcia Band from Dylan albums through the ‘70s, including Planet Waves, Blood on the Tracks, and Street Legal. (Whereas the Dead’s Dylan covers mostly came from the ‘60s.)
According to John Kahn, in the mid-‘70s the Garcia Band would “get together just about every night and play. We had Dylan songbooks and we’d do stuff like play everything from Blonde on Blonde. Then we’d do all sorts of Beatles songs… Most of it never even got past that room.” (We have a studio recording of at least Visions of Johanna from that period, though.) [116]
In time, Dylan also became an admirer of Garcia’s, and they bonded over traditional music. Garcia later said that at the 1987 rehearsals, “We talked about people like Elizabeth Cotten, Mississippi Sheiks, Earl Scruggs, Bill Monroe, Gus Cannon, Hank Williams. We tried a few of those things out at rehearsal. I showed Bob some of those songs: Two Soldiers, Jack-a-Roe, John Hardy, and some others. Trouble was, Bob seemed to prefer to do these rather than rehearse his own songs.” [117]
(Dylan returned the favor by writing in the liner notes to World Gone Wrong, “Jerry Garcia showed me Two Soldiers.”)

Garcia often talked about Dylan not in terms of the albums, but in terms of the songs he covered and how they felt to sing. He said, “Dylan was able to tell you the truth… He was able to talk about the changes that you’d go through, the bummers and stuff like that, and say it in a good way.” [118]
“I relate better to Dylan songs more often than not. Sometimes I feel like I’m right in those songs…that it’s me speaking… You know that song called ‘Going Going Gone’ – and ‘Tough Mama,’ also on Planet Waves? Those are songs that I wear really well. When I sing them I feel like I might as well have written them. I relate to them that well.” [118a]
Later Garcia went into more depth: “I appreciate it when…somebody says something effectively for all of us. That’s what was great about Dylan’s songs, and that’s why I love to do his songs. They speak to us in some kind of universal persona which you can pretty clearly recognize. He hits a real good deep nail on the head in terms of writing songs about something… [Songs like ‘Positively Fourth Street’ and ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’ tell that person who’s lame that they’re lame, why they’re lame, which is a very satisfying thing to do. Certainly something everybody knows about… It’s easy for me to cop that asshole space – I was that guy, too… [But] ‘Positively Fourth Street’ has this way of doing it where it’s beautiful, too. And ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ is basically a putdown, too. It’s one of those things like, ‘you’re losing bad, dig yourself.’ Being able to say that and say it beautifully – it was the beautiful sound of ‘Positively Fourth Street’ that got to me more than the bitterness of the lyric. The combination of the beauty and the bitterness, to me, is wonderful…it’s a great combination of two odd ingredients in the human experience. Anybody who can pull it off that successfully is really a score. That’s something that only Dylan has been able to pull off, in terms of modern songwriting, I think.” [119]
And later: “Dylan’s songs go in lots of different directions, and I sing some of his songs because they speak to me emotionally on some level. Sometimes, I don’t even know why. Like that song ‘Senor.’ There’s something so creepy about that song but it’s very satisfying in a weird sort of way. Not that I know anything about it, because you listen to the lyrics and you go, ‘What the hell is this?’ But there’s something about it emotionally that says, this is talking about a kind of desperation that everybody experiences. It’s like Dylan has written songs that touch into places people have never sung about before. And to me that’s tremendously powerful. And also, because he’s an old folkie, he sometimes writes a beautiful melody. He doesn’t always sing it, but it’s there. So that combination of a tremendously evocative melody and a powerful lyric is something you can do without feeling like an idiot.” [120]

Garcia also appreciated how, partly due to Dylan, the lyrical level & cultural acceptance of rock music was much higher than it had been back in the ‘50s.
When he was in high school, Garcia looked up to the beatnik crowd, who had a disdain for his favorite music. “Rock & roll at that time was not respectable. I mean, beatniks didn’t like rock & roll – they liked jazz. You know: ‘Jazz, man. Dig it.’ Rock & roll wasn’t cool, but I loved rock & roll. I used to have these fantasties about ‘I want rock & roll to be respectable music.’ I wanted it to be like art… I don’t know what they thought it was, like white-trash or kids’ music.” [121]
And: “When I was a kid, rock 'n' roll was totally disreputable. I wanted to play rock ‘n' roll but I wanted it to be respectable. I thought, gee, it'd be nice if rock n' roll had the acceptability that jazz has, that kind of cerebral appreciation. I loved the music, but not the stigma attached to it; nobody took it seriously until Ray Charles played the Newport Jazz Festival and rock 'n' roll started making these little appearances in the jazz world.” [122]
Dylan “gave rock & roll the thing I’d wished it had when I was a kid – respectability, some authority. He took it out of the realm of ignorant guys banging away on electric instruments and put it somewhere else altogether. The Beatles, too…[but] they took their lyric cue from him too. Dylan is the guy who allowed the music to become what some of us hoped it could be.” [123]
Hunter praised Dylan “for being the guy who really opened the door to being literate in music. That was his door and we thank him very much for opening it.” [123]

IN THE DEAD 1966-1967

Ralph Gleason asked Garcia in early ’67, “Where did you get the tunes on the first album from?” Garcia went into a few details about how the Dead had changed their sources around:
“They came from a lot of different places… Some of the material is from recent blues, like the last ten years’ blues, Chicago-style blues. Like ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’ is a song that’s in the public domain, and we left it in the public domain, by the way, we didn’t copyright any of this shit, the stuff that’s traditional we left traditional. [Not quite true – at least on the CD credits, the song is credited to “H.G. Demarais,” a record-label owner who somehow snatched the copyright for the Yardbirds’ version of this song.] ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’ is a traditional song, but it’s only so far as I know maybe 10, 15 years old, not much older than that. [Actually it was first recorded in 1937, but Garcia may only have heard the ‘50s versions.]
Some of the others are much older. ‘Cold Rain and Snow’ is a fragment that I learned from a banjo player named Obray Ramsey, a traditional singer from someplace like Indiana. [Actually North Carolina.] It’s in the same kind of mode as it originally was, but the melody line is different, and we’ve added a harmony line and of course it’s us, it’s our rhythmic structure and ideas. ‘Sittin’ on Top of the World’ is another traditional song that was copyrighted some time not too long ago by some country & western guy but it’s still essentially a folk song. [Written & recorded by the Mississippi Sheiks in 1930.] There are just two or three verses, and they’re standard blues verses that turn up everywhere. And again, that’s our arrangement – most of these things, what we’ve done is we’ve taken an idea and just developed it.
‘Viola Lee Blues’…the words to that and a certain amount of the phrasing, the way the words are sung, comes from a record by Noah Lewis who used to be the harmonica player in Gus Cannon and His Jug Stompers. Really beautiful lyrical harmonica player, one of the early guys. And this song, a good example of how it used to go when Noah Lewis had it, was the Jim Kweskin Jug Band; they do it almost the same way Noah Lewis does it in terms of the way they sing it. Our way is a lot jazzier and it has a newer rhythm, and we’ve also done some things with the bar lengths in it. We’ve slipped in a half bar where there would normally be a bar – it’s sort of like a 12-bar blues, but in this case it’s 11 ½-bar blues, ‘cause we left out a half bar to make the phrasing and the background work together. It’s pretty interesting. And then of course, we will improvise with it for a long time and do a lot of things in it. Again, it’s a framework more than anything else. But the words are real powerful, simple direct things.” [124]

Asked in another interview if he preferred rock or bluegrass, Garcia replied, “I still listen to bluegrass. I don’t listen to that much rock & roll. I listen to almost everything but rock & roll.” [125]
The Gleason interview also illustrated this, when Gleason asked him, “What kind of music do you listen to?”
“Everything. Anything. If it’s good I’ll listen to it, or if it’s around I’ll listen to it. I listen to anything that turns me on. Or that somebody turns me on to.”
“What turns you on?”
“What can I say? Almost anything I listen to. If it’s well-played music – I mean if you’re a musician, you know when somebody’s really playing and when they’re not really playing. If it’s well-played music, I like it. If it’s anything, country & western music, jazz. I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz lately. I’ve been listening to a lot of Django Reinhardt. Mostly for the guitar, you know. But I’ve learned as much from the violin player in terms of those really lovely graceful ideas. And that’s the kind of stuff I like. Anything that is beautiful. Indian music. All the things that people listen to, I guess, I listen to, whatever it is. Soul music, rhythm & blues, old-time blues, jugband music.” [126]

Frank Kofsky asked him later in the year, “Do you find that listening to jazz has helped you, given you any ideas?”
“Oh yeah, sure. Absolutely. I really like – I listen to Charles Lloyd a lot. We’ve played with Charles Lloyd on a lot of occasions. And that’s the kind of music that’s sort of a new music and is sort of a new jazz, in a way. And it’s closely related to the kind of stuff that we’re doing, only we don’t do it as well as Charles Lloyd does.” [127]

