Unfortunately, many years have passed since Jerry Garcia engaged in the art of music making. I've never known of another electric guitarist who could incorporate without clear and cut demarcations the many multitudes of rock and roll, folk, jazz, blues, bluegrass, country, explorational real time composition, sustain induced psychedelic developments Be it partially safe to say also that I've yet to know of another electric guitarist whose playing was either loved or scorned to the extent that his was. Throughout my life as a Dead fan and follower of Jerry Garcia and of his various musical projects, I remember verbal battles with musicians who found JG's playing less enlightening than I and often my comments turned into vicious polemics defending the Grateful Dead' artistic integrity. Granted, JG did have many obvious musical hurdles during performances and didn't exhibit a typical so called pristine guitar playing technique but first and foremost consider that he played mainly rock and popular music (to make a point), on mainly an electric guitar, with a pick and 4 fingers, using electronic components on stages inside theaters, OK get real! Does Hiram Bullock posses the same technical polish as Julian Bream? The answer to that is a resounding no, neither did Jimi Hendrix and it's really of no consequence anyhow. What I very much loved about Jerry Garcia was that he placed musicality before entertainment and he took on a sense of risk, even danger, in order to help elevate the other playing musicians around him. Yes, Jerry Garcia's playing often ran hot and cold but when his playing ran hot, the rest of the Grateful Dead or Jerry Garcia Band would rise to a whole new level and when he ran cold, it had tenuous effect on the other participating musicians. I have to attribute Jerry Garcia's heightened level of ensemble cooperation to the way he listened intently with creative imagination, to his sensitive and tasteful playing, to his getting out of the way when the band needed space and to the degree of his vast musical knowledge that he gave away freely whenever the opportunity presented itself. From a subjective perspective while disregarding controversy, the music and persona of the Grateful Dead and of Jerry Garcia touched an enormous fan base which exhibited a degree of loyalty and dedication beyond compare. Many of the kids that I grew up with disliked the Grateful Dead and I would make the radical assumption that they still do. I don't mind bucking the trends and I'll even take a little pride in my prophetic wisdoms. How about you??
Maybe it is because Garcia spent so much time jamming. Or there is just so much more recorded material of the Dead. The Dead could possibly have the most recorded live material available. Garcia certainly appeared to enjoy noodling on his guitar.
I began to appreciate Garcia more, the more I explored Americana and bluegrass years ago. In retrospect, I think that this is an essential link to the appreciating of Garcia, as you then get away from how the Grateful Dead are viewed.
Without the Dead's legacy to consider, you can then open up to David Grisman's 'Old and in the Way' or the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band or Hooterall.
I have a strong opinion. Let me preface this by saying the GD are a band I absolutely love. Garcia, however, like the rest of the band, is frequently out-of-tune and messy. He's neither fluid nor technically sound. BUT...he has a certain soul and when he hits the notes (listen to Morning Dew off Europe 72) he can be brilliant.
....in my opinion ; Jerry Garcia was comfortable playing in any musical genre. He was also for the most part, very good in all of these fields. That in itself is amazing and worth noting....he got '' lazy '' towards the end of his career and used the MIDI to take the place of trying to play even better. However, I really liked the sound ( no MIDI ) of his modified Fender in the early to mid seventies .....all I can is ; wow, how sweet it was. First and foremost - the man just loved to play when ever and with who ever and no one else really did / does just that. He loved music - all types. Miss ya Jerry - I also can not believe that it has been almost 17 years since his death.
I think all the less than stellar doodling live recordings of the Dead available blurs the picture in regards to Garcia for many. He was a talented musician that could really deliver when focused and on, but there are too many recorded instances of Dead jam sessions that strike me as prolonged, unfocused, and tedious that lower his marks overall.
Cut out all the unnecessary pointless doodling and there is a lot to like. Unfortunately, it may not be easy for the uneducated to filter through the fluff and cut to the chase.
Great post goofyfoot!! Thank you! For me , Jerry moved my soul every time I saw him play. That would be 50 Dead shows, and 25 Jerry Band shows!! I also got to see him with Grismon on Broadway. I always found his noodling very tasty. ;-) No other guitarist could take my spirit and make it SOAR!
"No other guitarist could take my spirit and make it SOAR!"
I know many including leading local clergy who feel the same way. So there must be something to it.
