Reflections: Jerry Garcia’s Life and Legacy (Umphrey’s McGee, The Decemberists, The Meters, Megafaun…)
Over the next 9 days between the anniversary of Jerry’s birth on August 1, 1942 through his untimely death on August 9, 1995, we’re going to run a series of artists’ commentaries on the life and legacy of Jerry Garcia. Our first six appear below. Pop over to Jambands.com for additional Reflections posted today.
GEORGE PORTER JR. (THE METERS, RUNNIN’ PARDNERS, 7 WALKERS
I never had the chance to play with Jerry Garcia or the Grateful Dead. Up until a few years ago, I was not even very familiar with his music. I knew who the Grateful Dead were and had heard some of their live gigs when riding around with Steve Eggerton. Steve had tons of Dead shows. It was when I was playing with Mickey Hart in 2007 that I started to realize the strong influence Jerry has had on so many of the younger bands as well as the people who still support the surviving members of his bands.
Now working with BIlly Kruetzmann in the 7 Walkers, I have had gotten to actually do my own interpretation of several songs by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter: “Sugaree,” “Eyes of the World” and I am working on “Franklin’s Tower,” smiling and still working.
I have now learned and played about a dozen or so Garcia/Hunter songs. It has given me a better understanding and appreciation of the artist that Garcia was and the way he made lyrics fit into the music.
What surprises me the most is how close the Deadhead community has stayed after all these years and how much they all still respect and remember him. Everywhere we go there is a sea of tie-dye, lots of Jerry shirts and people talking about him like he is still here and it’s been almost 17 years since he is gone. It is a little crazy but really cool, I can see that he touched each and every one of those people that he played to and they remember, that’s cool. As a musician we all hope to reach that place.
Personally I am GRATEFUL to the many Deadheads that have welcomed me as one of their own. Happy Jerry’s Birthday to y’all.
JENNY CONLEE-DRIZOS (THE DECEMBERISTS/CALOBO)
My first Grateful Dead album, American Beauty, is still my favorite. I love the mix of electric and acoustic instruments interweaving to create the gentle breeze of music that comes out of this album. “Attics of My Life” still blows my mind. Jerry Garcia helped introduce me to some wonderful traditional American music that I am very influenced by today. I owe him and the Grateful Dead a great debt (besides all the wonderful shows I got to see in the ‘80s and ‘90s).
My band Calobo was touring in northern California when Jerry died. We ended up playing the Sweetwater in Mill Valley the day after and a candlelit shrine had been erected. It felt amazing to play there that night. Everyone, although sad, seemed ready to let loose and celebrate Jerry’s life. I loved Jerry’s unassuming and humble stage presence and his dedication to his music. I hope he is rocking out at the big jam session in the sky!
BRENDAN BAYLISS (UMPHREY’S MCGEE)
When I was growing up, I was more of a Guns N’ Roses guy than a Grateful Dead guy. Because of that, I never really went through a Jerry phase until I really started digging into guitar players in an effort to take my own playing to the next level. Obviously, his phrasing and the space that he utilized became a big influence. He was so natural and had such a great flow that it was hard to not want to emulate.
My two favorite Jerry songs are “Help on the Way” and “Crazy Fingers,” not only because of the complex nature of the parts (making them challenging and rewarding to play), but also because they are, quite simply, very well written songs. For me, these songs proved that he was not only one of the best players, but also one of the best composers out there.
After a little more studying, I eventually came to love his vocals more than any other aspect of his musicality. He sang in such an honest and endearing way that truly translated more emotion than many other famous vocalists.
That being said, I think what I took most from Jerry was his honesty. If you play and sing with sincerity and honesty…. great things will happen.
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In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
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