When Garcia & Lesh appeared on Tom Donahue’s KMPX show in April ’67, they brought an eclectic selection of records to show what they were listening to. It turns out they were big Phil Spector fans; and by Weir’s request they played ‘Maggie’s Farm’ from Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home. Many of the records, I don’t know whether Garcia or Lesh picked them, since they stop doing introductions midway through the show.
But they play a Charles Lloyd tune, ‘Dream Weaver,’ and Garcia mentions the recent Rock Garden shows with Lloyd: “We had a really good time with him; in fact, there's been some communication between us and Charles Lloyd just recently, he's been talking to our managers and we're gonna maybe work something out where we're working together in some other situations, cause we had a good time together.” (Lloyd later mentioned, “Garcia and I talked about recording together… It would have been my group enhanced by him and some other musicians [like] Jack Casady… What Jerry and I planned was to do was go in the studio and let people come and visit and just make music.”) [128]
Lesh picked some Charles Mingus and Charles Ives and (surprisingly) Ian & Sylvia. He also put on Ray Charles – Garcia says, “I always liked the seven-piece stuff with the Raelettes…it was a real nice sound.” – and a James Brown track the Dead would cover later, ‘Man’s World.’ Garcia calls it “a really far-out thing,” and Phil is particularly taken by the percussive way it uses strings. Phil says James Brown has the best big band; and Garcia adds, “They’re real snappy.”
Garcia probably picked the Swan Silvertones, since he was a fan of that gospel-group style; and he introduced a few of the other tracks that he brought. For instance: “This is Blind Willie Johnson and his wife Angelina, and Blind Willie Johnson is a particularly interesting slide-style guitarist. He played nothing but sacred music during the ‘20s and ‘30s…you know, on the streets…and his records are valued by old-time record collectors. And this particular song, the Blues Project also does; anybody who’s heard the Blues Project record that has ‘Lord I Just Can’t Keep From Crying Sometime’ on it, it’s the same song, and this is I guess where they got it.” (Garcia also likely got ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ from Johnson.)
Garcia also picked a Bulgarian vocal ensemble from the out-of-print RCA album Music of Bulgaria: “This was recorded in France…and it’s the Bulgarian folklore scene…this is the music of their country… The thing that I like about this particular cut is the singing is unaccompanied two-part singing, and it’s like semitones – microtones, and it’s just the weirdest intervals that you ever heard.”
Junior Wells’ ‘Ships on the Ocean,’ another track off the Hoodoo Man Blues album: “We worked with Junior Wells at the Fillmore Auditorium [in January ‘67]. (Lesh: When he was there though, he wouldn’t do his blues stuff…) Right, and the band wasn’t – the band that he uses with Buddy Guy, he just – Like on this particular record, he’s just got a little three-piece band backing him up, and it’s just so tasty. This particular cut is – I think it’s one of the finest single blues-band recordings…just musically, the way the stuff happens is so nice.”
Skip James, ‘Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues’: “He’s a famous Delta blues singer, as it says right here on the cover… Everybody thought he was dead for the longest time, and everybody said, ‘yeah, Skip James, he’s dead,’ but his old 78s were around, and people would listen to them – it’s really good… They found out he was alive.” [James was rediscovered in 1964, and Garcia picked the track from one of his new ‘60s albums.]
They also play Otis Redding’s ‘Day Tripper,’ and talk a bit about opening for Redding at the Fillmore in December 1966.
Lesh: We worked with Otis… And it was kind of scary to work with Otis.
Garcia: Yeah, Otis is really heavy.
DJ: I thought he would do better here than he did.
Lesh: He tore it up!
Garcia: He tore the place apart.
DJ: I mean, as far as people were concerned, I don’t think he had the number of people that he could’ve had.
Garcia: Maybe not too many people knew about it, that could’ve been it. But boy…when he came on stage, it was like the whole place got about six times as big, and the band just got really snappy, you know; it was so fine and the music was really good… When you go to those shows, most the time, like the James Brown show, the music is like not really where it’s at with the James Brown show, the circus part is what it’s all about, kinda – and with Otis Redding, the music is still what’s happening, you know, and it’s just so good, really, wow.


For many of the Dead’s songs, we don’t really know what the original flash of inspiration was, but Garcia did give us an account of the origin of Uncle John’s Band in the fall of ‘69: “At the time I was listening to records of the Bulgarian Women’s Choir and also this Greek-Macedonian music – these penny-whistlers – and on one of those records there was a song that featured this little turn of melody that was so lovely that I thought, ‘Gee, if I could get this into a song it would be so great.’ So I stole it… Actually, I only took a little piece of the melody, so I can’t say I plagiarized the whole thing. Of course it became so transmogrified when Bob and Phil added their harmony parts to it that it really was no longer the part of the song that was special for me. That was the melodic kicker originally though.” [129]
(I’ve always wondered just what tune he was listening to – was it from the same Music of Bulgaria album? – and if anyone’s been able to find it.)

The Dead had always been gleeful about their diverse range of influences – as Garcia told Ralph Gleason in ’67, “We’ve stolen freely from everywhere, remorselessly and freely! Our ideas come from everywhere, and we have no bones about mixing our idioms or throwing stuff back and forth from one place to another. So you might hear some straight traditional classical-style counterpoint popping up in the middle of some rowdy thing.” [130] In 1969, they took an abrupt turn towards country music, picking up another tradition they hadn’t used before; in Garcia’s case it had been dormant for a few years.
Peter Grant said that back in 1964, “Jerry and I were driving in his Corvair up from Palo Alto to Berkeley to see the Kentucky Colonels play. 'Together Again' came on the radio (by Buck Owens), with that memorable solo by Tom Brumley. [First released in Feb '64.] We both listened in reverent awe, and said, 'Man, we gotta learn pedal steel.'” [131] Garcia tried working on the pedal steel briefly in 1967, but gave it up, only to return with renewed determination in 1969 as the Dead started adding country covers to their sets – some traditional tunes, some from Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Porter Wagoner, or George Jones (Weir’s favorite).

Garcia often talked about how Workingman’s Dead came about: “We decided to play more or less straight-ahead songs and not get hung up with effects and weirdness. For me, the models were music that I’d liked before that was basically simply constructed but terribly effective – like the old Buck Owens records from Bakersfield. Those records were basic rock & roll: nice, raw, simple, straight-ahead music, with good vocals and substantial instrumentation, but nothing flashy. Workingman’s Dead was our attempt to say, ‘We can play this kind of music -- we can play…heartland music. It’s something we do as well as we do anything.’” [132]
John Dawson said he and Garcia were both into Merle Haggard & Buck Owens, “getting off on how they used electric guitars to make this real sparse but beautiful sound. Their harmonies were crisp and clean and the songs made good sense. If you were a guitar player and you wanted to play country, you had to listen to Don Rich [Buck Owens’ guitarist]. Everybody did, including Jerry, of course. We’d all listen to that Carnegie Hall record that Buck Owens did and try to figure out how he got those sounds.” [133]
When Garcia talked with Elvis Costello, Elvis brought up Don Rich: “Even in a very simple country-structured song, you're likely to begin a solo on a very unusual note. Which is a thing he would do. It would almost sound like he was playing in the wrong key.”
Garcia replied, “I got that from him. Roy Nichols [Merle Haggard’s guitar player], he's another one. Both of them are important influences for me. I heard them both live lots of times. And Don Rich's attitude was always so cool. His fiddle playing was great too.” [134]
“We're kind of on the far fringe of it, but we’re part of that California-Bakersfield school of country & western rock 'n' roll — Buck Owens, Merle Haggard. We used to go see those bands and think, 'Gee, those guys are great.' Don Rich was one of my favorites. I learned a lot of stuff from him. So we took kind of the Buck Owens approach on Workingman's Dead. Some of the songs in there are direct tributes to that style of music, although they're not real obvious.” [134]
Costello pointed out, “You can see the connection between Haggard’s ‘Working Man Blues’ and ‘Cumberland Blues.’” Garcia replied, “Absolutely. I can elucidate it point by point, in fact, if you want to spend a million years studying it. I don’t think anybody wants to get into it that far…” [134]
(Actually it sounds like the Dead borrowed part of the Working Man’s Blues arrangement for their cover of Big River! They half-heartedly ran through the original once at a soundcheck, mostly as an instrumental jam – )
Elsewhere, Garcia went into a little more detail about the structure of Cumberland Blues: “On ‘Cumberland Blues,’ one part is modeled on the Bakersfield country & western bands…like Buck Owens’ old Buckaroos and [Merle Haggard’s] Strangers. The first part of the tune is that style. And the last part is like bluegrass. That’s what I wanted to do, a marriage of those styles.” [135] (Though there’s a later interview somewhere where he felt the arrangement was over-complicated, going in too many directions.)
In his view, he didn’t feel the Dead were total authentic country: “Well, I think the Grateful Dead is basically, like, a good, snappy rock'n'roll band, I mean that's its basic character. So when we do country stuff, for instance, people sometimes tend to think we've suddenly gotten very pure, very direct. But we don't actually do it very purely or directly at all, compared to, like Roy Acuff, say. And if we're talking about country music, we have to compare it to those kind of guys. I mean, when we play it, it's still us.” [136]

Ed McClanahan, visiting Garcia in August 1970, was surprised when Garcia played a record by Dolly Parton for him – “my favorite girl singer,” Garcia told him.
“Jerry's at the turntable now flipping switches and adjusting dials, blowing invisible dust off the record with French maid fastidiousness, delicately plucking up the tonearm…gingerly almost to the point of reverence, and a moment later the room is filled with the exquisitely melancholic strains of Dolly Parton's mourning-dove-with-a-broken-wing voice, keening,
"In this mental insti-too-shun,
Looking out through these arn bars..."
It's her beautiful "Daddy Come and Get Me," about a girl whose husband has had her committed ("to get me out of his way"), and when Dolly comes to the lines "It's not my mind that broken/ It's my heart" …Jerry Garcia turns to me and clasps his hands to his breast and rolls his eyes after the goofy, ga-ga fashion of a lovesick swain and utters an ecstatic little moan and swoons into the nearest chair... and for the next half hour, while our breakfast turns cold in the kitchen, he and Hunter and I sit there in the living room tokin' on a taste of Captain Trips' morning pipe and groovin' on Sweet Dolly's bucolic threnodies about lost loves and dying lovers and stillborn babes, and by the time her last words ("O Robert! O Robert!") fade into silence, I swear to God there's not a dry eye in the room.” [137]
(Her song ‘Tomorrow Is Forever’ came out in late ‘69, and it would turn up in Dead shows briefly in 1972.)

One contemporary band that was taking a different slant on traditional-sounding music was the Band, and their second album (from late ’69) was a particular influence on Hunter & Garcia. From the 1971 Rolling Stone interview –
Q: What music do you listen to now?
Garcia: I listen to all kinds of stuff, just all kinds of stuff.
Q: Do you listen to the Band’s records?
Garcia: Some of them I do. At first I just wanta say, ‘Wow, they’re getting into this repetitive bag,’ each time I hear the record for the first time. Then after a few weeks it starts creeping into the back of my mind and I start thinking, ‘Wow, what was that tune?’ And I go and find the record and put it on. It’s like scratching an itch. Some of them I really dig, others I probably will, and then other ones I think are halfway efforts; it’s just like anybody. I dig their music more or less consistently, so I don’t really know whether the record’s good or not.
Q: What tunes on the new one do you like? [Cahoots, 1971]
Garcia: I love ‘Life is a Carnival’ – that’s beautiful. Shit, that’s great. All the stuff in there, all those great parts. The Dylan song is great, too. I love that song. I’ll probably sing that with the barroom band. I like to do those kinda tunes…
[He did immediately start doing ‘When I Paint My Masterpiece,’ which was on both that album and a ’71 Dylan compilation album. He then talks a bit about hanging out with Robbie Robertson.]
Q: How would you describe his guitar playing?
Garcia: He’s one of those guys who descended from Roy Buchanan and those fifties Fender pickers. I can hear where he’s picked up a lotta his stuff. His approach to it is more or less orchestral. The kinda stuff he plays and the music is like punctuation, and structural. He’s an extremely subtle and refined guitar player, that’s the way I think of him. I really admire him.
Q: How would you describe your own guitar playing?
Garcia: I don’t know. I would describe my own guitar playing as descended from barroom rock & roll, country guitar. Just ‘cause that’s where all my stuff comes from. It’s like that blues instrumental stuff that was happening in the late fifties and early sixties, like Freddie King. [138]

In a 1972 interview, he was more complimentary –
Q: I read somewhere you'd like to play with the Band. Tell me something about that. The Band are really good in my estimation.
Garcia: Right ... really good. I love their music. I've hung out a little with Robbie Robertson but I don't know whether anything'll come of all that except that we're friendly and we respect each other. That's the thing.
Q: Is there anything you can pinpoint that you like about them?
Garcia: Yeah, I like everything about them. I love their songs. Their songs are fantastic. Really well written and really together and their playing is so incredibly complementary towards each other. They're just a very good band, I think. [139]

And in 1981 –
Q: Looking back, were there any other groups or artists that were pivotal influences on your concept of the band?
Garcia: There have been a couple of different things for a couple of different people. For myself, I was very, very impressed by the music of Robbie Robertson and the Band. There isn't any real textural similarity between what we play; I just admired their work very much. [140]

Hunter spoke much later about how the Band affected him: “I was so impressed by the songwriting of Robbie Robertson, I just said, ‘Oh yeah, this is the direction. This is the way for us…’ [Their second album] was out, the one with ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’… The historical consciousness in ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’ is a real formative moment in directions in American music… Some of those songs are probably the father of ‘Jack Straw’ and things like that.” [141]


Garcia was asked in 1971 what he listened to.
Garcia: When I get ready to go on the road, I make up cassettes of all my favorite music. Country & western stuff; just whatever. Ali Akbar Khan. Crosby, Stills & Nash.
Q: Any English groups?
Garcia: Beatles… I don’t really like the English bands too much. A few of the older ones, yeah. Traffic is good, Stevie Winwood is great. Some of them I enjoy listening to, but I don’t enjoy them in the sense of the soul. There’s something that I listen to music for which – Neil Young has it, but Elton John doesn’t, for me. It’s well-executed and everything, it’s good music, but it just has to do with how it makes me feel. I love American music. I love Indian music, too… Actually, there’s a lotta English stuff which I like a lot, but I’m just tending to be general. You know what I think of as being the English sound, the real sound, is like Pentangle. Pentangle, to my ears, is the English sound, because it’s very much that sort of madrigal, Elizabethan thing. Very crisp, economical. But it’s not in any of the trends; it’s more basic.
Q: Other rock & roll bands?
Garcia: I like Crosby, Stills & Nash and all the various elements that they do, their solo trips. I like Neil Young’s stuff a lot, it’s real great. I like his sensibilities. The Band, I love the Band, I really like the way they play, and their idea of what music is, is really neat to me. [142]
He also extravagantly praised the Rowan Brothers, but from hanging out with them, not from their recordings (he was playing at their sessions, though). “I love their music…they could be like the Beatles.” [142] And he mentioned that he loved John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band album.

In another 1971 interview -
Q: What do you think of the current music scene?
Garcia: Well, my basic feeling about music is that if it turns me on, I like it, it's good. I like all kinds of different music. It depends on where my head is. There are some musicians that I played with around here who I really thought a lot of. They aren't really established - starting out, really. [Probably the Rowan Brothers.] And there is going to continue to be better and better music and better and better musicians... I feel really good about the music scene. Yeah, it keeps getting better, and I've met guys that have impressed me a lot. Like The Band, just incredible.
Q: What do you think of Dylan?
Garcia: Well, at one time he was talking right to me. He was putting names to changes that I was going through, but he isn't doing that for me now. I like him and I respect him and I think he really writes a great song, but I don't feel any earth-shaking trip.
I like Lennon's new album, the solo album. [Plastic Ono Band] But you see, I've never met any of these guys, I don't know them. I can only talk about their music, and I think Lennon's music is really beautiful. I really like listening to it in spite of its hard thing. There's a lot of beauty - incredible delicate music. I can dig it. I just think of those guys as just being other guys. Lennon I feel sorry for. I think he's got a right to complain. I'm sure he's had some terrible trips laid on him just through the years as a Beatle. Just think of what it must be like to be John Lennon. There must be a million people hitting on you with weird shit. He's probably had so little time to get into his own head. Now he's got to do some violence, breaking away. I can dig it. [142a]
(In an interview from the fall of '71, Garcia remarked that he still hadn't met Dylan. He did get the chance to meet a drunk Lennon at the Bottom Line in November 1974.)

Garcia would later refer to Pentangle as striking him, from the times they’d opened for the Dead in early ’69: “There used to be a nice-sounding band with those two good English fingerpickers…Pentangle, with Bert Jansch and John Renbourn... They were great! They had a tasty jazz drummer who played brushes, and an excellent acoustic bass player, and a lady who sang in a sort of madrigal, English voice. It was a lovely band, the texture was really nice, and it sounded great onstage. We played a lot of shows with them, and we heard them a lot in certain circumstances, and they sounded beautiful. It had a lot of possibilities, that combination of two acoustic guitars and a standard rhythm section.” [143]
It seems likely Garcia would’ve picked up some Pentangle records after hearing them live.

Richard Loren remembered visiting Garcia's house in Stinson Beach with Grisman in the early '70s: "We'd smoke big joints and listen to everything from the Swan Silvertones to Stockhausen. We'd listen to whatever was turning Jerry on at the time, and it was never necessarily some new rock band." [143a]

According to McNally, Garcia's 1974 Compliments album was inspired by the style of "thirties jazz guitarist Oscar Aleman, a musician whose work absorbed Garcia at the time." [143b] John Kahn said Aleman's 1939 recording of 'Russian Lullaby' was Garcia's source for that song: "He had a record of Oscar Aleman doing it in this weird guitar trio." [143c]

Garcia appeared in the Introducing Roy Buchanan documentary ("The World's Greatest Unknown Guitar Player") in 1971, saying: "He's probably just the most original country-style rock & roll guitar player, a Fender guitar player. He has the nicest tone, the most amazing chops technically, super fast. And much neglected." [143d] Garcia apparently saw Buchanan at the Crossroads nightclub in Bladensburg, Maryland sometime earlier that year; I don't think any Buchanan albums were out yet.

Garcia later spoke a bit about combining different styles in a song, specifically Scarlet Begonias:
“In the early '70s, we were listening to the old Neville Brothers – the Meters – and also the early reggae stuff that was coming in. So that was in our ears. The interesting thing about that reggae stuff is that the Jamaican guys were trying to get that sleight-of-hand with modular instruments: from the Larry Graham bass thing and the little things Sly used to do on those records. So they copped that idea that way.” [144]
You might be able to hear some Meters-derived playing in a few of the funkier instrumentals the Dead tried out in the studio during the ’75 sessions. Garcia was also a Jimmy Cliff fan, and went to see Bob Marley in October ’73 – he started doing some reggae songs like Harder They Come and Stop That Train, and within a couple years more Dead and Garcia Band tunes started sounding reggae-influenced.

Scarlet Begonias had some other surprising influences: “It definitely has a little Caribbean thing to it, though nothing specific… I wanted it to be rhythmic. I think I got a little of it from that Paul Simon, ‘Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard’ thing. A little from Cat Stevens – some of that rhythmic stuff he did on Tea for the Tillerman was kind of nice. It’s an acoustic feel in a way, but we put it into an electric space.” [145]

Gospel music was also important to Garcia in the ‘70s – it didn’t surface much in Dead shows aside from the vocal outro to He’s Gone, but it was a strong presence in the Garcia Band, starting in the Keith & Donna era. Garcia said in ’77, “There was a two or three year period when I only listened to ‘40s and ‘50s gospel music. That was the only thing I listened to.” [146]
Donna remembered, “There was a period there when Garcia and Keith and I just spent hours and hours and hours listening to tons of different albums of old gospel music – Dorothy Love Coates and the Blind Boys of Alabama, real funky, real spiritual gospel music. We did that for a long time, and ‘Who Was John’ came out of that, though I can’t remember who did that before us. We were just in that world all the time for a while. Jerry loved those kind of harmonies.” [147]
(‘Who Was John’ seems to have been from the very obscure ‘30s gospel group Mitchell’s Christian Singers, though the song is distantly related to Blind Willie Johnson’s very different ‘John the Revelator.’)
John Kahn also mentioned, “Keith and Donna were always together, so Donna sang with us too. She had a couple of songs that she sang, like this Dorothy Love Coates gospel song called ‘Strange Man.’ Jerry and I had always liked gospel – we’d done some country gospel with Old & In The Way – but Keith & Donna’s influence definitely pushed us in that direction a bit.” [148]
(Other gospel songs the band did included 'My Sisters and Brothers' from the Sensational Nightingales, 'Ride the Mighty High' from the Mighty Clouds of Joy, and 'I'll Be With Thee' from Dorothy Love Coates & the Gospel Harmonettes.)

Blair Jackson writes that when Sandy Rothman stayed with Garcia in 1987, "the two of them spent time listening to Jerry's huge record collection, which took up an entire wall of the house. 'We'd listen to old gospel vocal groups a lot; really, all sorts of stuff. He had very broad taste.'" [149]
And when Bruce Hornsby played with the Dead in the ‘90s, he said Garcia “was turning me on to old gospel quartet records from the ‘40s – people like the Golden Gate Quartet.” [149a]


Among jazz musicians, Art Tatum, Django Reinhardt, and John Coltrane were easily Garcia’s favorites. While he would sometimes mention others like Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, or Ornette Coleman, these three came up repeatedly over the years as players whose improvisations he studied closely.

