8 Surprising Facts About Jerry Garcia
On August 1, 1942, Jerry Garcia was born in San Francisco, California—and would soon go on to change the history of music as we know it. Here are eight things you might not know about the Grateful Dead legend, in honor of his 75th birthday.
1. HE WAS NAMED AFTER A BROADWAY COMPOSER.
Garcia was destined to be a musician. Born in San Francisco on August 1, 1942, Garcia—full name Jerome John Garcia—was named after legendary Broadway composer Jerome Kern, who wrote more than 700 songs in his lifetime including “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” and “Ol’ Man River.”
2. HIS FIRST LOVE WAS COUNTRY MUSIC.
A love of music was instilled in Garcia from a very young age, and he credited his grandmother with introducing him to country music: “My grandmother was a big Grand Ole Opry fan,” he once shared. “Yeah, I grew up in San Francisco listening to the Opry every Saturday night on the radio without knowing what I was hearing. In fact, my first 45 was a Hank Williams record, a song called ‘The Love Bug Itch.’ It was a really stupid song, but, hey, it was Hank Williams.”
3. HIS FIRST PAYING GIG PAID HIM JUST $5.
Garcia first met his longtime friend—and future Grateful Dead band member—Robert Hunter in the spring of 1961. Shortly thereafter, the duo landed their first paying gig, playing under the name “Bob and Jerry.” For years, it was reported that they were paid $50 for the performance—a fact that Hunter later corrected by stating: “$50 my ass! We got $5. Decided to frame the check (first payment) but within a few days needed to cash it for cigarettes.”
4. A HARD DAY’S NIGHT TURNED GARCIA ONTO ROCK 'N' ROLL.
Throughout his life and career, Garcia was interested in various genres of music. In 1963, he formed a jug band with future Dead bandmates Bob Weir and Ron McKernan. But after seeing Richard Lester’s 1964 Beatles film, A Hard Day’s Night, Garcia and company decided to go the rock route with their band, which was originally known as the Warlocks.
5. THE BAND NAME WAS CHOSEN RANDOMLY FROM THE DICTIONARY.
Garcia once shared the story of how the Grateful Dead band name came to be. “Back in the late days of the Acid Tests, we were looking for a name,” he explained. "We’d abandoned the Warlocks; it didn’t work anymore. One day we were all over at Phil [Lesh]’s house smoking DMT. He had a big Oxford dictionary, I opened it, and there was ‘grateful dead,’ those words juxtaposed. It was one of those moments, you know, like everything else on the page went blank, diffuse, just sorta oozed away, and there was GRATEFUL DEAD, big black letters edged all around in gold, man, blasting out at me, such a stunning combination. So I said, ‘How about Grateful Dead?’ and that was it.”
6. HE WAS DISAPPOINTED WITH THE BAND’S PERFORMANCE AT WOODSTOCK.
In a 1971 interview, Garcia was asked why the Grateful Dead’s performance at Woodstock wasn’t featured in the feature film version of the concert. Garcia’s response was forthright: “Well, we played such a bad set at Woodstock,” he said. “The weekend was great, but our set was terrible. We were all pretty smashed, and it was at night. Like we knew there were a half million people out there, but we couldn't see one of them. There were about a hundred people on stage with us, and everyone was scared that it was gonna collapse. On top of that, it was raining or wet, so that every time we touched our guitars, we'd get these electrical shocks. Blue sparks were flying out of our guitars.”
7. “TOUCH OF GREY” WAS THE BAND’S ONLY TOP 10 HIT.
On July 6, 1987, the Grateful Dead released their 12th album, In the Dark, which featured the single “Touch of Grey.” Though by this point the band had already been around for more than two decades—and amassed a legion of faithful fans—“Touch of Grey” is the band’s only song to make it into the top 10.
8. THERE’S A SPECIES OF COCKROACH NAMED AFTER HIM.
In the late 1990s, a Dead-loving taxonomist discovered a new species of cockroach (a wood roach!) and named it “Cryptocercus garciai” after Garcia. In 1995, just three months after his passing, two astronomers named an asteroid after the late singer as well.