Lex on Jerry Garcia (The Grateful Dead)

I was 16 years old, and could replicate familiar guitar lines by Hendrix, Page, Clapton, and Van Halen with pretty good accuracy.  I was always practicing, and watching as much footage “classic rock footage” that I could get my hand and eyes on.

Via FM-TV, one of the hipper, early video shows, I saw a vintage ’72 German TV performance of the Grateful Dead performing “One More Saturday Night.”  I was riveted.  The band’s inter-connected rhythm really hit my musical heart in the right way.  When Jerry started his solo, I thought, “I gotta learn to play like that dude.”

Jerry didn’t sound like any other player I’d ever heard before.  Jerry’s tone was like a lonesome wolf’s howl in the middle of rhythmic grace.  I thought that he looked like an evil Svengali-figure with a heavy beard.  Through the clip, I wrongfully got the impression that he was “just the Dead’s guitar player.”

When I started to study the Dead, one of my first starting points was, fittingly enough, a German vinyl pressing of Skeletons From The Closet, the first Dead “greatest hits” compilation that belong to a friend.  One song that quickly became a favorite was their version of “Turn On Your Lovelight,” the Bobby “Blue” Bland song.  When Garcia hits that first solo in the song, I felt the hair on my arms tingle.  It had the steam and weight of a freight train, and it rambled on in an organized chaos of sound.  For a long time after, it was “my” song to tackle.

When I picked up my guitar to attempt to follow Jerry’s solos, I instantly found myself bum-fumbling all over my fret board.  My automatic assumption was that “since they’re a rock band, they’re based in blues, too.”  To my surprise, only a fair amount of what Jerry was playing was blues.  His style was cut with other types of music, such as country, bluegrass and folk.  The combination created a weird musical “psychotic reaction” in my head.

(Sidebar:  Note to Tex:  I know you don’t like the sonic ambiance of the recording, but get past that.  It’s all about the fun, camaraderie, and music in “Love Light.”  And how can you resist two drummers? Hmm?)

As a young player, this lead me down musical paths that I hadn’t thought of exploring.  I also found that trying to replicate Jerry Garcia’s skills as a soloist really put blisters on my young fingers.  But that’s okay.  He was all about “making it up as you go along.”  His telepathy between his musical soul and his fingers is still a wonder to behold to this day.

I’ve recommended a lot of Dead albums in other blogs, but check out Skeletons From The Closet.  It’s a fun introduction to Garcia and company.  It’s got just enough of the first 6 or so albums to get you hooked.  It’s even got that smokin’ live version of “Love Light” that contains the solo that was a real, live musical lesson:

Don’t be afraid to attempt to play any genre of music.  If you really love music, it will come to you.

(Lex Neon is also known as Alex Oliver, the quirky and often eccentric musical genius of “sunshine pop / rock” band Poppermost.  Check out their music and Lex’s rock rantings at http://www.poppermost.com/).

Note: Original release date of the Skeletons From The Closet album is February 1974.

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~ by Poppermost on August 23, 2009.

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