Oddly enough, this post was inspired by Ted Nugent. I read a quote attributed to the motor city madman, supposedly published on Nugent’s website, about Jerry that struck a nerve in me:
“Jerry Garcia was a souless fat uncaring hippie sack-o-shit who thought gettin stoned was a better choice than takin care of his God given gifts to be around for his family & children. whatta punk. & his guitar slop was the perfect soundtrack to his cheapness.”
Since Jerry’s death I’ve read a number of comments from Ted in guitar magazines and online forums to know that this seems to be the general drift of Nugent’s published thoughts on Garcia. I once read a quote in a guitar magazine where he dismissed Jerry’s guitar work by saying: “He can’t even play.”. So, I’m not too concerned about if that quote is accurate or not, it fits into a pattern that has been consistent for 15 years or so.
I’m always bothered by people who attack those who are no longer around to defend themselves, I find the practice particularly cowardly, if not loathsome.
I decided to post a Ted Nugent Is a Jerk entry and was happily at work on it when my wife came home from the gym, and asked what I was doing. When I told her what I was up to, she told me that she thought that wasn’t a very good idea. It was mean spirited, juvenile, and like a couple of boys meeting behind the school to have a fist fight, and I shouldn’t post stuff like that on my blog. I also decided that Jerry probably wouldn’t like it, either. She was right. So I told her I’d post a bunch of positive stuff about Jerry, instead. Hence the tile of this post.
But I do have the Nugent monkey that I need to get off my back, so, here’s a link where someone else has had enough of Ted’s BS and points out a few things about Ted:
http://www.addictinginfo.org/2011/12/20/ted-nugent-calls-for-punishing-the-poor-claims-they-make-poor-decisions-to-end-up-in-poverty/ (Be sure to read the part about Ted’s draft dodging.)
OK, now that I’ve got that little detail out of the way.
Photo by DOUG IRWIN
I wasn’t a Jerry Garcia fan prior to 1970. I didn’t understand the whole endless jamming thing and their music really left me cold. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to go see them live, and when virtually my entire circle of friends went to see the dead at Oregon State University in 1969, I stayed home.
In the fall of 1970, I was visiting some friends in Eugene Oregon, when my friend Fred Shipley put the first “Live Dead” record on the turntable while we were waiting for the stuff we’d ingested to take hold. The Pig Pen show stopper “Turn On Your Love Light” started playing at about the point where I was starting to feel the effects and when it got to the point where Garcia was playing the horn parts on his guitar and launched off into an improvisation: he carried me along with him. I was amazed.
I know this fits into the cliches about the Dead, but unlike many psychedelic revelations, I still liked the tune when in more normal states. I was never a hard core deadhead, but I did see Garcia a couple of times with the Dead and once with Howard Wales at the Keystone in Berkeley.
My favorite Dead records were American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead. Those recordings were very song oriented and featured a lot of subtle and understated acoustic guitar work of the ensemble variety by both Weir and Garcia. No blazing solos or long improvisational jams. I think they still hold up well and you certainly don’t have to be high to enjoy them. I’ve learned a lot of thee tunes off of those records over the years.
Lately, the band I play with has been going through some transitional phases while we try to find a new singer. (Update: We’re going to start playing out again and will be appearing at the Camel’s Breath Inn on Thursday, September 12, 2013 as the “Trunkslammers”) We’ve been auditioning new vocalists and jamming over some of our tunes without a signer just to see what comes out and to test out some new guitar ideas, as my guitar playing had sort of fossilized. A couple of times lately I’ve managed to get into that zone where you become more of an “antenna”, as Keith Richards describes it. Stuff just flows out of you and for me, it is a very emotional experience. Listening to the playback somewhat freaked me out as my tone and some of my playing showed a lot more Jerry that I’d ever thought possible. I’ve never consciously tried to emulate him and never worked out any of his solos, save for the one on “Beat it on Down the Line” off of the first Dead album, and here I was, sounding a bit like the Jerry Garcia of the “Live Dead” era.
Actually, I’d had suspicions he’d had a greater impact on me than I’d previously thought for quite some time, but they were just little bit here and there, and were so obscure that nobody had ever mentioned it. About a decade ago, right after I’d moved back to California, five or six years after Jerry’s death I was listening to a radio station when the song “Casey Jones” came on the radio. It’s one of those rare Dead tunes that actually got played on the radio, which blows me away considering the “High on Cocaine” line, and it was a tune I’d heard so many times that I’d really stopped listening to it.
This was one of the first of those “how did I miss how good this is” moments that I seem to have since around the time I turned 50 when he launched into his solo. What a perfectly wonderful, liquid guitar tone and masterful control of bending guitar strings. He’s simply restating the melody in a manner that Jeff Beck would be proud of in a short solo that perfectly complemented the tune. It amazed me that I’d managed to not notice how perfect that was for 30 years and I actually pulled over as I stared to tear up.
I started listening to the Dead a bit after that and one of the record with David Grisman, and discovered how bluegrass had informed a lot of Garcia’s stuff and that he had been playing a lot of licks for his entire career that had roots in the stuff he’d played before the Warlocks. He’d only been playing rock music for a few years before the Warlocks evolved into the dead.
But the major thing Garcia did was to ultimately transcend his instrument. Most of Garcia’s fans weren’t guitar geeks. He was never your standard “Guitar Hero” playing to an audience of worshipers who were telling themselves “I could do that” all the while. As the main soloist in a “Jam Band”, which is what the Dead were for much of their career, he had ample opportunity to go out on a limb and sometimes his excursions were sort of aimless rambling. But there were nights where he was able to take a lot of people along with him and allowed them to tune into the thrill that musicians experience when they’re in the zone.
The Dead may have been a “cult band”, but they weren’t an “elitist” band, they had no pretensions of playing jazz or “musicians music”. You didn’t have to be musically sophisticated to enjoy them, nor did you have to be an acid-head. But I’ve talked to enough “deadheads” to know that there was a special connection between Garcia and his “fans” that few musicians have enjoyed.
For Jerry, music was all about communication, and what I’d like to say to him about that is: “I hear you, man.”.
Oh, I almost forgot, rolling stone did rank him #46 in their list of the 100 greatest guitarists, and here’s what his good pal Carlos Santana had to say about that: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/100-greatest-guitarists-20111123/jerry-garcia-19691231
Oh, Ted Nugent didn’t even make the list. (Although, I have to concede that if I were making up the list, he’d be on it.)