Ex-Grateful Dead Manager Has Quite a Tale

by Bob Ruggiero of The Houston Press


Grateful Dead guiding light Jerry Garcia (left), Mountain Girl (center), and Richard Loren (right) at an Egyptian cafe, 1978.

Richard Loren was a button-down, straight-laced, business-minded recent college graduate in 1966 when, as manager of a company that staged musicals in large tents, he handled a string of shows by razzle-dazzle piano man Liberace.

Impressed with his skills, the piano man hired him, which led to another job as a booking agent. And that led to a wild ride through the ’60s and ’70s, which would find Loren rubbing shoulders, sharing airplane rides, and passing joints with the likes of the Jefferson Airplane, the Doors and the Chambers Brothers.

And, after a stint as the personal manager of Jerry Garcia’s solo career, he would be the Grateful Dead’s manager from 1974-81.

Loren’s triumphs included showing The Grateful Dead Movie in theaters. He also handled diplomatic negotiations between the U.S. and Egypt that paved the way for the Dead’s series of 1978 shows near the foot of the Sphinx and the Great Pyramids in the ancient city of Giza.

It was feat that even today he is amazed was pulled off, and it all originated with a vision he’d had during a personal visit to the country a few years before. The ensuing CD/DVD package Rocking the Cradle — issued 30 years later — would also include his home movies of the trip.

Now 71, Loren has put down his experiences in his memoir, High Notes: A Rock Memoir (270 pp., East Pond Publishing, $14.99), written with Stephen Abney. We recently had a fast-talking, wide-ranging conversation with the currently retired Loren, and here are some of the highlights.

On meeting the Jefferson Airplane and straddling the “straight” and “freak” worlds:
At that point, most of my feet were in the business world. They were the first real rock and roll band I worked for as an agent. The first time I saw them at the Café Au Go Go in New York, there were all these freaks all around!

That’s when I knew I had to book groups with that San Francisco sound. But I befriended Marty [Balin, singer] and Jorma [Kaukonen, bassist] and found out they were normal people!
On being asked to carry drummer Spencer Dryden’s drug stash through an airport:
I didn’t know what to do! But when it was over, I thought, “This was good, I did something!'”
On having to essentially babysit Jim Morrison to keep him away from booze:.
He was an amazing guy. The Doors were like nothing I’d seen before and those guys would telepathically connect. Jim was a shaman for his generation and to watch him perform a completely different show every night.

I mean, you look at James Brown and you know where Mick Jagger got it from. But Jim was completely unique. He would be possessed in a way on the stage, people were riveted, and that was a shamanic power.

But he was altered a lot of time by alcohol and whatever else he could get a hold of. He was a binge drinker. We’d have to tell the stewardess on an airplane to [limit] his drinks. I was closest to [keyboardist Ray] Manzarek, and he was always concerned about Jim. But those guys were really special.

On the night of Jim’s infamous 1967 onstage bust in New Haven, Connecticut. Loren was there:
It was police brutality. The policeman went backstage and maced Jim in the face because he wouldn’t move somewhere fast enough [Note: Morrison and a female acquaintance were making out in a shower stall at the time]. And he happened to be the star of the show, and the policeman didn’t know that.

Jim was completely sober and wasn’t doing anything and he was angry about it. He was nearly blinded! So he told the story onstage and was very calm. But the fans went berzerk, so sure, they called it ‘inciting a riot,’ but he was just telling a story [Note: Morrison was charged with inciting a riot, indecency, and public obscenity. The charges were later dropped].

On his emotions watching the Grateful Dead perform in Egypt:
That was the highlight of my life. I had this vision to take them to Egypt. I had been there first because Marty Balin, who I lived with for awhile, had a lot of books on Egypt and the mysteries of the Pyramids.

And Leshy [Dead bassist Phil Lesh] was very into it as well. And we met with all these ambassadors to make it happen. And when they struck that first note on the first song, I cried.


On Jerry Garcia. And drugs:
First of all, being in Jerry’s presence was a gift. He never sought the limelight and never wanted to be the spokesperson for the band or any movement. He was possessed by music, driven solely by the desire to grow as a musician.

I don’t know how to talk about drugs. People didn’t talk about [marijuana] as drugs. It made you feel good, it made the music sound better, and it made you play better. It was innocuous, and we loved it. It was like [drinking] a cocktail.

But when you start touring and years go by and it gets heavy and it moves from marijuana and LSD. Cocaine comes into the picture and it becomes a tool for you to play a lot of shows and move at this high rate. Limousines and jets sounds glamorous, but it wears on the body, and you have to be up to play. It’s a personality-changer for sure, and it’s an egocentric drug. But your nerve endings get frayed.

Jerry never cared that much about his body. He didn’t take care of it. He was a heavy cigarette smoker, a junk-food addict, and would never have a decent meal unless it was prepared by Mountain Girl [Garcia’s longtime girlfriend] at his home. He would eat pizzas and burgers. And then he became a diabetic because of it.

And when he started [using heroin] it wasn’t like when Ray Charles was doing it. It was just like brown powder and it looked like hash. And Jerry was one of these guys who took anything that made him feel good. At least that was the case in the beginning.

Later on, after Egypt, it kind of became…let’s just say he was secluded more. And then it got worse. But he created some of his most beautiful artwork during that period, graphic art.

The burden of being the leader/non-leader of the Grateful Dead with 50 people to support and who depended on him was a lot. It was a family. Houses were bought for crew members and roadies. And having to keep having to play…it wore on him. And he wanted to clean up. But then it was time to go on the road again.