25 Years Gone: The Day Jerry Garcia Died Remembered by Bill Walton, Bruce Hornsby, Perry Farrell, Warren Haynes

Jerry Garcia Grateful Dead 25 Years Gone 1
Garcia: AP Images; Skull/Rose: Adobe Stock

As part of Variety‘s ongoing tribute to Jerry Garcia, who died 25 years ago today at age 53, musicians, industry veterans and basketball legend Bill Walton, share their thoughts on the Grateful Dead frontman and how they honored his memory on August 9, 1995.

Bill Walton

The accomplished basketball player, who held positions with the L.A. Clippers and the Boston Celtics, first saw the Grateful Dead at age 15 in 1967.

Jay Blakesberg/Invision/AP

I found the Grateful Dead, or maybe they found me. I’m not sure. That’s the way it works in the world of the Grateful Dead. Because they’re traveling salesmen, and they sell hope, and they sell purpose, and they sell passion, and they sell all the things that I believe in and try to live for and stand up for.

It was 1967 when I heard them on the radio in my hometown of San Diego. That was just like, “Wow.” Then the disc jockey was telling a story about how there’s going to the concert. I was 15 years old and me and a couple of my buddies, we just went. We got in, and I got to the front of the stage, and I never left. That was 53 years ago.

I was blown away by how happy everybody was. How everybody was just reflective of a mood and a culture and atmosphere that I wanted to be a part of, which was a family, community, team, hope, optimism, joy, celebration. All the things that I search for on a constant basis. And I found it all in one place.

On August 9, 1995, I was at home in San Diego. I’m an early riser, and the rest of the family is not. My wife Lori and our children were all still sleeping and I was up playing the piano, practicing for an upcoming lesson that day. The phone rang. I generally don’t answer, but someone — something –told me, “You better go pick it up.” [Longtime Dead crew member] Ramrod gave me the news, and things have never been the same since.

Jerry was a rare and different dude. He was a creative genius and a supremely powerful force of nature. He could do, and he did, a lot of things for a lot of people. He was a member of the team. I’m a team guy. The whole team, and the rise, the fall, the recovery. It’s the story of life, it’s the story of so much of the music. The powerful emotions, and the songs, and the music, and the lights and the sounds. The flesh-eating low-end, and it just comes right through you, and it fills you with light, hope and dreams. It fills you with life. It gives you a reason to fight for tomorrow.

I am who I am because of the Grateful Dead. They have shaped me and formed me and molded me and driven me and inspired me and lifted me up and carried me when I couldn’t walk and taken me to places that I could never get to on my own.

My life has been defined by hope, opportunity and purpose, leading to pride, loyalty and gratitude. But it’s also significantly focused on health, community and service. All of those things apply to the Grateful Dead. As we face our challenges today, as we have over the course of our lives and course of the history of the Grateful Dead, the challenge is always to make different better, and then to treat the challenges as an opportunity and understand how privileged we are to even have a chance to do something with it. To find that new path forward, which is the story of the Grateful Dead, and to do what’s never been done before. All of those things apply not only to what we’re going through in our own lives today, but with the story of the Grateful Dead. Jerry, and all the rest of the Grateful Dead, they give us everything they’ve got, every time. We are so grateful … and we still think about him.

Peter Shapiro

The co-owner of Brooklyn Bowl, Lockn’ Festival and the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, NY produced the final Grateful Dead shows, known as “Fare Thee Well,” in 2015.

Marc Millman

I was in NYC and had just graduated from college. I was an intern. I just remembered being dazed from hearing it.

And the news was everywhere. I had gone to see RatDog at Central Park SummerStage on August 8, the day before he passed away. That was very strange, but I also feel fortunate that I had the music fresh inside me when I heard the news. I remember watching Bob Weir do an interview the day Jerry died at the venue in New Hampshire (the Hampton Beach Casino) that he traveled to after playing Central Park.

I remember his eyes and the sadness and shock in them.

That image will be with me forever.

Warren Haynes

Warren Haynes

The Allman Brothers Band guitarist is also a founder of Gov’t Mule and has toured with various Grateful Dead members, including Phil Lesh and Friends. 

“I never knew you, but then who really did? If you were at all like me, you managed to keep yourself hid.”