For instance, in 1977 –
Q: What artists’ albums do you buy these days sight unseen?
Garcia: Nobody’s. I’ve spent a lot more time in the last few years going back to people that I didn’t hear. Like, Art Tatum is one of my musical heroes in terms of what it is to be an incredible extemporaneous performer.
Q: Improvising around a structure –
Garcia: And what structures – the deepest changes, the most incredible harmonic stuff. I listen to that to absorb the sense of it, like reading sentences – rather than playing along to learn licks, which is not of great interest to me now. When someone is improvising, you hear distinct personalities coming out…
Q: What guitarists do you admire these days?
Garcia: Well, Django Reinhardt is like the model guitarist for me. There is so much passion in his playing, both in terms of invention and expressiveness, and you can feel his attitude, his emotion, in his playing. Of my contemporaries, I’ve liked Pat Martino a lot, and some of the work Jeff Beck is doing. It’s a slightly cold approach, but I think he does it very well. [150]

And in 1991, Garcia talked about practicing guitar –
“I spent a lot of time listening to Art Tatum records [recently]. Not that I could play it on the guitar. But the way he was able to endlessly come up with new tonal settings for any melody is real fascinating to me. There's something about the way he approaches rhythmic stuff too that always surprises me and says to me: ‘Difficult. [laughs] This is hard to do.’ I'll take some little part of a tune and say, ‘If I can work out just this much to my satisfaction....’...Sometimes the effect is really indirect. I don't seek specific influences; I don't want to end up sounding like Art Tatum. But just observing somebody else's approach finds its way. My fantasy is, what's it like to be this guy? To sit down at the piano with this total mastery of the instrument, and play one intimidating possibility after another, seamlessly, and with Einsteinian super-logic, you know?” [151]
McNally wrote about a conversation in 1984 where Garcia talked about Art Tatum, "and Jerry gleefully told stories of pianists contemplating suicide after listening to the master." [151a]

Merl Saunders told Blair Jackson about how he showed Art Tatum licks to Garcia in the early ‘70s:
“I saw Art Tatum play when I was about 15 years old, and I got so disgusted I stopped playing piano. I thought, ‘What’s the point?’ He was so amazing you could never hope to be that good in your wildest dreams… But he was a genius, and of course I came to appreciate him more, and I actually studied him a bit. I managed to learn a few of his runs, and I’d be there warming up on his stuff and Garcia would be saying, ‘Hey man, what’s that run?’ ‘That’s Art Tatum.’ And we’d go over them together. Then we’d be out at the Keystone in the middle of a song, and all of a sudden I’d hear him doing an Art Tatum run, and I’d look over and he’d have this big smile on his face! Man, when Jerry would get on something, he’d keep going with it until he got it. He’d stumble through it at first, but he understood music so well and he had such a good memory that he could eventually get almost anything he tried down. And getting down Art Tatum is not easy – on piano or guitar.”[152]

Garcia also said, “I’ve been influenced a lot by Coltrane, but I never copped his licks or sat down, listened to records and tried to play his stuff. I’ve been impressed with that thing of flow, and of making statements that to my ears sound like paragraphs – he’ll play along stylistically with a certain kind of tone, in a certain kind of syntax, for X amount of time, then he’ll like change the subject, then play along with this other personality coming out, which really impresses me.” [153]

And also in 1981 –
Q: Considering all the improvisations you do, I'm surprised you don't acknowledge jazz more as an influence on your playing. You had to be listening to Coltrane, at least.
Garcia: Oh, definitely Coltrane, for sure. But I never sat down and stole ideas from him; it was more his sense of flow that I learned from. That and the way his personality was always right there – the presence of the man just comes stomping out of those records. It's not something I would've been able to learn through any analytical approach, it was one of those things I just had to flash on. I also get that from Django Reinhardt's records. You can actually hear him shift mood...
Q: The humor in his solo on ‘Somewhere Beyond the Sea’ is amazing...
Garcia: Anger, too. You can hear him get mad and play some nasty, mean little thing. It's incredible how clearly his personality comes through. It's one of those things I've always been impressed with in music. There's no way to steal that, but it's something you can model your playing on. Not in the sense of copying someone else's personality, but in the hopes that maybe I could learn how to let my own personality come through. [154]


Garcia did not express much admiration for the electric jazz-fusion or prog-rock groups that sprouted in the ‘70s. When asked in ’77 if he liked Genesis or Yes, he replied, “Not particularly.” [155]

Asked about the Mahavishnu Orchestra in 1974, Garcia responded, “I don't really like Mahavishnu. I don't like John McLaughlin's playing. It's too stiff. Technically, I admire it - he can do things that are difficult to do, his execution is remarkable. But the way it ends up sounding is nervous and agitated rather than energetic. And also I like music that has more beauty to it and more soulfulness. You know, I'm not a really competitive dude, and I dug it for what it was. But listening to it at home, it's just not the kind of thing that moves me that much.” [156]

And in 1981, he was asked, “Have you seen Group 87? …Like a young Weather Report…”
“That’s kind of like state-of-the-art music-school music. Weather Report and the whole Chick Corea school of keyboard – an awful lot of it is like musician’s music. It’s not really fun to listen to… I don’t know why those guys, with their ability, don’t have a concept that is sort of like ensemble improvisation. They’re certainly capable of doing it but they don’t, for some reason. They hint at it in their formal arrangements. There’s like talk in their arrangements, nice things that happen between the bass and Wayne Shorter that are interesting, that they write formally. There are usually melodies and harmonies that would be fun to listen to them just play against each other in a more conversational style. I can hear it in my mind’s ear, so to speak. But they don’t do it, and I don’t know why they don’t. That whole generation of players, all those guys – Weather Report, Return to Forever, and Al DiMeola – they all have that thing of real rigid solo structures. I don’t know why they have chosen to tie themselves to that. I think it really limits the dynamism that’s available to them in the music.” [157]

It wasn’t often that Garcia talked about groups he disliked – perhaps because his tastes were broad, or because he was generally only asked about the music he liked. One interviewer in ’67 was scornful of the Monkees, but Garcia admitted, “Their records are really pretty good.” [158]
Once Garcia did mention, “There’s a lot of music [in New Orleans] but not that much good music. The whole zydeco-cajun music thing is so marginal, and it leans up against so many other styles of music that allow greater proficiency, that while there are a lot of great players, it seems to me sort of a one-note thing. It’s a one-gesture kind of music, so it’s a little flat. Players like the Neville Brothers are rare – they have…a definite sound that’s original.” [158a]
And not surprisingly, Garcia was no fan of Van Halen or heavy-metal groups. Justin Kreutzmann remembered, "When he and I would be watching MTV, it'd be funny listening to him comment on those guitar players. This was in the eighties, when heavy metal was totally all you saw on MTV, and he was like, 'I don't get it, God, it's just so mindless.'" [158b]

About the only band I’ve found that he really loathed was the Doors – not from their records, but from seeing them live when they were billed with the Dead a few times in early ‘67. Garcia disliked them so intensely that the mere mention of them in ’81 set him off on a long spiel about how awful they were:
“I never liked the Doors. I found them terribly offensive… Morrison was just a pure Mick Jagger copy; that was his whole shot, that he was a Mick Jagger imitation…totally stolen from right around Mick Jagger’s 1965 tour of the States… [His] reputation as a poet I thought was really not deserved. Rimbaud was great at 18, 19, and Verlaine. Those guys were great. Fuckin’ Jim Morrison wasn’t great, I’m sorry. I could never see what it was about the Doors. They had a very brittle sound live, a three-piece band with no bass…that and the kinda raga-rock guitar style was strange. It sounded very brittle and sharp-edged to me, not something I enjoyed listening to… I was never attracted to their music at all, so I couldn’t find anything to like about them. When we played with them, I think I watched the first tune of two, then I went upstairs and fooled with my guitar. There was nothing there that I wanted to know about… I’ve always looked for something else in music, and whatever it was, they didn’t have it. They didn’t have anything of blues, for example, in their sound or feel… All I sensed was sham. As far as I was concerned, it was just surface and no substance.” (Etc.!) [159]
(So I would imagine there were no Doors albums in his record collection!)


Garcia was asked in ’77 why Keith Olsen was chosen to produce Terrapin Station – Garcia’s answer: “The Fleetwood Mac LP.” [160] Olsen had been recommended by Clive Davis, and it was a band decision, particularly Weir’s; so I’m not sure how much Garcia actually liked that album or Olsen’s production on it (Fleetwood Mac was so successful at that point he could hardly have avoided hearing it, but they were no longer the band he’d known in the ‘60s.) Possibly the Dead were just anxious to get a producer who had actually done a super-platinum-selling album in hopes he could sprinkle some of that magic on them. In any case, when they talked to him, they liked him and signed him up – Lesh even wrote ‘Passenger’ for the album, based on the older Fleetwood Mac song ‘Station Man.’ But they didn’t turn into Fleetwood Mac. (In fact, all of the Dead’s albums from that point on were accurately described by Mickey Hart in 1987: “That music is not what I call Grateful Dead. It was produced by twits and plumbers; it was a shame and a travesty.”) [161]

Asked in 1981, "Is there anybody on the current scene that you feel a particular kinship or identification with?" Garcia replied: "The Who. I think the Who are one of the few truly important architects of rock 'n' roll. Pete Townshend may be one of rock 'n' roll's rare authentic geniuses. And there's also the fact that they're among our few surviving contemporaries...I'm just really glad they exist." [161a]
(For their personal connection, see )

Per Blair Jackson, in the late ‘70s “Garcia professed to liking the Ramones, Elvis Costello, and other new wave bands.” [162] Garcia was friendly with Costello in later years, though I haven't found an example of him talking about Costello's music.
But Garcia reached a point sometime in the ‘70s where he stopped being influenced by other contemporary groups. While he kept finding new music to like, he would say in the ‘80s and ‘90s that most new music was derivative and he preferred returning to older artists. He said in 1981, “I don’t really feel any affinity toward any group.” [163]
So this marks a shift in his interviews as well – he mentions plenty of recent artists that he likes (musically of no influence on him), but talks most enthusiastically about the music of his past. And in particular, his guitar studies became based on music books rather than listening to albums as in the old days.

1980 –
Q: Are you influenced by any of the trends that are around? Do you listen to the radio?
Garcia: Sure. I listen to everything.
Q: Anything particular that’s turned you on lately?
Garcia: Just the stuff that’s hit everybody. I like The Wall a lot. Everybody likes that. I like Elvis Costello. I’m a big Elvis Costello fan. I like Warren Zevon a lot. I mean, I’ve heard good stuff from almost everybody. I don’t think there’s anybody who’s consistently putting out great stuff, time after time after time. But everybody’s got something to say and there’s moments in all of this that are real excellent. I go for the moments. I keep listening till I hear something that knocks me out. Dire Straits – I love that band. It’s hard not to like that band. [164]

1981 –
Q: You ever listen to John Prine?
Garcia: Yeah. He’s got a couple of songs… I love that song he has about the junkie. [‘Sam Stone’] Great song. I haven’t heard him in a long time.
Q: He’s sort of been rewriting the same melodies forever.
Garcia: That’s one of the things that bothered me about him. Him and Jesse Winchester both are those kind of really limited guys, unfortunately, melodically.
Q: Their first couple albums are great.
Garcia: Right, and they say everything they have to say, sort of. But they said it so nicely, so beautifully, naturally – Jesus. The first two Jesse Winchester albums are so good. I love the songs on those, every one of those. Nice records.
Q: Let the Rough Side Drag is pretty good. As a ballad singer, he’s about as close to Johnny Horton at his best as anybody.
Garcia: Yeah, Johnny Horton was a great ballad singer. There’s a guy who had a wonderful voice. ‘North to Alaska’ was his coolest idea. The way he sings that – he’s got such a cool voice. His rock & roll voice is just great. [165]

Sandy Troy wrote that in the summer of 1986, when Garcia was recovering from his coma, "during his spare time he listened to his collection of records - Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Los Lobos, and his favorite composer, Charles Ives." [165a] I don't know how accurate Troy was in this list; but Garcia was certainly a Los Lobos fan - he went to see a show of theirs that November, and played with them.
Bruce Hornsby's contact with the Dead came when his band the Range was playing a cover of 'I Know You Rider' in 1986. "The Dead heard that there was this band riding around the country playing Dead songs, and Garcia and Phil became fans of the record [The Way It Is]. So we got a call saying they wanted us to open a couple of shows [in May 1987]." [165b] (It's very likely that other bands that opened for the Dead in the later years were also invited because Garcia was a fan of their music.)

