January 30, 2015

Who's Who In The Aoxomoxoa Photo

When I wrote my last post on the Aoxomoxoa back-cover photo, I didn’t know who most of the people in the picture were, and had little hope that they would all be identified. But Dr. Jeff and I have investigated further, and thanks mainly to the help of Maura McCoy and Rosie McGee, we now know who almost everyone in the photo is.

Dr. Jeff has made a key to the photo, putting names to faces:

In January 1969, the Dead and some of their family & friends went out to Olompali to take a group shot for their upcoming album Earthquake Country. They’d taken photos of just the band, but that wasn’t quite what they had in mind; they wanted more of a “family” portrait – women, children, animals, a communal feel. Some girls from the Olompali commune were invited to join them, and they arranged themselves in front of a picturesque tree on a hillside above the main house. Pigpen, then the most well-known face in the group, sat in front, while the rest of the band mingled with the crowd.

The photo was taken by Tom Weir (no relation to Bob), a San Francisco photographer. The Dead had also used him to take the back-cover photo for Anthem of the Sun – if you look up other photos of his, he has a recognizable style that they must have liked: low-angle circular images, set in nature, taken with a wide-angle lens. (He also did album cover shots for the Steve Miller Band in ’68 and Shades of Joy in ’69.)

The people in the photo are surprisingly random – perhaps whoever was available that day.
A half-dozen girls from the commune sat in the photo. The McCoy sisters, Noelle Barton, and Siobhan McKendrick were the daughters of the commune’s founders (Don McCoy, Sandy Barton, and Sheila & Bob McKendrick, not pictured). Maura McCoy and Sheri Jensen sat by Garcia; Sheri’s sister Rhonda held Mickey's horse Snorty for him. She had been teaching the other girls at Olompali how to ride horses:
Jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi showed up; he had been hanging out with the Dead since their days at 710 Ashbury, and was even known to sit in at some shows.
Prankster Ken Babbs appeared, along with his partner Gretchen Fetchin and two of their children. Babbs had known the Dead at least since the Acid Tests; he was then living with his family at the Dead's warehouse/studio by Hamilton Air Force Base in Novato, and working as the caretaker there.
Band manager Jon McIntire appeared, but none of the Dead’s other managers like Rifkin or Scully (among others). McIntire was a recent addition to the Dead management team, having joined them during the Carousel days in early ’68.
Bill Kreutzmann brought his daughter Stacy and his new partner Susila Zeigler. She was then pregnant with their son Justin, who would be born in June.
The woman next to Mickey Hart is Terry, his girlfriend at the time. (Nothing more is known about her at the moment.)
Oddly, some of the Dead's other friends like Owsley, Mountain Girl, and Rosie McGee weren't present, though photographer Tom Weir’s wife sat in.

Courtney Love, of course, was not there.
The one person who hasn’t been identified is the woman sitting beneath Guaraldi and holding flowers to her face (#12). Our guess is that she may have come with Guaraldi; but if anyone recognizes her, speak up!

UPDATE:  It turns out the woman with the flowers did come with Guaraldi - she was his girlfriend at the time, Gretchen Glanzer (later Gretchen Katamay). She also worked with Bill Graham's Millard Agency promoting concerts, and around this time was working with the Dead. (Bill Graham was "managing" the Dead at the start of '69, and had a representative go with them on their Feb '69 tour. Gretchen also went on tour with them at some point.)
Vince and Gretchen had been seeing each other for years (despite his marriage), but were not a couple much longer. She later said, "Vince and I split up and got back together a lot. But we finally did it for good in 1969, when I was working for the Grateful Dead. I got a truck and told Vince that I just couldn't go back to this. There was just a lot going on. One of the Grateful Dead managers helped me move out of Vince's house." (0) 
It would also be nice to know who the dog in the photo was…  

The photo may have been inspired by the Band’s Music From Big Pink album, which had been released in summer '68 and featured a “Next of Kin” photo of the Band with their families:

Another possible inspiration for the Aoxomoxoa photo was the cover of the Incredible String Band's album The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter, which also came out in '68:

The photos are quite similar - pastoral "family" shots with trees, kids, even a dog! This could be chalked up to coincidence or the common vibe of the times, but I wonder...

A little background on Olompali’s history can be found here:

The Dead had a close connection to Olompali – it was, for them, something like sacred ground. After returning from Los Angeles in spring ’66, they moved to Rancho Olompali and stayed there through May and June, renting the property for several weeks. Though they weren’t there long, they would remember their stay as an idyllic golden age, a “paradisiacal retreat.” (Although sometimes in their acid trips, they’d have threatening visions of the ancient Indians who’d used to live there, their spirits still haunting the walls and trees.)
The band held some famous parties during their stay, playing music for a stream of tripping visitors from San Francisco. On one occasion, May 22, they sent a flyer to all their friends in the music scene: “The Grateful Dead invite you to an afternoon of inter-galactic travel, to a communion with the spirits of long dead Indians, to a dance celebrating mainly all of us.”

Garcia remembered: “It was a great place. It had a swimming pool and barns and that sort of thing… We didn’t have that place very long, only about eight weeks. It was incredibly intense for everybody… Novato was completely comfortable, wide open, high as you wanted to get, run around naked if you wanted to, fall in the pool, completely open scenes. And I think it was the way they went down and the way people responded to that kind of situation. Everything was just super-groovy. It was a model of how things could really be good. If they really wanted to be. All that was a firming up of the whole social world of rock and roll around here…all the musicians in the Bay Area, most of them are from around here, they’ve known each other for a really long time in one scene or another – and that whole thing was shored up…at those parties. The guys in Jefferson Airplane would get together with Quicksilver and different guys, 81 different players, would get together and get high and get loose and have some fun… That was when we started getting tight with Quicksilver… They came and hung out at our place in Novato when we had our parties. And a lot of people like the various filmmakers and writers and dope dealers. All the people who were into doing stuff. People who had seen each other at rock and roll shows…in that first year. Those parties were like a chance to move the whole thing closer, so to speak. It was good times – unselfconscious and totally free. After that we moved back into San Francisco.” (1)

Phil Lesh fondly recalled Rancho Olompali, “its huge adobe mansion, several large outbuildings, a swimming pool, and acres of grounds… The surrounding fields were leased by some kind of rancher, who took an immediate dislike to our presence; we were informed that trespassing on his land would not be tolerated for any reason… That summer, we invited pretty much everybody in the local music scene (the bands, the promoters, the poster artists) out to Olompali to celebrate… All the musicians came and played (or not). Bear and some of the Pranksters…set up [speakers] in the living room and all over the grounds; there was food and drink for all, and the pool was wall to wall with mostly nude people… From the makeshift bandstand by the kitchen terrace, an ad hoc band composed of members of the Dead, Quicksilver, and the Airplane played some of the most startling music I’ve ever heard, a new kind of music no one had ever made before, a true synergy of spontaneity and structure, created on the spot.” (2)

George Hunter of the Charlatans remembered visiting the Dead at Olompali:
“The Dead used to have some pretty good parties out in their place in the country, in Olompali. Two or three hundred people would come, and of course, most of them probably took LSD… It seemed like a third to half of the people at these parties would be naked, hanging around the pool. It was a great place. It was sort of a ranch estate that had a nice big house that looked kind of like Tara in 'Gone With the Wind'. Then there was a lot of land around it – hills, a creek in the back, a big lawn and the pool. It was maybe 1000 feet off the highway, so it was fairly secluded. In between the house and the pool the Dead would set up their equipment and play from time to time during the day. Usually there'd be members of other bands there too, like the Airplane and Quicksilver, and there'd be little jams with people who wanted to play. I remember that the Dead would be playing and Neal Cassady would be doing this strange little dance… Neal was always in the thick of things. Those parties (I'm not sure how many of them there were) were always on a nice afternoon. Everyone would play all day in the sunshine, just doing everything, and then when the sun would start to go down and it got cold, people would pack it in. By the time it was dark most people were gone, but there were always enough people who were either around to begin with or who wanted to stay, so that the party would continue inside. In fact, with the number of people hanging out there all the time, it was pretty much a party all the time anyway. I don't know if it was 24 hours a day, but every time I was there it was going.” (3)

After the Dead’s lease at Olompali ended, they headed on to Camp Lagunitas in late June ’66, and then moved to the house at 710 Ashbury Street in September. Now that they lived in the city, they needed a new place to rehearse; and they came into contact with Don McCoy, who was renting space for bands to rehearse in at a heliport he owned.

According to the Olompali Movie facebook page, "The Dead rehearsed at Don McCoy's Gate 6 warehouse at the heliport in Sausalito. Other bands that rented the space from McCoy were Country Joe and the Fish, Sons of Champlin, Quicksilver, and even Chicago... McCoy also owned a small houseboat complex at Gate 6, where entertainers like Otis Redding and Bill Cosby stayed."

It seems that Dan Healy, John Cipollina and other members of Quicksilver also stayed in McCoy’s houseboat community, and the Dead may have heard about McCoy’s heliport rental space from them. Or, according to McNally, McCoy also owned the house at 715 Ashbury Street, across the street from where the Dead were living, and they may have met him there. At any rate, the Dead soon started regular rehearsals at the heliport, and even held a concert there on October 15, 1966. They’d use it as a rehearsal spot until switching to the Potrero Theater sometime in mid-’67.

McCoy had divorced his wife Paula in 1966, and kept custody of their three children; and she continued to live at 715 Ashbury. McNally says the house “had been owned by Don McCoy, a wealthy young hippie, and then by his ex-wife, Paula, who became involved with the Diggers… [She was] the doyenne of the Digger salon at 715 Ashbury Street, who liked to wear boots with a mink coat and nothing else.” (4) (Another resident of 715 Ashbury was Glenn McKay, who did light shows for Jefferson Airplane.) “All sorts of people - musicians, poets, artists, Diggers, and Angels - would shuttle between the two houses to hang out, play music, share ideas, and of course, borrow a cup of sugar.” (5) Her daughter Maura writes that Paula “was good friends with Bill Graham and Peter Coyote, among many others.” Paula and Coyote were also among the band of Dead friends who traveled with Rock Scully to London in December ’68 to meet the Beatles and the Stones.   

Meanwhile, Don McCoy was going through changes. After his divorce, “I found myself a lonely man… It started in disillusionment with what I was doing.” Though wealthy from an inheritance and the profits from renting his properties, he said that “I had become a slave to my business affairs. If you are unhappy, you are a failure, no matter how much money you have.”