Those are the opening two lines to my song “Patchwork Quilt” that I wrote the night Jerry Garcia died, upon returning home to my apartment in New York City after performing with The Allman Brothers Band at Jones Beach Amphitheater in Wantagh, New York. Some fragment of an idea for the song (or “a” song) had actually begun four years earlier when we had played in Telluride, Colorado at a 3-day festival. It was my first time in Telluride and while walking through the crowd, soaking up the beauty, I happened to look up at an amazing sky — the likes of which I had never seen. I wrote down in my lyric book, that I carried for such occasions, the lines “There’s a banjo moon in a tie-dyed sky. Hippies dance and babies cry,” but I had no idea what, if anything, they would become. I don’t think I even glanced at them again ‘til four years later.

Back to August 9, 1995. We had gotten the word earlier in the day about Jerry’s passing which meant a long, sad, ninety minute car ride to the venue. I was the first in the band to arrive and was meandering around the enormous backstage area at Jones Beach when I saw Chris Robinson from The Black Crowes walking towards me from the other direction. I had forgotten, in the wake of all the sadness, that some of The Black Crowes were coming to the show and would possibly join us on stage. As we got closer I could tell that he had also heard the recent news. Chris, who is not known for his lack of something to say, just shook his head. We hugged — both almost in tears.

The rest of the night was like that — everybody at a loss for words, shaking their heads and fighting back their emotions. I will venture to say that musicians, along with other artists and creative personalities, are blessed with the ability and opportunity to express emotions through performing, so in turn, The Allman Brothers Band, which has played its way through many profound losses, played that night for Jerry. Fewer words were spoken onstage than at even a normal ABB show and we played, individually and collectively, with a cloud above us that wouldn’t let us achieve normalcy in any way but at least, I believe, allowed and encouraged us to pay respect to someone who had influenced the music world far beyond the vast scene that he, probably more than anyone, had helped create. I’ve never listened back to that show but I’m sure that it’s filled with a somber tone that is not indicative of a normal ABB show and I’m sure there are some musical moments that happened that are special and never happened the same way before or since.

After the show, backstage banter was similarly muted and there was very little after-show partying. What little there was, was more akin to the hours after a funeral. We all shared some stories and shook off the feeling, every few minutes, of reality sinking in. He was gone. The scene was devastated.

Upon returning home after another long, sad, ninety minute car ride, I sat down to finally relax and process the night. Glancing at the table in front of me I saw my lyric book and opened it up, randomly, to the spot with the aforementioned lines staring at me from an otherwise empty page. Suddenly I knew what they were referring to and the entire lyric just poured out. After adding music I was really happy with the way the song turned out but never thought I would record or perform it as it seemed a bit too personal. That would change a few years later when I started working with Phil Lesh who mentioned to me that ‘if I had any songs that I had never recorded that would fit into what we were doing he would love to hear them.’ I reluctantly told him the story about “Patchwork Quilt,” thinking it might be a little too close to home, but after hearing it he said that ‘we should definitely do that song.’ We would eventually record it for the Phil Lesh and Friends album, There And Back Again, and I’m forever grateful to Phil for giving me the reason to do it.

I never met Jerry, like the song says. The one night I had the opportunity to meet him seemed a little crazy and I didn’t want to be “that guy” so I decided to forego it and wait till the next time — not knowing there wouldn’t be a next time. A valuable lesson learned.

“But there’s a banjo moon in a tie-dyed sky. Hippies dance and babies cry. Church bells ring as a silver-haired angel looks down. And the blood of his music runs through the veins of our guitars. Bright lights, dark star.”

Bruce Hornsby

The multi-instrumentalist was a touring member of the Grateful Dead from 1990 to 1992, playing over 100 shows with the band.

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Jay Blakesberg/Invision/AP

Once I got deeply involved with the Dead and had a firsthand bird’s-eye view of the whole thing, what struck me the most was something they’re not given enough credit for: their fantastic body of work. I think the Grateful Dead songbook stands up next to any songbook in popular music history, whether it’s the Beatles or the Stones or Paul Simon.

In March, the Dead spring tour of 1995, they called me up out of the blue, I hadn’t been playing with them for a while and they asked me: if we get a piano and fly you out here will you come and play with the band in Charlotte? It was the day before the show, so I said, “Okay, I can do that.” So, they set up a Grand piano and I sat in with them. They brought me down there because they thought maybe I could pick up Jerry. He was really fading and really having a tough time with the drugs and so I played with them and it seemed to light them up a little bit I thought and so they asked me to do the same thing during the summer tour, they had me come up to RFK Stadium and they rented a piano and I played with them for two nights at RFK and that was towards the middle or final two-thirds of their summer run. Those runs were normally three weeks each back in that time. So maybe about a week or so after that leg, I decided to call him up and see how he is doing. I called him and Steve Parrish answered the phone. He told me we’re getting ready to take him to the Betty Ford Center. Jerry got on the phone and told me about what he was doing, and they had just talked him into going. So, we talked for a little bit and he was supposed to go in there for about a month to five weeks. So, we had a nice little chat and that was it.

