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The story of Jerry Garcia’s successful style venture: a collection of dinner ties

The head honcho of The Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia, persistently evolved and reinvented himself musically to make his band one of the most famous counterculture outfits of the 21st Century. The Dead were formed in 1965 in Palo Alto, California and became renowned for their live performances that included long jammed-out improvisations of various genres, including rock, blues, psychedelia and jazz, amongst many others.

As for Garcia himself, he was born in San Francisco by the name Jerome John Garcia and was named after the composer Jerome Kern. Garcia was renowned for his technical ability across a range of instruments but particular the guitar. He believed that improvisation during performances took away the stress of playing and allowed him to make decisions there and then as to where a song ought to be going. His playing contributed significantly to the success of his group, which inspired the following of one of the most loyal groups of music fans out there: the ‘Deadheads’.

Having such a dedicated (and often delirious) following was, of course, of great financial benefit to The Grateful Dead, with constantly packed-out live shows aplenty and, naturally, a healthy income from the sales of records and merchandise. Joe Lupile, professor of political science at the University of Colorado, however, explains that this fanaticism “is much more than buying a ticket or buying a t-shirt. [The Grateful Dead] built [a] community.”

Following the death of Garcia in 1995, the income of the past 30 years vanished. Suddenly around 60 people on the touring machine of The Grateful Dead were left in financial insecurity. The band and its managers sought out economic advice, including the potential development of a 70,000-square-foot facility located in San Francisco containing the ‘Vault’, the tape collection of the Dead live shows, as well as a museum dedicated to the band, to deliver consistent income for its remaining members. 

The group has since reformed in a new iteration called Dead & Co., resulting in healthily profitable numbers from live shows and merchandising still coming in. This meant that the band did not have to succumb to the financial pressures of venture capitalists, which some of the remaining members of the band, including bassist Phil Lesh, were sceptical of. Lesh has previously said, “The Grateful Dead have never accepted corporate sponsorship or venture-capital money, and I remain unalterably opposed to any deal that would lease, license or otherwise collateralize the music in the Vault.”

While merchandising and live shows, without doubt, contributed to the financial success of The Dead, there remains one particular Dead venture which is, without doubt, its wackiest (even for someone like Garcia). An archived New York Times article from 1992 reveals that Garcia and the Dead embarked on a rather peculiar merchandising adventure. The result? A collection of dinner ties.

The article reads, “A line of silk neckties just out this month and designed by Jerry Garcia, the Buddhalike lead guitarist of the Grateful Dead. There are eight designs. Some fit in easily in any boardroom. Others may trigger flashbacks. The design directly above is called Undertow. It’s the top seller; note the tie-dye influence. The others are called Abstract Angles, Ibid, Fish, Banyan Tree, Nude, Erudite Gentleman and Frog. Each tie is $28.50. After a successful showing of his paintings in SoHo last year, Jerry (nobody seems to call him Mr. Garcia) was persuaded to design the ties by Irwin Sternberg of Stonehenge Ltd., a New York neckwear maker.”

“Retailers have already ordered an astounding 100,000-plus. Bloomingdale’s sold more than 1,500 in the first few days. It’s too soon, however, to tell if Dead Heads will wear them to concerts. For now, the biggest customers appear to be middle-aged baby boomers who have a nostalgic, kitschy feeling about the ’60s. Others, though, may have more ironic, or perhaps more confused, reasons for buying J. Garcia ties. A group of stockbrokers in Chicago, for example, recently bought 200. They are said to have chosen the Ibid because it reminded them of traders shouting “I bid! I bid!” A second set of designs is planned for September.”

The article is evidently tongue-in-cheek but accurate nonetheless. It goes on to say that Phil Jackson, then coach of the Chicago Bulls basketball team (and longtime Deadhead) had been spotted wearing a J. Garcia tie. Perhaps Garcia foresaw the financial difficulties that lay ahead once the band stopped touring and, for whatever reason (we will never truly know), believed that dinner ties were the way forward. Indeed, only someone with the eccentricism of Garcia could go ahead with such a ludicrous venture, though according to the original article, the ties proved very popular, and it was ultimately a great move. 

Check out former US President Bill Clinton mentioning the Jerry Garcia ties in the video below.