Richard Loren’s High Notes Is A Story About Rock ‘n Roll

Years ago I met a man who said, “All my life people have told me someone should write a book about my life.” It’s the kind of statement that makes you take notice.

I’m sure that Richard Loren’s High Notes: A Rock Memoir came about in the same way. Every time he talked about his experiences in the center of the world of rock stars and rock star excess he was probably told, “Wow. You should write a book someday.” And he did.

Loren’s first brush with the entertainment industry was in the service of Liberace at during an eight-day gig in Maryland. This foundational experience gave him a first-hand look at what real show business is about. From here he headed to New York and put himself in the center of the emerging music scene as a music agent with the Agency for the Performing Arts from ’66-’69. He scouted talent and worked with many of the most famous names of the era including Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, Chambers Brothers, Iron Butterfly, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Steppenwolf and more.

His stories are frank, and not always flattering. Among the most striking stories from this period for me were about Loren’s frustrations trying to manage the mercurial Jim Morrison of the Doors. Several scenes depicted in Oliver Stone’s The Doors were real life challenges for Loren, including the near riot that ensued after Morrison was maced by an intrusive police officer.

The book is an easy read, thanks to his teamwork with co-author Stephen Abney. It’s a chronological ride from that first Liberace experience through to his years with the Grateful Dead as Jerry Garcia’s personal manager. It’s also a fairly accurate picture of the impact of various kinds of drugs that came in waves over time. As is well-known the Sixties San Francisco scene was awash in LSD and cannabis. Later, cocaine came on the scene and had an entirely different effect. And though Loren and Jerry Garcia had been close for many years, it was heroin that ultimately led to their parting as the Grateful Dead singer/songwriter retreated from the life of performing that put the Dead on the map

One of my favorite surprises in the book is the story of how the album Old & In the Way came about. For decades this has been one of my favorite vinyls. Jerry Garcia loved music, and as a side-project without ever leaving the dead he formed a bluegrass supergroup that included, among others, John Hartford, David Grisman (who wrote an introduction to Loren’s book) and the phenomenal fiddler Vassar Clements. These are the kinds of stories that make the book a worthwhile read.

Though the era is famous for its “sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll” Richard Loren respectfully writes very little, if any, about the sex. Drugs, however, are a featured character in the book, with a portion of the story leading Loren to attempt to find the pot of gold at the end of the proverbial Hippie Trail rainbow. One of those journeys to the Middle East results in a fortuitous experience while at the pyramids in Egypt. He realizes that it would be a killer concert if the Grateful Dead could perform there in this remarkable setting. Years later, he is able to pull it off, undoubtedly a major life achievement.

Here’s how reviewer who calls himself insolent cur at Amazon.com described the book:

If you have even just a passing interest in the development of rock and roll from the Bay area in the ’60’s, ’70’s and ’80’s, you will enjoy High Notes. Author Richard Loren writes from his personal perch, during the ascendancy of very well known and much loved bands. Unlike so many who have written personal reflections of the time, he keeps his ego in check as he weaves together tales from his experiences through the years. This is a must read for Deadheads.

I was never a Deadhead, but I did enjoy the book. It approached the scene from a new angle, an insider who worked directly with names that were in the news at the time. He doesn’t fawn over anyone, and clearly considered it a privilege to be in such close association with Jerry Garcia during his years in the business.

In the 1980’s Bob Dylan performed some concerts with the Dead, after Loren was no longer involved. By this time Jerry Garcia had put on more than 3,000 shows. Dylan’s career was in an uncertain place at the time, but some suspect that this intersection of performers was the catalyst that resulted in Dylan’s Never Ending Tour, which continues to this day.

Meantime, life goes on… and on all around you.