1987 –
“There's a lot of music that I like personally, and there's some soulful people there. I'm a big Peter Gabriel fan, I like Stevie Winwood's stuff - still good, still great. Los Lobos is one of my favorite bands - U2. There's all kinds of - there's lots more. When I was in New York I went to see Suzanne Vega… I love her. I offered to produce her next record. I'd love to do it, and I really have huge respect for her. I found her so real…I thought she was a wonderful performer. She is terrific, really really good.” [166]

1989 –
Q: I wanted to ask you what kind of music you’re currently listening to. Do you keep abreast of new things?
Garcia: No, I don’t keep abreast, but I do listen to new stuff. I’ve been listening to some interesting stuff from Martinique, which is a French-speaking island, and this stuff is recorded in France. It’s got some of that Afro-Cuban intensity, but some of that kind of Brazilian sophistication harmonically. It’s something in between those two worlds. It’s very engaging music, really pretty stuff, and also has a great drive. Other stuff, too – there’s some interesting African guitarists, a kind of finger-picking thing with African music that’s interesting. I keep up with the bluegrass world some, and I kind of listen to whatever’s going on. I spend a lot of time going back and listening to stuff, too. I always go back and listen to Art Tatum and Django Reinhardt, and Miles’ [Davis] stuff. I listen to all the way through, his whole career. John Coltrane. Ornette Coleman. Mostly it’s one of those things where you stumble from one thing to another, and somebody says, “Hey, listen to this. This is really great.” Musicians turn you onto stuff. [167]

1991 –
Q: What other music are you listening to these days?
Garcia: All kinds of stuff. I listen to anything anyone gives me. I always go back to a few basic favorites. I can always listen to Django Reinhardt and hear something I haven’t heard before. I like to listen to Art Tatum and Coltrane and Charlie Parker. Those are guys who never seem to run out of ideas. And there are all kinds of great new players. Michael Hedges is great. And my personal favorite lately is this guy Frank Gambale, who’s been playing with Chick Corea for the past couple of years.
Q: What about pop music or, say, a band like Living Colour?
Garcia: Living Colour is a great band. Their whole approach is interesting, but they’re short on melodies. And unless they find something with more melody, they’re going to have a hard time getting to that next level. That’s a tough space where they are right now; I think the most talented guy in the band is going to look to break out if the band doesn’t go somewhere. Jane’s Addiction is another band I like. A great band. [168]
(He also liked the “Deadicated” tribute album, saying it was “terrific” and praising in particular the covers by Midnight Oil, Jane’s Addiction, Lyle Lovett, the Indigo Girls, Suzanne Vega & Elvis Costello.)

Lesh also said in 1990, "When Garcia was so turned on to the Chick Corea Elektric Band and their guitar player, Frank Gambale, he had me check it out, and they had an outstanding bass player as well, John Patitucci." [168a]

1993 -
A New Yorker reporter wrote, “He is slow to get going in the morning and can spend hours puttering. He may start by listening to some music, anything from Haydn string quartets to the Butthole Surfers.” [169]


“When I buy records I don't buy guitar players, I buy – music. Because all those guys, they're just learning to play the guitar, just like I am, and I don't listen to them much, because that'd be like learning from me. You know? They've derived all their shit from the same shit I've derived all my shit from. No, I listen to the real shit if I'm lookin' for ideas musically, guitarwise and so forth, I go to the masters, not to the other students. Like Django Reinhardt or B.B. King, you know, guys who really play.” [170]

Garcia was once asked how he found songs to cover.
Q: Do you listen to a lot of older stuff, looking for things like [Russian Lullaby]?
Garcia: Not a lot. I listen to all kinds of stuff, and I don’t really listen to look for things. I just listen to be listening, and every once in a while something jumps out and grabs me. What happens to me is I get to be a fan of something. I listen to something for fun, and pretty soon it becomes something like an annoying commercial, almost. I just get hung up on it, so that pretty soon playing it or performing it is almost like the only way I can get rid of it. [171]

When David Grisman was recording with Garcia in the ‘90s, they drew from a common knowledge of old folk songs, sea shanties, etc. Grisman said, “Jerry and I knew a lot of the same songs from years ago and we would just stumble on these old songs. We were doing these old whaling ballads such as 'Off to Sea Once More,' 'The Handsome Cabin Boy' and 'I'm My Own Grandpa.' We had both listened to an old whaling record called Blow Boys Blow, on which Ralph Rinzler played mandolin.” [172]

In early March 1993, McNally saw Garcia "listening to the old rock song 'I Fought The Law' on his Discman and chortling about how good a song it was." [172a] (The Dead immediately started performing it as an encore.)

Blair Jackson reports that in 1994, musician Sanjay Mishra gave Garcia a CD of his music, and “Garcia was so impressed by Sanjay's album that when they spoke on the phone a couple of days later, Jerry volunteered to play on the guitarist's next record [Blue Incantation], which was already in progress.” [173]

At the end of his life, Garcia got to meet one musician he admired. Sally Van Meter, a dobro player who’d played with various stringbands, played at Garcia’s last session with Grisman in 1995 - Garcia had asked Grisman, "Can you get that chick dobro player?" [174] She recalled, “He grabbed my hand and shook it and shook it and he said, 'Man, I'm just one of your biggest fans. I've heard everything you've ever recorded. I've been listening to you for years.'” [174a]

Garcia said somewhere that Steve Kimock was his "favorite unknown guitarist," though I haven't found the original quote.

In the ‘90s Garcia also liked to listen to eccentric New Orleans R&B DJ Ernie K. Doe and his wild patter, according to Bruce Hornsby: “He used to have this incredible radio show… Garcia and I would listen to tapes of these shows; we played the hell out of them.” [175]
Garcia liked spoken-word stuff too; for instance Bruce Hornsby would listen to comedians with him: “We'd listen to Henny Youngman tapes. We were listening to the Jerky Boys [the phone pranksters] in Garcia's tent way before that record came out.” [176]

Spoken-word records such as Ken Nordine’s “Word Jazz” albums had meant a lot to Garcia back in the ‘50s; so Garcia got a surprise when Nordine was invited to the Dead's New Year's Eve 1990 broadcast. Dan Healy recalled, "He heard Ken's voice coming out of the speakers, stopped in his tracks, and came running into the room. Turns out he was a Nordine freak when he was a teenager too. He grabbed his guitar and came into the room and started noodling around, and Ken started reading, and it just clicked." [177]
Garcia said, "You've got to go back to 17-year-old me growing up in the Bay Area when I first heard Ken's records - Word Jazz and Son of Word Jazz. For me, listening to those records was like a religious experience. It was not only a completely different way of thinking, but a fantastic combination of words and music that wasn't songs. It wasn't poetry and it wasn't songs exactly, and it was wonderfully peculiar. It was like the kinds of things you think that only you think about, maybe. That was from a time in my life that I was reading Kerouac and I first started smoking pot...a lot of things that were formative and significant and helped build my own sense of aesthetics come from right there. I had no idea what had happened to Ken Nordine in that intervening thirty years or so, but I was really delighted to find out he would have anything to do with us, let alone come here and work with us. So for me, that was more than an honor." [177a]
Garcia was quite excited to play on Nordine’s album “Devout Catalyst” in 1991:
“Doing this record with him was an absolute thrill for me, because I can't emphasize how important this stuff was for me when I was growing up. When I told some of my really old friends I was going to be doing this, they were really excited. He's just a special guy. [Nordine's work in the '50s] wasn't part of the common knowledge, which made it that much more exciting for a kid — 'This is not something you hear on the radio. This is not something they play at parties.' This is something people hand around like a treasure, like, 'Hey listen to this!'” [177b]

Garcia also talked extensively about Lord Buckley:
“I saw him perform someplace in North Beach (in San Francisco) when I was about 16 or 17 at the Coffee Gallery or someplace like that. It was hilariously funny… After I'd seen him perform, more or less accidentally, all of a sudden everybody I ran into knew all this stuff about Lord Buckley and knew all his routines. It was everywhere maybe because the records were widely circulated at the time. My friends and the guys in the Grateful Dead knew about Lord Buckley. Pigpen…used to do Lord Buckley routines. Phil was really into Lord Buckley as well… I wish I could make music with Lord Buckley. Oh God, I'd leap at it.” [178]

As far as the combination of words & music goes, rap was not Garcia’s thing. As he said in 1995:
“Rap is not music – it’s talking… It’s talking in meter, it’s got rhyme and it has meter, it has rhythm; it’s not music. It’s okay, there’s nothing wrong with it, I have no problem with it, it just isn’t music. And people who get to be great at rap are not great musicians, they’re just great at rap – there’s no road from rapping into music…
“As far as new music goes, there isn’t a whole lot in the way of new music; there’s some stuff that is very derivative – it’s like people who are copying people who copied people who copied Robert Johnson, say – it’s far removed and derivative. It’s removed enough from the original source that the people who are playing it don’t actually know where it came from…
“The level of expertise that’s available now to any young musician – wow, it’s incredible what they can all play… Most instruments have enjoyed an incredible increase in technical skills, and that virtuosity is available to everybody. In the old days, forget it – if you were going to get good, you pretty much had to teach yourself beyond a certain point. Now – there are whole new levels of playing ability… [But the risk] is dividing the technique from the substance… [Music] suffers in a way from technique…because you can get caught up in technique and lose the substance. For me, music is emotional in nature; it communicates emotionally; that’s one of the things it does really well. And I think if that isn’t the sense of what you’re doing, then I don’t know what it is.” [179]

To some extent, Garcia is starting to sound more like an old fogey here. He recognized that once in a ’93 interview: “My point of view is, musically speaking, sort of conservative. I’m…maybe a little stodgy… I don’t think of my ideas as being very far-out, musically. The thing that works for me in music is the emotional component, not the technical side. I am fascinated by musical weirdness – like Blues for Allah, for example. But really, the thing that propels me through music is the emotional reality of it. And as I get older, I surrender more to that; I trust that intuition.” [180]

By far Garcia’s longest discussion of his favorite artists comes from Jas Obrecht’s 1985 interview, which rounds up a lot of the themes we’ve seen in other interviews, so I will conclude with that.

