Dead Best: 5 of Garcia’s Greatest Solos from the late-’70s

by Peter Wendel
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JerryGarcia70sThe Grateful Dead toured for 30 long, strange years – serving up more than 2,300 live performances – from 1965 through to the death of frontman Jerry Garcia in the summer of 1995.

Despite the large volume of shows, each was entirely unique. The character and quality of The Dead’s performances were a product of the mood, health and chemical intake of the band members – Jerry in particular – as well as a continuously changing setlist. The Dead essentially reinvented themselves and their songs during each performance. It was an environment with endless possibilities – unscripted and unbound.

It’s been argued (convincingly) that The Grateful Dead peaked in the mid- to late-’70s when they returned to the stage in June of ’76 all shiny and rejuvenated from a 20-month touring hiatus. The band performed at the highest level in those heady years, catching fire early and often.

JerryStealYourFace SongMango.comThe Dead’s musicianship and technical precision had fully matured – delivering epic, mind-blowing performances like the New Year’s Eve show at the Cow Palace in 1976; the “Great One” at Barton Hall in May of ’77; McArthur Court in Oregon in 1978; and the barnburner on December 28, 1979, in Oakland.

Here’s a look at The Grateful Dead’s sweet spot, before Garcia’s health and addictions started to erode his legendary skills. We’ve gathered five stunning solos from Garcia during the band’s heyday. The raw emotion that he released through his guitar took us all to special places not often found in this world. Enjoy!

February 5, 1978
Uni-Dome, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA

Jerry’s “Bertha” Solo

As sweet as an early-morning summer breeze.

May 9, 1977
Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, Buffalo, NY

Jerry’s “Comes A Time” Solo

Garcia blows minds with his enormous emotional range – from deep valleys to cloud-covered peaks. You may get a little weepy if you’re not careful.

October 9, 1976
Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, Oakland, CA

Jerry’s “Franklin’s” Solo

Garcia goes berserk.

December 31, 1978
Winterland, San Francisco, CA

Jerry’s “Scarlet” Solo

A flawless effort from the frontman.

January 22, 1978
McArthur Court, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR

Jerry’s “St. Stephen” Solo

This one soars into the stars. Industrial strength Garcia.

May 22, 1977
The Sportatorium, Pembroke Pines, FL

Jerry’s “Sugaree” Solo

Shake it up now!

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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