Tony Bennett and Jerry Garcia were good friends: ‘We didn’t talk about music at all,’ said Bennett


Tributes have poured in from around the world to singing legend Toy Bennett, who died last week at the age of 96.

Yet, while many facets of Bennett’s remarkable, eight-decade career are being recalled, there is at least one unlikely chapter in his life that drew little attention, then or now: His friendship with Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead.

Garcia died in 1995, several decades after he and Bennett had forged a bond. While Bennett was most assuredly not a Deadhead, he and Garcia were kindred spirits of a sort.

“Tony used to be good friends with Jerry,” former Dead keyboardist Vince Welnick — who died in 2006 — told the San Diego Union-Tribune in a 1998 interview.

In a subsequent interview that same year, Bennett confirmed his friendship with Garcia. He also candidly discussed his own years of drug use before he got clean and sober. Here is that article:

Bennett no Deadhead, but he and Garcia connected

By George Varga, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Nov. 25, 1998

Tony Bennett and Jerry Garcia?

What could the suave, eight-time Grammy Award-winning pop and jazz singer have in common with Captain Trips, as the deceased leader of the Grateful Dead was known back in the halcyon days of hippie-dom in the late 1960s?

A lot more than you might think.

“Tony used to be good friends with Jerry,” said former Dead keyboardist Vince Welnick.

“In fact, Jerry helped reunite Tony with one of his children after they took off to the Hog Farm (commune in California) and Tony couldn’t reach them. So he called Jerry to help get in touch with them, and he did. Let’s just say he was grateful to Jerry for finding his child back in the ’60s.

“Tony may not be a Deadhead, but he was certainly a friend of Jerry’s. He came to Dead shows, and I sat with him in the ‘Jerry Tent’ at Madison Square Garden more than once.”

Garcia, Welnick and Grateful Dead co-founder Bob Weir sang the national anthem together at a 1993 San Francisco Giants baseball game. Bennett was also on hand, to perform his signature song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” at the game.

But there is no mention of Garcia or the Dead in Bennett’s recently published autobiography, “The Good Life.” When asked, the 72-year-old singer initially downplayed his relationship with the Dead’s fabled lead guitarist, who died at a Bay Area drug treatment center on Aug. 9, 1995.

“We met one another and respected one another,” said Bennett, who acknowledged that he did on occasion visit Garcia backstage at Dead concerts.

Was Bennett a fan of the Dead’s trippy, jam-happy music?

“I liked Jerry, but it’s not the kind of music I gravitate to, which is by people like Peggy Lee and Nat ‘King’ Cole, and Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald — the masters,” he replied.

“Jerry and I just got along as people; we didn’t talk about music at all. He also liked to paint, and I paint. We just had a camaraderie going. He was a very nice guy.”

Did Bennett, who candidly chronicles his own drug use in his autobiography, ever put a fatherly arm around Garcia and counsel him about the potentially fatal dangers of drugs?

“No, we did not talk about that at all,” Bennett said.

Asked if he regretted keeping silent, Bennett said: “If it was up to me, I would have gone out on the Dead’s stage and told the whole audience: ‘Stop doing what you’re doing, because it stinks. And, eventually, if you keep doing it, you die. If you don’t do it, you live.’

“And the whole idea is to live a good, healthy life rather than one of negativeness and cynicism and all that kind of junk. It’s better to have your life be uplifting.

“And drugs make you feel like you’re doing great. I’ve been sober for 30 years, and I get high from fresh air more than anything I’ve ever taken. I didn’t have a problem with drugs, the whole country did. I’ve only been addicted to coffee; I still am. But I was never addicted to drugs. …

“Don’t forget, the ’60s were insane. We had Kent State, two illegal wars at the same time that we lost, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and the Kennedys. Anyone who says the ’60s was a useful time doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

“So the whole goal now is to attempt to reach the next stage of human development, where we have a sense of sanity. It looks like we’re getting there.”


© 2023 The San Diego Union-Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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