In the annals of rock, Jerry Garcia is a figure of unmatched pedigree. Founding member of the psychedelic motley crew The Grateful Dead, his 30-year stint in the band, from its inception in 1965 to its disbandment in 1995 (coinciding with his death), saw Garcia make a lasting impact on music and culture.
Remarkably, his role as mastermind of The Grateful Dead was just one of many musical endeavours he undertook in his prolific career. Alongside longtime friend Merl Saunders, he founded the Saunders-Garcia Band in 1971. He also fronted the Jerry Garcia Band, Old & In the Way, the Garcia/Grisman and Garcia/Kahn acoustic duos, Legion of Mary and New Riders of the Purple Sage.
Garcia also released numerous solo albums and worked as a sought after session musician, adding his skill to the works of many other artists. He was an unrelenting creative force, and his vast discography is indicative of this. It is likely that if he was alive today, he’d still be churning out records.
Regarded as one of the greatest guitarists of all time, his unique style and technical proficiency endeared him to fans and critics worldwide. Whether in the live setting or on record, he consistently blew us away with his cerebral fingerwork and dazzling solos.
Garcia and The Grateful Dead were celebrated for their long and sustained improvisations on stage. Informed by the infamous ‘Acid Tests’, and characteristic of his position as the godfather of the hippies, he believed that improvisation took the stress away from performing. It allowed him to enact sharp spur of the moment licks that he would never have attempted in a more formulaic and structured setting. “My own preferences are for improvisation, for making it up as I go along,” he once commented. “The idea of picking, of eliminating possibilities by deciding, that’s difficult for me”.
Given that he is such a hero of rock ‘n’ roll, Garcia’s fans have long wondered what sort of music made him tick. It is well-known that he was a fan of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and many other acts from his heyday in the ’60s, but it transpires that Garcia loved more contemporary acts as well, as he was all for musical development. During an interview with Relix in 1980, Garcia revealed the names of some of his favourite acts of the ’70s, and they may surprise you.
Asked if he listened to the radio and what music he liked at the time, Garcia said: “Just the stuff that 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, just like I’ve heard bad stuff from almost everybody.”
He explained: “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.”
Although Garcia’s revelations might be initially surprising, when you stop to think about them, you realise that they actually make sense. If we note his position as a guitar hero, and lover of all things guitar-based, there’s no wonder that he loved Pink Floyd’s 1979 record The Wall. Not only is it one of the best albums ever made, but it also features some game-changing six-string work by David Gilmour. The record is so iconic that it continues to inspire to this day.
The same eminence goes for Dire Straits. Frontman Mark Knopfler is a guitarist of exceptional skill and a genius songwriter, and we can imagine that cuts such as 1977’s ‘Sultans of Swing’, which are a masterclass in guitar-playing, would have pleasantly surprised Garcia, who by that point was a veteran of the music scene.
As for Warren Zevon and Elvis Costello, both were revered guitarists in their own right, and as far as songwriting in the ’70s goes, they were unmatched.
Jerry Garcia’s favourite acts of the 1970s:
- Pink Floyd
- Elvis Costello
- Warren Zevon
- Dire Straits
Get our playlist of Jerry Garcia’s favourite musicians of the ’70s below.