Jerry Garcia is one of the enigmatic men of the golden era of rock. Famed for his pivotal role as part of the iconic jam band The Grateful Dead — a group that made its name on the pulsating and evolving live performances they toured — Garcia has often noted the impact of Bob Dylan on his life and once even went further to announce that one record from the freewheelin’ troubadour changed his entire life.
Garcia and Dylan shared a special relationship too. Not only did Dylan act as a guiding light for the songwriting style that would dominate the airwaves in the sixties and beyond, influencing both The Grateful Dead and Garcia’s solo work, but when Dylan was down on his luck, Garcia and the band extended an invite to join them on a tour.
1987 would see Dylan and The Dead tour across America, but it was back in 1965 that the first rumblings of Bob Dylan hit Garcia and took his breath away. However, it wasn’t always that way.
“I never used to like Bob Dylan until he came out with electric music,” he once explained when noting a selection of his favourite albums of all time. “And I’m not sure why I like that more. I sure liked it a lot more. Boy, when Bringing It All Back Home came out. Yeah, lovely. Very fine guitar player. [Bruce Langhorne] It just all of a sudden had something going for it.” The guitarist continued, “Beautiful, mad stuff. And that turned us all on; we couldn’t believe it.”
Garcia expanded on that viewpoint when he spoke to Rolling Stone in 1972, sharing that prior to the release of Bringing It All Back Home, his interest in Bob Dylan the folk artist was minimal. “Back in the folk music days I couldn’t really dig this stuff but on Bringing It All Back Home he was really saying something that I could dig, that was relevant to what was going on in my life at the time. Whether he intended it that way or not is completely unimportant.”
It was a similar feeling that countless artists could attest to. Before Bob Dylan, the idea of sharing one’s own expression — something rooted in one’s reality — was completely unheard of on the pop charts. Dylan would inspire The Beatles’ own John Lennon and Paul McCartney to even change their ways. But, outside of the industry, for the audience at home, Dylan was changing things in a seismic way purely by connecting with people.
The Grateful Dead began rehearsing in Palo Alto in 1965, the same year Dylan released Bringing It All Back Home and we imagine it may have helped push Garcia, Bob Weir and the rest of the band toward their pinnacle at the top of the jam-rock circuit.
The power of Bob Dylan shouldn’t be underestimated as Garcia neatly surmises in 1972: “Dylan was able to tell you the truth about that other thing. He was able to talk about the changes that you’d go through, the bummers and stuff like that – and say it in a good way, the right way.”