The guitarist Bob Dylan said “had no equal”

Bob Dylan was never one for musical perfection on any of his recordings. Going through the classic Dylan albums from the 1960s and ‘70s, Mr Zimmerman primarily relied on the authentic delivery of a song to fit the recording rather than anything technically perfect. While Dylan had a poetic slant to most of his work, a different flavour of rock and roll was being made nationwide.

At the height of the Haight-Ashbury scene, the Grateful Dead was only getting started, playing songs influenced by every type of music they could think of. While the band relied on a symbiotic relationship between everyone onstage, Jerry Garcia was the only one meant to steer the ship.

Taking bits and pieces from all stripes of music he could think of, Garcia’s touch on anything with strings produced musical genius whenever he played. While other artists like Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton from the same time relied on flash and fury, the Grateful Dead man’s approach to guitar was on feel, following the melody from one bar to the next and creating a tapestry of sound over long jams.

When he first heard Garcia play, Dylan was impressed, even allowing the group to go out on the road with him on the live album Dylan and the Dead. Upon Garcia’s death in 1995, there was no point in the group continuing, only reuniting off and on with a cast of guitarists coming in and out of the lineup with Dead and Company.

After Garcia’s passing, Dylan thought that any eulogy wouldn’t do Garcia’s instrumental work justice, recalling in Rolling Stone, “There’s no way to measure his greatness. Or magnitude as a person or as a player. He was that great. Much more than a superb musician with an uncanny ear and dexterity. He is the very spirit personified of whatever is muddy river country at its core and screams up into the spheres. Jerry had no equal”.

Garcia had a similar affinity for Dylan, recalling to Rolling Stone, “Dylan was able to tell you the truth about that other thing. He was able to talk about the changes that you’d go through. The bummers and stuff like that. And say it in a good way, the right way”.

When looking through both artists’ back catalogues, though, it’s easy to see why Dylan would cater to what the Dead were doing. Based on their extended cuts during concerts, Dylan also employed similar techniques whenever he played, frequently including additional verses to songs that weren’t included in the studio cuts.

Looking back, Dylan felt like he had found a kindred spirit in Garcia, explaining, “He was more like a big brother who taught and showed me more than he’ll ever know. There are a lot of spaces and advances between the Carter family, Buddy Holly and, say, Ornette Coleman. A lot of universes. But he filled them all without being a member of any school. His playing was moody, awesome, sophisticated, hypnotic and subtle”.

For both Dylan and Garcia, the work was never done once the tape ran out in the studio. Music was an ever-evolving thing for both of them, and each show allowed them to show the audience a different aspect of what they were thinking. Even if both Dylan and the Dead had their distinct fanbases, Garcia arguably did for the electric guitar what Dylan did for the written word.

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