Q: Does listening to other musicians or bands ever inspire you?
Garcia: All the time, but there’s nobody playing right now who knocks me out completely. I mean, there’s nothing that I hear right now that really makes me want to dash to my guitar. But there’s plenty of stuff in the past. You know, if I go looking for stuff, I can find it. But there’s nobody playing right now who kills me. Music right now – everything that I hear right now is pretty derivative sounding.
Q: What’s your source? Do you listen to the radio or MTV or…
Garcia: All those things… And then I have a huge record collection. And I also have access to music stores, some of which are pretty hip, where the people who run them are music collectors…that’s helpful. It’s helpful to have somebody’s taste. And also, the society that I’m in has a lot of musicians in it, and musicians are always turning you on to music, so there’s always input.
Q: What are your views of young guitar players now?
Garcia: Well, it’s a little hard for me to listen. The thing is, they are much more accomplished than they used to be, but that just means that the instrument itself has a much better book than it used to have. The electric guitar has an enormous vocabulary and…[it’s] expanded enormously in the last 10, 15 years… But young players, even if they’re really brilliant technically, there’s nothing like a guy like John Lee Hooker or somebody like that who can play two or three notes so authoritatively on a guitar…who can scare the pants off you in one or two notes played with such immense authority and such soulfulness. I’d much rather hear something like that than a lot of facility.
Q: Do you ever listen to people like Eddie Van Halen?
Garcia: Not seriously, no. Because I can hear what's happening in there. There isn't much there that interests me. It isn't played with enough deliberateness, and it lacks a certain kind of rhythmic elegance that I like music to have, that I like notes to have. There's a lot of notes and stuff, but the notes aren't saying much, you know. They're like little clusters. It's a certain kind of music which I understand on one level, but it isn't attractive to me.
Q: If you could go back in time and question any old musician, does anyone come to mind?
Garcia: Oh, yeah... I’d still follow around Django Reinhardt... I have all of Django’s records - every single one of them. Most of what he plays is even hard to understand, no matter how much I’ve listened to it, in terms of the actual technical how-it’s-happening. Because I listen to it and I hear when a note is being struck and when a note is being articulated with the left hand somehow; and he does things I don’t know how he’s doing them. I can’t imagine. You know, he’s got fingers that are about half a mile long. I mean, I just don’t know how he’s doing it. And this is with a fucked-up left hand... He was able to do runs where the middle finger crosses over the index finger. That much I’ve figured out because there are things he plays that work that way, and he couldn’t do them any other way. There’s no other way he could do them. And they’re lightning fast. His technique is awesome! Even today, nobody has really come to the state that he was playing at. As good as players are, they haven’t gotten to where he is. There’s a lot of guys that play fast and a lot of guys that play clean, and the guitar has come a long way as far as speed and clarity go, but nobody plays with the whole fullness of expression that Django has. I mean, the combination of incredible speed – all the speed you could possibly want – but also the thing of every note having a specific personality. You don’t hear it; I really haven’t heard it anywhere but with Django.
The other guy I’d like to hear live is Charlie Christian, who has an incredible mind...a relentless flow of ideas that are just bam, pouring out. It has this intensity that’s really incredible. And he has also a tone that I think is very hip. It sounds very modern to me; his whole playing, to my ear, sounds very modern. And it’s amazing because what people extracted from his playing, the top-40 stuff in his playing, doesn’t have that quality, really. People pick the lamest shit from his playing. But that great Solo Flight album, you know – I mean, that improvisation is amazing! You listen to that, and still it sounds incredible, to this day.
Q: He’s really the first guy who could cut it with the horns.
Garcia: Right, exactly. And could play the way a horn plays, play with that kind of flow of ideas. What horn players have to do is they have to learn chords as arpeggiations; they don’t have to think of playing all the notes at once. Well, he’s the first guy to play the guitar the way horn players play through changes. He has that sense of where everything goes harmonically... He’s a guy I would love to be able to hear. And those are the two guys whose reputations are well-deserved. They’re the solid gold of American-derived music, guitar playing.
Q: Where would you put in somebody like Robert Johnson?
Garcia: Well, he’s a primitive genius. And there’s others that I like that I feel are in that similar category. Blind Blake. Rev. Gary Davis too, when he was young, but he was always great. I had a personal preference for Mississippi John Hurt - his early records sound so smooth. They’re just like magic. And, you know, one or two others whose playing is just extremely beautiful to my ears. I like Chet Atkins.
Q: Are there non-guitarists?
Garcia: Oh, yeah, sure. Art Tatum is my all-time favorite. Yeah, he’s my all-time favorite. He’s the guy I put on when I want to feel really small. [laughs] When I want to feel really insignificant. [laughs] He’s a good guy to play for any musician, you know. He’ll make them want to go home and burn their instruments. [laughs] Art Tatum is absolutely the most incredible musician – what can you say?
Q: What era of Tatum’s stuff appeals to you?
Garcia: Well, all of it is fascinating, and I also haven’t heard everything, but I’ve got the two big sets from Norman Granz, and everything on those is beyond the pale. It’s just so incredible, you know. What a mind!
Q: Were you a fan of the bluegrass masters?
Garcia: [Tentatively] Yeah, uh, but bluegrass for me is band music, and I’m a fan of bands more than I am a fan of musicians. The musicians I like sounded best in a certain context – to my ears. So my favorites are certain bands, you know, certain vintage bands. That’s the way I think of bluegrass music. I am much more attached to that side of it than I am to individual players, because there are so many good players in bluegrass. But not all bluegrass bands are good.
Q: What are your favorite bands?
Garcia: I think one of my all-time favorite bands was Bill Monroe’s bluegrass band when he had Bill Keith playing banjo and Kenny Baker playing fiddle – I guess that must have been right around ’63, ’64 – somewhere around there. That was a great band. And Del McCoury playing acoustic guitar and singing. That was a great band, really a sensational band.
Q: You saw that band?
Garcia: Oh, yeah. A bunch of times. And the classic Reno & Smiley band, with Mac Magaha playing fiddle. Also, the original Bill Monroe band with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Also, the classic Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and Foggy Mountain Boys band – that was a great band. I loved Jim & Jesse when that had either Jimmy Buchanan or Vassar [Clements] and the two great banjo players they had at the same time – what’s his name? It’s been such a long time with banjo players. They had two real great banjo players back in the old days. They both had the same big, square-style sound. They both had rhythmically a real symmetrical style. It’s hard to describe, but it’s that era, back when Vassar was playing with them or Jimmy Buchanan. Both about the same era. That was also in the early ’60s, right around there. They had a couple of really great bands in those moments back there. And also the Stanley Brothers. My favorite singers were the Stanley Brothers. Ralph Stanley was my all-time favorite singer, I think. [181]

* * *


The main book sources:
Conv – Conversations with the Dead (1981 Gans/Jackson interview)
GR – 1993 Golden Road (Pigpen bio)
GDTR – Goin’ Down the Road (1991 Hunter/Garcia interview)
Greenfield – Dark Star
Jackson – Garcia
McNally – Long Strange Trip
Reader – Grateful Dead Reader (1967 Gleason interview; 1972 McClanahan article)
RS – Rolling Stone, Garcia
Signpost – Signpost to New Space
TC – Taping Compendium vol.1
Troy – Captain Trips
White – Rock Lives (1989 Garcia/Weir interview)

Pardon the odd format…

1. (RS 64 – from ‘69)
2. (RS 188 – from ‘91)
2a. (Signpost 2)
3. (Jackson 7-8)
3a. (Signpost 2)
4. (RS 192 – from ‘93)
5. (Jackson 8)
6. (Jackson 8)
7. (Jackson 4)
8. (Jackson 13)
9. (GDTR 208)
10. (Jackson 14)
11. (Jackson 13)
12. (Jackson 18)
13. (RS 192 – from ‘93 / also Troy 10)
13a. (Signpost 2)
14. (Jackson 21)
15. (Jackson 18)
16. (Jackson 20-21)
17. (Jackson 23-24)
18. (Jackson 23)
19. (’93)
20. (Reader 22)
20a. (Reader 201)
21. (RS 192 – from ‘93)
22. (White)
23. (White)
25. (McNally 16)
26. (Reader 23)
27. (’93 / also Troy 15)
28. (Signpost 5)
29. (White)
30. (Jackson 26)
31. (Signpost 6)
32. (McNally 32)
33. (McNally 30)
34. (Greenfield 25)
35. (Reader 23)
36. (Reader 36-37)
36a. (Reader 202)
37. (Greenfield 29)
38. (Jackson 54)
39. (White)
40. (Greenfield 25)
41. (Jackson 38)
42. ‘94
43. (Troy 28)
44. (RS 192 – from ‘93)
45. (Jackson 13)
46. (Signpost 7)
47. (Jackson 39)
48. (GDTR 210-11)
49. (GDTR 211)
50. (Greenfield 36-37)
51. (Jackson 52)
53. (Jackson 57)
54. (Greenfield 34)
55. (Jackson 52)
56. (Jackson 42)
57. (Jackson 50)
58. (’93)
59. (Jackson 46)
60. (Greenfield 32)
61. (McNally 34)
62. (Jackson 52)
63. (Jackson 52)
64. (Jackson 58)
65. (Jackson 107)
66. (Signpost 8)
67. (Greenfield 40-41)
68. (Troy 29)
69. (Jackson 38)
71. (Jackson 47)
72. (TC 68)
73. (TC 71)
74. (TC 69)
76. (GDTR 210)
77. (TC 73)
78. (TC 72)
79. (Greenfield 34)
80. (Troy 49)
81. (GDTR 224)
84. (Reader 23)
85. (Greenfield 43)
86. (Troy 52)
87. (Jackson 64)
89. (Jeff Tamarkin/Relix interview, 1980)
89a. (Troy 201)
90. (GR 45)
92. (McNally 66)
96. (Jackson 210)
98. (Reader 36-37)
99. (Greenfield 50-51)
100. (Signpost 14)
103. (GR 50)
104. (GDTR 216 / Jackson 106)
106. (GR 48 / Jackson 70)
107. (GR 50 / Troy 90 / McNally 92)
108. (GR 52)
109. (Jackson 75)
110. (Guitar Player ’78)
111. (Signpost 95)
112. (excerpt also in Jackson 75)
113. (Reader 35)
114. (McNally 80)
115. (Signpost 14)
116. (also Troy 176)
117. (Heylin, Behind the Shades 2001, p.613)
118. (Signpost 14)
118a. (GDTR 15-16 – from ’88)
119. (Conv 85-86)
120. (RS 189 – from ‘91)
121. (RS 193 – from ‘93)
123. (GDTR 220)
124. (Reader 20-21)
126. (Reader 31-32)
127. (Dead Studies vol.1, p.54)
129. (GDTR 222)
130. (Reader 22)
132. (RS 162 – from ‘87)
133. (Jackson 167)
135. (Jackson 177)
136. (Reader 77)
137. (Reader 66)
138. (Signpost 91-92)
141. (GDTR 220)
142. (Signpost 93)
142a. (Organ interview, June 1971)
143a. (Greenfield 134)
143b. (McNally 469)
143c. (Jackson 247)
143d. (Roy Buchanan: American Axe 128)
145. (GDTR 227)
146. (Adam Block/BAM interview 1/78)
147. (Jackson 261-62)
149. (Jackson 371)
150. (BAM interview 1/78)
151a. (McNally 549)
153. (Jackson 108 / Conv 66)
155. (BAM interview 1/78)
157. (Conv 32-33)
158a. (GDTR 23 - from ’88)
158b. (Greenfield 242)
159. (Conv 62-63)
160. (BAM interview 1/78)
161. (RS 162 – from ‘87)
162. (Jackson 289)
163. (Conv 51)
164. (Jeff Tamarkin/Relix interview 1980)
165. (Conv 86-87)
165a. (Troy 212)
165b. (Jackson 395)
166. (Eisenhart ’87)
167. (Steve Peters/Relix interview, 1989)
168. (RS 189 – from ‘91)
168a. (GDTR 173 - Lesh '90)
169. (’93)
170. (Reader 69)
171. (Conv 32)
172a. (McNally 603)
174. (McNally 612)
177. (Troy 240)
177a. (Jackson 404)
180. (RS 196 – from ‘93)


