Over the lengthy holiday weekend, a modest sheaf of photographs of the young Jerome John Garcia, more commonly known as Jerry, surfaced on the Internet. They date from 1959 and 1960 and depict a decidedly different man from the Haight-Ashbury counterculture hero who was so beloved by the Grateful Dead’s ardent fan base.
The photos depict Garcia surrounded by his family in San Francisco as well as hanging around with his buddies, who have a certain “Richie and Potsie” air about them. Although, you know, maybe that’s not the full picture. After all, it’s well documented that Garcia had been into weed for a couple of years by this time; he was into Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker, and Hank Ballard; and he was already in a band.
Garcia never graduated from high school—as he told Jann Wenner and Charles Reich of Rolling Stone in 1972, “I went to a high school for about a year, did really badly, finally quit and joined the Army.” In early 1960 Garcia had the numbskulled idea of stealing his mother’s car, and his recompense was enforced enrollment in the army, where he was (surprise, surprise) an indifferent soldier. Garcia was given a general discharge in December 1960.
In the same interview, Garcia told Wenner and Reich of his first guitar, which object Garcia is pictured playing in one of the pictures:
I go down to the pawn shops on Market Street and Third Street and wander around the record stores, the music stores and look at the electric guitars and my mouth’s watering. God, I want that so bad! And on my 15th birthday my mother gave me an accordion. I looked at this accordion and I said, “God, I don’t want this accordion, I want an electric guitar.”
So we took it down to a pawn shop and I got this little Danelectro, an electric guitar with a tiny little amplifier and man, I was just in heaven. Everything! I stopped everything I was doing at the time.
It is said that this is the earliest picture of Jerry Garcia playing the guitar.
At Analy High School, in Sebastapol, California, Garcia had his first experiences playing in a band. The group was called the Chords and specialized in big-band standards from the 1940s. In A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead by Dennis McNally, Garcia calls it “kind of easy-listening stuff. Businessman’s bounce, high school version.” (“Businessman’s bounce” is a jazz term for a particularly desultory two-beat played at a jumpy tempo.)
On May 27 John Simpson posted the interesting pictures on the I Love The Grateful Dead! Facebook page. He wrote: “A friend whose father was close childhood friends with Jerry had these personal pics. They’ve never been shared publically to my knowledge. But I received a copy and a ‘feel free to share.’ Enjoy!”
The identity of Garcia’s prom date has not been disclosed, if, indeed, anyone knows it.