The singer/guitarist, who died of heart failure at age 53 in August 1995, was the de facto leader of The Dead, inspiring an entire subculture of “Deadheads” who embraced the San Francisco-area group’s rootsy, laid-back music and counterculture lifestyle.
Garcia co-wrote most of The Dead’s songs, often in collaboration with lyricist Robert Hunter, including well-known songs like “Casey Jones,” “Ripple,” “Friend of the Devil,” “Truckin’,” “Bertha,” “Alabama Getaway” and “Touch of Grey.” Countless musicians have been influenced by Garcia’s guitar style and his group’s music, while his surviving band mates all have carried on his legacy by continuing to perform and record — together, individually and in varying combinations.
Founding Dead member Bill Kreutzmann spoke with ABC News Radio on Tuesday, and he shared his feelings about how he’d like Garcia to be remembered on his milestone birthday.
“I wish he was here to celebrate with us is, of course, my first thought,” the drummer said, adding, “I don’t think he ever really gets enough credit for his abilities as a musician, and an artist … so to celebrate that for his birthday is really special.”
As for how he’d like Dead fans to commemorate Garcia, Kreutzmann said, “I want them to remember him by honoring themselves and their [enjoyment] of music, all music. Just be creative as you can on his birthday.”
Kreutzmann said Garcia didn’t generally make a big deal about marking his own birthday. He suggested that the best way any of The Dead’s members could celebrate a birthday was to do it with fans.
“When you play in the Grateful Dead and you go to a Grateful Dead show, every day is really special,” he said. “And to think that your birthday is gonna be any more special is kinda nuts.”
The drummer added that if Garcia’s birthday didn’t fall on the day of a Dead concert, “he’d probably lay low a little bit and just have some close friends over with a guitar, playing bluegrass or something.”
Kreutzmann also said he’d like people to remember Jerry “for being a really good human being.” As an example, he told about how, when the band members and business partners would be at each others’ throats during the weekly meetings The Dead held, Garcia “would be the grounding force [who would] bring it back to…the place of good understanding and fairness to both sides.”
A number of events are planned this week to commemorate Garcia’s 70th birthday. A special one-off screening of the classic concert flick The Grateful Dead Movie will be held at hundreds of theaters across the country on Wednesday. The screening also will feature a new short film about Garcia that was directed by Kreutzmann’s son, Justin. Then on Friday, founding Dead singer/guitarist Bob Weir will host a special concert webcast titled “Move Me Brightly” at his TRI Studios in San Rafael, California, that will be streamed live at 6:30 p.m. PT. Lastly, Kreutzmann’s current group, 7 Walkers, will pay homage to Jerry with a performance Friday at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.