McCoy was willing to help out his friends when they needed money, and to support those in need. One instance was the visiting Indian musician Ali Akbar Khan: “Through his recent connections in the American counterculture, Khan had made friends with author and Zen Buddhist philosopher Alan Watts, who had been living on a houseboat in Sausalito. When Khan told Watts of his desire to open a new school devoted exclusively to North Indian classical music, Watts immediately picked up the phone and called Don McCoy, a wealthy real-estate agent, who came to Watts’ houseboat within the hour and presented Khan with a check for $20,000… [Using the money,] the Ali Akbar College of Music was founded in December 1967.” (6) (Mickey Hart would start taking courses there the next year, and would become friends with Khan.)

McCoy became restless: “I was really looking to duck responsibility. I also was on a search for meaning in life. I was looking for answers. It seemed like the world was going headlong to its own destruction. It seemed like man was raping the earth… I wanted to change the world.” He sold the houseboat business, and started looking for a new place where he could live with his friends. “I wanted a family. I wanted a big place where the kids could all be together.”

Possibly the Dead told him about the place at Rancho Olompali, or he’d heard about their stay there. McCoy rented the land there, moving to Olompali with his friends and their families in November ‘67. It proved a perfect location for McCoy’s flight from the ‘establishment,’ and as more people moved in, the Chosen Family commune was formed around the hippie ideals of freedom, togetherness, collective child-raising, and plenty of marijuana.
“I felt we were chosen for something,” McCoy said. “I thought we were going to create a new society…a new way of doing things, a new way of living together, getting along in a peaceful world.” The commune became well-known in the area for its large-scale baking operation: each week, nude commune members would bake hundreds of loaves of bread for the Diggers to distribute for free in San Francisco.

Reporters became interested in this communal experiment, and there are many retrospective articles available on the Chosen Family. For those readers interested in learning more, I’ve made a separate page with several articles on Don McCoy and the commune at Olompali:

Friends with McCoy, the Dead visited the Olompali commune through 1968, sometimes playing impromptu shows or jam sessions there on the weekends, along with other San Francisco musicians. McNally writes, “They still had a connection to Olompali, which had been taken over the previous December by their Ashbury Street neighbor, Don McCoy, who had inherited money and set up a commune at Olompali that taught children in the manner of the British experimental school Summerhill. Nicknamed by the students the Not School, it served eleven kids and included twenty-five people. Spiritual but not formally religious, it was a good place that summer, with the Dead visiting at times to play music by the pool. Mickey boarded a horse there…so it felt like an extension of the band’s scene.” (7)

One park ranger recalled, “This was a big weekend gathering place for the San Francisco rock icons. They had a lot of jam sessions here. They could play their music loud. They didn't have neighbors to disturb.”
Don McCoy said, “The Dead played because they loved the sound. They'd get into these long, long riffs. They'd improvise. It would echo throughout the hills. You could go up in the hills anywhere and hear the music. It sounded like it was coming from above.”  
Per the Olompali Movie facebook site, “Also joining in on these sessions would be members of the Quicksilver Messenger Service and the Charlatans, among others. It was a magical setting, with grassy lawns to dance on and a beautiful pool to cool off in, surrounded by the open country and rolling hills.” 

There are photos of the Dead stage setup at Olompali sometime in '68, and Garcia jamming with Jack Casady there, during a pool party held by the commune:

Mickey Hart formed a particular bond with several of the commune members. McNally writes that when Hart moved out of San Francisco to Marin County, “he moved first to a home on Ridge Road in Novato. He owned horses, stabling them at Olompali, but it was not terribly convenient, and he got a friend, Rhonda Jensen, to seek a better place to rent.” (8) She found a ranch nearby off Novato Boulevard that Hart took an instant liking to, and it would become a central gathering place for the Dead family over the next few years, various friends staying or living there. (8-1/2)
Among the first to live there were “Mickey’s informally adopted ‘daughters,’ the Jensen girls, Rhonda, Sherry, and Vickie. The Jensens had been living at Olompali, part of Don McCoy’s child-based commune. Their mother was Opa Willy, a pot smuggler, and when she failed to return from a business trip to Mexico, Mickey became a substitute parent.” (9)

The Jensen girls from Olompali also danced onstage at some Dead shows in this period. Ken Babbs says, "I remember the Olompali Angels...all these beautiful girls living up [in Olompali] and they all wore these white diaphanous outfits. The Grateful Dead would be playing and here they'd come wafting in; it was quite a sight."
For instance, at the March 15, 1969 Black & White Ball, they came dressed as angels, and a reviewer remarked on them: “the "Angels of the Dead" - the five little daughters of the group - swaying in the background, wearing white robes, looking like swinging seraphim. Will they be stone deaf, the Grateful Deaf, by the time they're 15? ‘No, because we never never stand in front of Jerry's speaker.’” 

Rhonda is in the back of the Aoxomoxoa photo, with Mickey's horse; her sister Sheri is also there. Sheri would later marry a Hell’s Angel, one of Mickey’s friends; their sister Vicki remained friends with the Dead, and would go scuba-diving with Garcia in Hawaii in '87. (Steve Parish would write that Vicki was "a dear friend...a lifelong Grateful Dead family member [and] an avid diver.") Rhonda was close to Mickey Hart for years, and was with Mickey in his car crash in June ’77; she was able to crawl out of the car to get help. Rhonda also worked with Courtenay Pollock on his tie-dyes in later years, and still runs his website.

When the Aoxomoxoa photo was taken in January ’69, the Olompali commune was entering a crisis. There were a couple drug busts at the commune in January; and on February 2, the main house burned down, leaving many of the residents homeless. The Jensen girls went to live with Mickey Hart.
Don McCoy made an impromptu appearance (in the nude) at the Dead’s “Celestial Synapse” show on February 19 – Bill Graham had to restrain the Fillmore security crew from pulling him off stage, as he remarked, “What are you doing with all those clothes on, baby? I thought we were going to be naked up here! Now wait, this looks like the long arm of the law…excuse me, sir, but I’m just doing my thing.”  

The album picture was taken shortly before the mansion burned down, but the Dead lent some support to the Chosen Family afterwards. On March 17, a benefit was held at Winterland for the commune. A Berkeley Barb notice read, in part: “A "Superjam" dance and concert will be thrown at Winterland this Monday, St. Patrick's Nite, to benefit the Chosen Family that was busted and burned out at Rancho Olompali in Novato. Featured will be musicians from the leading Bay Area rock groups, according to Bob McKendrick from Olompali, the Airplane, the Dead, and Sons of Champlin are expected to show up; also jamming will be the Garden of Delights. […] Glen McKay’s Headlights will provide enlightenment for all. The Superjam is for a good cause...something like 18 to 20 people from Olompali haven't the bread to pay their attorney's fees, and they are all homeless, as Burdell Mansion on Olompali burned down after the bust.” 

Bob McKendrick was a sometime concert promoter and hippie event organizer, who probably helped arrange this benefit - he had produced the "Dance of Death" Costume Ball at California Hall back on Halloween '66, which the Dead had played instead of the Acid Test Graduation. Lately he had been trying to run the Olompali commune while Don McCoy was on a trip to India, though the residents were unhappy with his leadership (many blaming him for the commune’s downward turn). His wife Sheila had been a co-founder of the commune; she had also gone off to India, and would later divorce Bob and marry Don.
Noelle Barton, a teenager at Olompali (and in the Aoxomoxoa photo), worked for the Garden of Delights, a light-show outfit sponsored by McCoy that worked at various venues in '68-69 - the Carousel, the Fillmore West, the Avalon, the Family Dog – in fact, they’d done the lights for the Dead’s recent shows at the Avalon. They had been doing a light show at a Longshoreman’s Hall concert the night the mansion burned down.
Unfortunately no details are known about the “Superjam” as no tape has come out.

McCoy apparently had a nervous breakdown around this time and went to the hospital for some time. The commune remnants staggered on for a few months longer, but after two kids drowned in the pool in June ’69, everyone was evicted and the commune shut down. The former residents went on to new lives, though many of them kept in touch with other Family members. McCoy recovered and went back to the ‘straight life,’ putting his Olompali episode behind him. The land was eventually bought by the state, and turned into a state park. The commune itself became part of the distant sixties past, a failed utopian hippie experiment living on in stories and memories, its most visible legacy the back cover of a Grateful Dead album.

An Olompali lily field…

Thanks to Dr. Jeff, Maura McCoy, Rosie McGee, Ken Babbs, and Jerilyn Brandelius for their help.


0. Derrick Bang, Vince Guaraldi at the Piano, p.248
1. Garcia, Signpost to New Space, p.32-33
2. Lesh, Searching for the Sound, p.88-90
3. Jackson, Garcia, p.104 (See also Scully p.53-59 and McNally p.144-147 for more Olompali anecdotes.)
4. McNally, Long Strange Trip, p.193, 282
6. Peter Lavezzoli, The Dawn of Indian Music in the West, p.66
7. McNally p.262
8. McNally p.307
8-1/2.  See also Rosie McGee's book, which says that Mickey got the ranch in early spring '69.

9. McNally p.308 (Some of McNally’s details are taken from band anecdotes, so they may not be correct.)  

* * * 
Dr. Beechwood has tried to find the exact location in Olompali where the cover photo was taken: 
A couple possible areas are shown... 
...but the tree may no longer be standing, and the mystery remains!

January 24, 2015

Were Rolling Stones at an Acid Test?

On December 4, 1965, the Rolling Stones played at the San Jose Civic Auditorium. The audience leaving the late show that night found themselves accosted by strange beings from a new world, faces painted and bearing crayon-lettered flyers that read: “Can YOU pass the acid test?” Tom Wolfe would describe that as the “masses start pouring out of the Rolling Stones concert at the Civic Auditorium, the Pranksters charge in among them…handing out the handbills with the challenge…come to channel the wild pointless energy built up by the Rolling Stones inside.” The adventurous souls who went to the mysterious address on the flyer, near downtown San Jose, discovered the second acid test in progress.

Ken Kesey hadn’t been able to rent a hall in San Jose, so he used the house of a friend in town nicknamed Big Nig. Unfortunately the house was too small for the event, as perhaps four hundred people arrived (though everyone was charged a dollar at Big Nig’s request). The Dead played on one side of the living room, while the Pranksters set up their equipment on the other side: speakers, micophones, tape loops, the Thunder Machine, and strobe lights. The result was a deafening chaos.
Per McNally, “Sara Garcia would remember the night as frenetic, with people milling around a terribly loud environment…the Dead playing in too small a room.” (1) Phil Lesh would also write, “Unfortunately the room was very small, so all the attendees were crammed into the same space as the band, and the crush of bodies together with the wind-tunnel sound and flashing projections turned the Test into a mind-numbing blur of noise, light, and heat. There was no way any one individual could be aware of everything going on in the place. It was a free-for-all.” (2)