"American Beauty" in particular side 2 is the only Dead album I can think of that can regularly have that effect on me, though my understanding is Garcia's guitar work on that one was cut back somewhat.
Mapman, did you ever see The Dead live? Jerry and The Dead had to be experienced. The Deadheads,The road trips to see em. I thought nothing of driving 6 thousand miles to see them in Eugene. No I counted myself lucky to hear Jimmy Cliff open for them. You can't understand Jerry's playing from listening to any studio album. I think Jerry was a true master of the guitar.
For me, it's always been about the whole experience.... Are there better technical guitar players out there ? Absolutely ! But when Jerry and Bobby and Phil and Mickey and Bill and Pigpen/Keith/Brent/Vince/etc. had it all going, there was NOTHING like a Grateful Dead show. And Jerry's guitar playing had a lot to do with that.
Ok..I gotta chime in here....JGarcia struck a chord with many people whie he walked the earth for many decades (yes pun intended here). Many people have swayed, danced till their hearts content or just stood in awe at concerts. He was truy a remarkable musician on his method of playing and interjecting notes along the way making the music fuller and taking folks to new highs...I have seen 125 shows and relish each of them, not ever show was perfect, he was human and so are the rest of the fellas. The Dead is a fusion of music that developed over the years and has taken on new tempos as it continues. I truly loved his style and have developed my listening system around him and the music. The Dead make people smile because of the music and lyrics and there is nothing wrong with that....Nothing left to do but smile smile smile....He lives on in my heart, and always will...
I began to seriously listen to the Grateful Dead in 1973. This occurred because I had a good friend who was enamoured by the Dead's music, and in particular Garcia's musicianship.He was in SF during the "Summer of Love" in 1967, so he was witness to their evolution as a rock band. His admiration was only heightened by the way I was able to verbalize the genius of the band's playing. To please my friend,I may have overlooked some the minor flaws of JC's playing and the lethargy that the band as whole occasionally displayed in concert.
At this time, the Dead were heading into their most creative period which some critics claim ended with the Europe'72 tour. I have to disagree wit these claims. I was never the Deadhead that my friend was, but I understood his devotion to the band. He often claimed that few guitarist of the day had as many "musical ideas" as JC, though he acknowledged the great musicianship of Clapton, Townsend, and John McLaughlin. We both agreed that Hendrix was in a class by himself. I was never a big Hendrix fan, though he brought the art of the electric guitar to the limits of its capability.
In my opinion, Garcia and the Dead were synonymous with the ethos and culture of San Francisco in the 1970's. They were as much part of the beat generation as hippies. With JC as their maestro, the Dead played blues, country, Latin. gospel, rock, acid rock, and 40's and 50's swing. I always told my friend that there was a sadness, a sorror underneath the sound of Garcia's music. It possessed an "old world" Spanish timbre, which also was existential in its solitude. I often reminded me of paintings in Spanish missions churches of the "Mater Delarosa"....the sad mother weeping. It can be easily heard in songs like "Black Peter", "Stella Blue" "Deal" and to a degree in "Candyman" and "It Must Have Been the Roses" and some other of their less expansive tunes.
I think Garcia's genius was exemplified in his musicianship, and the ability to create segues into other realms of music, and musical genres. He was the greatest maestro of the type and style of rock music that was patentedly the Grateful Dead. One can only wonder what JC and the Dead would have been capable of, even after 2000 plus live concerts and 35 years of "playing in the band"
Conversations about GD and Garcia can be very polarizing. Jerry Garcia himself puts it in perspective: "The Grateful Dead are kind of like licorice. Not everyone likes licorice, but those who do REALLY like licorice".
I remember that I recall Garcia once saying and I am paraphrasing here ( I hope that I do not offent anyone ) : The Grateful Dead are like an old whore, if you stay around long enough and you keep doing what you're doing.....you're bound to get good at it ''. Miss Garcia and that band allot....
I don't quite get people who criticize Jerry's technique. He was usually improvising, in a genre where few guitarists really do so (Clapton, SRV, Hendrix... the list is short. Even BB King never improvised in public.) So of course, some of it was forgettable or even missed the boat. In a typical 4-night stand, one show might be great, one (or parts of it) would be substandard, and the other two enjoyable. When he was on, it was transcendent.
