Tuesday, July 21, 2009

October 13, 1967 Modesto, CA--Lost Gig, or Forgotten Biker Gang?

This remarkable news article (left) from the Modesto Bee of Monday, October 16, 1967, suggests two possible interpretations, both intriguing:

1) The Grateful Dead played a gig in Modesto on the weekend of October 13-14, and some trouble happened at a house party following the gig, or

2) There was a Modesto biker gang called The Grateful Dead

Let's consider the first possibility, which is the function of this blog.

In 1967, The Dead, though underground legends with an album on Warners Brothers, were quite broke. The best gigs--often the only gigs--were on weekends, and they tried not to leave weekends unbooked. On Saturday, October 14, they played the Continental Ballroom in San Jose. This begs the question of whether they had a Friday night gig. While its hardly certain that they did, generally speaking a broke rock band struggles to book a gig every Friday and Saturday night.

Modesto, California is about 90 miles East of San Francisco. Although not a large city in its own right, it is the center of commerce for an extensive agricultural industry that includes Gallo Wines and Blue Diamond Almonds. While hardly a center for the arts, Modesto has always been an out-of-town gig for San Francisco performers, and many 60s rock bands played one nighters in Modesto (as an aside, Quicksilver's Gary Duncan came from Ceres, a small town outside of Modesto). Its very plausible that the Dead would play a Friday night in Modesto. Venues included The Strand Theater (Van Morrison and Them played there August 23, 1966), the Modesto Skating Rink (The Doors played there on April 6, 1967) or the California Ballroom.

Following this logic, if the Dead played a Friday night gig (on October 13, 1967) in Modesto, and there was the inevitable party afterwards, perhaps some nastiness made the insular local police assume that "The Grateful Dead" were San Francisco troublemakers who were little different than the local gangs who hung out in Modesto, and perhaps they were correct. While--obviously--I don't believe Bob Weir and Mountain Girl were duking it out with local hoodlums, a 4am fistfight at a post show party, between locals and city hoodlums might very well be blamed on the only attendees with a "name", even if band members left the party hours before. 1967 Modesto was just naive enough that the Dead might have appeared like a gang to local police, no doubt to the pleasure of all the skinny, cautious band members.

The other hypothesis, very delicious but outside the scope of this blog, is that a Modesto Biker Gang called themselves "The Grateful Dead" instead of "Lucifer's Losers." That would be too, too awesome--I'd love to see the gang's colors, but its probably too much to hope for...


  1. "1967 Modesto was just naive enough that the Dead might have appeared like a gang to local police, no doubt to the pleasure of all the skinny, cautious band members."

    The 1967 vintage of Pigpen and I had a good chuckle over this. ;-)

  2. There WAS a biker gang called the Grateful Dead.

    I first spotted it in the 12/1/71 Ogdensburg, NY Journal:
    "Joseph Guerin, 23, of Bridgeport, Conn., who police said is a member of The Breed motorcycle gang, was arrested in Schenectady on a murder charge...
    Guerin was wanted by Bridgeport police in connection with the June 11 shooting death of another man in Bridgeport.
    The dead man, Bruce Golden, 20, shot in the head with a .38 caliber pistol, was a member of a rival motorcycle gang, the Grateful Dead, police said."
    (The article also covers the killings of policemen & robberies committed by the biker gang members.)

    An earlier article in the Bridgeport Post, 10/29/71, corrects the identification and says the shooter was in the Grateful Dead:
    "Joseph Guerin, 23...a member of the Grateful Dead Motorcycle club...was arrested today in Schenectady, N.Y., in connection with the murder of an Albany police sergeant... Sgt. Michael McNeil was found slumped over the steering wheel of a patrol car, a bullet in his head."

    1. Also, from the Tampa Tribune, 10/17/71:
      "Stratford, Conn. (UPI) - At least five persons were shot, one critically, in a clash between two motorcycle gangs early yesterday.
      The shootout erupted at about 4 a.m., according to police, after a three-car crash involving members of the "Grateful Dead" and the "Huns."
      No arrests were made immediately but a number of guns were confiscated from members of the clubs, both said to be based in Bridgeport. About 30 shots were fired, police said."

      The Bridgeport Post ran a few articles on the gang's activities in late '71. From 10/14/71:
      "Black students complained that the police had failed to disperse members of white motorcycle gangs who had come to help white students fight the blacks.
      'The police would arrest Black Panthers on sight if they ever showed up, but they let the Huns and the Grateful Dead motorcycle gangs stay right there waiting for our brothers,' a black girl said."

    2. A 10/20/71 article after the big shootout outlined the history of the Grateful Dead's run-ins with the law:
      "In December 1969, 10 persons, most of them members of the Grateful Dead, were arrested in raids in Bridgeport and Milford by state and local police... In the Bridgeport raid at the club's headquarters...8 persons were arrested at gunpoint, and police recovered an arsenal of 35 weapons stolen earlier from the State Police academy. Later, 3 more persons were arrested...including the then-president of the Grateful Dead, identified as Allen D. Rider...
      In October, 1968, police here arrested 24 persons, including 5 women, in a narcotics raid at the Grateful Dead's headquarters in a remodeled garage [in Bridgeport]. Police described the interior as a "psychedelic pad" and confiscated suspected marijuana. The raid was conducted as the aftermath of narcotics investigation and surveillance in the East Side.
      The city of Waterbury, too, had its troubles with the Grateful Dead.
      Earlier this year, police raided the club quarters...where they confiscated shotguns, rifles, knives and ammunition."
      The article goes on to cover more arrests through 1969-70 for thefts, shootings, and assaults, with multiple bystanders shot during the 1971 gang war.
      Later newspaper reports named several Grateful Dead members who were charged after "the shooting death of Gerald R. Godin, a member of the Huns Motorcycle Club, on a Stratford street Oct. 16. The car Godin and several others were in had left a diner and was ambushed soon afterward by another car. Five of Godin's companions were injured."
      Shootings between the Dead & the Huns continued into 1972. The last report I saw was from 5/26/72, when a Grateful Dead member was charged with kidnapping a Huns member.

    3. Looking back to '68, the 10/12/68 Bridgeport Post had covered the dope raid on the Dead:
      "Police arrested 24 persons, 5 of them young women, and confiscated suspected marijuana in a raid today at 2 a.m. on what was termed 'a psychedelic pad' in the headquarters of the 'Grateful Dead' motorcycle club... Police reported they found the interior of the building in a 'psychedelic setting' with flourescent multiple colored pictures, chains, candles, an odor of incense, and 'weird' music."
      However, the arrested people were freed in January '69: "Members of the tactical squad had found less than a gram of marijuana and one pep pill during the crackdown on the quarters of the 'Grateful Dead' motorcycle club. The prosecutor said in view of the small amount of drugs involved, he was nolling the cases, but told the defendants and their parents that he hoped the experience had taught them a lesson."

      More members of the Grateful Dead were arrested on 3/22/69 when "a .25 caliber automatic and suspected marijuana were found in their auto when it was stopped for a routine check."
      Other Grateful Dead members were arrested on 6/27/69 for a home assault, beating up a family with a pipe and bricks at gunpoint.
      The 12/16/69 raid on the Grateful Dead headquarters after the Dead broke into a police academy and stole 42 weapons (including shotguns & submachine guns) was also big news in Bridgeport & Hartford. There was a front-page picture of the Dead lined up against a wall. Several people were later freed, but new arrest warrants were issued for the top suspects on 2/14/70.
      And on 3/7/70: "Grateful Dead Quartet Nabbed With Pellet Gun... Detectives planned to question the group [after] recent incidents in the city in which pellets were fired at windows and cars."

      A fun-loving group!
      So was the Modesto "youth group" of October '67 connected with the Grateful Dead biker gang found in Bridgeport, CT the next year? I don't know; perhaps there was no connection.

    4. It seems there were multiple Grateful Deads.
      There was a 1/22/73 news story by the New York Times news service, "130 Youth Gangs Roam, Terrorize South Bronx," which mentions that "such predominantly white gangs as the Bronx Ministers and the Grateful Dead were originally formed to provide protection to members menaced by other cliques."

      An 8/27/72 article in the Sydney Morning Herald, "Youth Gang Warfare Terrorises New York," also names them: "Italian gangs sprang up in the area [the Bronx], with such names as the Bronx Aliens, War Pigs, Grateful Dead, and Golden Guineas, to protect their territory, schools and women [from black gangs]."

      There may be other examples; in any case, the Modesto gang probably was just a gang.

    5. As an afterthought, I wondered about the supposed Hell's Angels party in Norwalk, CT on 7/10/69...Norwalk is only 15 miles from Bridgeport. I don't have access to the Norwalk papers, but the Bridgeport papers don't mention any event in Norwalk that week.

      The 12/16/69 Bridgeport post had more details on the police raid on the Dead's headquarters:
      "The occupants of the club [were] wearing motorcycle jackets with the name 'Grateful Dead' printed on them... The interior walls of the club were covered with psychedelic-like posters and hippie symbols."

      After all this, I wondered why at least one (two? three?) gangs around the country would name themselves after the band. It's not like the folklore term "grateful dead" was at all common in popular culture - people would only have seen the name referring to the band. Why would biker gangs identify with a hippie band with peace & love values?

      It's possible some might have just seen the name in the news and thought it looked cool, but I think there's a more direct connection. The Hell's Angels pretty much publicly endorsed the Dead - stories of the Dead playing at Hell's Angels event (like Chocolate George's funeral) would have been well-known in various biker groups, which would automatically have made the Dead "cool."
      Also, there wasn't such a huge division between the violent bikers & the peaceful hippies - the biker club sounds like a psychedelic hippie pad in the press reports! I think for the bikers, the Dead may also have been perceived as freedom-loving outlaws; and their association with Owsley and drug use would also have been a big plus.
      After all, how many other bands had biker gangs named after them?

    6. LIA, this is like the greatest research ever. Now we have to find some bikers in Gang colors.

      I think you're right, 'Grateful Dead" was just an ominous sounding name and it got adopted.

  3. A top rocker from the Bronx Grateful Dead has just turned up on ebay. Interestingly it is dated 1966 on the reverse, before the Dead's LP came out. I guess someone must have seen a poster.