Happy Birthday Jerry Garcia, wherever you are!
If you’ve spent any time here on the screed you’re probably aware that I’m a Deadhead. I’ve written about them a lot and I often find business thoughts inspired by their music and their business practices. Besides liking their music, I have a real appreciation of their acumen as business people. Marketing Secrets Of The Grateful Dead is a must-read for anyone who is trying to understand the marketing paradigm these days and Jerry, despite his reluctance to say so, was the leader of the band. In fact, in their own words:
I’m gonna sing you a hundred verses in ragtime
I know this song it ain’t never gonna end
I’m gonna march you up and down the local county line
Take you to the leader of the band
Jerry had his struggles with drugs and food, so much so that they killed him at age 53. While the band continues on in various forms, it’s not the same without him and the remaining band members would be the first to tell you that.
Since this is a business blog, let me interject a business thought. I’m sure when the Dead started making music in 1965 they didn’t think that we’d be listening to recordings of their live shows almost half a century later. Nevertheless, recordings of shows from the late 60’s all the way through 1995 when Jerry passed are a staple on their own Sirius XM channel and the band continues to release CD’s of them. The fact that they took the time to assure high quality recordings would be placed in an archive long before they were a huge act shows that they appreciated what they were creating. How many other bands have/need an archivist or have their own collection at a university? You might know they also allowed fans to tape their shows, going so far as to set up a special “tapers” area to encourage it. In tech terms, they created huge redundancy of their product in case their own system of soundboard recording ever failed.
The business point is this. While many businesses find themselves pivoting – altering their business plan to suit changing tastes or market conditions – you can’t assume that what you’re doing today will be gone tomorrow. The Dead changed their sound and styles over the years – Shakedown Street‘s disco beat is very different from Dark Star’s spacey vibe – but their core appreciation for their product and their fans never changed. The Dead on a bad night are really awful and those recordings are out there, often issued by the band. They’re far outweighed by the good nights and the great nights trump them all. That transparency and looking at their work through their fans’ eyes is long-term thinking regardless of today’s product.
Jerry was far from a saint. He died in drug rehab with a couple of failed marriages and shaky finances. He’s also the most recorded guitarist in history, with 2,200 Dead shows, 1,000 side project shows, and other studio work totaling some 15,000 hours of playing preserved for our enjoyment. So Happy Birthday, Jerry, and thanks for the gifts.