A couple of weeks later, I thought I’ll just call out there to the house to get a progress report because I was concerned about him and I called out there and Jerry answered and that was just two weeks later. I thought, ‘Hmmmm, what’s happened here?’ He decided he was good [with rehab] after two weeks; he was solid after two weeks he felt. We had a much longer conversation then because it was just the two of us and he was regaling stories about people he had met at the center. There was some old man who had known Django Reinhardt, so Garcia loved that because he was a Django fan, hearing these old personal stories about Django Reinhardt and about some kid that he got close to during his two weeks he was there. So, then we started talking about the future and some plans. I just started work with Ornette Coleman at the time and Ornette had sat in with the Dead and Jerry played on I think maybe the latest Ornette Coleman album at the time, so we talked a lot about some possible things we wanted to do together and then four days later, he died.

It wasn’t a surprise because he’d really been struggling with his addiction. You could tell by his appearance that he was having a really tough time, he seemed to be sort of fading away. I guess that’s why they called me to play those concerts with them because they were having a hard time getting him to perform.

On August 9 when I got the call, I was in Houston and was getting ready to fly to Newton,Mass. for a show. It became a de facto memorial service. It was flooded with Deadheads and I get chills just thinking about it. It was just a soulful night and people were in great pain and I think I probably played “Wharf Rat” and “Black Muddy River,” some songs that I love and so that was a way for people to deal with it that day that we all found out.

Perry Farrell

The Jane’s Addiction frontman contributed a beloved cover of “Ripple” to 1991’s “Deadicated” tribute album

Perry Farrell

I knew of The Dead growing up as a young man and I was able to see them play with Jerry three or four times in my life. It was always a very unique experience. I greatly admired the group on a few levels. I could start with Jerry Garcia’s voice.

To me, that was the most amazing part of the sound honestly, was his voice, which was his heart. And he had one of the sweetest voices that I think we’ve ever heard. And within that sweetness, there was a wisdom that made him a natural leader. How he led was not by stomping his fist on the podium. Instead, I think his message was that we all can transform our lives through music, experimentation, rites of passage, through nonviolent action, because his sound was beautiful and it was sweet and it was encouraging and it was like listening to music in the Garden of Eden.

What stands out about The Dead is it’s not just a collection of songs that they accomplished. They created a musical culture. And not only did they create a musical culture, but it’s ongoing. That is the hardest thing. Whether you like the group’s music or not, the staying power is critical to your assessment of that group.

And if they can create a lifestyle around that you just have to take note and you have to give credit. And as far as the sound? They can gently do a song — a song sounds that like a hummingbird. But they can rock too, and go to psychedelic places and dark places too, out there places, places you might think that you would be afraid, but actually, it draws you in because we, human beings are curious. They knew that human beings would be curious enough to go there with them.

Jane’s Addiction had the honor to be invited to cover a Dead track for the album called “Deadicated” along with people like Elvis Costello and Warren Zevon and Dr. John. We chose the song “Ripple” but I wanted to twist it, I wanted to do it more like Jane’s Addiction – a thunderous chorus, and echoed voice and guitar. And then right in the middle, we stopped and I did a little Elvis. (Singing). And I went half time and I wasn’t sure how they would like it, but I was hoping that they would appreciate it. Later, Jerry did an interview. It was his big farewell interview for Rolling Stone. And he mentioned that he thought we were a great band and he loved the track! You have no idea how happy we were.

Rhino Records

Mark Pinkus

The president of Rhino Records watches over the Grateful Dead catalog.

I know exactly where I was on August 9, 1995. I was driving. I’d just left the house and was heading to work at Rhino in Burbank and I was on a street called Van Alden and the radio announcer on KLOS 95.5 here in L.A. announced it. And I pulled over and I still live in Tarzana and I still drive on Van Alden most days, and every time I pass that spot, I still think of it.

Once I kind of gathered myself, I drove into the office. I remember working that day with my door closed and throughout the day people would generally knock and come in and give me their condolences. They knew how much it would mean to me, which it did and still does. I remember that day, sadly and vividly.