The Rolling Stones were the coolest band around, sending young audiences into frenzies everywhere. The Dead themselves were playing lots of Stones covers, in fact had formed earlier that year mainly to copy the Stones. When the Stones had played San Francisco, Emmett Grogan (who would found the Diggers the next year) distributed a flyer saying the Rolling Stones were “the embodiment of everything we represent, a psychic evolution…the breaking up of old values.” (3)
It was no coincidence that the acid test came to San Jose the same night as the Rolling Stones. In August, the Pranksters had gone to see the Beatles at the Cow Palace, and Kesey had been very impressed by what happened to the audience; he’d hoped to invite the Beatles to a party at his place, but they never came. Tom Wolfe suggests Kesey’s plan for the Stones’ show: “He can see all the wound-up wired-up teeny freaks and assorted multitudes…pouring out still aquiver with ecstasy…all cocked and aimless with no flow to go off in…” The Pranksters were ready to capture that audience for their own freakout – “and what if the multitudes didn’t know where it was going to be until the last minute? Well, those who were meant to be there…they would get there.” (4) (But admittedly, “a lot of the kids the Pranksters had corralled coming out of the Rolling Stones show did not take LSD that night.”) (5)
There was some effort to bring some actual Stones to the acid test. McNally writes that “Sue Swanson, Connie Bonner, and Neal [Cassady] went off to ‘bring back the Stones.’ Unfortunately the girls rushed the stage in the general melee occasioned by Mick Jagger’s shirt coming unbuttoned, and were ejected.” (6)

No eyewitness account of the acid test mentions any Stones arriving, and even in the mayhem you’d think they’d be noticed. Yet, a story has spread that some Stones did attend the acid test. The San Jose Mercury News had an article in 2008 on local rock landmarks which mentioned the acid test house, mistakenly writing that per Bill Wyman’s autobiography, “Keith Richards and Brian Jones also stopped by the party.” (This was quoted by the Jerry’s Brokendown Palaces site, and also repeated elsewhere.)  

Wyman actually wrote in his book Stone Alone: “After the San Jose show, which earned us a cool $18,000, Mick, Chrissie, Brian and Anita flew to San Diego. The rest of us returned to the San Jose hotel before going to a party. We rejoined Mick and Brian in San Diego next day and after a successful afternoon concert continued to Los Angeles, checking into the Beverly Wiltshire Hotel before the final concert of the tour… After the [Los Angeles] show some of the group went with Jack Nitzsche to visit the top session drummer Hal Blaine… It was that night, also, that Keith and Brian took LSD at a party given by the writer Ken Kesey and his followers.” (7)  

So Wyman says nothing about any Stones going to the acid test; and he places the meeting between Kesey and some of the Stones a day later, in Los Angeles.
It is still possible that the unspecified “party” Wyman mentions in San Jose was the acid test. (I haven’t seen his Rolling With The Stones scrapbook, which may have more info.) But it’s hard to imagine any Stones slipping in incognito, especially among a crowd of kids who’d just seen their show. The Stones are absent from all the firsthand accounts of the acid test – Tom Wolfe's book doesn't mention any such encounter that I could find, nor does Phil Lesh’s book say a word about glimpsing a Stone. Wouldn’t someone who was there have remembered it?
Two actual Rolling Stones at an acid test would've blown everyone's minds - particularly the Dead’s. The idea of some of the Stones watching the Dead play in 1965, perhaps even covering some of the same songs the Stones had just played, is so surreal I had to investigate further.
But a little research uncovered multiple conflicting stories about just what took place. Most of our sources are treacherous: Kesey and the acid test, like a sixties shadow, slip from date to date, from city to city, in different books, leaving it uncertain whether anybody actually knows what happened.

The most standard story is that Keith Richards and Brian Jones attended an acid test at the end of the Stones’ tour. (Keith had been electrocuted onstage at the December 3 Sacramento show, but by the next day was apparently none the worse for wear. After December 4 in San Jose, December 5 was the last date of the tour: an afternoon show in San Diego, and an evening show in Los Angeles.)
For instance, one chronology states that on December 5, “Following the Los Angeles concert, Keith Richards and Brian Jones attend an Acid Test party by Ken Kesey and sample LSD.”
Another website changes the date and adds some more details: on December 4, "Keith Richards, Brian Jones, and Mick Jagger, alongside poet Allen Ginsberg, attended an acid test... Only Mick refrained from participating, but Jones and Richards quickly became converts."
(Ginsberg had hung out with Kesey’s group and attended the first acid test a week earlier, but I don’t know if he was at any later acid tests. In any case, no other source puts him with the Stones.)

Some books place the acid test (correctly) in San Jose on December 4. David Dalton’s book Rolling Stones is the earliest account I could find: “Brian and Keith got a taste of Electric Kool-aid at the second Acid Test party thrown by Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters after the [San Jose] concert.” (8)

Victor Bockris’ biography of Keith Richards states: “Wrote the author of Haight-Ashbury, Charles Perry, ‘When the Stones show ended leafleteers appeared out in front distributing hand-lettered sheets reading “Can you pass the acid test?” and giving an address. This was shrewd advertising, and this time the acid test drew about four hundred people.’ Keith and Brian attended Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters’ acid test party that night.” (9) (Perry had not actually mentioned anything about Keith & Brian.)

