You Say It's Your Birthday: Jerry Garcia

Today is the birthday of the late Jerry Garcia (given name: Jerome John

Garcia), hippie icon and bearded frontman for the Grateful Dead, who was born in San Francisco, Calif. He would have been 55. The Grateful Dead are known

not only as the granddaddies of 1960s psychedelic bands, but as the purveyors

and representatives of cultural movements such as the summer of love, Woodstock and hippies. Formed in 1965 in San Francisco -- not long after the Beat movement had died down, and just two years before the official Summer of Love -- the band included singer/ guitarist Garcia, guitarist Bob Weir, drummer Bill Sommers (who was soon replaced by Mickey Hart), keyboardist Ron "Pigpen" McKearnan and bassist Phil Lesh. The group took influences from all over -- rock, country, folk and blues -- for landmark albums such as 1969's Aoxomoxoa, 1970's Workingman's Dead and 1977's Terrapin Station.

Garcia began learning to play guitar around age 15, and spent some time in the

U.S. Army before returning to the San Francisco area and hooking up with poet

Robert Hunter, who would eventually become the Grateful Dead's lyricist.

Garcia played with a number of acts before finding the musicians who would

become the Warlocks (and later the Grateful Dead). Before they landed a

record deal, they were the house band at Ken Kesey's Acid Tests and lived on

the now-infamous Ashbury Street in the Haight. By 1967, they were regulars at the Avalon and Carousel Ballrooms as well as promoter Bill Graham's Fillmore West.

Although the Dead's albums sold well, it was their live shows that did the

selling. The band toured practically nonstop from its inception, attracting

legions of long-haired, peace-minded men and women who came to be known as Deadheads. Many followed the Dead around the country for years. The first

tragedy struck the band in 1973, when the alcoholic Pigpen died of liver

disease. He was replaced by Keith Godchaux, who also died a year later; Brent Mydland eventually took his place.

The group was nearly splintered by side projects in the mid-1970s, but

reformed soon enough to make Terrapin Station. Go To Heaven

included a number of the Dead's long-standing hits, such as the countryish

"Truckin’” and "Uncle John's Band". The Dead went full-steam until the

mid-1980s, when they took another hiatus. This was due in part to Garcia's

collapse; his rock 'n' roll lifestyle (especially his heroin addiction) was

taking its toll not only on his health, but on the band. Garcia went into a

diabetic coma, but seemed to recover fully. When the band regrouped, their

tours were marked by increased violence between fans and police. They also

toured with folk-rocker Bob Dylan, a stint which has been commemorated on the 1989 album Dylan and the Dead.

In 1990 Mydland died of an overdose of cocaine and heroin, and ex-Tubes

keyboardist Vince Welnick took over (on occasion, pianist Bruce Hornsby

joined them instead). The Dead didn't release a lot of new material in the

1990s; most of their records from this time were previously-unreleased

material. Again in 1992 Garcia's diabetes brought him down, and when he

regained his health he was forced into a strict regimen of diet and exercise.

In addition to continuing work with the Dead, Garcia had begun pursuing

artistic avenues such as painting. His collection of designer neckties -- just

right for the '60s-hippies-turned-businessmen -- was quite successful.

On Aug. 9, 1995, Garcia died in his sleep at a drug treatment facility

in Northern California. He'd been admitted to battle his continued heroin

addiction, although a heart attack was given as the cause of Garcia's death.

Mourners flooded the streets all over the nation, especially in San

Francisco. The rest of the Dead decided to disband, choosing to focus on

long-standing solo projects instead.

Other birthdays: Michael Penn, Suzi Gardner (L7), Dennis Payton (Dave

Clark Five), Geoff Britton (Wings), Boz Burrell (Bad Company/King Crimson),

Rick Coonce (drummer for The Grass Roots), the late Tommy Bolin (T-Rex),

Robert Cray, Joe Elliot (Def Leppard), Nick Christian Sayer (Transvision

Vamp) and Adam Duritz (Counting Crows).