My office has always been loaded with Grateful Dead CDs, and I just kind of went through everything I had in my office and listened to it. I do remember that right after I heard the news, I put on 11/1/85, a Richmond, Virginia show which had a great “Uncle John’s Band.” And it was a song that I listened to nine years before, right after I found out my grandfather died. So somehow that’s become a connector.

Lee Ranaldo

The musician and co-founder of Sonic Youth shares an entry from his 1995 tour journal. 

Sonic Youth was on the Lollapalooza tour that summer. We played in Austin on August 9 and dedicated some songs from the stage to Jerry. We would continue to do that for the next week, the last week of that tour, which culminated in a final show in San Francisco at Shoreline, where the dedications felt even more significant… Here are some words I wrote the day after his death.

August 10, 1995

He’s Gone, in August

A few words about Garcia here: Although I haven’t followed the Dead’s career much this last decade, I do admit to spending much time during the seventies immersed in their music/world view, with no regrets. I have always maintained that Sonic Youth shared the common ground of true interest in musical extrapolation with them, and that is one of the facets of their trip that I admired most — the willingness to get into ‘unexplored” territory of the music/sound realm on a nightly basis. Jerry was a key instigator of this, of course, for the Dead, and I think it is one of the factors that most endeared him to legions of fans — his relishing the chance to get real, real gone into pure soundscapes at the shows, each member playing off the others, to see where it could take them.

I spent a lot of time listening to the Dead in my youth, saw countless shows, Jerry’s various solo ensembles, etc. Some of those shows still stand out as among the best I’ve attended, anywhere, ever. No bullshitting at their shows, no platform heels or mega light shows to mask the fact that this was just a group of ordinary mortals up there doing the best they could. Many nights they took us far over the rainbow with them. Those guys (and gal) from The Haight covered a lot of musical turf, a lot of history — and left plenty of avenues yet to be mined.

It’s a sad legacy that the man known as ‘Captain Trips’ was brought down by the very substances that he once reveled in, and exalted. One who meant so much to so many people as a ‘spiritual guide’, pointing signposts to new space. I take comfort in the fact that he passed on peacefully, and left a long rich legacy behind, but I would give anything to know what was going on in his life these last years, as one with an intimate knowledge of life on the road and the trips it puts ya thru. Was he happy with his position? Were drugs a way in, or a way out? Maybe they were just a too-comfortable old pillow, too much the public facade of the man, the ‘Jerry’ mask which the world associated with him, and which he could not remove.

In any case, I tip my hat to you tonight, Jerry — did you hear us dedicate 2 numbers to you last night, under the full Texas moon.? I couldn’t believe that Melissa from Hole mentioned him too, from the stage, after Courtney went on about how Kurt was up there in that moon, and Hendrix, etc. Melissa chimed in with “and Jerry Garcia too” and I was so pleased to hear her say it; thoughtful and centered amidst the chaos.

Fare thee well Jerry; fare thee well, my only true one. Gone to leave this brokedown palace, on hands and knees, to roll on home. He’s gone in August, and nothin’s gonna bring him back.

Jon Phillips

The co-owner of Silverback Music manages Slightly Stoopid and Fishbone.

I was sitting at home in Los Angeles on a rather sunny summer day and I was actually listening to the new (and at that time unreleased) mixes of Sublime’s forthcoming self-titled album in my living room. Paul Leary had been sending me mixes from Texas of the sessions he had done with them at Willie Nelson’s ranch, which was music to my ears. I was in a blissful state listening to vibrant new music I loved almost as much as the Dead. That had never happened. Sublime covered “Scarlet Begonias” on their earlier “40 Oz to Freedom” album, which had a freestyle rap on it by Bradley Nowell, which incidentally had never been officially cleared by Ice Nine Publishing, the publisher of Grateful Dead songs. What’s ironic is they actually wrote us back with acceptance a week earlier (the band has never cleared this on their original Skunk Records album in 1992). I had pretty much stopped going to Dead shows by end of ’93 and was really invested into the music of Sublime. Jerry was looking down on us saying he approved.

“Once in a while you get shown the light / In the strangest of places if you look it right.” — “Scarlet Begonias”

Bob Minkin

Dennis McNally

The former Grateful Dead publicist authored “A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead.”

I was at home. It was about 8 am when I got a call from someone who’d heard it on the radio in Marin. Evidently, one of the EMTs who’d been called to the rehab center had called the station. I called the Marin coroner’s office and confirmed it and began organizing a press conference at the Dead office in San Rafael. Had to save the mourning for later. It was a very long and painful day.