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Jerry Garcia, the Allman Brothers and Me
Celebrating Jerry Garcia on the 28th anniversary of his passing with some memories of seeing the ABB on the night he died, and more...
My fourth book, Brothers and Sisters: the Allman Brothers Band and The Album That Defined The 70s, contains what I believe is the most extensive exploration of the relationship between the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers Band. It was really fun and exciting to explore it, and it got me thinking heavily about the day that Jerry Garcia died, August 9, 1995, when I saw the Allman Brothers Band at the Jones Beach Music Theater.
The book was published on July 25th and became a New York Times instant bestseller, debuting at #7 on the Non Fiction hardcover list. Thank you for your support. If you don’t have it yet, you can buy it anywhere books are sold, including Amazon, of course. Signed copies are available via Words or The Big House Museum. Words copies can be personalized. Put that info in the comments section.
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On August 9, 1995, the day that Jerry Garcia died, the Allman Brothers Band played at Jones Beach. I was there. I got out to the island a little later than I intended because I stayed in the Guitar World office to crash out a one page obituary to go in the first page of the Tuneups section. The issue was already at the printer. We did a full obit and lesson the next month.
I was still early enough to hang backstage pre-show and it was a weird, heavy atmosphere. Kirk West, a longtime Deadhead, was bereft. Chris Robinson was there, in full bearded hippie papa mode. The Crowes had played there the night before and he and Marc Ford were walking around telling everyone about how they had all gone down to the water and watched a giant seal or sea lion take its last gasps of breath. It felt now like an omen or message, he told everyone who would listen.
I smoked a little and went out to my seat with my friend Harry. I had a little journal with me and I was hitting things down. It was a heavy night for me, between Jerry’s death and wrestling with whether or not to quit my job at GW and move to Michigan, as my wife had a great job offer from The Wall Street Journal in Detroit. I was relying on the music to lead me, as I so often did.
I was lost in thought and the music when these two big lunkheads came and sat down in the empty seats next to us. Big muscle guys. Bond traders who probably took steroids and pumped iron. They lit up big cigars and just started talking like they were in their backyard. I wasn’t having it.
“You’re gonna have to either leave or shut up,” I said. I was never scared of guys pumped up in the gym. I also haven’t been in a fight since I was 14, but I just could not abide their behavior getting in between me and what was happening on stage. I’m not sure what I would have done if they laughed at me, but my tone took care of it anyhow.
They weren’t used to being talked to like this. Looked at each other with surprise, considered telling me to fuck off, saw the insane look in my eyes and the dead seriousness of my statement; which was not a request, and got up and left, never to return.
Four songs into the show, the Allman Brothers Band started to play “Franklin’s Tower” and the place exploded, went absolutely wild. After an extended instrumental jam, with Dickey and Warren both taking extended solos that were clear and moving tributes to Jerry, the band segued into the distinct opening of Betts’ “Blue Sky.” Another crowd explosion. I would find out later this was Warren Haynes’ idea - good one Warren! Later, Warren would write the song “Patchwork Quilt” about Jerry and reference this night - and, of course, he would go on to play with the Dead.
They followed that with “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More,” Gregg’s moving response to Duane’s passing. It was a perfect choice for the moment. Later, Ford and Robinson came out for “Southbound.” It was a moving and memorable night, certainly one that stands out from the 100-plus Allman Brothers band shows I attended.
In the years since my understanding, respect and love for Jerry has only grown. I’m glad I was there that night. I couldn’t find any video of that night’s “Blue Sky” but here’s a nice version in the same style from a few years later, with Jack Pearson and Oteil. I think Dickey played it that way always after that, and it’s how we play it in Friends of the Brothers, because Andy Aledort played it for a decade with Betts.
My fourth book, Brothers and Sisters: the Allman Brothers Band and The Album That Defined The 70s, was published on July 25th. It was the third straight instant New York Times bestseller, following Texas Flood: The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughan and One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band. My first book was Big in China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising a Family, Playing the Blues and Becoming a Star in Beijing, about his experiences raising a family in Beijing and touring China with a popular original blues band. It was optioned for a movie by Ivan Reitman’s Montecito Productions. I am also a guitarist and singer who fronts two bands, Big in China and Friends of the Brothers, the premier celebration of the Allman Brothers Band.