Reflections: Jerry Garcia’s Life and Legacy (Warren Haynes, Jorma Kaukonen, Chuck Leavell, Ronnie McCoury, Brad Barr…)
Back in 1973 when I was in the Allman Brothers Band, we played several shows with The Grateful Dead. Probably the most notable was the show in Watkins Glen, NY on July 28th which also included The Band. Billed as “Summer Jam,” it turned out to be an historic show, the most attended one day musical event ever at the time…with over 600,000 people attending. I was fairly new in the band, having joined in the summer of ’72, and the position constituted a huge step up for me. We had recorded but not yet released the Brothers and Sisters record, which was to top the charts by fall of ’73 and had three hit singles on it…“Ramblin’ Man”, “Jessica” and “Come and Go Blues”. Even without the new record out, our concerts were selling out and we were all ridding high. Of course, so were Jerry Garcia and the Dead at the time. I remember meeting Garcia back stage the day before the show, when we were all doing sound checks. There were already some fans there, and the Dead’s sound check turned into a long set to entertain them…probably a couple of hours or so.
I was only 21 at the time, young and wide-eyed at all that was going on. Garcia was an icon, a cult music hero and of course a very famous guy and easy to recognize. I was pretty shy at the time and felt a bit intimidated by the whole situation, but of course I wanted to meet Jerry Garcia, and was thrilled to do so. We didn’t exchange a lot, just some pleasantries and musical compliments, with him welcoming me into the ABB and both of us saying that we looked forward to the jam the next night after all three bands had played. I had already been warned about the notorious dosing of folks that would sometimes happen backstage with the Dead…which I believe mostly came from a guy named Owsley, one of their “insiders.” I was told not to drink anything from a bottle, can or glass that had been opened, and to wipe the top of any can before I drank out of it (sometimes drops of acid would be put on the tops of the cans in the coolers). So I was very careful, and luckily avoided any surprises.
The promoters of the show knew it would be a big draw…talk was that maybe 100,000 might show. But none of us in our wildest imaginations thought it would turn out the way it did…breaking all previous records for attendance, even surpassing Woodstock.
The Dead opened the show the next day, playing two long sets and Garcia taking some adventurous and exploratory solos. I didn’t watch all of it, but peeked out occasionally to listen. They were in their element and had the crowd going strong. The Band played next, but were interrupted with a downpour of rain, having to stop for a while before finishing. We played third…doing a long almost three hour set in two segments, playing the songs the fans already knew, and some of the new yet-to-be-heard tunes from Brothers and Sisters.
After all of that, there was a v-e-r-y long jam session that included members of all the bands. I jumped in occasionally…I certainly wanted to say that I had “Jammed with Garcia”! I may have played on “Not Fade Away”, “Mountain Jam” and a couple of others…and it was a real treat for my young self to share the stage with not only Garcia, but all the others in the Dead and The Band.
We did other shows that year with the Dead, the most memorable of which was New Year’s Eve in San Francisco at the Cow Palace. It was an amazing show, both bands playing well and everyone partying to the Max. Bill Graham, who promoted the show, came down from the top of the building at midnight dressed in a diaper as the “New Year Baby”. The crowd was throughly entertained, and we had the obligatory jam afterwards, playing well into the early morning hours of 1974. Garcia played his ass off, and it was again a real pleasure to be on stage with him. By then we knew each other better, and I was more willing to stretch out and participate with stronger energy. We had some nice exchanges between us, and I can just say that I am truly grateful to have played with such a giant of rock music. Jerry was always nice and encouraging to me, and I only wish I could have spent more time with him. By the way, one of our drummers, Butch Trucks, did not escape the efforts of Mr. Owsley on that New Years’ Eve concert…he got dosed and told me later that as he was playing his drums kept moving away from him and he had to chase them…ahh, that was the way of the times!
ADAM AIJALA (YONDER MOUNTAIN STRING BAND)
Jerry has had a major impact on the way I approach the guitar. Even though he’s been gone for quite awhile, I am still learning from him and, man, he’s the reason I got into bluegrass. With that in mind, I guess his impact on the music I write is pretty huge considering I’ve played in a bluegrass band for the last 14 years. Wish he was still around.
BRAD BARR (THE SLIP, BARR BROTHERS)
Jerry Garcia brought to music and culture a wonderful mischievousness, eloquence, and broad sense of the connections that seemingly disparate musical styles shared — not to mention a blistering guitar tone, especially in the early days. I’m not sure if another western musician in the mid-sixties had such an all-encompassing vision for popular music, where old-time folk songs, rhythm and blues, and forward reaching psychedelic improvisations/soundscapes could exist together, rooted in their alternative and devious origins. I miss him.
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