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Jerry Garcia: 1942-1995: Musician

Traded In Accordion For Guitar

Jerome John Garcia was born in Children's Hospital in San Francisco on August 1, 1942. His grandfather, Manuel Garcia, was an electrician who had immigrated from La Coruña, Spain, to San Francisco after World War I. His father, Jose "Joe" Garcia, was a bandleader, and had married Ruth Marie Clifford, his second wife, in 1935. "Jerry" Garcia, the second of two boys, had been named after his father's favorite composer, Jerome Kern. Both of his parents were also musicians; his father was a clarinetist, his mother a pianist. Joe Garcia owned a saloon and boarding house near the waterfront, and the family was prosperous for the first several years of Jerry Garcia's life.

The family's fortunes changed abruptly when Joe Garcia drowned on a fishing trip in northern California, leaving his wife to operate the family's saloon. For the next several years, Jerry Garcia and his brother Clifford moved back and forth between their mother's home and that of their grandparents, Tillie and Bill Clifford. Several months after his father's death, Garcia lost the top two joints of the middle finger on his right hand while helping his grandfather chop wood. He also had asthma, which often forced him to remain in bed, where he watched television and read comics like Tales From the Crypt. When his family moved to Menlo Park, 25 miles from San Francisco, Garcia started listening to KWBR, a rhythm and blues station, and developed a love of music.

When Garcia turned 15, his mother gave him a Neapolitan accordion for his birthday. He convinced her to trade it for a Danelectro guitar that he had seen in a pawnshop window. He had taken piano lessons earlier, but had shown little interest in formal training; now he practiced all the time. He attended Denman Junior High School and Balboa High School, and worked at his family's saloon washing dishes and stocking supplies in his spare time. He also enrolled in an art class at the California School of Fine Arts (later San Francisco Art Institute) on weekends. His teacher, Wally Hedrick, was instrumental in introducing him to the city's bohemian scene. Garcia was soon familiar with beatnik hangouts like the Coexistence Bagel Shop, where he saw Lawrence Ferlinghetti read, and City Lights Bookstore, where he bought a copy of Jack Kerouac's On the Road.

At a Glance . . .

Born Jerome John Garcia on August 1, 1942, in San Francisco, CA; died on August 9, 1995, in San Francisco, CA; son of Jose (a bandleader) and Ruth Marie (a nurse; maiden name, Clifford) Garcia; married Sarah Ruppenthal (divorced); married Carolyn Adams (divorced); married Deborah Koons; children: Heather (first marriage), Annabelle and Teresa (second marriage), Keelin (mother, Manasha Matheson).

Career: Began playing guitar at age 15; joined a variety of bands, early 1960s; formed electric blues band, the Warlocks, 1965; co-founded Grateful Dead, 1965-95; recorded first solo album, Garcia, 1971; performed and recorded with New Riders of the Purple Sage and Old and In the Way, early-to-mid 1970s; recorded Reflections, 1976; toured with Jerry Garcia Band, 1970s-90s; recorded with David Grisman, 1990s; performed last show with Grateful Dead, July 9, 1995.

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: E(mily) R. Frank (1967-) Biography - Personal to Martha Graham (1893–1991) BiographyJerry Garcia: 1942-1995: Musician Biography - Traded In Accordion For Guitar, Developed Love Of Folk Music, Settled In San Francisco, Life With The Grateful Dead