Scott Allen's extremely dubious book Aces Back to Back says that 12/4/65 was the first acid test, and invents a brand new story: “Before the Acid Test, Ken Kesey and some of the Merry Pranksters attended an afternoon concert by the Rolling Stones at the San Jose Civic Center. Prior to the evening show, Keith Richards and Brian Jones ran into Kesey and his crew outside the arena. After discussing Jimmy Reed's music to break the ice, the Pranksters offer the two some acid. During the Stones' late show, Jones and Richards take their maiden voyage on LSD.” (10)

Other books place the acid test in Los Angeles on December 5. For instance, Laura Jackson’s biography of Brian Jones: “The tour wound up in Los Angeles on 5 December. To celebrate the end Brian and Keith went off to an Acid Test party given by the writer Ken Kesey and his crowd. Needless to say, Brian passed the test as did Keith, which was to try out a man-made drug so new it had not yet been declared illegal…LSD, more commonly known as acid. That night he dropped acid and set his ever curious feet on a new and, this time, destructive path.”  (11)

Philip Norman’s biography of Mick Jagger follows the same path: “On December 5, after the Stones played their final date of the tour at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, Brian and Keith attended one of Ken Kesey’s regular LSD parties, or acid tests, listened to Kesey’s sermon on the new consciousness and creativity it could unlock in them, and then tested it on themselves. For both, the experience fully lived up to expectations, and they urged Mick to try it without delay. But the cautious, health-conscious Mick…preferred to hold back awhile.” (12)

Christopher Anderson’s biography of Mick repeats the story: “Until now, Mick had resisted LSD; at a party thrown in LA by One From the Cuckoo’s Nest author Ken Kesey, Keith and Brian both dropped acid, but Mick declined. ‘He was afraid of losing control,’ Chrissie said, ‘and that’s the most important thing to him, more important than love or even money: control.’” (13)

Paul Trynka’s biography of Brian Jones adds a new twist: “…5 December, the final date of the Stones tour, which also inspired the first public Acid Test, run by Ken Kesey and his Pranksters – the first time a San Francisco R&B band, the Warlocks, performed under their new name the Grateful Dead. In the following weeks, stories filtered out that Brian had turned up for this crucial event, briefly appearing on stage with Jerry Garcia, as if to give the emerging counter-culture his blessing. It wasn’t true. ‘We did go to the Stones venue and pass out pamphlets,’ says Prankster Ken Boss, ‘but Brian showing up was just a myth.’ The myth would circulate for years, though, cementing Brian’s reputation as the Stone who was unafraid to venture into new psychic territory.” (14)
This is a rather bizarre story that I’d never heard; at least it doesn’t show up in any Dead books. I suppose it was the writer’s imagination? What’s more interesting is the quote from prankster “Ken Boss” – which could be either Ken Babbs or Kesey. Though the pseudonym doesn’t inspire confidence, Boss’s statement does sound accurate.

Trynka’s book also states that this wasn’t Brian Jones’ first time on acid – far from it. “He dropped his first tab on the way to a club on Sunset Boulevard on 16 May [1965]… ‘He said the whole ground was covered with snakes,’ recalls Bill Wyman. ‘He jumped along the pavement trying to avoid them.’ The snakes would become a leitmotif, says Marianne Faithfull… ‘[His] paranoiac condition worsened on acid. Everyone would be looning about, and Brian would be over in the corner, crumpled up.’” (15) Despite this, Brian immediately started taking acid regularly and urging everyone to try it.

Bill Wyman’s book Stone Alone confirms that Brian was indeed taking acid on May 16, 1965. The Stones’ car was crushed by fans as they tried to leave the Long Beach Civic Auditorium afternoon show that day: “Back in Los Angeles, unbelievably, we went straight to work in the evening, probably good therapy. We filmed four songs for a television show, and Brian and I later felt fresh enough to go out to the Action Club, where Brian eventually got up on stage and sat in with the band, playing harmonica. Brian’s behavior was bizarre that night and Kathy (West) Townsend, a girlfriend of mine at the time, recalls that he had been ‘dropping acid, running all over the Ambassador Hotel, jumping over snakes.’ I, too, remember Brian walking from the car to the entrance of the Action Club, saying the ground was covered with snakes; he proceeded to jump over the imaginary reptiles.” (16)

But did Brian’s acid appear out of nowhere? No! Wherever there’s acid, it seems, Kesey must be too. According to John McMillian's book Beatles vs. Stones: “On May 16, 1965, Ken Kesey's group, the Merry Pranksters...drove from San Francisco to Long Beach, where they partied with the Stones and plied Brian Jones with a fistful of acid.” (17)

Stephen Davis’s book Old Gods Almost Dead adds more detail: after the May 16 Long Beach show, “the Stones flew back to LA. Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters had driven down from Frisco to party with the Stones, and they gave Brian a load of acid… Brian took to acid like someone who’d found God. Tripping his brains out, stepping over hallucinatory snakes, he took his harmonica to the clubs along Sunset Strip and spent his nights jamming with any band that would let the dissolute, wide-eyed young rock star onstage. After dropping a few cubes of Orange Sunshine, Brian even disappeared for a few hours, causing a frantic search so the Stones could make their May 17 gig in San Diego. They were so late for the show that the Byrds began to play Stones songs…” (18)
(Davis gets a little carried away here. Wyman’s memoir says nothing about Brian disappearing: “In San Diego, our car broke down, making us thirty minutes late arriving at the theatre. The Byrds…had preceded us on several concerts, and now they had to stay on stage to keep the audience entertained until we arrived. We were amused to see that by the time we got to the stage, they had run through their entire repertoire and were playing Rolling Stones songs!”) (19)

