The Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead are the biggest band ever in American history. They more or less introduced the nation to the acid experience, handing out giant garbage cans filled with CoolAid laced with LSD at their open-air concerts, getting entire audiences stoned.
When Jerry Garcia died of a heroin overdose in 1995, the whole country mourned, even President Clinton appeared on television in a black armband to pay tribute to the legendary guitarist. I arrived amongst them twenty four hours after Jerry died and stayed with the group’s drummer Mickey Hart for five months as they tried to find their way forward without him. They had to decide what to do about their forthcoming tour, their staff, their studio arrangements, and I suppose I was a totally objective voice.
I had had no idea what was waiting for me when I flew out from England at Mickey’s invitation. I arrived in LA and found my hotel room full of fabulous fruit, herbs and flowers, all highly scented to compensate for the fact that I couldn’t see them. They had turned my room into the Garden of Eden. I switched on the radio and the announcement came through, Jerry Garcia was dead. I assumed they would not longer need my services, but when I rang they told me they definitely wanted me to come out to be with them.
It was an extraordinary few months. Everyone who was anyone in America stopped by to pay their respects while I was there, including the President who arrived by helicopter for lunch. Micky X, the group’s drummer and driving force, needed someone to pour his feelings out to as much as to work with. I was in the right place at the right time. We spent the next five months together, one month of it with George Lucas at his surreal Skywalker Ranch.
I had initially flown out to spend three or four weeks doing some tidying up work on a record of his, plus doing some archiving for the band. To escape from his grief, Mickey threw himself into his work, creating a 3D CD-rom encyclopaedia of world music, adverts for Tropicana and a theme tune for the Olympics which came up while we were together. He wanted me to work with him on everything. He simply wouldn’t let me go.
Spending that much time with people that big I got to experience first hand what life is like for these icons, with their enormous entourage of hangers-on and rip-off merchants. Just as I had when I hung out with the Stones as a boy. Being in a reflective mood, they regaled me with all the tales of their rise to the top.
When The Dead first went looking for a record company they were little more than a jug band. They had no tapes, apart from a cassette recording of a water pump at the bottom of singer Bob Weir’s garden.
Everyone in the industry knew not to take a drink from these guys because it would be spiked. But the group were determined. They got Bill Graham, the suited promoter who started their outside concerts, stoned by accident and he ended up naked on stage in front of 40,000 fans banging a gong. joe east from warners, though, now that was deliberate. A friend of theirs, the Bear, who was one of the founders of Rolling Stone magazine, mixed up a paint tin of acid. As East approached the house they slapped it on the door handles, the ashtrays, the arms of the chairs, the cigarette lighters, the palms of their own hands, everything that the man could be persuaded to touch.
Once he was high they played him the tape of the jackhammer at the bottom of Bob’s garden. It sounded so good to him he wrote out a cheque for $180,000 as he left.
At one stage Carlos Santana, who owed his career with Santana to Grateful Dead, who were the first people to allow a group of “spics” to play support band with them, turned up to offer his services as a replacement for Jerry on tour. No-one could decide whether to go ahead or not. Everything had been set up and tickets had been sold. Should they let the fans down? Or would they be letting them down more by trying to play without Jerry?
‘You won’t be happy doing it either without Jerry or with a replacement,’ I told them. ‘And you’ll end up sending everyone their money back when you hear the tapes. Carlos is the wrong guitarist for you.’
Thank God they decided I was right and didn’t go, because within a few weeks they had all taken on the reality of their bereavement and they were having real difficulty handling it. Had they been out on the road I don’t know what would have happened.