Lib at Large: Grateful Dead manager recalls famed concerts in new memoir, ‘High Notes’

 

by Paul Liberatore of the Marin Independent Journal


 

Richard Loren, the Grateful Dead manager who put together the band’s fabled concerts at the foot of the Great Pyramid in Egypt, has published an entertaining new memoir, “High Notes,” a must read for anyone interested in the history of the Dead and that rich era of Marin County rock.

Dennis McNally, Grateful Dead historian and author of “A Long Strange Trip,” calls the Egypt expedition “one of the most extraordinary adventures in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.”

Now 72 and living in a small town in Maine, Loren looks back with affection at his relationship with the Dead’s iconic paterfamilias, Jerry Garcia, mandolin great David Grisman and other major figures on the nascent Marin music scene of the 1970s.

An East Coast guy who began his career as a budding talent agent handling Liberace (young people, look him up), the Doors’ Jim Morrison and the Jefferson Airplane, Loren quit the agency he worked for to team up with Grisman in a campaign to launch the career of Lorin and Chris Rowan, boyish, guitar-strumming brothers from Massachusetts they envisioned as hit-making teen heartthrobs.

Through a mutual love of bluegrass, Grisman had become friends with Garcia, who suggested they move their Rowan Brothers project to the West Coast.

“Jerry said, ‘You gotta come out to California, man, it’s happening out here. I’ll put in a good word for you,'” Loren recalled in a phone interview this week, his voice still accented by the persistent inflections of his native New Jersey.

On an exploratory mission to Marin, Loren stayed in Jefferson Airplane singer Marty Balin’s rustic house in Mill Valley. In “High Notes,” he describes the town in those days as “tucked into the leafy woods at the base of Mount Tamalpais, a peak whose soaring beauty was symbolic of upscale, bucolic Marin County. A community of hippies and rock-tolerant liberals supported this colorful little enclave, which seemed park-like with its quaint boutiques framing the small village green. It was a heavenly place with a Shangri-la setting, and la creme de la creme of the Bay Area’s celebrity musicians nested there in the seclusion of their redwood homes.”

While bunking at Balin’s house, Loren was impressed by his host’s wide-ranging intellectual interests and extensive library, which included a section on Egyptology.

“Marty was into the mystical and the esoteric and had a shelf full of books about Egypt,” Loren recalled. “I was really intrigued by that. I said to myself, ‘The first chance I get I’m gonna go there.'”

The historic trip to Egypt with the Dead would happen eight years later. But, right then, Loren had the more pressing concern of finding a place to set up operations in Marin. Through John and Mario Cipollina’s father, a real estate agent, he rented a house in Stinson Beach with a garage they turned into a rehearsal space. As luck would have it, Columbia Records chief Clive Davis signed the Rowan Brothers to a three-record deal with a large, then record-setting cash advance. To make a long story short, the dream didn’t come true for the Rowans or for Loren, their deeply disappointed manager, who found himself out of a job and running out of money.

Once again, it was Garcia who changed the course of his life.

“Jerry said, ‘I have so much going on outside the Grateful Dead, why don’t you work for me?” Loren recalled.

Jumping at the chance, he set up an office on Miller Avenue in Mill Valley to manage the Jerry Garcia Band and the short-lived but influential bluegrass group Old and in the Way. Life was good. For a while.

“Jerry would come to my office in the morning, have a cup of coffee and we’d get high and talk about business or books or watch movies,” Loren recalled. “Jerry’s musician friends would drop by. It was like a club house.”

Garcia, in those days, “was vibrant and active,” he writes in his book. “I treasured our friendship, which was deep and meaningful.”

In “High Notes,” written with Stephen Abney, Loren pulls no punches about the havoc that cocaine wreaked on the band and its road crew, a rowdy bunch that lyricist John Barlow dubbed the “neo-cocaine cowboys.”

Looking to counter the nerve fraying effects of coke, people turned to various substances, like alcohol, Valium, or worse. The Persian heroin that Garcia became addicted to arrived innocently enough, Loren reveals in “High Notes,” when a hash dealer came into the Mill Valley office with it one day. No one knew it at the time, but it was like letting the devil in the door.

“You didn’t inject it like the hard-core jazz guys did,” Loren recalled. “The way it came into our scene was different. It was like, ‘Hey, man, it’s mellow. You smoke it. It’s like Persian hash. It’s innocuous.’ We were like, ‘Wow, this is incredible.’ It takes the edge off. It was a balm. I was there with him, too. And it was fine, for a while. But I don’t have to tell you how heavy the monkey on the back becomes.”

Loren could see that anything that made you feel that good was too good to be true, and soon had nothing to do with it. For Garcia, it would be a different story.

In 1974, Loren accepted an offer to become the Grateful Dead’s manager. And when the band went on a year-long hiatus, he saw his chance to take his dream trip to Egypt.

“I saw the Arabs as like hippies in a way,” he said. “They got high, they were relaxed, time didn’t seem to matter. After I was there a week or so, I was riding around the pyramids on a camel and there it was, a stage (the Giza Sound and Light Theater). A light bulb went off in my head. I thought, ‘Maybe the Dead could play here.’ When I got back, I told Jerry about it, and he said, ‘That would be fantastic.'”

After a series of meetings and negotiations with U.S. and Egyptian officials, the band got the OK for three concerts that took place Sept. 14, 15 and 16, 1978, with the pyramids and the Sphinx aglow in the background. By some cosmic coincidence, during the last show, the moon was in full lunar eclipse. Loren was so overcome with emotion he wept.

“It doesn’t get any better than that,” he said.

Later, as a kind of encore, he pitched an idea for a series of concerts on a Mississippi riverboat, climaxing with an outdoor show in New Orleans. But Garcia, by then deep into his addiction, nixed it.

“It was difficult for me to see my friend go there,” Loren said of Garcia, who died in 1995. “On the flip side, he produced great art. He was following his destiny. But it was difficult for me because I wanted to do so much more for the band.”

After being fired and rehired as the Dead’s manager, Loren quit for good in 1981.

“I don’t need acknowledgment from people to know what my contribution was,” he said. “I don’t have those insecurities, fortunately. And I don’t have any hard feelings or harbor any resentments.”

What: Former Grateful Dead manager Richard Loren discusses “High Notes: A Rock Memoir”

When: 7 p.m. Dec. 16

Where: Green Arcade Books, 1680 Market St., San Francisco

Admission: Free

Information: highnotes.org

 

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