Loren recounts insiders stories of his years in the 70s when he was working closely with Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, to Fader Magazine editor, Will Welsh for his Fader article: JERRY GARCIA, American Beauty.


May-June 2007

Jerry Garcia: American Beauty

The Grateful Dead summon a squall of feedback at the Newport Pop Festival, 1968.

Richard Loren:
Before I was hired by the Grateful Dead to be their agent and eventually their manager, Jerry and I shared an office in Mill Valley where we addressed all of his affairs, not just those pertaining to the Grateful Dead. As a band, the Grateful Dead had a separate office in San Rafael. Every morning at 9 AM, Jerry would walk into our office, slap his briefcase down on the desk, grab a big fat cup of coffee, pull up a chair, lay out a couple of lines and start bullshitting. We’d spend the morning talking, maybe watch a movie or whatever—two friends hanging out. That’s something that happened kind of every day, and I looked forward to it. I consider myself one of the luckiest guys in the world for the time we shared. It was a great ten year experience for me, and although I really liked all the other guys in the band, I don’t know if I could’ve put up with life in the fast lane for as long as I did if it hadn’t been for Jerry.

The Dead were more than a band. They were like a social unit, a sociological experiment in a way. They weren’t a commune, but they were a community—a family of people locked into other little families like the Keseys and the Pranksters. The Dead put everybody on salary and paid them outrageously high amounts of money. The crew was paid like three, four and five times what other crew guys were getting paid. And then, of course, there were all the Deadheads. They were amazing! They often got a bad rap as hippies, but they were free spirits, extremely loyal. And they were survivors.

While the band was on hiatus in 1974, I went to Egypt. I found the Arabs to be kind of like hippies in a way. They got high, they relaxed, time didn’t seem to matter. After I’d been there a week or so, I was riding a camel around the Pyramids and the Sphinx when suddenly I looked over to my left and saw a stage. It all kind of hit me. A light bulb went off in my head and I thought, God, you know, the band should play here!

I went to Jerry and told him I’d just returned from Egypt and was really psyched about the possibility that the Dead could play this theater. He said, “That’d be fantastic!” The band appointed Phil Lesh and Alan Trist to go with me on a scouting mission—to lay the groundwork and organize the event. We went to Washington, DC and met with the US Egyptian Ambassador in the State Department. We flew to Cairo and met the American ambassador to Egypt. He set us up with local contacts and we met Egyptian President Anwar Al Sadat’s secretary and the head of the Secret Police. On our next trip we signed a contract to play three days at the Sphinx Theater in front of the Great Pyramids on the 14th, 15th and 16th of September, 1978.

The theater held maybe 2500 people. Half the audience was Deadheads who had flown over from the US on chartered planes, and the rest were Egyptian dignitaries and kids from the local high schools in Cairo. The concerts were an extraordinary phenomenon—the moon was in full lunar eclipse on the third night, and we happened to coincide with the Camp David Peace Agreement. The synergy was extremely powerful.

The idea was to make a record out of it—put out a three album set and we’d get our money back. But the band wasn’t happy with the performances, and music always comes first. So they refused to release it and we were left with a half a million dollar debt. We had rented the Who’s soundsystem and had it driven to London, put on a boat in Genoa, picked up in Alexandria, then we rented what seemed like the only semi in Alexandria to drive it to the pyramid site. It was like whoa.

On my first trip to Egypt I had befriended this boatman on the upper Nile, and he said, “After the shows, why don’t you come down and spend a few days on the Nile?” So that’s what we did. It was Bobby [Weir], Donna and Keith [Godchaux], [Garcia Band bassist] John Kahn, Jerry, Mountain Girl and some others. Fourteen of us went down the Nile for four or five days and it was the perfect way to unwind and see Egypt from an insider’s perspective. Mickey [Hart] and another group sought out a drum experience in a small village.

Jerry was the non-leader leader of the Grateful Dead. He always said, “I was high once and I was watching this guy speaking and I flashed on Hitler. I realized that I would never really want to express my views from a stage. I know the power that has, and I don’t want to tell people what to do.” He was extremely intelligent and had an extremely big heart. I think it’s fair to say he was looked up to in the Dead family—by everyone. We all relied on him to make decisions and I think that responsibility was very difficult for him and sometimes even a burden. It was hard for him to say no to anyone and if he said, “Yeah man, let’s do it,” then everybody wanted to do it. His charisma and enthusiasm were infectious.

Jerry was kind of the rock & roll Buddha in my estimation; he was wise in so many ways, but like everyone he had his demons. He had a very addictive personality, be it to food, music or drugs, and it was a part of him that he constantly had to deal with. It was also compounded by the demanding lifestyle. Under the strains of touring—as many an artist will tell you—it was easy to succumb to any temptation that could help you unwind and relax. You need Dr Feelgood because you’re leading an abnormal life, and the temptation of the candy is not to be denied. So when Jerry took something that made him feel good, he took more. You need to get from A to B and you’ve only had three hours of sleep, so in those circumstances you know what you take. So that was something that became abused, basically. And it happened to many bands. It went from relaxed dope smokers to hard edged…I don’t know what I’d say, but it changed the personalities.

That was introduced in the early ’70s and I don’t mean specifically with the Grateful Dead. I’m talking about all the Bay Area groups, and just in general, because that was when the good stuff was around. So you take that starting in 1970 and now you’re in 1978, 1979, and you’ve got a lot of people moving fast, sleeping little, with a lot of deadlines, and you’re overdoing it. And what does that do to your nerves? Your nerve endings are frayed. You don’t sleep. You’re edgy. So guess what the balm was? So the balm came in, and how did it come in? It came in from the Sufis. Because it didn’t come in as china white, it didn’t come in as white powder. It came in as a hash look-alike. And so it was, “Hey man you gotta try this stuff, it’s mellow, you just smoke it, it’s like Persian hash.” So it had an innocuous name, it wasn’t an injection, and it wasn’t like a hardcore jazz introduction. It probably came in a lot different to Ray Charles then it came in to this scene. So we were like, “Wow, this is incredible,” and I’m there with them too, like, “Wow.” It takes the frayed edges off, and that’s fine for a while—for a while. The rest is history. I don’t have to tell you how heavy the monkey on the back becomes. It goes from being the panacea to the thing you can’t control, and it takes over. It allows the demons in you to express themselves.

It didn’t have a big effect on the music for a while—it only had an effect on the playing when it was wearing the body down. There was a huge difference between Jerry onstage in 1978 and Jerry onstage in 1985, but I quit managing the band before that. I quit in 1981. Jerry had become very reclusive by that point and because of that I felt I had, sadly, kind of lost my friend. I think many people felt that way. I tried very hard to get him clean, and the other band members did too, but it was an insidious addiction.

In any event, I lost the Jerry who would show up at the office, hang out and talk about stuff—books we’d read, movies we’d seen, places we wanted to go. When I lost him, I lost it all with the band. I couldn’t really stay there anymore. So I tendered my resignation in ’81 and said, “I’m gonna go my way.” I disappeared from the music scene and that’s it—you’ve heard the coda.

Richard Loren managed Jerry Garcia’s solo career beginning in 1970. Eventually, he became the Grateful Dead’s booking agent and then the band’s manager until 1981.