I would argue very strongly that the Dead were in the midst of a collective writer’s block
at the time of the recording of ‘Garcia’ and Bob Weir’s ‘Ace’ album. Think about it. Right,
they released two albums in 1970, one, (‘American Beauty’) at the very end of the year. In 1971, they released
their live ‘Grateful Dead’ album which had three new originals (plus half a dozen cover songs, from which they’d
probably have placed a few on a 1971 studio album), then in 1972 they released ‘Europe ‘72’ which has five
new originals on it (plus loads of eligible cover songs). Besides the fact that 1972’s ‘Ace’ was pretty
much a Grateful Dead release in and of itself. The Dead were the backing band, but all of the songs were written by Bob Weir.
Probably the more correct assertion would be that the Dead were sick to death of their record company, and didn’t
want to do anything but get out of their contract with Warner’s. As a result, they released three live albums in three
years, and kept their two (three, if you include Mickey Hart’s ‘Rolling Thunder’, but since he wasn’t
technically in the band at that point, I won’t) solo albums for their own labels. They simply could not record as ‘The
Grateful Dead’ under their own label, and didn’t want to give Warner’s the satisfaction of releasing another,
no doubt very strong, Grateful Dead album circa early 1972.
Now, at this time the Dead were touring like complete
fanatics, including their legendary and very expensive trip to Europe. They were busy breaking in new keyboardist Keith Godchaux
and, due to Pigpen’s alcohol-related illnesses, were separating themselves from the stripped-down boogie rock of the
early 1971 concerts. By 1972 they were almost a completely different band, much jazzier, able and willing to go bananas even
at very early points in the course of a concert. Jerry Garcia also took his first steps as a solo performing artist at this
time, playing with Merl Saunders at the Keystone. But I think the major deciding factor for Garcia doing a solo album at this
point was simply record company hassles.