Davis doesn’t rest with just one Kesey encounter. As well as the party in May, after the December 5 Los Angeles show, “Keith and Linda and Brian and Anita attended the second Acid Test run by the Merry Pranksters. …Brian was flying on acid all the time now.” (20)

In the end, we are left none the wiser. Did Kesey meet the Stones in May, or in December? In San Jose, or in Los Angeles? Or did he ever really meet them at all? The whole story of the Stones at an acid test is probably an urban legend! None of these books offer convincing sources for their tales, needless to say, as the facts seem to shift around and Kesey pops up in various places. In most cases I suspect the writers are just copying earlier Stones books, making up new details to add color to the story.
Wyman's account looks the most accurate to me – Stone Alone is a firsthand memoir, definitely taken from some kind of diary he kept at the time (though of course it's not the original unaltered diary). So if he writes that Kesey was at a party in Los Angeles on December 5, giving out acid to the Stones, that’s the best evidence we have. Not quite an acid test, but close.
Despite the multitude of books on the Rolling Stones, we’re still lacking a good biography of Ken Kesey. Tom Wolfe’s book is the most thorough account of Kesey’s activities at the time, but it shouldn’t be the last word. I haven’t seen any confirmation outside of Stones books that Kesey went down to LA to meet the Stones – Kesey did have friends in Los Angeles, but for all we know, it might not have been Kesey after all. Perhaps some aging Pranksters will remember and tell the story…

Keith Richards doesn’t specifically mention meeting Kesey in his memoir, which isn’t surprising in the blur. But he has some harsh words for Kesey’s legacy, referring to people (like himself) who kept taking acid despite bad trips:
“It was the idea of a boundary that had to be pushed. There was a bit of stupidity there as well. Wasn’t so good last time? Let’s try it again. What, are you chicken now? It was the Acid Test, Ken Kesey’s goddamn thing. It meant if you hadn’t been there you ain’t nowhere, which was really dumb. A lot of people felt obliged to take it even if they didn’t want to, if they wanted to stay and hang with the crowd. It was a gang thing… Acid made Brian feel he was one of an elite. Like the Acid Test. It was that cliquishness; he wanted to be a part of something, could never find something to be a part of. I don’t remember anybody else going about saying, ‘I’ve taken acid.’ But Brian saw it as a sort of Congressional Medal of Honor. And then he’d come on like, ‘You wouldn’t know, man. I’ve been tripping.’ …It was the typical drug thing, that they think they’re somebody special. It’s the head club. You’d meet people who’d say, ‘Are you a head?’ as if it conferred some special status. People who were stoned on something you hadn’t taken. Their elitism was total bullshit. Ken Kesey’s got a lot to answer for.” (21)


  1. Dennis McNally, Long Strange Trip, p.113
  2. Phil Lesh, Searching for the Sound, p.65
  3. John McMillian, Beatles vs. Stones, p.158
  4. Tom Wolfe, Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, p.210
  5. Wolfe, p.215
  6. McNally, p.112
  7. Wyman, Stone Alone, p.358
  8. David Dalton, Rolling Stones, p.59
  9. Victor Bockris, Keith Richards, p.100
  10. Scott Allen, Aces Back to Back, p.50
  11. Laura Jackson, Brian Jones, p.143
  12. Philip Norman, Mick Jagger, p.193
  13. Christopher Anderson, Mick, p.75
  14. Paul Trynka, Brian Jones, p.176
  15. Trynka, p.155
  16. Wyman, p.320
  17. McMillian, p.159
  18. Stephen Davis, Old Gods Almost Dead, p.124-5
  19. Wyman, p.120
  20. Davis, p.149
  21. Keith Richards, Life, p.192, 206

January 1, 2015

It Wasn't Courtney

For years, there has been a rumor that the five-year-old Courtney Love was on the back cover of Aoxomoxoa – the girl in the front, sitting next to Pigpen. This story has been repeated so often, it’s become an internet “fact,” supposedly confirmed by David Gans and even mentioned in official Dead writings.
Here’s one site that tells the tale:

Circumstantially, it was possible for her to be there. Her father, Hank Harrison, had been a college friend and roommate of Phil Lesh in the early ‘60s, had briefly managed the Warlocks “for one week” in 1965, and stayed in contact with the Dead up to the ‘70s, gathering material for his books on them. Courtney Michelle Harrison was born on July 9, 1964; Phil Lesh was her godfather. She lived with her parents in San Francisco until their divorce in 1969; then her mother took her to an Oregon commune in 1970. She had a loose hippie upbringing: one biographer describes her childhood house as full of musicians, groupies and freaks; and Courtney later shuddered, “There were all these hairy, wangly-ass hippies in our house…running around naked.”[1]  “We were doing tons of acid, changing sex partners, and tripping out,” Hank said;[2] and in a child custody dispute, her mother would testify that Hank gave Courtney LSD as an infant. With her father hanging around the Dead, it wouldn’t seem surprising for her to be included in a Dead family shoot.

