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: 


  1. The other girls in the photo weren't necessarily family members, or even very close to the Dead.
    Maura McCoy (who was ten at the time and had been living at the Olompali commune) wrote, "I was there the day the Dead came to the ranch to have their photo taken by Tom Weir for the back cover of Aoxomoxoa, and appear in the photo next to Jerry along with my sister and friends, some of whom went to live with Mickey at his ranch when the mansion at Olompali burned down [in February 1969]."
    But she admits, "At the time, I didn't know who anyone was other than the band members themselves."
    Maura's sister Mary and another friend in the photo, Noelle Barton, were also unsure who everyone was. But a check with other girls who were there - I think Rhonda Jewel, Siobhan Passero, and Sheri Jensen Mendoza - confirmed who Stacy was. Jerilyn Brandelius also identified Stacy, and said that Courtney wasn't there.
    At any rate, it seems the Dead may have simply gathered up whatever women & children were available that day for the photo. It could be whoever was staying at Mickey's ranch. I'm not sure if the Dead's own girlfriends are in the shot!

    1. Yep, that's exactly what happened. I was there that day and lived at Olompali. I left shortly afterwards and went to stay with Bobby Weir and his then girlfriend Frankie Hart..

  2. Thanks for this LIA and a Happy 2015 to you. As you pointed out on a separate PM, the guy between Weir and Billy in the band-only photo is also Ken Babbs.

  3. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2089875458/olompali-a-california-story
    In the video Maura McCoy mentions her parents are in the photo. Should be an interesting documentary if it gets made.

  4. That would include Don McCoy, who appeared on stage and gave a little speech in the middle of the 2/19/69 Celestial Synapse show - a couple weeks after his commune home at Rancho Olompali had burned down on February 2.

    On 3/17/69 there was a Winterland benefit for the Olompali 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... 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 Olompall burned down after the bust."
    It appears some of them went to live on Mickey's ranch. The Dead had close ties to the people at Olompali (though the Dead themselves had only lived there for a few months in '66).

    There is plenty of information available about the Olompali commune in various places. One article about them is here:
    It also mentions that "commune members" appeared in the Aoxomoxoa photo. Don McCoy said that the Dead were frequent weekend visitors, playing jam sessions for the residents: "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."

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  6. Lee Ranaldo talks more about what the Dead means to him here

    I don’t remember exactly whether it was Hole or Sonic Youth, but they played the day after Garcia died and they played He’s Gone for him I believe.

    1. I haven't heard of Sonic Youth playing He's Gone - BUT, Hole & Sonic Youth were on the Lollapalooza tour the week Garcia died, and Lee Ranaldo wrote about it in his tour diary:

      "A few words about Garcia here: Although I haven't followed the Dead's career much this last decade, I do admit to spending much time during the seventies immersed in their music/world view, with no regrets. I have always maintained that SY shared the common ground of true interest in musical extrapolation with them, and that is one of the facets of their trip that I admired most - the willingness to get into 'unexplored" territory of the music/sound realm on a nightly basis. Jerry was a key instigator of this, of course, for the Dead, and I think it is one of the factors that most endeared him to legions of fans - his relishing the chance to get real, real gone into pure soundscapes at the shows, each member playing off the others, to see where it could take them.

      I spent a lot of time listening to the Dead in my youth, saw countless shows, Jerry's various solo ensembles, etc. Some of those shows still stand out as among the best I've attended, anywhere, ever. No bullshitting at their shows, no platform heels or mega light shows to mask the fact that this was just a group of ordinary mortals up there doing the best they could. Many nights they took us far over the rainbow with them. Those guys (and gal) from The Haight covered a lot of musical turf, a lot of history - and left plenty of avenues yet to be mined.

      It's a sad legacy that the man known as 'Captain Trips' was brought down by the very substances that he once reveled in, and exalted. One who meant so much to so many people as a 'spiritual guide', pointing signposts to new space, as it were, couldn't control his own appetite (in more ways than one) for those very substances that he proclaimed as sacraments. I take comfort in the fact that he passed on peacefully, and left a long rich legacy behind, but I would give anything to know what really was going on in his life these last years, as one with an intimate knowledge of life on the road and the trips it puts ya thru. Was he happy with his position? Were drugs a way in, or a way out? Maybe they were just a too-comfortable old pillow, too much the public facade of the man, the 'Jerry' mask which the world associated with him, and which he could not remove.

      In any case, I tip my hat to you tonight, Jerry - did you hear us deadicate 2 numbers to you last night, under the full Texas moon? I couldn't believe that Melissa from Hole mentioned him too, from the stage, after Courtney went on about how Kurdt was up there in that moon, and Hendrix, etc. Melissa chimed in with "and Jerry Garcia too" and I was so pleased to hear her say it; thoughtful and centered amidst the chaos.

      Fare thee well Garcia; fare thee well, my only true one. Gone to leave this brokedown palace, on hands and knees, to roll on home. He's gone in August, and nothin's gonna bring him back."
      http://www.saucerlike.com/articles.php?x=display&id=13 (August 10)

      Also of note in other diary entries: he praises Hole's guitar player as "one of my favorite guitar players," shakes his head at Courtney's antics, and is ecstatic about Pavement. Also, Tom Constanten visited Sonic Youth backstage on the last show of the tour. (I wonder what they talked about?)

    2. For the record, Curt Kirkwood has talked sometimes about the Dead's influence on the Meat Puppets: "We wouldn’t be the band we are without the Grateful Dead.”

      "Q: Are you a a Grateful Dead fan?
      Q: Meat Puppets are often compared to the Grateful Dead. Have you noticed this?
      Yeah, from like way back. From like before jam bands even. We thought that's what we were going to be until Phish started getting all of the kids in tie-dyes. Right around the time we put out Monsters the Dead asked us to open for them. Their manager asked us for five copies of the album for the band's edification and approval. Apparently someone didn't edify.
      We had friends who worked for the Dead and pointed out the similarities in that we were both trying to make our own trip, that we didn't have any boundaries, and that we were trying to map alternate universes. There wouldn't be a Meat Puppets without the Dead, for sure.
      I think it was '77 the first time I saw them and it was at a time when I was seeing a lot of cool things like Art Ensemble of Chicago and Ramsey Lewis. It really opened my eyes. I was like 17 and I saw these things that were different from what you hear on the radio. The Dead seemed to put it all together. It wasn't the style that impressed me so much, but the fact that they played what they wanted to play. But at the same time I was really turned off by how locked into their style they were.
      At the same I was also seeing things like Iggy Pop and Devo and it just made me wish that the Dead would throw a fucking cherry bomb into the audience every once in a while and scare some of these fucking hippies out of the twirling trance thing they were in."

      "Cris and I were way into Art Ensemble of Chicago, you know, Miles Davis, Ornette, you know, and then Sun Ra, and then the Grateful Dead. Experimental music. We...really got into the Dead. I heard about The Dead after I was in my first band, and then I was living in Tucson and people pointed out to me what it was. And I realized that’s like the only rock band that jams, that makes really cool extrapolations. We were really into playing music more than anything.... We got into The Dead and we realized if we make up some lyrics now we’re a rock band. We don’t have to play jazz or be experimental. All we have to do is make up some words and put them on top of this music that we like."

      And Cris Kirkwood:
      "You're never gonna escape the guitar playing! It's Jerry for crissakes! God bless him. The Meat Puppets wouldn't have existed without the Grateful Dead. You want to know where the fucking attitude shift came from that we passed onto the punkers, well, it's largely from the Dead and the rich musical background they echoed back to. They're just a bunch of guys that really fucking dig music and really like playing it and aren't constrained by the times. It's a kind of art that's always been around in a way. They're steeped in romance and tradition in the way a lot of good art is, and so are we. But, fuckin' Jerry, that's just a one of a kind guy."

  7. The story that it was Courtney is at least twenty years old, and was probably started by Courtney herself - I found an article on her in an April 1996 High Times that said, "Despite the jabs at her dad, Courtney has been known to flaunt her Grateful Dead credentials... She has often stated that she is pictured on the back of the Dead's Aoxomoxoa album (false) and attended Woodstock when she was five (also false)."
    So it was disputed even then - what's interesting is that the writers talked to Hank Harrison, who is probably the one who told them her claims were false.

    In her Playboy interview that year, Courtney spit some more venom at her father: "He makes his living as a parasite off the Grateful Dead. He scams all the Deadheads who worship him because they think he is close to the Dead."
    Hank replied: "Phil changed her diapers! Jerry's first baby, Heather, and Courtney used to play together. It hurts me so much that she doesn't realize how lucky she was to be one of the chosen children of that scene."

    1. I believe Courtney believed she was on the back of the record. I am willing to bet her father told her this. He was afterall, their manager. She would be the same age as the girl in the picture, and both of Courtney parents WERE in the picture. It was only natural to assume it was her.

    2. She may have looked a lot like Stacy in '69, and she may have believed it was herself. I don't know whether Hank would have told her this; but neither of her parents were in the picture.

  8. I met Stacy during the summer of 1989 and she once showed me the cover and told me that it was her. Good enough for me. - JPK

  9. More interesting than Courtney NOT being in the picture is who IS . . . the guy in the back with the mustache to the left of the horse is none other than San Francisco jazz piano legend, Vince Guaraldi, best known for his "Peanuts" soundtracks in the 60s & 70s.

    1. It's unfortunate that no tapes survive of Guaraldi jamming with Garcia or the Dead, though he was known to play with them sometimes.

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  11. Nirvana isn't as far from the Dead as people like to think

  12. I spoke to Deirdre Ann Nickel, daughter of Tom Weir a couple of years ago and she said that she used to play with Courtney on the ranch and that it was indeed her in the photo. Who knows, just my two cents

  13. Renee Weir, the wife of Thomas Weir the photographer sitting behind Bobby in the photo, told me that girl was in fact Courtney. Whether or not she is mistaken I don't know. Just sayin'

  14. I'm just reading in comments on YouTube that Vince Guaraldi of Peanuts (Charlie Brown) music fame is on the back cover and is the guy touching the horse.

    1. Here is the original comment:

      Bender Bending Rodriguez
      3 years ago
      I love Vince Guaraldi. His piano playing was loaded with personality and his melodies were so unique and lovely. And as if he wasn't cool enough on his own, he was friends with The Grateful Dead and used to hang out with them at both 710 Ashbury and Rancho Olompali. He even was included on the "family portrait" photo on the back of 1969's "Aoxomoxoa" (he's the one in back with shades on, his hand on the horse). Supposedly he even sat in with them at a few shows, but after listening to many thousands of hours of Dead shows I have yet to find one with Vince on it. Still hoping to, however. A great talent, Vince Guaraldi was!!!

    2. Yes, all the people on the back cover were identified in this post:

  15. My father took this photo, he told me that she was in this poto but that is not the child he pointed to. It was the girl with her head down. I can only assume he was given the wrong information if it's not her. I know that I played with her and those other kids a few times, but I was ayear older than Courtney and my memory of it is not clear. I was not there the day those photos were taken. The funny thing is, for years I thought I was the little towhead with her head down, I was so dissapointed to find out I wasn't. I was always so proud of being Tom Weir's daughter. We had Garcia over for dinner several times and he constantly got asked if he was Bob Weirs brother. It was a privilege to go with him though, I sat on Janis Joplin's lap and wore her boa, and Country Joe made us lunch! 😆 Anyway just my 2 cents. I would guess half the people there were high that day and it was unorganized. My step mother wound up in the photo. My dad must have been absolutely frustrated trying to get that many people to cooperate. If you had any idea what posing for Tom Weir was like, you would know what I mean. It could take four or five hours just to get a single portrait of one of his children.