Southern California Sojourn by Owsley "Bear" Stanley
Following the tragic car accident over the weekend that claimed the life of former Grateful Dead soundman of Owsley “Bear” Stanley (he occupied the role from 1966-1974), we offer this piece which ran in the August 2005 issue of Relix.
Shortly after I joined up with the Dead as soundman in February 1966, they decided to pack up and follow Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters to Los Angeles. They considered themselves to be the official Acid Test band, and felt the show depended on their being there. I followed, although I was not as convinced it was such a great idea.
We arrived in L.A, a motley group of about ten or 12 people with no place to stay and very little money to live on. We were helped out of our critical needs for shelter by a real estate agent one of the Pranksters knew or had met, and settled into a large pink house in the area called the Watts, right next to a brothel. We had nowhere else to practice, so we set up in the living room. Needless to say, the loud and often weird music upset the hookers next door- who felt it was driving business away- so they called the cops every time we got going. Cops do not respond with alacrity to such calls, so we did get in a bit of practice before a knock on the door and a uniform led to us turning down (in our terms, down was the same as off).
The Acid Test was the first reason for us to be there, but I looked at it as a great way for the musicians to do a lot of practice and for me to learn what it meant to be a soundman. So practice we did, even though it caused a bit of friction with out next-door neighbors. I wondered about the close relations their must have had with the cops as we were always pulling up pot seedlings from the strip of grass between the houses (their customers were in the habit of tossing seeds out the upstairs windows while rolling joints).
Once Barbara, a friend, made us up a bath of her specialty: B Toklas’ original recipe marijuana brownies. Unaware of what was happening, she had just gotten out of her car and was walking up the path to the door when a cop stopped her on one of their visits to get us to turn down the music. “What’s in the bag?” asked the cop. Not flustered in the least, Barbara answered, “Homemade brownies, would you like one?” The cop declined her generous offer and let her pass. I often wondered what would have happened if he had taken her up. The recipe used broken up, whole bud mixed up into a paste with dates, nuts, figs, and other fruits plus a touch of rum or brandy- sort of like a fruitcake mix, but not actually cooked. It had a distinctive taste, to say the least, and you got well and truly stoned.
It was at a practice session in the house in Watts that I saw sound coming out as interacting waves of color from the loudspeaker. Naturally, I had ingested some kind of psychedelic, matters not which, because I have never repeated the experience. It definitely taught me a huge amount about the real way sound propagates in the air- which is nothing like the ideas still current in the sound reproduction/reinforcement field. This happy one-off “accident” is why my sound ideas (for instance, the Wall of Sound) are so strange and work so well- and have never been replicated by others.
The band played several Acid Tests as well as at least two non-Prankster shows, one at the Hollywood Trooper’s Hall and the other one at a small venue called Danish Hall upstairs over a block of stores in L.A. We had some pretty interesting times in L.A.- The Watts AT was as strange as they come and the final one at the sound set on Pico Boulevard was stopped before midnight by the owner, who was rightfully freaked out by all the magic and weirdness.
After about three months we ran totally out of money and it was well and truly time to return home. During our “woodshedding” time in L.A., Rock Scully, our manager had been turning down offers of gigs from the various clubs in the Bay Area because not enough money was on offer. The prices the band worked for when we left was only $125/night, which works out to $25 (gas money and a sandwich) for each musician, leaving no money for the soundman or roadies. Most bands had neither one at that stage in their career. The Dead had begun as a band only about ten months earlier and had owned the name Grateful Dead for just four months. Finally an offer in the princely sum of $375 came for a gig at the Longshoreman’s Hall with several other bands, including the Oakland band Loading Zone. Just in time, as the old saying goes, and we accepted it with thanks.
We returned home, well practiced and confident. Things continued to improve after that.
Owsley “Bear” Stanley served as the Grateful Dead’s soundman from 1966 to 1974. His live recordings have been released on a number of Dick’s Picks, the box sets So Many Roads and Golden Road, in addition to the band’s 1973 Warner Bros. release, Bear’s Choice. He is also responsible for the design of the bands legendary Wall of Sound sound system. His first show was 10/11/65 at the Muir Beach Acid Test in Muir Beach, CA.
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
- Relix Live Fridays: Trey Anastasio at The Fox
- Grace Potter & The Nocturnals "The Lion The Beast The Beat" (Official Video)
- The Allman Brothers Band Before Gregg?
- The M & Ms: Medeski, Mali, Mercurio, Moore at (Le) Poisson Rouge (A Gallery)
- Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger "The Pequod"
- Trey Anastasio with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center
- More Visions of the Hangout Music Festival 2013 (A Gallery)
- A Blowout for the So So Glos
- Interlocken Festival to Feature Neil Young, Furthur, String Cheese Incident, Black Crowes, Zac Brown and More
- Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers "Friend of The Devil" at the Beacon
- The Salvation of Page McConnell (Relix Revisited)
- Interlocken Adds Widespread Panic and John Fogerty, Furthur to Play Workingman’s Dead
- Warren Haynes and Joe Bonamassa "If Heartaches Were Nickels"
- The Final Ingredient in Dogfish Head’s Grateful Dead Tribute Ale Is…
- Stone Gossard Readies His Moonlander
- Trey Anastasio Band at The Hangout (Video Stream)
- Doctor’s Orders: So what should we call the Super Ball IX Newspaper?
- John Kadlecik Posts Statement on Bob Weir’s Collapse
- "I Wanne Be In moe.": The Latest Volunteers
- Bob Weir Escorted Off Stage During Furthur Show
- Furthur Cancels BottleRock Show as Bob Weir Is Out Of Commision
- Vote for Your Favorite "I Wanne Be In moe." Contestant
- Doctor’s Orders: What’s Your Favorite Furthur Song? (Win Copy of Relix Signed by Phil and Bobby)
- On The Verge Poll