Of course it’s not known just how involved Hank was in the Dead scene in 1969, as detailed information is scanty and his books are rather obscure. It’s possible he just had occasional contact at that point. Courtney later wrote that Hank was not as close to the Dead as he claimed: “He had published 2 unauthorized books…writing from the perspective of an insider, when in fact he barely dealt with the band.”[3]  On the other hand, Courtney’s also said, “My mother had ties to a lot of the women around the San Francisco hippie scene, like Ken Kesey’s wife and the Magic Bus people.”[4] 

Ken Babbs also appears in the Aoxomoxoa cover photo, along with various other mostly unidentified friends of the Dead. The Dead could have taken a more traditional band-only shot, something like this (done with the same photographer and location):  

But instead they rounded up some women and children they knew and headed to Rancho Olompali for a kind of bucolic, tribal-commune image: this wasn’t just a band, it was a whole family.

As it happens, Courtney was not one of the kids included. The girl long identified as her was actually a close family member of the band – Stacy Kreutzmann, born a week apart from Courtney.

Rock Scully wrote: “Billy [was] married to his first wife, Brenda. They were high school sweethearts, had married in 1962 when Billy was just 18, and on July 3, 1964, had a daughter, Stacy – the little girl next to Pigpen in the Dead family photograph on the back cover of Aoxomoxoa. Toward the end of 1967, Kreutzmann got divorced from Brenda and around the time of Woodstock moves to Mill Valley with his new girlfriend, Susila… He eventually marries her and on June 10, 1969, they have a son, Justin.”[5]

When the photo was shot, Brenda had been separated from Kreutzmann for some time, and Stacy lived with her mother. She was still part of the Dead family, though – in fact, “Pigpen was my first babysitter.”[6]

One newspaper article on Stacy begins:
“A normal childhood? Not for Stacy Kreutzmann Quinn. As the daughter of Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann, she grew up in the epicenter of hippie culture. She remembers sleeping under her dad's drum kit, walking around Haight-Ashbury in the middle of the night and, yes, having Dead keyboardist Pig Pen as her first baby sitter.
"My mother liked him. The other guys were all tripping, but he was not into that," Kreutzmann Quinn says of Pig Pen, with whom she was pictured on the cover of the Dead's "Aoxomoxoa" album when she was 5 years old.”[7]

In another interview, Stacy revealed that she was very fond of Pigpen:
“I have a deep, everlasting love of rough looking Hell’s Angel kind of guys that are into the blues… I had a deep love for him. My mother said he was a very gentle, tender guy, and she really trusted him a lot. He was always very tender with me.”[8]

A couple of the women who were at the Aoxomoxoa photo shoot (Maura McCoy and Rosie McGee) have also confirmed that it is Stacy in the photo, not Courtney.[9]

The people have moved on, but the Olompali site can still be visited today:

Asked about her life growing up around the Grateful Dead, Stacy recalled:
“It was like being raised by the circus. There was a lot of concern when I went to kindergarten about how I would do. This bohemian kid, the stories of sleeping under the drums, the stories of being at acid tests. I was very sophisticated, precocious. I knew about everything. I've always been very streetwise. I think the best gift coming from the Grateful Dead is a sense of tolerance, love and openness of spirit, because that really did exist. It's not just a myth.”[10] 

As for Courtney, she later drifted far from the Dead scene…. 

1. Ian Halperin, Who Killed Kurt Cobain p.44
2. Halperin p. 42 
3. Poppy Brite, Courtney Love: The Real Story p. 185 (Courtney went on: "Just ask the Grateful Dead if my facts are straight, he claims to have managed their charity events for an annum, pretty vague job description, but last time I checked he was still selling 60s Dead boots in the back of Relix, Goldmine, and sometimes Rolling Stones." I doubt Courtney herself knew or cared much about Hank's connection with the Dead; but his accounts are more inventive than factual.)
4. Halperin p. 43 (Books like these should be treated with caution. Almost any 'fact' about Courtney's childhood is disputed, depending which source you use; and there are no good sources, given that she and her father are both unreliable and bitterly divided, and the authors who write about them do not inspire trust.)
5. Rock Scully, Living with the Dead p. 163
7. http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-8414778.html (“Daughter of the Dead brings publishing venture to life,” by Steve Morse, from Boston Globe 1/3/97)
8. http://www.tonibrownband.com/AcidTest24-2.html ("Acid Test Productions," an interview with Stacy Kreutzmann Quinn by Toni Brown, from Relix, April 1997) 
9. Admittedly, I don’t know who the other kids and people in the photo are, and more identifications might be useful in mapping the Dead's close social network circa '69. 
11. See this article by Jesse Jarnow for comments from Dylan Carlson - Cobain's best friend and a Dead fan: http://www.jambands.com/news/2011/08/01/indie-rockers-celebrate-jerry-garcia-on-jerry-day  
"They're always kind of underneath the radar in a lot of ways. Maybe the perception is that they represent this whole [hippie] thing - it's so hippie we gotta hate it - especially in the underground rock world...  I think the Dead are weird because a lot of people who say they don't like them haven't actually heard them. Unfortunately, Kurt was not one I was ever able to turn." 
Indeed, Cobain was extreme in his punk sneer: "I wouldn't wear a tie-dyed t-shirt unless it was dyed with the urine of Phil Collins and the blood of Jerry Garcia." But it's worth mentioning that members of bands Cobain admired - Greg Ginn of Black Flag, Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, Curt Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets - are also Dead fans. One of the ironies of his life.

After I wrote this post, Dr. Jeff and I continued to investigate who the people in the Aoxomoxoa photo were, and we were able to identify almost all of them: