Grandaddy: We’ve Lost a Valley Son
To say that Modesto feels the iconic grief Don McLean must’ve felt so long ago—as he teetered on the cusp of musical change and dealt with the death of a music legend—almost doesn’t capture the heartbreaking hole that bassist Kevin Garcia’s passing left in lo-fi, indie rock darling Grandaddy.
The news came on the tail of their release of “Last Place,” their first album in 11 years. Although Grandaddy had plans to return to the road for “Last Place” on May 7, all tour dates were understandably cancelled following Garcia’s death. “Given the circumstances, we unfortunately have to cancel our upcoming US tour dates,” the band said in a statement. “We hope to reschedule these at some point in the future.”
Formed in 1992 by frontman Jason Lytle, drummer Aaron Burtch, and bassist Kevin Garcia, Grandaddy took Modesto by storm, planting the seeds for a prolific music movement to follow in their wake. They were joined in ‘95 by Jim Fairchild, their guitarist and Tim Dryden, their keyboardist. But of all the seasoned musicians setting out to leave their mark on Modesto’s music industry, Kevin Garcia was Grandaddy’s youngest.
“He was just a little guy,” said Burtch, “He was just a kid when we started the band—15 years old.”
In the early days, Burtch and Garcia worked together at the City Skates skate park in Turlock. Their friendship was the Platonic ideal of band-issued brotherhood, consisting mostly of honing their musical craft and playing cover songs at house parties. It’s an image so familiar that it bleeds into memory, even if you’ve never seen them play—a chorus of camaraderie threaded with that familiar blend of 90s alternative and psychedelia.
“We recorded our first thing together in ‘92. It was Lucky Lew, the local recording guru, who recorded our first attempt to make something that sounded halfway decent,” he laughed. In fact, Recorder and Producer Lucky Lew and his Ceres-based studio have left a permanent impression on Modesto’s music scene in general. Lew has held the mic for countless area favorites, including Built Like Alaska, not an airplane, Fiver, and Dave Hanley. Meeting Jason Lytle in high school, however, was where Lew’s influence serendipitously entwined with Grandaddy’s.
“He was generous, he was funny, and he was kind—he was such a great guy… he was an utterly unique human being and there aren’t many like him…”
It was a match made in heaven. Lew encouraged Lytle’s songwriting and even taught him about the recording process. He loaned Lytle recording equipment and has been a staple of the band ever since, assisting on albums from 1997’s “Under the Western Freeway” to 2006’s “Just Like the Fambly Cat.”
Some of their earliest shows took place on 9th Street at Izzy’s Tex-Mex, a spacious joint with a stage that hosted blues jams. It was so early in their career that Kevin was only 16 when they found the venue. In spite of the youth of the band, they commandeered Izzy’s and managed to steer it into Modestan music legend.
Another of their time-tested haunts was the Dirty Duck in downtown, which came closer to the middle of their history. Some local, hardcore Grandaddy fans might also remember their shows in Charlie’s Club, with the iconic Barbies hanging from the ceiling. Burtch insists that there are still some worn VHS copies of those old shows, full of the music and magic of another time.
“We had a couple of pretty notorious shows at that time,” Burtch recalls of Charlie’s and Dirty Duck. “I wouldn’t even say that was the early days, that was the mid point. Late 90s, early 2000s. We’d been an international touring band at that point for a couple years. Modesto’s always had this void of places to play, so we would just ﬁnd local places and make a place to play.”
“It’s been thirty years and we’ve formed this pretty tight little brotherhood, as far as the band goes,” said Burtch. “We’ve never missed anybody from it before. We kept our membership pretty solid, we didn’t switch around. To think of him not being here is crazy.”
It isn’t just Burtch that feels the void Garcia left behind. Just as soon as the news broke about Garcia’s passing, it was met with an outpouring of support from the community. At least for a moment, the deep, thrumming backbone of Grandaddy had gone quiet—and it was a silence that was impossible not to notice .
“He was generous, he was funny, and he was kind—he was such a great guy,” said Burtch. “He was an utterly unique human being and there aren’t many like him. We were all a team on the road, but me and him were like a team within the team. We shared rooms a lot and did a lot of exploring together on tour and he was such a wonderful person to be around.”
Garcia is survived by his wife, two children, parents, grandmother, and brothers. A GoFundMe campaign was started to help his family with the coming expenses. “He’s got two awesome, super beautiful, super fun, super smart kids,” said Burtch. “This is a way to help support his family now that he’s not able to do that.”
“…he was so stable and so likeable. People loved being around him and we’ll never not feel like he’s missing.”
The campaign is being left open for donations and support, as Kevin’s friends and family ﬁnd solace in the plethora of fond memories left by generous contributors. Stories from friends and fans have been very helpful to them during their grieving process, and they ﬁnd themselves forever grateful to all who have helped them honor the man who had such a profound impact on not just their lives, but the lives of a whole community.
“When he was around, his house was a central gathering point for his lifelong friends,” said Burtch. “He’s kept the same circle of friends: That says a lot about his character. He was so stable and so likeable. People loved being around him and we’ll never not feel like he’s missing. It’s still so hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that the ﬁnal set has happened with him. It’s not a two-month break and I’m not going to see him soon. There’s a whole lot of people in town that feel that same way. They say, ‘oh, I’ll see Kevin,’ or ‘oh, I’ll talk to Kevin about this,’ but we’re never going to get that chance.”
To donate to Kevin Garcia’s family, visit www.gofundme.com/friends-of-kevin-garcia.