Days Between Deep Dive: Jerry Garcia’s Debut Solo Album ‘Garcia’

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Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia was born on August 1, 1942 and died on August 9, 1995 at the age of 53. For 25 years, the “Days Between” Garcia’s birthday and the anniversary of his untimely death have been an annual period of reflection and admiration for the legendary musician’s career. This week JamBase honors the Days Between with daily deep dives into Jerry’s five solo studio albums, beginning with today’s look at his 1972 solo debut, Garcia.

In a 1971 interview with Deadhead Yale professor Charles Reich and Rolling Stone’s Jann Wenner, Garcia was asked about going solo:

Why are you doing an album by yourself?

Jerry Garcia: I’m doing it to be completely self-indulgent—musically. I’m just going on a trip. I have a curiosity to see what I can do and I’ve a desire to get into 16-track and go on trips which are too weird for me to want to put anybody else I know through. And also to pay for this house!

Are you doing it with anybody?

Jerry Garcia:I’ll probably end up doing it with a lot of people. So far I’m only working with Bill Kreutzmann because I can’t play drums. But everything else I’m going to try to play myself. Just for my own edification. What I’m going to do is what I would do if I had a 16-track at home, I’m just going to goof around with it. And I don’t want anyone to think that it’s me being serious or anything like that—it’s really me goofing around. I’m not trying to have my own career or anything like that. There’s a lot of stuff that I feel like doing and the Grateful Dead, just by fact that it’s now a production for us to go out and play, we can’t get as loose as we had been able to, so I’m not able to stay as busy as I was. It’s just a way to keep my hand in so to speak, without having to turn on a whole big scene. In the world that I live in there’s the Grateful Dead which is one unit which I’m a part of and then there’s just me. And the me that’s just me, I have to keep my end up in order to be able to take care of my part of the Grateful Dead. So rather than sit home and practice—scales and stuff—which I do when I’m together enough to do it—I go out and play because playing music is more enjoyable to me than sitting home and playing scales.

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In reality, Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann was the only other musician credited on Garcia, which was recorded at Wally Heider’s Studio D in San Francisco in July 1971 and released in January 1972 by Warner Bros. Records. Heider’s facility was also where many other bands recorded albums around that time including Jefferson Airplane, Neil Young, Santana, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Van Morrison and many others and where Garcia’s Grateful Dead band mate Bob Weir recorded his own 1972 solo album, Ace.

“If it were possible for me to make a record where I could play by myself and sound like the whole group, I would consider it to be a successful record,” Garcia said in the same interview. “In the context of this kind of experiment and in the nature of the kind of material I’m doing on my solo album, it’ll be that kind of an experiment. I’ll be able to make myself sound like a band. The reason, musically, I know I can do it is because it’s all coming from my head, it’s going to at least agree. But then you get this unified, too-much-agreement sort of sound, and you don’t have that excitement of interchange.”

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The album listed “All selections written by Jerry Garcia, Robert Hunter and Billy Kreutzmann,” however Hunter — Garcia’s longtime writing partner — supplied lyrics for only six of the 10 songs, the other four being instrumentals. Those six songs with Hunter’s lyrics became staples of the Grateful Dead’s repertoire. In fact, “Deal” had been performed by the Dead over 30 times before it appeared as the Garcia opening track. Fellow album cuts “Bird Song,” “Sugaree,” “Loser” and “To Lay Me Down” had also been performed live by the Dead prior to their inclusion on Garcia.

The other eventual Dead staple, “The Wheel,” wouldn’t make its live debut with the band until 1976. The recording of “The Wheel” featured Garcia on pedal steel guitar, an instrument he picked up only a few years earlier and utilized on the pair of Grateful Dead albums issued in 1970, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty. Garcia also played the signature pedal steel line that opens Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Teach Your Children” (also recorded at Heider’s) and he can be heard playing the instrument extensively on the 1971 self-titled debut LP by Garcia’s side project New Riders Of The Purple Sage.

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“Produced by Bob & Betty with Ramrod and Billy Kreutzmann” reads the Garcia label. “Bob” is Bob Matthews, who also produced Workingman’s Dead and worked for the band’s equipment manufacturing offshoot Alembic. “Betty” is Betty Cantor-Jackson, who also co-produced Workingman’s Dead and was the Dead’s live sound engineer for many years, recording some of the most beloved tapes of the band’s shows. Bob and Betty had also previously worked on the Grateful Dead’s 1968 studio album, Aoxomoxoa and the landmark 1969 live album, Live/Dead. “Ramrod” is longtime Grateful Dead crew member Lawrence Shurtliff who was a primary member of the band’s support team through 1995.

Three of the four instrumentals on Garcia are seamlessly presented at the start of Side B. The brief “Late For Supper” could be a snippet from one of the Grateful Dead’s improvised “Space” sequences, with the haunting “Spidergawd” following in a similar fashion, though embellished by audio samples of voices of mostly inaudible people speaking. One of the samples clearly says the name of Dr. Frank Oppenheimer, a former physics professor and founder of the Exploratorium, an eccentric science and technology museum located in San Francisco.

“In the early days of the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia and I often visited the old Exploratorium at the Palace of Fine Arts, and we loved the mysteries it presented and explained,” Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart stated. “Even in its earliest days, the Exploratorium’s interactive exhibits allowed us a window into understanding gravity, sound, electricity — all those invisible things that fascinate. The Exploratorium was full of big ideas and big questions.”

Out of the trippy “Spidergawd” emerges “Eep Hour,” an uplifting sequence that also features Garcia on pedal steel guitar, layering lavish sonic swells across the ethereal end to the three-part instrumental suite. “To Lay Me Down” (which had been recorded by the Grateful Dead during the American Beauty sessions and again during studio sessions in 1980) comes between the trio of instrumentals and the other wordless track, “An Odd Little Place,” which spans only 98 seconds.

The artwork on Garcia was designed by Bob Seidemann, who also photographed the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and other counter-culture figures. Seidemann was responsible for the controversial Blind Faith album cover depicting a topless 11-year-old girl. Seidemann’s work also includes designing album covers for Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Herbie Hancock, Bob Seger, Randy Newman and many others.

Stream Jerry Garcia’s 1972 solo album, Garcia, plus the bonus tracks discussed here, below: