Jerry Garcia has an intriguing love affair with the guitar. Garcia, the axeman for the Grateful Dead, is today deservedly regarded as one of the most inventive and technically accomplished performers in rock history, but he didn’t get there by accident. Chances are strong that if you ran across Garcia at home, in the studio, or backstage before a performance, you would witness him working on his scales in an unceasing effort to improve his skills.
Garcia was, unapologetically, critical of his own playing. Garcia was asked by Jas Obrecht for a 1985 article in Frets Magazine about when he thought he was playing his best.
“It’s something where I don’t know when I’m going to play my best,” Garcia shares. “Sometimes I can’t even judge if it’s my best or not until, say, later on, if I listen to a tape.”
“Almost all the time, when I listen to a tape, I can’t believe it’s me,” Garcia added. “My own mental image of myself is that I play a lot worse than I actually do, and I’m usually surprised when I listen to the tapes.” When asked if he’s self-critical about his playing, Garcia laughs and says that it’s “almost to the point of nihilism.”
“If it was left up to me, if I never heard anything, I think I would have given up long ago,” Garcia admits.
When the next query is about breaking out of creative ruts, Garcia enlightens the discussion with some unexpected advice.
“When I feel like I’m really seriously stale, that’s when I start to crack books,” Garcia says, “Because you really need something to move. And there’s so much to music, there’s no excuse for feeling stale. Nobody’s such a great musician that they can be burnt out on all music. And so, for me, it’s a matter of finding something. It’s just a matter of going out, putting a little bit of effort into it, and I can almost always find something that I don’t know anything about and start a sort of ‘itch-scratch’ cycle.”
Garcia also revealed, “no one who really knocks me out completely. There’s nothing that I hear right now that really makes me want to dash to my guitar. But there’s plenty of stuff in the past. If I go looking for stuff, I can find it, but there’s nobody really playing right now who kills me.”
Garcia criticized the music of the middle of the 1980s as being “pretty derivative,” although he confesses to sometimes watching MTV to see if anybody might genuinely excite him.