A show that has been part of the Canon since the early eighties is a performance at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on Friday, January 20, 1967. The headliner at this show was former Harvard professor and "acid guru" Timothy Leary, and he was supposedly "backed" by the Grateful Dead. Upon reflection, this must have been a very strange event, so strange that I wonder if it even happened. I am aware of no eyewitness accounts, no reviews and no recollections from members of the Grateful Dead. I do know the source of our knowledge of the show, however, and it is quite fleeting. This post will consider what little we know about the Grateful Dead's performance on January 20, 1967, at the Santa Monica Civic, supporting Timothy Leary. This would have been the Grateful Dead's first performances in the Los Angeles area since their February and March sojourn with Owsley the previous year. In early 1966, the Grateful Dead were unknown, but by early 1967 the Dead were at least underground sensations who were newly-signed to Warner Brothers Records.
[update: thanks to inspirational Commenter LightIntoAshes, we know the concert took place, and we have an eyewitness account from Owsley himself]
|Ralph Gleason's SF Chronicle column on Friday, January 27, mentions the Grateful Dead playing with Timothy Leary the previous week.|
The primary source for adding a Tim Leary/Grateful Dead show at Santa Monica, comes from a generally reliable source, San Francisco Chronicle music columnist Ralph Gleason. He wrote four columns a week on music for the Chronicle, and he regularly covered the San Francicso psychedelic ballroom scene in great detail (along with jazz, blues and country music). The excerpt above is from Friday, January 27, 1967, and it says:
Tonight and tomorrow night, Dr. Timothy Leary will unveil the mystery of religion as show biz in his two dates here at the Berkeley Community Theater (tonight) and Winterland (tomorrow night). The Leary production was a sell-out in Santa Monica, I'm told, and the Grateful Dead played with him.
This weekend the Dead won't be along (they're at the Avalon Ballroom) and it's not known if another rock band will perform. The Leary happening includes films, a light show, chants and a psychedelic trip induced without drugs. "It really works," an expert in this genre told me. Personally I wouldn't miss this out of sheer animal curiosity. It may be the most interesting religious event since the last Black Mass.A few details stand out from this description. Gleason was a supporter of all kinds of music, but he was a journalist first. When he says the show "was a sell-out in Santa Monica," and then adds "I'm told," he is noting that this was unverified by him, and raises the hint that perhaps some exaggeration may be taking place. When he says "'It really works,' an expert in this genre told me," his deadpan tone suggests that the whole thing is hype.
One of the best sources for San Francisco 60s rock history was Gleason's columns in the Chronicle, and they were relatively accessible in later years through good libraries. A mistake in Gleason's column will be repeated over and over in numerous rock tomes, a clear sign that their root source was the same. Thus I am pretty certain that the Dead's Santa Monica performance was uncovered by research on Gleason's column. Someone must have figured out that the show was Friday January 20 rather than Saturday January 21, but I have never seen an ad or listing in the paper (please send one if you've got it).
If Gleason did in fact attend one of the Leary shows in San Francisco or Berkeley, he did not write about it, which leads me to think he didn't drop by. We do have one reliable account of the Bay Area shows, however, from writer Charles Perry. Perry was a Berkeley hippie at the time--he was briefly Owsley's roommate in 1964 or so--but he became a writer for Roling Stone. Perry wrote the excellent book Haight-Ashbury: A History, in 1984. At the time, 1967 seemed farther ago than it does now, but many of Perry's friends and acquaintances had been through the whole thing, so Perry's sources were far more contemporary. In the book, Perry has an excellent chronology, clearly based on the Chronicle, but with additional details, no doubt provided by people he knew.