For anyone loving Garcia’s mix of all forms of "Pop" music, check out Danny Gatton, a true "guitarists guitarist". Now THAT guy could play all strains of music, and really, really well---a true master. No excuses necessary, unlike Jerry’s sloppy, directionless/lost noodling. No offense JG lovers!
Jerry Garcia was to me a handyman---jack of all trades, master of none. He loved Tony Rice’s playing of Bluegrass on acoustic guitar. So do I. Jerry’s ability at that music was mediocre at best, lacking the necessary sense of lyricism. I’ve played with quite a few guys who played it better than Garcia. He also loved the quick, nimble, fluid Telecaster playing of Country guitarists like Clarence White. So do I, but Garcia lacked the melodicism that style of guitar playing demands. He loved the Blues playing of Albert and Freddie King, but lacked their ability at phrasing. Non-musician Dead fans talk of the bands "Jazz-like" improvisation abilities. Do I really need to say that actual Jazz musicians were not and are not impressed with their skill at improvisation? To call it rudimentary would be to exaggerate. I could go on, but wont.
And then there is the "singing". I saw The Dead with Pig Pen, and he could sort of pull off a white boy version of Blues, on a garage band level. But Garcia and Weir? To put it bluntly, they simply could not sing. It’s hard to do even Everly Brothers style 2-part harmonies when both singers are flat. The resulting sound is "sour"---that is the vocal sound of The Dead. Like it if you want, but I want my harmony---and even melody---singing "sweet".
For a masterclass in guitar before Jerry picked up many of his "Jerry-isms" check out 12/29/68 Gulfstream Park, Hallandale FL. Just scorching from beginning to end easily one of my all time favorite shows.
I never saw them play live, but their music is church for me. Jerry was the leader of a band that brought joy to many folks such as me. Beyond that it really doesn't matter what you think of his technical abilities. He was one of a kind and a very pure music soul. That is much more rare and important than a technical prodigy.
Jerry was undoubtedly sloppy (at times) but there is little I despise more than music that resembles a polished turd. My wife used to watch America's next idol or whatever it was called & it would make me sick the way they would press the "imperfections" out of the candidates in an effort to make music the way they thought it should sound. The end result was always the same. Can't say that with Jerry or the dead. They really did do it their way... sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, but always original.
The idea that technical proficiency is the enemy of soulful music is a very common one. It is also mistaken. Danny Gatton produced far more fire than do less proficient guitarists. Ry Cooders ability at bottleneck slide guitar playing is legendary amongst other guitarists, slide playing very hard to do well. The lack of a certain degree of skill leads to less moving music, not more. Unless Punk is the only kind of music you like.
It’s true that musicians who focus on developing chops for chops sake often make dry, boring music. But that’s not because of the chops, but rather that those chops are not used in the service of making moving music. On the other hand, lack of technical ability can prevent a musician (or singer) from being able to produce an emotional response in an audience. Ry’s solo in John Hiatt’s "Lipstick Sunset" is my favorite guitar playing in recent memory, and Ry is able to play music that well for two reasons: his superb musicality and taste, and his ability to play slide guitar as well as he does. Both are necessary---lacking either, that level of music making would not be possible.
But the problem I have with Garcia is not the result of any lack of technique. It is his lack of musicality, his inability to play music that I find satisfying, a thing hard to quantify. More technique would not change that---he would play the same notes, just a little "better" ;-). He would write the same songs, with the same not-very-good (imo) chord sequences, melodies and harmonies, and arrangements. He would still do those long jams, in the same aimless, rambling, boring way. But that, as all things musical, is just a matter of taste. It’s no different than food and beer---I like Italian and German, respectively, others may prefer Mexican and British. It’s all good!
By the way, Brian Wilson’s understanding of music theory, a form of technical proficiency, was absolutely required, and patly responsible, for him to be able to write the incredible songs he did. "God Only Knows" is as sophisticated as a lot of Classical music. Yet, to put things in perspective, during the recording of the ultimately-shelved Smile album, he had a Beethoven Symphony playing on his outdoor speakers as he and his brother Carl floated in his pool one night. At it’s conclusion, he said to Carl "It’s nice to know you’re a musical midget". Talent is relative. But it is important to remember that Brian's knowledge of music theory only enabled him to write as well as he did; there are others with similar knowledge who have never written a song anywhere near as good as "God Only Knows". By the way, Paul McCartney said he considers it the best song ever written. Me too.
If any other guitarist where recorded as much as Jerry, you would be critical of them as well. Jerry took playing beyond what most would do and did it better than most. His creativity was beyond reproach and he never boxed himself into one genre. I dare say he was one of the greatest.
His thousands of hours of recordings prove it for anyone who has ears and a heart.
I think it's fair to say Jerry's strengths and weaknesses are at extreme ends of the chart. He has thrilled me and also bored/disappointed me at different times. I do think he was "leaving it on the playing field" whenever he played so I don't think there was a lack of effort. One of my favorite Garcia tracks is his steel guitar part on David Crosby's "Laughing" ("If I Could Only Remember My Name" LP). It is otherworldly IMO.
If if you boiled Jerry’s best playing down to 24 hours most would say that he was one of the best. But, because there 10 of thousands hours of his playing are available, with most being live in the moment, it is not all perfect. Most guitarist have maybe 24 hours of recordings of their music, with most of that being studio perfected takes. When they do play live, and it is recorded, it is the same solo day in and out. So, to the listener it often sounds perfect. Let’s then not compare apples to oranges.
Those who like to knock the musicianship of Jerry and company forget their body of work consists primarily of live shows, and there were mistakes and miscues. Listen to any of their studio work and it’s polished--as any group’s songs would be rehearsed, re-done, on tracks, etc. The GD weren’t all the best players, but they invented the "jam band" rock genre. Listen and watch them playing outdoors at Columbia University on 5-3-1968. A lot of the kids didn’t know what to make of it--they were hearing Tommy James and Gary Puckett on the radio then, and here’s Jerry, holding forth with improv jamming that no one was doing then. He was very good early on--drugs wore him down later in life. If you like the 2 1/2-minute song, stick with the Beach Boys. They were good at what they did, as well. Danny Gatton and many others were/are great, but for those of us who aren’t stuck to technique and proficiency, it’s often the whole presentation that captures us emotionally. I could not pick the best song ever written--too much to like, but really, bdp--go that Columbia U. concert and then tell me Jerry wasn’t a pioneer, and get back to us here--thanks! https://youtu.be/zq8sp6WF3bQ
Personally, I had a hard time seeing Jerry during his declining health so I stopped going to shows and I'm still kicking myself as a result. What stands out for me is how Jerry could improvise, taking everyone on a journey and without a second thought, change direction and take everyone to an unfamiliar but sacred destination. At that point, the message was clear to all and the message was personal to all. Everyone understood the journey and everyone understood how we landed on sacred ground. To the credit of the Grateful Dead, they never stopped taking risks, risks that other groups would never attempt. There was always a sense of danger. For GD, it was about growing and evolving with the audience as one massive collective consciousness. The audience felt what the band felt and vice versa.
Point taken, one and all. Music being so subjective and personal, there really is no point in arguing about it. I should take my own advice! Let me make two more comments, and I’ll shut up: 1- It has been my experience that a fan of Garcia is much more likely to be a non-musician than a musician, for what that’s worth. 2- I neglected to mention his guitar tone---admittedly a very subjective matter, one of nothing more than personal taste. I found Garcia’s to be not to my liking. But then I don’t like that of Hendrix either, so feel free to disregard my opinion!
I'm a musician, been playing guitar since the age of 5....almost 60 now. I like Jerry. I know many musicians that love Jerry, too. I would dare say that he has inspired many musicians and have earned the respect and given mych enjoyment to many, many professional musicians around the world.
I don't want to say this rudely, but your statement regarding this smells of elitism and snobishness. It implies that masses don't know quality because they are uneducated. The premise of your statement is anecdotal BS.
Elitisim, probably guilty. I prefer quality, no apology offered. Snobbishness? Absolutely not. I love and listen to Hillbilly (I consider Hank Williams a genius) and Classical (J.S. Bach is the father of Western Music). That I consider Danny Gatton and Ry Cooder (amongst many, many others) great guitarists, and Jerry Garcia a mediocre one (and an abominably bad singer, as well as a mediocre songwriter) is not the result of snobbishness, any more than an owner of the hi-fi equipment discussed on this forum is an elitist because he owns any of it instead of a Bose system. Perhaps my standards of quality musicianship are higher than fans of Jerry’s. Is that elitism and/or snobbishness? If so, I’ll plead guilty to both, no problem. I have old friends/bandmates who like The Dead, and I even play one of their songs in a band I’m currently in. It’s a lot of fun, but it sure ain’t a great song.
I agree that musical comparisons can be apples-to-oranges. So, let’s compare apples to apples: Listen to Jerry playing acoustic guitar on Folk-type songs; then listen to, say, Tony Rice (already mentioned above). The comparison is ludicrous; Tony is a very, very good acoustic guitarist, Jerry is, simply, not. Jerry has had the shamelessness to make some recordings with his pal David Grisman, playing even banjo. Jerry is a terrible banjoist! Does me saying so make me an elitist, or snob? Why, because I appreciate the difference between elevated talent and mere modest competency (being charitable)?
That raymonda and his musician friends like the playing of Jerry Garcia means nothing to me, and proves nothing. There are a lot of guys in L.A. who still like hair bands---Guns ’n’ Roses, etc. Is Ray an elitist because he doesn’t (I feel safe in assuming he doesn’t ;-)? Is one who considers Miles Davis a very talented musician, but Kenny G not, an elitist or snob? Not that I’m equating Kenny G with Jerry Garcia, mind you! It’s fine to disagree about music (and many other things), but for one to impugn the character of another for having a different opinion from oneself is, itself, a form of snobbishness.
To "like" something is purely subjective. To call something (or someone) "good" can be a different matter, one involving criteria, not mere opinion. I like lots of music and/or music makers I wouldn’t declare or defend as being "good". To like Jerry Garcia and/or The Grateful Dead is fine by me; to say Jerry Garcia is a great guitarist is, for me, a different matter. Some listeners use technical proficiency as their yardstick for determining quality and/or talent, others "musicality" ( now THERE’S an elistist term). But in the end, it’s all about taste (or the lack thereof ;-), isn’t it?
Without question, pigdog! Damn, now Garcia's not just good, or even great, but a genius? Guess we'll have to come up with a new term for J.S. Bach, Brian Wilson, and Hank Williams. If Garcia was a genius, what were they? I say were in regard to BW because he damaged himself to the point of losing his talent.
Speaking of Robert Hunter, he's been working with a guy I like a lot---Jim Lauderdale (Jim did an album of all Lauderdale/Hunter songs). Now THERE'S a good songwriter and singer. In my opinion, of course.
Whether one likes Jerry Garcia or not, thinks he was talented or not, etc., he moved millions of people, influenced many musicians for at least two decades, had a significant impact on a certain [counter]culture, and had a unique approach to sound. he had a love it or hate it presence and charisma.
sure, sometimes he seemed to just be making noise like a kid bangs on pots and pans, but I don't think his impact can be questioned. "Legacy?" Sure. Technically pure with his instrument? No.
Since you ask, I do have a term for Brian Wilson... Sellout. He may have been better in another band but then again, he would have still been there so it probably would have turned into another bubblegum piece of crap band. Just my humble opinion.
Wow. Musical taste is one thing, ignorance another. Ask any songwriter about Brian Wilson---start with Paul McCartney. Ask any producer---start with George Martin. Absolutely, and by a large margin, the best of his generation. Jerry Garcia himself liked The Beach Boys---the two bands did a tour together.
Anyone who can listen to "God Only Knows" (or any of many, many other BW songs) and not recognize it’s brilliance don’t know nothin’!
Now you're insulting me because I state that Brian was a sellout who led a bubblegum band? Wow is right. I'm not a musician (although I've helped support many over the last 40 years) so maybe I shouldn't state the obvious? If you don't think he's a sellout, spin Kokomo again & get back with me. In fact spin that entire album, then spin the deads last album (built to last) & tell me which band leader compromised creativity.
Ignorance is not necessarily an insult---it's an adjective. In your case boxer, an apt one. Brian Wilson was long gone from The Beach Boys by the time of Kokomo, having left for a solo career years before.
My apologies bdp24. I stopped following their music by the time I turned 16 & realized surfing music was pretty much mindless. I just figured he was part of the Kokomo period because it to sucked so badly.
I'm not a musician but I love music. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It doesn't matter which music moves us as much as the fact that it does. I enjoy the GD, I connect with their music. But every time I listen to BW "God only knows" I am awestruck. It appeals to both brain and heart- for me.