Feb 15, 2012

August 1967: Dead Blurb


The Grateful Dead, a loud and very much alive Haight-Ashbury rock band, is hippier and happier than almost any group that comes to mind.
They're a fun-loving, far-out group with a hard-driving sound which is surfacing above the vast San Francisco rock underground.
The Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Charlatans, Country Joe and the Fish, Big Brother and the Holding Co. and several other bizarre bands have plugged San Francisco into a rock movement which has left the city reeling and now exerts a nationwide influence on pop music.

One of the principal reasons is Jerry ("Captain Trips") Garcia, 24, lead guitar for the Grateful Dead, who has been described as "a cross between Wanda Landowska and the Three Stooges" but is more of a beatnik Beethoven.
Garcia, regarded by some critics as one of the best guitarists in the country, used to teach his instrument in a Palo Alto music store. He earned his nickname, friends say, not only because he takes psychedelic drugs, but also because "everything is a trip with him." He is witty, articulate, perceptive, and usually laughing.
Other members of the Dead are just as alive. There's Ron McKernan, 21, on organ, harp, and vocal, known as "Pig Pen," for his outrageous appearance: long black hair, Indian head band, long black mustache, short, hefty build and a much-worn vest. He has been described as "one of the major bluesmen in America." He is relatively famous on the West Coast for his 45-minute renditions of "Midnight Hour."
Youngest is Bob Weir, 19, thin and soft-looking, with straight, very long hair. Weir, from a socialite Atherton family, brings his own sort of richness to the rhythm guitar.
Phil Lesh, 27, is an astoundingly good bass player. He shares song-writing chores with Garcia.
Bill Sommers, 21, played drums with about twelve rock bands before he "finally settled on the Grateful Dead."

The group maintains an uncompromising attitude ("We have to do our thing our way") which has earned them respect throughout the hippie movement, where they have a reputation for always being their own grubby selves.
They pocket concert fees as readily as any group, but they play only on their own terms. They'd rather play for free in the park (and often do) than for money in an atmosphere which will "bring us down."
One well-known San Francisco rock group quibbled over how big its part was to be in Richard Lester's new motion picture "Arch Kook Petulia." The Dead appeared in it more "for the fun of it" than for the money. They sing one song and slink in and out of another scene. In their view, that's plenty.
"A flash is enough," one of them says. "A flash is all you need."
They figure the right kind of flash will turn anybody on. And that's what they aim to do.
"That's why we like to play in the park," said Lesh. "We tried playing at a high school gym, but the kids couldn't feel free so we didn't turn them on."
"We're not a recording band," says Garcia. "We're a dance band."

Something about the Dead's music can't be captured on records. Partly it's because they draw from so many different idioms: blues, country and western, popular music, even classical. "We're musical thieves," Garcia noted. "We steal from everywhere."
It has more to do with the excitement of playing weekly concerts to very tuned-in dance-hall audiences. These aren't ordinary concerts. They're psychedelic and extreme examples of total environmental theater, which engages all the senses: thunderous rock music, light shows that burst and flow in choruses of color, hundreds of dancing young people, incense floating through your mind.

The Grateful Dead tried to capture this gut-level excitement in their album called "The Grateful Dead." Although there's a taste of the Fillmore Auditorium and Avalon Ballroom, the full flavor doesn't come through.
However, the album can stand alone. It contains some fine work, such as the strangely haunting "Morning Dew," the bluesy "Good Mornin' Little Schoolgirl" and "Viola Lee Blues," which is as close to jazz as Paul Butterfield's "East-West."

The songs convey a sense of integration in the playing that has come about through the Dead's having played and lived together, sharing experiences and dreams, for nearly three years. With their two managers and an assortment of friends they have occupied a nine-room Victorian house one block from Haight Street.
They have been as much a part of the Haight-Ashbury hippie scene as the Psychedelic Shop. They even have turned over an office across the street to a free legal aid bureau for hippies in need of a lawyer. 
But they are leaving the Haight-Ashbury soon. They expect to live for a while in the Southwest, perhaps Santa Fe, New Mexico.
"We've been squeezed out by tourists and Tenderloin types," said Rock Scully, one of their managers.
Many of their friends are drifting from the scene, and there's too much interference now in the Haight for them to continue to grow.
"We've got to get ourselves together before we can turn anybody on," says Garcia. 

(by Philip Jeffers, from "The New Generation" column in the San Francisco Chronicle, September 2, 1967)

(also run by the Baltimore Sun: "Hippier, Happier Group," 31 August 1967; and other papers)


  1. The Grateful Dead Reader (Dodd/Spaulding) has a Gleason article, "Dead Like Live Thunder," which it says also comes from the March 19, 1967 SF Chronicle. But it's a different article than this one - longer, with many quotes from his interview with Garcia.
    Dodd/Weiner's bibliography says the "Dead Like Live Thunder" article ran in the March 3 Chronicle, and doesn't list this one.
    Just thought I'd note the discrepancy, whatever the right dates are, and that this isn't the same article as in the GD Reader.

  2. Richard Goldstein wrote an article on San Francisco for the Village Voice, which appeared in the March 2 '67 issue, in which he wrote, "Together, the Grateful Dead sound like live thunder." (That article has also been posted on this site.)
    Gleason picked up this quote for the "Dead Like Live Thunder" article. Although the Dodd/Weiner bibliography says it ran on March 3, Gleason not only had already read Goldstein's article, he also wrote that "tomorrow the Grateful Dead celebrate the release of their first album...the group is throwing a record promotion party for press and radio at Fugazi Hall." So that article has to be from March 19.
    Possibly I have the wrong date for this one. Gleason describes the album and notes that Lesh is 27, so it's no earlier than late March. Maybe later in the spring?
    He mentions that the band "often" plays for free in the park, and in an interesting conclusion, says that they're already tired of Haight-Ashbury and plan to leave soon: "They expect to live for awhile in the Southwest, perhaps Santa Fe."

    1. A little more searching reveals that this article is from Sept 2 '67. (It was in the bibliography after all!)

  3. As it turns out, this article was not by Ralph Gleason at all, nor did it originally run in the Chronicle!
    I spotted it in several other papers - the 8/28/67 Honolulu Advertiser, the 8/30/67 Rockland County Journal News (White Plains, NY), and the 8/31/67 Baltimore Sun - under the byline of Philip Jeffers, Chicago Tribune-N.Y. News.
    Surprisingly, the Baltimore Sun version was the longest (several paragraphs longer than the others - each newspaper edited its copy differently), so I've expanded this post to the full article. I don't know what newspaper ran this piece originally (or which paper Philip Jeffers actually wrote for) but this article was included in a "This Generation" column that was syndicated by newspapers round the country.

    The article was well-researched enough that I assumed it had to be from Gleason or San Francisco - it quotes from earlier Chronicle articles - but apparently Jeffers came from elsewhere to interview the band in the summer of '67.
    Some of the interesting parts I hadn't seen before:
    - Garcia described as a "beatnik Beethoven"
    - Pigpen already "famous" for his 45-minute Midnight Hours
    - it mentions their brief appearances in "Arch Kook Petulia," which wouldn't be released until June 1968
    - the band's uncompromising attitude ("we have to do our thing our way") and their preference for free park shows rather than places that "bring us down"
    - Phil in particular is keen on park shows, not so much on high school gyms ("the kids couldn't feel free so we didn't turn them on")
    - the band is intent on turning people on with "the right kind of flash" - Garcia says they have to leave the Haight because "we've got to get ourselves together before we can turn anybody on."