The Best of The Jerry Garcia Band – From the Post-Coma Years

by Peter Wendel
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Jerry Garcia [photo: Susana Millman]

Jerry Garcia slipped into a diabetic coma on July 8, 1986. It nearly killed him at the age of 43.

The Grateful Dead had performed the previous night at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC, with Bob Dylan and Tom Petty opening the show.

Although Garcia’s health was a nagging concern throughout the mid-’80s, that night in the nation’s capitol didn’t seem out of the ordinary – at least not to outside observers.

Garcia’s collapse – brought on by a whirlwind touring schedule, a few notably unhealthy habits, and reportedly, an infection caused by an abscessed tooth – left his inner circle in a state of white-knuckled panic.

Gratefully, he awoke five days later.

From an Associated Press article dated Sunday, July 13, 1986:

GREENBRAE, Calif. — Jerry Garcia, lead guitarist for the Grateful Dead rock band, has been hospitalized after slipping into a diabetic coma resulting from an infection caused by an abscessed tooth, a band spokesman said. Garcia, 43, was in Marin General Hospital, about 20 miles north of San Francisco.

In a statement Saturday, Marin General Hospital said: “Jerry Garcia is improving and has stabilized. He’s awake and alert and is being treated for diabetes.” A spokeswoman said she did not know how long Garcia’s physicians expect him to remain hospitalized.

Band spokesman Dennis McNally said Garcia lapsed into a coma but was recovering on Friday. “He’s really sick, but he’ll be OK,” McNally said.

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Farewell? [photo: Susana Millman]

You can almost hear McNally’s enormous sigh of relief, and he was right, Jerry would be OK, but it would take some time and some serious effort.

The following weeks and months were difficult, but Garcia fought hard to get back into touring shape. He had to completely relearn his life’s passion – playing guitar – not to mention more basic fine motor skills, like tying his shoes.

While Jerry was recovering, it’s been reported that he received more than 65,000 calls on the Grateful Dead Hotline from fans wishing him well and praying for his speedy return to the stage. It seemed to work. In less than three months, Jerry was back onstage performing with The Jerry Garcia Band.

To provide some context, Garcia’s final pre-coma show was on July 7, 1986. The Grateful Dead would not perform again until December 15, 1986, at the Oakland Coliseum. It would be the band’s longest hiatus since 1975 when they took eight months off from their rigorous touring schedule.

However, more than two months before the return of The Dead, Jerry would get back onstage with The Jerry Garcia Band – October 4, 1986. Three months after he collapsed into a five-day coma, Jerry was back doing what he loved most: playing music for the faithful.

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THE COMEBACK SHOW – OCTOBER 4, 1986

For your listening pleasure, we’ve recreated the setlist from Jerry’s “comeback show” on October 4, 1986, at The Stone in San Francisco. The recordings (below) are from post-coma shows performed between October 1987 and late-April of 1993.

Here’s the JGB lineup from February 21, 1986, through November 19, 1993:

Jerry Garcia (guitar, vocals)
Gloria Jones (vocals)
John Kahn (bass)
David Kemper (drums)
Jaclyn LaBranch (vocals)
Melvin Seals (organ)

JERRY GARCIA BAND
October 4, 1986
The Stone, San Francisco, CA

SET I: Get Out Of My Life, Forever Young, How Sweet It Is, When I Paint My Masterpiece, Love In The Afternoon> Deal
SET II: Cats Under The Stars, Mission In The Rain, Reuben & Cherise, Lucky Old Sun, Dear Prudence> Tangled Up In Blue

Due to a serious lack of decent post-coma recordings, “Love In The Afternoon” is not included in this recreation of the setlist from October 4, 1986. 

–– SET I ––

GET OUT OF MY LIFE
Spring 1990
Warfield Theatre, San Francisco, CA
(Allen Toussaint cover)

Get out my life woman
I don’t love you no more…

FOREVER YOUNG
October 1987
Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, New York, NY
(Bob Dylan cover)

May your wishes all come true…

HOW SWEET IT IS (TO BE LOVED BY YOU)
October 28, 1987
Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, New York, NY
(Holland/Dozier/Holland cover)

With sweet love and devotion
Deeply touching my emotions…

WHEN I PAINT MY MASTERPIECE
October 31, 1987
Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, New York, NY
(Bob Dylan cover)

Oh, the streets of Rome are filled with rubble
Ancient footprints are everywhere…

LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON

Due to a lack of post-coma recordings, “Love In The Afternoon” is not included in this recreation of the setlist from October 4, 1986.

DEAL
Spring 1990
Warfield Theatre, San Francisco, CA
(Garcia/Hunter)

Goes to show you don’t ever know
Watch each card you play and play it slow…

–– SET II ––

CATS UNDER THE STARS
September 2, 1989
Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD
(Garcia/Hunter)

Cats on the blacktop, birdie in the treetop
Someone plays guitar that sounds like clarinet…

MISSION IN THE RAIN
September 1, 1989
Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD
(Garcia/Hunter)

It was midnight in the mission
And the bells were not for me…

REUBEN & CHERISE
April 23, 1993
Warfield Theatre, San Francisco, CA
(Garcia/Hunter)

Cherise was brushing her long hair gently down
It was the afternoon of carnival…

THAT LUCKY OLD SUN
August 5, 1990
Greek Theatre, Berkeley, CA
(Harlan Gillispie/Beasley Smith cover)

That lucky old suns, has nothin’ to do
But roll around heaven all day…

DEAR PRUDENCE
Spring 1990
Warfield Theatre, San Francisco, CA
(Lennon/McCartney cover)

The clouds will be a daisy chain
So let me see you smile again…

TANGLED UP IN BLUE
Spring 1990
Warfield Theatre, San Francisco, CA
(Bob Dylan cover)

I was standin’ on the side of the road
Rain fallin’ on my shoes…

Peter Wendel is a journalist and PR consultant. He's attended hundreds of concerts and festivals, including the Peach, Mountain Jam, the All Good and Lockn'. He's ridden legendary Grateful Dead runs from Ventura County Fairgrounds to Irvine Meadows (CA) from the Nassau Coliseum (NY) to the Boston Garden (MA). Peter is a former U.S. Marine who – after running into trouble with every last one of his commanding officers – received an honorable discharge and a direct order never to return. Born in California and raised in New Jersey, Peter lived in Boston and Joshua Tree (CA) before settling in the nation's capital. Find him on tour at PWendel@SongMango.com.

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