  1. This is perhaps the best compilation ever put together on Jerry and his musical roots. TYVM !!!!

  2. I remember reading an article about the 1993 tour where Sting opened for the Dead, mentioning Jerry asking about the name of a song Sting was performing ("Walking On The Moon") and what album it was on.

    The only Dead show I saw was in 1994 where Traffic opened, and I recall seeing Jerry applauding from the side of the stage for some of Traffic's songs.

  3. Re the mention of Frank Gambale in 1991, Phil Lesh also said to Blair Jackson in 1990 that Jerry was "turned on" by the Chick Corea Elektric Band around that time. Interesting given his earlier mostly negative comments about fusion.

  4. Thanks for the comments; I added a few more finds.

  5. great stuff, great stuff...say, did I miss that anything about CREAM?


    --W Tell

  6. This is quite amazing. It's very interesting to see that Garcia basically liked good pop music (Monkees, Rumors-era Fleetwood Mac, etc). His comments about John Prine and Jesse Winchester were also revealing, and may help to explain why Garcia never wanted to do "another Workingman's Dead," much as I would have liked it if he did.

    Garcia's criticism of fusion music was also interesting, given that implicitly or explicitly he must have had opportunities to record or perform in that style. Santana and Jeff Beck, for example, very much went into a fusion mode in the mid-70s, while Garcia intentionally "went backwards" with bar band r&b.

    1. Help on the Way/Slipknot Garcia plays fusion style lines, Oddly enough DiMeola said in Guitar Player Garcia was the only rock player who influenced him. I know someone who knows Al and told me about them dosing and going to see teh Dead in NY

  7. This is great, really, and extensive. But there is no mention of Jimmie Rodgers (whose songs he played), or Ramblin Jack Elliot (who he had open for the GD at least once, plus NRPS). And no mention of his pedal steel playing and influences.

  8. For Garcia's references to Cream or other bands that knocked him out live, you might want to check out the post on the concerts he attended, linked at the top. I mostly didn't include those here, focusing on the music he listened to outside live shows (with some overlap & exceptions).

    And yes, there's no mention of tons of people he covered or listened to. Certain names just never came up in the interviews I found; can't be helped! We might find more later on.

    Regarding fusion, Garcia seems to have warmed up to Chick Corea by the '90s! You could regard his live work with Merl Saunders as his "fusion mode" (and of course, the Dead also strayed close to that in the mid-'70s), but Garcia definitely backed away from that into a more straightforward pop/gospelly/r&b style.

    1. Just cause Garcia thought Frank Gambale was riding point guitarwise at that moment in time doesn't mean he warmed up to Chick Corea. I checked out Gambale based on Garcia's mention,back when that interview came out- and didn't like him at all. I read through some of his transcriptions and appreciate some of his musical ideas, but still don;t like his playing. Garcia's playing with Saunders is not fusion style at all , it's jazz /R&B

  9. Fantastic job! This is really an incredible resource.

    One more tidbit about jazz/fusion is this comment from Weir in 2009 - "There was this soul romping of jazz in the 60s' and it was furious and cooking so we concentrated on that along with what Ornette was doing. In the early 70s,' Miles came out with Bitches Brew and Live Evil but we also listened to Return to Forever which was fusion that hadn't slipped into its dry and intellectual mode yet. Those fusion guys had monstrous facility which seemed unattainable but Bitches Brew was more groove oriented and a clear light post so we did that stuff in rehearsal all the time. We could also pull it off on stage from time to time." -

    The first Return to Forver was a very different band than the monster fusion group they became by the mid-70's, of course.

  10. From a short interview in Boston's Real Paper, 6/28/80:

    Q: What other musicians do you listen to?
    Garcia: Everybody.
    Q: Any favorites?
    Garcia: No individual performers. I think everyone has their good moments. That’s what I listen for.
    Q: What do you think of Dylan these days?
    Garcia: Ehhh. You know, sounds good, well produced. But I think his trip is disappointing.

    [Dylan was then in his Christian phase with Slow Train Coming; Saved would come out later that year. Note that Garcia remarks that Slow Train is at least "well-produced"! Garcia would still jump at the chance to play with Dylan that November, though.]

    A sidenote on the Mahavishnu Orchestra - they'd opened for some Garcia/Wales shows in winter 1972. Garcia's quote on them comes from an interview where he was being questioned by a reporter who (like some other newspaper reviewers) felt Mahavishnu had blown Garcia/Wales off the stage. At least one member of Wales' band felt the same.

    I think Garcia usually refrained from saying anything negative about other musicians, with rare exceptions - even when he doesn't like a band, he tends to qualify it with some sort of limited praise. So his total dismissal of the Doors is quite unusual, at least in interviews. Strictly speaking it was an evaluation of their live show, not their records - though Garcia did vaguely add, "I kind of appreciated some of the stuff that they did later, and I appreciated a certain amount of Morrison's sheer craziness, just because that's always a nice trait in rock & roll."
    He was also biased from the start because they were an L.A. band - he said, "When the Doors played in San Francisco, they typified Los Angeles coming to San Francisco, which I equated with having the look right, but zero substance... Probably at that time in their development [January 1967] it was too early for anybody to make a decent judgment of them... We opened for them in Santa Barbara some [months] later [in April 1967], when they were a little more powerful; their sound had gotten better, they'd gotten more effectively amplified...but their sound was still thin... When they were the headliners, it was sort of embarrassing for us to open for them, 'cause we sort of blew them off the stand just with sheer power."

  11. I'm confused as to what Garcia's take on religion is for I have read on more than one occasion where he referred to himself as Christian,which I found disappointing and puzzling.So I wonder what he found disappointing about Dylan's Christianity.

    1. I don't recall an interview where he says he was specifically Christian, though he was raised Catholic - I guess these days he might be called "spiritual."
      This continues what he said of Dylan:
      "I think his trip is disappointing. Christianity has a very unfortunate characteristic: it demands that you become one, or else you’re doomed. Exclusivity is built into it. I can’t dig that. I’d rather believe that everyone is saved regardless of what you believe. You see how much of the fighting that goes on in the world today is holy wars stuff. Who needs it anyway? I can’t see the fuckin’ sense of it."

    2. I wonder if having your ashes put into the Ganges makes you Hindu -- or, at least, Hindu-leaning?

      By the way, I find the name of Garcia's high school unbelievably embarrassing -- what were they thinking? The school still goes by that name...

  12. I can't recall the interviews,but in two interviews I have read he refers to himself as Christian.I'm positive because I was very surprised.I do not remember the context of the conversations in which he stated it.I've always skipped over any religious or spiritual discussion he might have had in interviews or books I've read about him because I just have no interest in anyone's beliefs,but when he called himself a Christian it jumped off the page at me.He did not say anything more on the subject in the interview.What he said in that Dylan quote above is more in line with what I would think his feelings on the subject would be,thus I was shocked he would ever identify as Christian.I would imagine the interviews I am talking about are readily available,not something obscure from years ago or anything like that.

    1. Legion of Mary is a famous Catholic organization.


    After my last response out of curiosity I googled Jerry Garcia Christian and several versions of the above interview popped up.This is not one of the interviews I was referring to.


    1. Well there it is - perhaps he had a fuzzy Christianity, without Christ or damnation or the traditional God.
      He often talked about there being a higher consciousness & organization out there than we're aware of (usually when talking about his psychedelic experiences) - I don't think he ever put it in terms of "the divine," but he did feel that life & the universe was intentionally designed.

      More of that interview is here - he talks more about consciousness, the universe, and a 'higher power':

      From another interview with David Gans -
      Q: Did you have formal religious upbringing?
      Garcia: No, not really. I come from a Catholic background, but nobody in my family was very serious about it. I was forced to go church, but only until I was about ten or eleven. I was never confirmed.
      Q: Do you have any relationship with the Western God, then?
      Garcia: Mmmmm, I wouldn’t say so. (Conversations p.71)

      Later in the interview, he talks about his fascination with TV preachers, and his disagreement with born-again Christianity & the strife between exclusive religions (p.81-82).

      He was also interviewed by a priest once -
      I haven't heard it, but JGMF summarizes: "the Priest tries to raise 'faith,' and Garcia basically says that his own guiding light is whatever feels good. If it feels good, he does it. If it doesn't, he doesn't. Hardly a faith-based philosophy."

      And as far as 'beliefs' go, he believed in a lot of what we might call wacky new-age stuff that he read (there are some examples in those interviews). So I suspect his was a more watered-down, non-traditional Christianity, though he agreed with some of its tenets.

  14. Wonder what happened to his record collection. Anyone know? Did Deborah sell it off? I would imagine Mountain Girl or his daughters would have some insight into his personal listening also. Thank you for this fantastic post.

  15. This is quite a detailed entry here. Most impressive. I wasn't sure how I liked his take on rap music, which I found interesting. I suppose he witnessed the proliferation of rap in the music of American culture, but I wonder if he REALLY witnessed it, for nowadays we're fairly well saturated with it. It's convenient in a way to dismiss the form entirely as not music, but I wonder if he would hold to those statements today. I think it's weird that he claims rap has no rhyme or meter, for it does. I am not defending rap, just commenting. Fire On the Mountain sort of began as a rap thing...

    But this is a great post, and a great blog and resource. Keep it up!

    1. Actually, Garcia does say rap has rhyme, rhythm & meter.
      But I doubt he was a close listener of rap - he went on to say, "Music is something you can get better & better at; I don’t know if you can do that with rap. I don’t know whether [rap] leads into infinite numbers of possibilities, but music does... Rap also has the problem of, it’s language-specific, so if you don’t understand English, it doesn’t communicate except that it sounds neat."
      So his comments on rap don't sound really thought-out. But also, in the early '90s rap was not as pervasive in the wider musical culture as it later became; so he may not have heard the possibilities of how rap could interact with different forms of music.

  16. Wonderful entry and great blog. I wonder if you have thought about a companion piece on Garcia’s literary interests/intellectual influences. I know I have seen numerous literary/intellectual references in his interviews, ranging from the ridiculous (The Spear of Destiny) to the sublime (Verlaine/Rimbaud). It might be both interesting and instructive to look at this in the same systematic and thorough manner as the above post. Anyway, as always thanks for the great work!

  17. I don't think I could construct a portrait of Garcia's literary/intellectual references that would be as complete as this. The references I've seen from him are mainly vague & fleeting, except for occasional random discussions of something he's reading (like Terence McKenna, one author he liked). In the '81 interview with Gans he talks about quite a few books, from treatises on Indian & medieval music to studies of psychedelics & consciousness. (It's funny when he talks about how skeptical he is, then raves about The Spear of Destiny as being a totally true book...)
    Something like, say, the '91 Rolling Stone interview where he mentions that "my life would be miserable if I didn't have those little chunks of Dylan Thomas and TS Eliot" was kind of a surprise since I don't recall him ever saying much about poetry!
    We know a few of his favorites - Kerouac's On The Road, or Vonnegut's Sirens of Titan - and he liked reading Joyce with Robert Hunter in the early '60s. Being introduced to Orwell's 1984 by a high-school teacher was a formative moment for him. And of course he was a fanatical sci-fi reader - Ray Bradbury is said to be his favorite, though I'm not sure we even know who his other top authors were, or what other books were really important to him. So I feel like exploring Garcia's bookshelf might be a dead end, with lots of books missing...

    The companion piece I did want to do, though, was about the movies he liked, since he was an avid cinephile. The Saragossa Manuscript was said to be his favorite film since he saw it in the early '60s (so much so, he helped fund its preservation later on). In one of his last interviews, he gushed about the impact Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein had on him as a kid, and the Universal horrors in general:

    But, his references to movies are pretty scanty. In the '91 Hunter/Garcia interview he mentions that in the Old-West tradition, "For me it was the John Ford westerns. I liked the wide open spaces in those films and the open melancholy - the sentimental West. That's an important key to my emotional interior." (GDTR 223) And he was happy to do part of the soundtrack for Antonioni's Zabriskie Point: "I like his work so much. It's so modern - his sense of space and time and all that." (

  18. (continued...)

    But there's not much more to go on, so this is largely a blank side of his interests.
    As endlessly renewable as his interviews are, I do wish more interviewers had gone outside the normal course of questioning to ask him about, say, favorite movies or sci-fi novels, or the history of comic books or "race records"....he could have given whole speeches, I'm sure. For instance, here's one phone interview where he talks about what comic-book artist Will Elder meant to him, and the influence of EC Comics on the Dead:

    Tom Constanten once lamented that Garcia would have made a great DVD-ROM... David Kemper likewise said, "He remembered things, and he read a lot, and he loved to talk about what he'd been reading. We would talk about nanotechnology or psychology or how to build a log home or about motorcycles, just everything. Jerry was interested in the most diverse stuff. You could pick any subject, and I guarantee he knew more about it than you did." (
    David Nelson (I think?) also spoke somewhere about how he'd be surprised when talking to Garcia, how Garcia would be rattling on about something he'd read & Nelson would think, 'when did he ever find the time to learn all that?'
    And Ozzie Ahlers remembered, "Jerry was very impressed that I’d met [sci-fi author] Theodore Sturgeon. He wanted to know everything he could about my 20-minute meeting with him... [When he went on tour] he had almost no clothing. He'd just brought two suitcases, almost entirely filled with science fiction books. He loved science fiction, or as he called it, science reality. He was an avid fan and anything that I had read he had read twice and all the books surrounding it. He was a voracious reader, an extremely intelligent guy." (

    But, for obvious reasons, most of Garcia's interviews are entirely centered on the Dead, or drugs, or his views of society; but with little attention to his (non-musical) artistic or intellectual interests. For instance the guy had been an art student & his artwork became well-known - but what painters did he like?

  19. I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that he liked Gustav Klimt.

  20. Legs Lambert wrote regarding the Mother McCree's jug band sources:

    "Tangential note on the Kweskin band's influence: Bob Weir told me, when I interviewed him on the subject of the Dead's folkie roots for the liner notes to the expanded 2004 CD reissue of "Reckoning," that when Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions first got together, the members were largely unfamiliar with the original recordings (by Cannon's Jug Stompers, the Memphis Jug Band and others) of much of the material they were playing (with the exception of a few tracks that appeared on the canonical Harry Smith Anthology). Most of the repertoire was learned second-hand from those Kweskin records on Vanguard, with the arrangements lifted almost completely intact in most cases. So Mother McCree's was, in essence, a Jim Kweskin Jug Band cover band. Bobby went on to say that he very soon thereafter took the deep dive into the real stuff, courtesy of a friend whose parents had a large collection of blues and folk records."

  21. Fantastic work... thank you so much for doing this!!!

  22. One I missed, from the 11/30/89 Rolling Stone interview (when asked about old '60s bands still touring & making new music) -
    "I think it's good to see the Stones and the Who get out and work. It's what they do... And Pete Townshend, I'm really sorry I missed him on this run. He's the guy I really love... I always liked Pete's music. And I think Steel Wheels is a hell of a record."

    (Tangentially, I didn't spot this earlier since Rolling Stone edits interviews when they reissue them - in their '95 Garcia tribute book, this particular interview has several paragraphs snipped out at random, including one of his most famous quotes! So there's still no substitute for the original article, unfortunately.)

  23. Mountain Girl told author David Malvinni, "Jerry was super into John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, and loved their albums."
    (Malvinni, Grateful Dead & the Art of Rock Improvisation, p.70 n.7)

  24. thank you for this

  25. I think Jerry was also impressed by Tony Rice's playing at some point (and what guitarist wouldn't be?). The Pizza Tapes album gives you the sense Jerry had probably been asking Grisman to hook him up with Tony.

  26. This is great. Did you leave out the Louvin Brothers? I discovered them because Jerry mentioned them in an interview as a big influence...

    1. I haven't seen that interview. Can add quotes as I find them - but I don't think I have any Jerry mentions of the Louvin Brothers...

  27. In the new interview book Jerry on Jerry, Garcia talks quite a bit about the music he heard as a child, listening to R&B radio stations in the '50s, and slowly learning guitar. It's a bit like a partial autobiography, adding a lot of little details to what's been printed before.

  28. I really enjoyed this thanks - it must have been a lot of work, looking forward to more your stuff is top notch.


  29. When the band got together in Ace's studio on 2/19/75, "excitedly Garcia told them about listening to his new favorite album, the Beach Boys' Smiley Smile."
    (Browne, So Many Roads, p.223)

  30. On the 11/23/86 "Log Cabin Boys" tape, you can hear Jerry talking about Buzz Busby's recording of "Lost" (which was in OAITW's repertoire). There are at least two early recordings of it, so I don't which one he means, but I think that both of them featured Scotty Stoneman.

    Garcia: Remember that Buzz Busby tune "Gone, Gone, Gone?"'s just an amazing tune.
    Sandy Rothman: Not "Lost"?
    JG: Yeah, "Lost."
    SR: Oof, that's like as far into it as you can get.
    JG: [sings] "Lost in a world without you." It's a great fucking song. Great record, amazing record. The solo on that is so soulful, it's so great. Really, one-of-a-kinder. They don't get no better than that.
    SR: Or deeper.
    JG: Yeah, or deeper.

  31. Garcia was a big fan of the "Mystere des Voix Bulgares" albums that came out in the '80s. A press announcement quoted him: "They're like angels...exceptionally pure, really polished. Our song 'Uncle John's Band' was inspired by the village music of Bulgaria."
    It was reported that the Dead would play the album to their audiences before shows, and even helped pay for the Bulgarian female choir tour of the US in 1988, according to one Chicago Tribune article: "The tour [is] largely underwritten by Nonesuch [the record label] with a small contribution from the Grateful Dead's Rex Foundation." ("Exotic Blend," 11/8/88 Tribune)
    Garcia reportedly went to their show in Berkeley in Nov '88.

  32. The performance was at the Berkeley community theater, and attended by Grace slick, David Crosby, and other famous musicians. Oddly though it was very cloudy, there was a hole in the clouds almost directly above the round theater, which revealed a full moon.

  33. I never heard Garcia mention REM, though he and Weir attended an REM concert. I’m not sure if it was on the same day or the next day as a big U2 concert in Oakland. In the SF Chronicle the next day Herb Caen wrote that an usher came and asked Garcia to put out his joint. The joke was that Caen thought that Garcia had a license to ill, like 007.

  34. I used the Internet Archive's 78 RPM collection and created a m3u playlist that includes many of the songs and artists mentioned throughout this blog post. It is in the same order as the blogpost, so it could play along while someone read it. They all are the older songs, pretty much what Jerry would have had in his record collection that he would have considered "oldies" I am sure. There are a few exceptions, but they all are hosted on the archive. Currently the link is here: Use the slow download, its a small file. You did all the hardwork, I just added context. I would be happy if you hosted the file here, so people could listen along while they read this excellent post.

    This was a great read. Thanks for writing this up.

    1. Changed the link to the Archive. Here:

      List of songs used in the playlist here:

    2. Thanks for the Archive link, that's quite an interesting collection! Very cool effort. I don't even remember a lot of those songs being mentioned here, but it's all part of Garcia's musical background.

    3. Thanks! The first song comes right from Jerrys brother Tiff, aparently one of the first 45's Jerry ever bought: Gamblers Guitar. What a great kick off to the playlist! In other cases though, there are places where you article just mentions Art Tatum or Django Reinhardt. In those cases, I just picked songs that were on 78's by those artists. I would have to assume Jerry would have listened to them, so they are included. At the very least the listener can hear music by the artist mentioned.

      I also gathered songs from the comments, and then the very end has a few songs that Jerry played frequently in his career to wrap it up.