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Monday, August 1

The Grateful Dead and the Secret Sauce: LSD, Owsley and the Primal Dead

The Grateful Dead and the Secret Sauce: LSD, Owsley and the Primal Dead.

It's no secret that the Grateful Dead are considered the pioneers of psychedelic rock. How could you not be when the famous Owsley "Bear" Stanley is your patron? When the band was trying to find it's footing in the early days, LSD was still legal. In fact, it had just slipped the bonds of the CIA and the mental ward through people such as Ken Kesey, Michael Hollingshead, and the infamous Dr. Leary. Although how they went about it was vastly different, each coast of the country was getting turned on. Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters held concerts that the Warlocks could play, or not. Everything was free in that space. A large garbage can of Kool-Aid and it was off to the races. Then the Haight started getting hectic. The band had hit a ceiling oh how far they were moving, even going so far as to almost fire Bobby and Pigpen. They might have been fired but just kept showing up. Hippies! 

All of the hassles proved too much and the band decamped down to L.A. In Watts, shortly after the riots, a group of scruffy white kids could play as loud as they wanted and the neighbors certainly weren't going to call the cops. The band woodshedded down in LA long enough to get ready to come back to SF with material they play to this day.

 One of the most popular stories from this period was told by manager Rock Scully who said that Owsley had an old German printing press for capping his LSD but every time he used it, while the band was playing to cover the noise, it released little puffs of the crystal into the air. By the time the lease was up, LSD had drifted down through the house until even, some people claimed, their teeth were gritty from the powder. Owsley had them on an all-meat diet,he claimed humans are naturally carnivores, and many rules for the unruliest of bands. They also had to sell product for him to the local heads. 

The band, would go down the street and let it be known they had the product and the LA scenesters ate it up. The Doors were popular at the time and every time some cute little thing would walk up and say,"Is this the good stuff? It's for Jim" and the boys would pull out the same product that everyone else got, just from a different pocket and say" yeah but don't tell anyone else" and all had a good laugh at the pretentiousness of "The Lizard King". 

Eventually, the band could take Owsley's rules and regulations no more and scampered back to SF. Bobby stopped taking LSD on purpose, though he was regularly dosed, because he said,"by the end I was sitting in a corner bubbling my spit." They moved back to the Bay Area and moved from idyllic hippie spot to spot until checking into 710 Ashbury and Phil and Billy had another house since they were married at the time. All of this swirled and melted and congealed into the band we know and love. They were there when it was legal and saw when it criminalized. Then dealers moved in on the scene.  The party still rages though.

The DEA would watch LSD arrests rise in direct correlation to their tours in the 80's. They pushed mandatory minimum sentencing, which made no sense for LSD since doses are measured in micrograms. There are people that have been in jail longer than murderers for LSD. Get caught with a few sugarcubes in the 80's and you'd be in jail longer than the rapist next door.  Still, besides all the politics, the Grateful Dead are known as THE band to listen to while tripping. 

They played on the chemical and achieved the group mind, gestalt, whatever it was that allowed them to link up as a unit and blow minds. The sci-fi freaks, of which Jerry proudly was, called it "bleshing". Blending and meshing and from that came the swirling psychedelia of "Dark Star" and "That's It for The Other One" and the six song shows that are known as "Primal Dead." Funnily enough, Pigpen only took acid onee and not on purpose. He was a drunk among psychedelic rangers but he was still an integral part of the early Dead. Owsley was eventually arrested but the band kept playing on. With a little drop of liquid or a tiny square of paper, you couldn't be sure they were ever there at all. Next up, the eventual come down. 

Enjoy Your Days Between!
Written by: Greg Heffelfinger

Sources: Living with the Dead by Rock Scully
               Searching for the Sound by Phil Lesh
               Deal: My Three Decades of Drumming, Dreams and Drugs by Bill Kreutzmann
               Acid Dreams by Lee Shlain
               Owsley and Me: My LSD Family by Rhoney Gissen Stanley

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