Perry says that the two Leary performances at Berkeley and Winterland were busts, with Leary droning on to largely empty auditoriums. There was a rock group present, a hip but obscure band called The Outfit. According to Perry, The Outfit noodled along while Leary talked. I'm not surprised that Leary drew tiny crowds: by the standards of the 1967 rock market, Winterland and BCT were huge (8900 capacity between them), and Leary was not a popular figure in the Haight. No San Francisco rock band could have sold 8900 tickets on a weekend, so it's no surprise that Leary didn't. This too, provides some grounds for suspicion about the Santa Monica show. Was Tim Leary more popular in Los Angeles? I doubt it. As for the Grateful Dead, while they did have some underground cachet, they had no record and they had hardly played LA. The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium had a seated capacity of 2500, still nearly twice as large as The Fillmore, a lot of seats for the era. The more we look into this, the stranger it seems.
|The Lee Conklin poster for the Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service show at the Avalon Ballroom on January 27-28, 1967, while Timothy Leary was at Berkeley and Winterland, backed by The Outfit.|
January of 1967 was an extremely busy month for the Grateful Dead, but it is true that the weekend of January 20-21 is blank except for the Santa Monica show. The previous weekend (January 13-15), the Dead had played the Fillmore with a new Los Angeles band called The Doors. In the middle of it, the band found time to play at the Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park on Saturday, January 14. All of hip San Francisco was there, as was Timothy Leary. Leary spoke to the assembled crowd at some point, but all observers say that despite his celebrity status, he had little impact on the audience.
On the weekend of January 27, the Dead played three shows at the Avalon. Friday (January 27) and Saturday (January 28) the Dead played with their pals the Quicksilver Messenger Service. On Sunday night (January 29), the Dead were joined by Big Brother and The Holding Company and Moby Grape in a benefit for the San Francisco Hare Krshna temple (no word on whether Jerry joined in for some jamming on their well known hit "Hare Krshna, Hare Krshna, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,"). On Monday, January 30, the Dead began recording their first album at RCA Studios in Los Angeles.
Yet the Dead were a working band, and perpetually in need of cash, so it makes sense that they would try to find a paid booking anywhere they could. If they were paid to play on a bill with Timothy Leary, they would have done it if the money was good. In those bygone days, it only cost $20 to fly from San Francisco to Los Angeles on Pacific Southwest Airlines, which wasn't much money even then. So the Dead, who only had one crew member at the time, could have bought six tickets, and perhaps a few extra for the guitars or managers, and flown down to the show. What is more curious is their pairing with Timothy Leary, which was at odds with what would come to follow for both Leary and the Dead.
|Timothy Leary addressing the crowd at the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, January 14, 1967|
The whole subject of Timothy Leary is complex and interesting for those people who are interested in that sort of thing, but I am not particularly one of them. Thus I will just recap some key points of Leary's history up through 1967, as the rest of his story is quite accessible on the web. Leary (1920-1996) had ended up as an untenured 39-year old Assistant Professor at Harvard in 1959 (his actual title was Lecturer in Clinical Psychology). Leary was a popular and charismatic lecturer, with a lengthy list of accomplishments up to that point, but he was hardly conventional. Along with his colleague Richard Alpert (later known as Ram Dass) Leary begin clinical studies on the effects of Psilocybin and LSD.
Leary had a knack for attracting attention, and by 1962 he was actually turning away volunteers for his experiment, which apparently led to a small black market for LSD around the Harvard Campus. From another point of view, however, though Leary's research interests were sincere, his methodology was sloppy, and it seemed unlikely that he would get tenure at Harvard. This is common for Assistant Professors at Ivy League colleges, but they are supposed to get tenure elsewhere and return to the Ivies some years later in triumph. Leary, who liked undergraduate women and liquor as well as psychedelic drugs, focused more on having a party and burnishing his image.
By the time Leary was relieved his duties in May, 1963, he was already infamous. He spent the next few years as a sort of public figure, advocating the then-legal use of LSD. When the Pranksters and then Owsley arrived on the scene, there became two distinct threads of LSD advocacy. Leary had fallen in with some wealthy patrons, Peggy and Billy Hitchcock, who lived at the Millbrook Estate in New York, so he could afford to have a philosophical bent. In the Fall of '66, Leary had a sort of tour where he lectured at college campuses. He also claimed to have founded a religion, with LSD as its holy sacrament, a distinctly different approach to LSD than the one shared by Kesey, Owsley and the Dead. Thus there was a distinct philosophical divide between the Haight-Ashbury's view of LSD as a tool for living, and Leary's more patrician philosophy.
|The Outfit, with Bobby Beausoleil on guitar, played at Chinatown's Dragon A Go Go on September 6, 1966|
By early 1967, Leary was a public figure. However, he was more of a well-known figure amongst adults and "The Establishment," and younger, long-haired rock fans were somewhat indifferent to him. By 1967, Leary was 47 years old, and a master at presenting himself in provocative soundbites, like "Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out." I think many young people in 1967 thought Leary was cool, in some sort of general way, because he advocated getting high, but he hardly had iconic status. Young people weren't ultimately that interested in 47-year-old ex-Professors and their philosophical views when they faced the reality of themselves and their friends getting drafted. San Francisco, which then as now saw itself as hip central, would also have been dismissive of Leary because his hipness was of a patronizing East Coast variety that never goes over out west.
The fact that The Outfit was hired to support Leary at his performances actually tells us quite a bit. The Outfit remain a super-obscure SF band, but they were cool insiders to the core, even if their music probably wasn't particularly memorable. We know the story of The Outfit from the classic fanzine Cream Puff War #2. Originally formed in 1965, by mid-66 The Outfit rehearsed at the Straight Theater on Haight Street, along with the Grateful Dead and others. By this time, band members were singer Win Hardy, bassist John Ciambotti (later in Clover), drummer Steve Bonnicelli (later in Flying Circus), rhythm guitarist "Cousin Robert" Resner and lead guitarist Bobby Beausoleil. Robert Resner was the cousin of Straight partner Hillel Resner, so the band was hooked in from the beginning. One of their managers was Bard Dupont, the original bassist for The Great Society, chosen for his Beatles-like hair, and another real scene-maker.
By early 1967, The Outfit hadn't really made any progress. Beausoleil had left, first to play with the intriguing Electrik Chamber Orkustra, and then to join with a disturbing Haight denizen named Charles Manson (which is why Beausoleil is serving life in prison). The Outfit added Jim Brown on lead guitar, who had been writing songs with Hardy. Some brief hope of a Columbia records contract in December, 1966 came to nothing, and the band returned to San Francisco. However, though hardly well known, The Outfit were always well connected, so they had the connections to be chosen to back Leary. For a group like The Outfit, a paying gig was always welcome, even if the circumstances were not exactly rock and roll. By the time of the Leary shows, Bard Dupont was no longer the manager and singer Win Hardy was out of the band, too, and The Outfit were down to a quartet (Jim Brown-lead guitar, Cousin Robert-guitar, John Ciambotti-bass, Steve Bonicelli-drums).
Santa Monica Civic
The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, located at 1855 Main Street in Santa Monica, was built in 1958. It had a seated capacity of 2500, and at the time of its construction it was the second largest auditorium in Los Angeles. I have to assume that a former college professor like Leary wanted his audience seated so they could concentrate on his lecture, not dancing around. Over the years, the Santa Monica Civic was used for many musical, sporting and other events, but it was never the province of one promoter, so it doesn't have particular cachet as a rock venue. In later years, as the rock market got bigger, Santa Monica Civic tended to be used only when other arenas weren't available. Because it is in the Greater Los Angeles area, however, many well known tv shows and albums have been recorded there, including The TAMI Show in 1964 and the Eagles Long Run live album in 1980.
I personally have a theory that the The Grateful Dead played Santa Monica Civic on January 17, 1969 (since there is no Santa Barbara Civic Auditorium), but that is a topic for another post. As for confirmed shows, the Dead only played Santa Monica Civic one other time, on March 7, 1970. I believe the 1970 show was promoted by Bill Graham or an associate, so the Civic was a venue that would be available to outside promoters. However, even with the unseated 3000 capacity, the Dead would outgrow Los Angeles venues the size of Santa Monica Civic in the next few years anyway, so it's not surprising that the Dead never played there after 1970.
So what are we left with? An unverifiable assertion from Ralph Gleason that the Grateful Dead somehow "backed" Tim Leary to a packed house in Santa Monica, even though the very next weekend Leary played to minimal crowds in the Bay Area, supported by an obscure band that would play any gig? Any subsequent reports of Grateful Dead connections to Leary, such as the band members' trip to Millbrook in June '67 (the Dead were playing the Cafe Au Go Go, and Weir had reconnected to John Barlow, who had an in at Millbrook), omit any mention of the Santa Monica gig. Leary was at the Human Be-In, but it wasn't surprising that the Dead never met him there. Why weren't any reminiscences about Millbrook flavored by any recollections about backing Leary in Santa Monica?
Are we to believe that the Grateful Dead flew down to Santa Monica to play a show with Timothy Leary, and never spoke to him? Now, Leary was notoriously autocratic, and would have thought nothing of having some sort of underling "instruct" his "backing band" on how to support his greatness, but who are we dealing with here? The 1967 Grateful Dead were hardly likely to noodle quietly for 40 minutes while Leary droned on about philosophy--they were more likely to break into an extended rave-up on "Caution: Do Not Stop On Tracks," which wouldn't have gone over well with the one-time professor.
Underneath his engaging persona, Leary had a reputation as a master manipulator. However, I suspect that one of his main methods in 1967 would have been to get people around him to drop acid, and then to take advantage of them when they were in a somewhat confused state. This strategy would have failed spectacularly with the Dead. For the 1967 Grateful Dead, dropping acid and performing was pretty much like a typical office worker having their coffee prior to the first meeting of the day, so the band would hardly have been intimidated by any high minded head games perpetrated by Leary or his minions.
If the Dead had been annoyed or offended by Leary, and particularly if they had pranked him by playing loud, or any other thing, I would think that it would have been mentioned over the years, given how many times the Dead were asked about LSD. It's more likely that the Dead simply agreed to play before or after Leary spoke, and just played a set or two of music. So whether it was a good show or not, it was just another gig for the band, and they may not have met Leary at all. Nonetheless, when you reflect upon it, it is curious to consider two icons of the 60s, one at his peak, about to go down, and the others still on their way up, on the same bill, and none even recalling the event at all.
There is a final point to consider. When I first wrote about the Grateful Dead's touring itinerary in 1967, I made the point that most paying shows were on weekends. As such, the historiographical goal was to find empty weekends that may may have a secret lost show attached to them. Given that the Dead may have indeed gone down to Los Angeles to perform on the same bill with Timothy Leary, there may have been other Grateful Dead shows in the Los Angeles area that weekend. One of my fellow researchers is on the trail of just such a thing, and that may add a lot to the puzzle. If he comes up aces, I will be sure to report it here, but for now we have to just consider that it may have been a possibility.
It's plausible that the Santa Monica show with Timothy Leary was just another paid booking for the Grateful Dead, at a time when they needed it. If they were in Los Angeles to play more than one show, then maybe the Leary show hardly weighed on the minds of the band members, so when Leary and the Dead had their "summit meeting" some months later at Millbrook, none of them recalled it.
One of the attractive things about blogging about modern history is that the history is still contemporary. If any readers have any light to shed on this event--a listing, a review, a rumor, a screwy hypothesis--please include it in the Comments or email me.
Update: Commenter and Scholar LightIntoAshes has the scoop:
McNally has a small confirmation of the show with Leary in January, saying that the Dead opened for his lecture, and Danny Rifkin found his slide show "quite gorgeous."So apparently there was a sort of 'multi-media' show, and Leary gave some sort of lecture, and then the Dead closed the show. There are many remarkable details embedded within these quotes. For one thing, the Grateful Dead had parted ways with Owsley in August 1966, since his "business interests" were not aligned with the Dead's goal of being successful professional musicians. Nonetheless, they were all still friends, and it sounds like Owsley was the guest soundman for the night ("do the monitors").
Luckily, we have a longer, more complete account of the evening - it turns out Owsley also attended!
From Greenfield's biography of Leary:
"Six days after the Human Be-In, Tim appeared with the Grateful Dead at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in Los Angeles. Owsley Stanley would later recall, 'Somebody played a sitar and Tim did a rave, and then the band played. He was being Guru Tim.'
Tim later described his appearance as 'the highlight of the road tour. Hall jammed. Grateful Dead jammed. The LSD alchemist Owsley was everywhere dispensing his White Lightning pills.' He omitted mentioning the 'little old lady' who threw rotten eggs at him while yelling, 'You ruined my son with your devil drugs!' ...
'Tim did his lecture and people threw packets of hash and LSD and joints and flowers, and an old lady threw some eggs,' Rosemary Woodruff remembered. 'My mother and father were in the audience, and when I asked my mother, "What did you think of Tim's lecture?" she said, "Well, Daddy doesn't like the smell of incense, honey."
'I was backstage listening to Tim while watching Owsley pace and do the monitors. And he said, "Are you sure you guys take acid?" Because Tim was going on and on.'
'Everything he said was very provocative,' Owsley Stanley recalled. '"Fuck authorities. To hell with your parents. Turn on, tune in, drop out. Take acid, don't care about what anyone would say, do as you please.' He scared a lot of people because they thought he was too weird. And he was. He just kind of went around the bend. Everyone was saying, "Look, Tim, you're out of control here. You've got to cool it. You're bringing too much heat on everything. We don't want a lot of attention." But he wouldn't listen.'" (p.303-4)
On p.330, it's also mentioned that founding members of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love went to see Leary at this appearance, though with no extra details.
The most tantalizing detail is that the the founders of The Brotherhood Of Eternal Love went to see the Dead. Unraveling the double helix of connecting strands between the Dead and the BOEL would practically take a book, and fortunately one is being written right now. So it turns out that not only did the Dead and Tim Leary share the stage in Santa Monica in January 1967, but all sorts of wheels were set in motion for underground America as well.
updateII: Commenter runonguinness has found an eyewitness account, from Rosie McGee's book (in chapter 4)
During that trip to Hollywood, the band was asked to play for one of Timothy Leary’s League for Spiritual Discovery events, held in a Santa Monica auditorium for an audience of several hundred.
Backstage we all ceremoniously dropped acid with Leary and his entourage, taking our time before going out onto the stage that was covered with carpets and decorated with floral arrangements and candles. At first, we all sat cross-legged in a circle and listened as Leary started the evening’s “guided trip” by reading from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, while a slide and light show of eclectic images played on a large screen above him. (The book is a translation of an eighth century text that is traditionally read aloud over the body of a person who has just passed on, in the belief that it will guide them on their journey from death to whatever follows.)
Leary likened the stages of a psychedelic journey to the stages of transition described in that classic book and he spoke at great length. As I started to come on to the acid, my initial impression of Leary from the Be-In was validated—that he was impassioned and sincere, but tedious as hell.
I guess his more formal and serious framework for a psychedelic trip was too rigid for someone who’d so recently participated in the no-holds-barred Acid Tests. As I looked around at the guys in the band and the others who’d come with us, I saw I wasn’t alone in my impatience with Leary.
When he finished the first part of his talk, he asked the band to play, and I don’t recall it being a particularly long set. I do remember that the audience just sat there in their auditorium seats.
The most enjoyable part of the night was coming down from the acid at the beach house of a friend of Bear’s. The entire house was geared toward post-psychedelic comfort and warmth. There were overstuffed chairs and couches throughout the house, upholstered in muted shades of gold, purple and red, and covered with pillows. The lamps were fitted with amber or red bulbs, and candles were everywhere. Light and fragrant incense burned in the living room and the music, alternately classical guitar and Indian sitar pieces, was set at a low volume.
The contrast between the trip itself in a sterile auditorium and that homey re-entry was striking. That night I learned for the first time what a difference environment makes to the quality of a psychedelic experience.