Here’s a guy I never thought we’d write about on this blog. In case that’s not clear, I’ll come right out with it: I’m not a Grateful Dead fan. The whole never-ending concert, drooling stoner, zero-aggression, electric caravan music scene was never my thing. Call me close-minded, but I never got it, don’t want to get it – not that there’s anything wrong with it….
Because of that, I never was a Jerry Garcia fan. But I was acutely aware that Jerry had (and still has) a bunch of fans, and had his own style of playing the ol’ guit-box. I mean, how could you not be aware? Yes, the Dead had their own sound, but a lot of that was Jerry. His guitar lines and tone were, to my ears, unique. In fact, that’s the only part of any Dead tune I ever liked (with apologies to the mighty Warren Haynes, who now graces the Dead with his presence).
So I gotta say I wasn’t real interested to stumble across a 1978 interview with Jerry that appeared in the December 2009 GP2 online magazine. (That whole GP2 things seems to be an experiment in Guitar Player making money off repurposing old content – not that there’s anything wrong with that….) But in the spirit of being open-minded, I skimmed through it – and found myself interested enough in some of what he was saying that you’re reading about it.
What comes across in it loud and clear is that Jerry wasn’t just a stoner. He was a guy who took music and musicianship seriously, which I didn’t know. He also attributed a lot of his technique to what he learned playing the banjo. So with that in mind, here’s some interesting stuff from Jerry:
Fingering and Vibrato
“Most guitar players, I’ve noticed, seem to use a flat fingering. I’ve somehow trained myself to come straight down on top of the string. I play mostly on the tips of my fingers, so the high action doesn’t get in my way at all.
“Early on, I was lucky enough to have someone point out the usefulness of that [fourth] finger. As a result, it’s one of my stronger fingers, and I prefer to use it even more than my ring finger. That’s always made me different from most rock guitarists that I know….
“I think in rock and roll, a lot of guitar players favor something that lets them use the ring finger for greater articulation and vibrato effects. For me, I’ve got to be able to do it with every finger. I find it ridiculous to have to close all my ideas on my ring finger just so I can get a vibrato. That eliminates a lot of possibilities automatically.
“I have about four or five different families of vibrato. Some of them are unsupported – that is to say, nothing is touching the guitar but my finger on the string. Other methods are supported, and I just move a finger for the sound. Sometimes I also use wrist motion, and other times I’ll move my whole arm. I also use horizontal and lateral motion for different sound and speed.”
High Knuckles = Tone?
“My preference is for the well-spoken tone, and I think coming straight down on the strings with high knuckles makes it. So my little groups of pull-offs are really well-articulated – it’s something I worked on a lot.”
He also said: “I seldom hammer-on because it seems to have a certain inexactitude for me.”
“Generally I use a Fender extra-heavy flat pick, which I sometimes palm when using my fingers. The way I hold the pick is a bit strange, I guess. I don’t hold it in the standard way, but more like you hold a pencil. I think Howard Roberts describes it as the scalpel technique. The motion is basically generated from the thumb and first finger rather than, say, the wrist or elbow.
“I use all different kinds of motion depending on whether I am doing single string stuff or chords.”
He also talks about accenting off beats, which he also got from banjo-playing.
Interesting stuff, no? Almost makes me want to go listen to some Dead. Almost.
Jerry Garcia Band, “Sittin’ in Limbo” and “That’s Alright Mama,” Live, Capitol Theater, Passaic, NJ, March 1980
> This vid starts with Jerry pickin’ away, so you get a flavor of it.
> I dig the keys solo that comes in around 6:00.
> No, I did not make it all the way through the vid!
Sites That Link to this Post
- WoodyTone! - Jerry Garcia on Playing Stoned | February 9, 2010