Continuing my posts from the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition “Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll”, I think another name for this post could be “Jerry’s Kids”. The guitar pics that I’m featuring in this post were played by the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia. The guitars were custom made for Jerry and really transcend their role as just musical instruments and cross over to the realm of functional art, so much so that they were given their own names: Wolf and Tiger.
In the early seventies, the Grateful Dead already had ties with the San Francisco based luthiers of Alembic Guitars. It was there that Jerry came upon an instrument built by Doug Irwin and bought it on the spot. He eventually asked Irwin to create a custom guitar for him with the result being Wolf, which Garcia first played starting in September, 1973. It was Garcia that first placed the wolf sticker on his guitar but while the guitar was in for some repair, Irwin replaced the sticker with wood inlays that replicated the sticker, giving the instrument its name. The guitar was predominantly used during the 1970’s, though it resurfaced in 1989 for a MIDI synthesizer experiment, and was last played by Garcia in 1993. Wolf was auctioned off to benefit the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in 2017 for over $1.6 million, and the bid was matched by an anonymous donor, raising a total of $3.2 million for the SPLC.
Immediately after receiving Wolf, Jerry asked Doug Irwin to make another guitar, telling him, “don’t hold back.” Six years later, Irwin delivered the guitar known as Tiger and it became his most played guitar. Jerry talked glowingly about the variety of sounds it gave him to play with and it was his primarily guitar through the eighties, eventually being replaced by another Doug Irwin made guitar known as Rosebud (which is not part of the exhibition). After Garcia’s death, Irwin won the guitar back in a legal settlement, and auctioned it off for $850,000 in 2002. It was purchased by Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts and guitar collector. Irsay has been generous with lending out the instrument and on what would have been Garcia’s 74th birthday, the guitar was played publicly for the first time in over 20 years at Red Rocks Amphitheater in 2016 by Warren Haynes.
More to come . . . .