Celebrating Jerry Garcia
The second annual Jerry Garcia birthday tribute at Boston’s legendary Club Passim was spectacular.
On his birthday—he would have been 76 on August 1, 2018—I teamed up with a stellar group of artists to perform songs written and interpreted by Garcia and the Dead. And we had a super special guest: Garcia’s iconic Wolf guitar, built by Doug Irwin in 1973 and played by Garcia over the next 20 years. Wolf’s current owner, Brian Halligan, generously brought the guitar to the show, and we all took turns with this beautiful instrument, which is incredibly heavy both in its its physical weight and its significance. Garcia’s cigarette burn on the headstock is still visible.
The photo above shows me communing with Wolf, playing “Eyes of the World.” Thanks to Rich Gastwirt for capturing the moment (see more in his photo album) and to Dan Tappan for his great set of photos.
On the next night, we played a second show in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, at Book and Bar—another joyous night.
Here’s the set list from Passim. See below for more about the show, my history with the Dead, and the performers.
New Speedway Boogie
Here I shared a clip from my 1993 interview with Garcia and David Grisman (included in the book Rock Troubadours) talking about their approaches to the studio.
Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleoo
Midnight Moonlight (Peter Rowan)
Deep Elem Blues (traditional)
When I Paint My Masterpiece (Bob Dylan)
Russian Lullaby (Irving Berlin)
As a tribute to Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow, who passed away in February 2018, I shared a clip from a 2008 interview with Bob Weir, in which he described writing “The Music Never Stopped” over the phone with Barlow (read more in this post).
Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers
The Music Never Stopped (Weir/Barlow)
Ship of Fools (with Wendy Sassafras Ramsay)
Jenny Jenkins (traditional)
Friend of the Devil
Wolf arrived onstage
Crazy Fingers (Hayley Jane on vocal, JPR playing Wolf)
Eyes of the World (JPR)
Brown Eyed Women (Greg Klyma)
They Love Each Other (Spotted Tiger)
Stella Blue (Ryan Fitzsimmons)
Hayley Jane is a singer, songwriter, and dancer. She records and tours as a solo artist, with the Americana/soul/rock ‘n’ roll band Hayley Jane and the Primates, and in the duo Yes Darling with Ryan Montbleau.
Greg Klyma is a prolific songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and seasoned performer. His birth date puts him squarely in the middle of Generation X, but Klyma is an old-school troubadour.
Ryan Fitzsimmons, in the words of Boston’s Red Line Roots, is “a brutal force of nature on acoustic guitar. Often breaking multiple strings during a performance, he plays with a fire and fierceness that cannot be tamed, or faked for that matter. There is no doubt that Ryan is as enticing a musician as they come.”
Spotted Tiger is the Boston-based band led by violist Laurence Scudder and guitarist Erik White, of the Brothers McCann. Together they play an eclectic mix of originals and hand-picked covers.
Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers is a grand prize winner of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest and founding editor of Acoustic Guitar magazine. He interviewed both Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir and is the author of a video series teaching Grateful Dead songs for acoustic guitar. He performs with multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Wendy Sassafras Ramsay as Pepper and Sassafras.
A note from JPR
The music of the Grateful Dead is part of my DNA as a guitarist and songwriter.
I began playing the band’s songs as a teenager…learned to improvise while space jamming with my brother…caught a bunch of Dead and Jerry Garcia Band shows in the ’80s and early ’90s…and discovered a long list of great artists and traditional tunes through their covers.
I was fortunate enough to interview Jerry along with David Grisman in 1993 (as featured in the book Rock Troubadours; the photo in the poster above was taken that day by Jay Blakesberg), and then Bob Weir 15 years later.
I recorded an EP of solo acoustic arrangements of Dead songs, created a Homespun video series teaching those arrangements, and have led workshops around the country showing guitarists how to play songs like “New Speedway Boogie,” “Friend of the Devil,” and “Althea.”
In 2016, the Boston Globe did a feature on my Grateful Dead guitar workshops, and I gave a lesson on camera to one of the paper’s veteran correspondents, as documented in this video (read the accompanying article here).
And then came this amazing moment: an opportunity to play Jerry’s iconic Wolf guitar.
I am at heart a songwriter, but I simply love the music that Jerry and the Dead gave us. And I know lots of fellow songwriters who feel the same way.
Happy birthday, Jerry.