Dead fans get a chance to invest in Jerry Garcia
December 19th, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) — It was a family homecoming night, with more than a touch of gray, at the latest Grateful Dead-inspired alchemy of music, art, hippie capitalism and community activism.
With children and grandchildren in tow on an unseasonably chilly night in San Francisco, members of the Dead’s extended family crowded into the Matrix, the legendary Marina District nightclub where many of them had helped define rock and roll four decades earlier.
They gathered for the first exhibition of the late Jerry Garcia’s early oil paintings, historically important but largely unknown. The paintings were done decades before work in other media that won Garcia acclaim as an artist to go with his fame as the leader of the Dead.
And the night was handled in typical Garcia style by the two family members running the show: unpretentiously, with a no-hassle, spare-no-expense optimism that assumes, not always accurately, that quality will be rewarded by profit.
“If you’re going to do it, do it right,” explained Bob Matthews, the former Dead sound engineer and producer who put together the evening with Garcia’s brother, Tiff, who also is Matthews’ brother in law. Matthews spent $35,000 of his own money on the party and is coordinating the sale of fine-art prints of Jerry Garcia’s artwork through his ArSeaEm Inc., an audio-video production business.
Not surprisingly, the exhibit was a gathering of ’60s veterans now pushing or on the far side of 60, hair and beards shorter and grayer or in some cases MIA. Acknowledging the passage of the years, the night’s performance by the New Riders of the Purple Sage ended at a Grandma-and-Grandpa-accommodating 11 p.m. — about the time the party would been heating up 40 years ago
And the club where it was held, the Matrix, helped define San Francisco scene and sound that shaped popular music of the ’60s and beyond. The Matrix was opened in 1965 by the Jefferson Airplane so they’d have a place to play. During its seven-year run and despite a tiny, shotgun-shack layout that doesn’t leave room for a proper stage, the Matrix drew all the top bands of the era, including the Dead, who played there 19 times.
The night’s centerpiece was five impressive oils that Garcia painted in the 1950s while he was in art school and studying with Elmer Bischoff, a leader of the Bay Area Figurative Art Movement. Garcia’s oils, which show the movement’s influence, already have drawn favorable comparison to the work of the French impressionist Georges Rouault.
Garcia gave the paintings to older brother Tiff, who also is an artist, in 1958 or 1959, when he left art school for a career in music.
They essentially lay in storage for more than 40 years, well beyond Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995, until the past summer. Tiff Garcia and Matthews came up with the idea of combining art, commerce and community service by displaying the oils and selling prints of one, in part to raise money for an art scholarship for San Francisco college students.
Thus the explicit justification for the party: To display the artwork and take orders for 925 museum-quality lithographs of Jerry Garcia’s “In Chair.” The prints, whose museum-quality production was supervised by the legendary artist Stanley Mouse, are selling at $2,000 each, for a total of $1.8 million. For more information about the prints, see www.jerryfineart.com
At least 5% of the gross proceeds will be used to fund a college scholarship for San Francisco art students, Matthews said, to be administered by Tiff Garcia and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, whose company now owns the Matrix.
And maybe the party also was just a bit of a wake. There is no Grateful Dead. The band was mortally wounded in 1995 when Garcia died. It took the four surviving members 11 years and several resuscitation attempts to decide to deliver the coup de grace. That came earlier this year, when they sold the band’s catalog, closed the business and laid off the few employees remaining after years of retrenchment following Garcia’s death.
At the Matrix party, Matthews and Tiff Garcia relaxed in a back room, greeting old friends and introducing them to their children and grandchildren before Matthews shed his tuxedo jacket — and BlackBerry — to sit in with the New Riders, for whom he was the original bass guitarist.
Like his brother, who he resembles, Tiff Garcia is an affable, intelligent man who’s comfortable with just about anything but the spotlight.
That left it to Matthews to explain the rationale for the party.
“This is all about family,” said Matthews, who developed the recording techniques to engineer or produce four of the Dead’s best albums “We wanted to give the public access to the art while keeping it in the family, and Tiff wanted to fund an art scholarship.”
It was Mouse, the poster artist long associated with the Dead and other San Francisco bands, who explained the importance of Jerry Garcia’s paintings.
“Mouse pointed out what it represented in terms of (the influence of) the Bay Area Figurative Art Movement,” Matthews said.
That persuaded him and Tiff Garcia to make investment-quality prints available to the public because of the works’ importance, Matthews said, with a percentage off the top to ” … give back to the community.”
In typical fashion drawn on his years with the Dead, and even with his money invested in the project, Matthews disavowed any need for flashy marketing and merchandising campaigns.
That makes sense. Because they developed a fanatically loyal fan base and kept much of their operation in-house, the Dead spent years as one of the world’s top-grossing rock bands, in terms of both concert and product revenue, with far less promotional expenses.
So why, reasoned Matthews, waste money on merchandising and marketing?
“If it sells,” Matthews explained, “that means people like it.”
Alan Doyle is MarketWatch’s night news editor, based in San Francisco.
Artwork by Jerry Garcia – “In Chair”