Jerry Garcia Pedal Steel Guitar Spotify Playlist
This week a recording surfaced of the debut live performance of the beloved Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song “Teach Your Children.” The premiere came during Stephen Stills and Graham Nash’s rare duo set supporting the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco in October 1969.
While Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia did not join Stills and Nash for the “Teach Your Children” debut, he did join the band in the recording studio, playing pedal steel guitar on the track. Written by Nash, “Teach Your Children” appeared on CSNY’s 1970 album Déjà Vu, and the song’s signature pedal steel guitar is likely when many unknowing listeners heard Garcia’s playing for the first time.
Garcia purchased a pedal steel guitar in April 1969 and continued regularly playing the instrument until around 1974. In an interview that appeared in Dennis McNally’s book Jerry On Jerry, Garcia told the former Grateful Dead publicist:
I’d fooled around a little bit with pedal steels and stuff, but I couldn’t make any sense of them. And then we went to a music store in Denver, and there was a completely strung-up, tuned-up, nicely put together, set-up and everything, pedal steel. You know, state-of-the-art ten-stringer, with two necks and everything. And I sat down at it, and I played with the pedals a little bit and I fooled with the tuning. I dug the tuning and I played with the pedals a little. And I said, “Oh, I see!” You know, suddenly I finally started to understand a little of the sense of it, the tuning and the way it worked. And that was the first time I’d ever been near one and I saw how this works, you know. So I said, “I want to buy this fuckin’ thing, but can you send it to me with it in tune, you know, ’cause I’ll never remember this tuning.” So they packed it up and sent it to me in tune. I took it out and unpacked it, and sure enough—it was really the thing of discovering that I could relate to it, because it’s very different than a guitar. It’s not a guitar, and it’s not a banjo, either, you know? It’s not like either one of those instruments in any way. And it’s only superficially like anything that I played at the time. And it’s really very different. It has very different logic to it. Being in that music store finally, with one correctly tuned and one together the way they’re supposed to be, and just a chance to touch it and fool with it for about fifteen minutes. I finally could start to see the sense of it. And seeing the sense of an instrument is the whole instrument. You know what I mean? If you don’t understand the logic of an instrument, the sense of an instrument, how it works, what makes it do what it does, you’ll never understand the instrument. Never. It would be like picking up a saxophone and, “What is this?” You know?
Somebody has to show you the sense of it, of the fingering… Well, the pedal steel is not a self-explanatory instrument by any means, you know. It’s a difficult, very strange instrument. It’s evolved in strange ways and it has a very singular kind of logic to it. And it is only because of having the glimpse of the interior of the logic of the instrument that made it—because I’ve always loved the sound of it, and I wanted for years to get one and play one right. I had one, actually, in Ashbury for the longest time. An old cable one. But I didn’t have the slightest idea of how to set it up or tune it or anything. So it just sat around and I fucked with it a little bit. I couldn’t make any sense of it. It was just totally senseless.
In the same interview, Garcia discussed collaborating with CSNY and how they helped influence the Grateful Dead’s attention to vocals, especially harmonies that were part of the band’s shift from psychedelic rock to more traditional songwriting particularly apparent on their 1970 albums, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty. Complementing the more acoustic, Americana sound featured on both those records was Garcia’s pedal steel work on “High Time” and “Dire Wolf” on the former and on “Brokedown Palace” and “Candyman” on the latter.
Garcia played pedal steel on a few tracks that appeared on his 1972 solo album, Garcia, as well as on “Looks Like Rain” on fellow Dead guitarist Bob Weir’s 1972 solo album, Ace.
Garcia also co-founded the New Riders Of The Purple Sage with David Nelson, John “Marmaduke” Dawson and others, playing pedal steel on their 1971 self-titled debut album. Dead drummer Mickey Hart and bassist Phil Lesh also contributed to the album. NRPS and the Dead shared several co-bills in the early-1970s, with Garcia soon replaced by pedal steel guitarist Buddy Cage.
Video of Garcia on pedal steel while rehearsing with the NRPS on July 2, 1971 at the Fillmore West in San Francisco before a concert that also included the Dead can be viewed below:
Several other records featuring Garcia on pedal steel were made at Wally Heider Studios. Author Steve Silberman gave some background on the studio in the “Teach Your Children” article, writing:
Stills and Nash continued to lay down tracks for Déja Vu at Wally Heider’s studio in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, where CSNY, the Dead, and members of the Airplane recorded the best studio albums of their careers, including Volunteers [Jefferson Airplane], American Beauty, If I Could Only Remember My Name [David Crosby] and Blows Against The Empire [Paul Kantner]. More than a studio, Heider’s became a second home to a generation of psychedelicized folk musicians eager to contribute to each other’s projects. (Paul Kantner christened this grand collaboration the “Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra” or PERRO). CSNY could even walk to work, as they were ensconced with a pair of Young’s bush babies, named Harriet and Speedy, at the Caravan Lodge, a funky rock ‘n’ roll hotel with a pool a couple of blocks from the studio.
Early on, Garcia’s instrument (likely the one mentioned in the McNally interview) was a ZB Custom D-10. By the end of Garcia’s 1970s pedal steel era he was seen playing an Emmons D-10 model. Garcia brought the pedal steel guitar back during the Bob Dylan and Grateful Dead joint tour in July 1987. At a pair of shows on the run, during the Dylan and the Dead sets, Garcia played Pete Drake’s part on “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” from Dylan’s 1967 album, John Wesley Harding. Another concert saw Garcia play pedal steel while Dylan led the Dead on “Tomorrow Is A Long Time.” Watch video of those two songs below:
I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight — July 4, 1987
Tomorrow Is a Long Time — July 12, 1987
The Spotify Playlist below features Jerry Garcia playing pedal steel on each of the above-named albums, on tracks off solo albums by Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, and on recordings by Brewer & Shipley (on the B-side to their hit “One Toke Over The Line”) and by legendary guitarist Link Wray. The playlist ends with the extensive, multi-show NRPS box set of performances from 1969 and 1970 recorded by longtime Dead crew member Owsley “Bear” Stanley — with Hart on drums and Weir guesting on a few tracks.
Stream a Spotify Playlist of Jerry Garcia playing pedal steel guitar below: