“Garcia” by Jerry Garcia (1972)
The Grateful Dead’s official discography has the band’s studio work with Warner Bros. concluding with the classic “American Beauty.”
Yet two more Warner studio albums figure prominently in the Dead’s history, recordings that provided ample concert material for decades while also being somewhat hard to find for years.
Bob Weir’s “Ace” (1972) is a Grateful Dead album in all but name, with all members of the band’s lineup at the time taking part in the sessions. As such, it’s the first studio effort to feature the Godchauxs, Keith and Donna.
By contrast, “Garcia,” released the same year, basically is a solo effort: Jerry played everything on the albums except drums, which were handled by the Dead’s Bill Kreutzmann.
“Garcia” and “Ace” both went out of print a few years after release and were much coveted by Deadheads until their release on compact disc in the late ’80s. I remember buying “Ace” on 8-track because that’s the only way I could find it!
A copy of “Garcia” actually sat for a long while in a bin at a record store we frequented in Indiana, PA, our college town. But we had no idea until later; the album’s cover gives little indication as to what it contains.
Of the two albums, I prefer “Garcia.” Nothing against Bob’s effort, which contains many of his best compositions (although I’ve never been fond of “Looks Like Rain”). But, hey, Jerry was Jerry.
Plus the songs on his first solo album are among his most memorable, kicking off with “Deal.” Not only is it one of my favorites to play and sing since I learned it 20-some years ago, but it always was a personal concert favorite. I particularly remember it as a first-set closer during a show on City Island in my hometown of Harrisburg, an epic performance that had me clearing out a large swath of the audience to accommodate my boogieing to the music. (No, you don’t want to picture that.)
Back to “Garcia”: It continues with two more songs that became concert favorites, “Bird Song,” Jerry and Robert Hunter’s ode to Janis Joplin, and “Sugaree,” their invective against a woman who must’ve done somebody wrong.
The first side of the LP wraps up with “Loser,” a minor-key tale of a gambler that particularly was effective in concert with its dynamic shifts an Jerry’s dramatic guitar soloing.
The LP’s flip side opens with pure experimentation leading into the melodic instrumental “Eep Hour”; the suite of songs figures prominently in the surreal animated sequence that opens “The Grateful Dead Movie.”
“To Lay Me Down” is a heartfelt effort that reappears on the Dead’s acoustic live album, “Reckoning,” and the “So Many Roads” anthology of unreleased material. Next is the aptly titled “An Odd Little Place,” which is an odd little jam.
“Garcia” wraps up with some of Jerry’s finest pedal-steel guitar playing (he abandoned the instrument during the Europe ’72 tour) leading into “The Wheel,” which began life as an improvisation and wound up as yet another concert favorite when the Dead revived the song following its 1974-75 hiatus.
The duo album by Bill the drummer and Jerry on everything else stands as one of the Grateful Dead’s finest studio accomplishments, even if it featured only two of the boys.