Jerry Built

updated 09/01/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/01/1995 01:00AM

The irony of Jerry Garcia is that he never wore a tie in his life," observed David Ferguson, a 43-year-old Deadhead from San Francisco, last week, "and yet I have two of the ties he designed." The fact that Garcia himself didn't covet cravats hasn't deterred sales in the past three years of 1.5 million neckties, made in mildly psychedelic colors, generally costing $30 and bearing the signature of the designer, "J. Garcia."

For that matter, his grizzled, grinning eminence allowed his photo to be put on top of millions of cartons of Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia ice cream and low-fat frozen yogurt. Since its introduction in 1987, it has consistently been one of the company's top-selling flavors.

None of which means that Jerry Garcia was Daddy Warbucks with a gray beard. It's just that even the rules of supply and demand fell under the spell of that Grateful Dead magic. The group has repeatedly ranked high on Forbes magazine's list of the Top 40 money making performers. Their 1994 revenues alone were more than $50 million. About 80 percent of that came from ticket sales. But there is also a marketing and licensing network that includes two Garcia-motif hotel suites, available for $255 to $300 a night (at the Beverly Prescott in L.A. and the Hotel Triton in San Francisco); Garcia's original drawings and paintings (shortly before his death, they sold for up to $20,000); and more than 100 items of Dead merchandise, much of it bearing the signature skull-and-lightning-bolt designs. Among the Dead doodads: scuba-diving wet suits, golf balls, computer mouse pads, dolls, backpacks, comic books, videos, kayaking gear, ski equipment and even cummerbunds.

Most of that business is handled directly by the band's own company, 19-year-old Grateful Dead Productions, which operates out of a converted Victorian house in San Rafael, Calif. GDP employs a full-time staff of 60, all of whom receive benefits and participate in profit-sharing. According to Wayne Gantt, an Atlanta-based economics consultant and a Deadhead, "There is a beauty and an elegance to the way their business has evolved." Even in the '90s, the Dead corporate ethos held on to the altruism of the '60s. Garcia was a perennial supporter of the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, which provides health care and drug-addiction treatment for the poor. And last year, the band's Rex Foundation, created in 1984 in memory of road manager Donald "Rex" Jackson (who died in 1976), handed out $1.25 million in grants, most in denominations of $10,000 or less. The foundation's money comes from the Dead's touring proceeds, and even some of the royalties from Cherry Garcia.

"It's like that old show The Millionaire," drummer Mickey Hart once explained, "where someone you don't know enters your life and turns it around."

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