All Access Music interview with Nicole DeRosa


 

High Notes
This year is the 50th anniversary of the Grateful Dead. All Access Music writer, Nicole DeRosa had the pleasure of asking Richard Loren, manager and agent for the Dead and personal manager for Jerry Garcia a few questions in this funny, entertaining and provocative Q&A.

 

Richard has just released a new book entitled, High Notes: A Rock Memoir, Working with Rock Legends Jefferson Airplane Through The Doors to the Grateful Dead.
Loren’s story starts with Liberace—the most dazzlingly bedazzled fairy godmother a 23-year-old Italian-American kid from New Jersey could ever ask for—he was given a job booking up-and-coming acts like The Doors and Jefferson Airplane for the Agency for Performing Arts in New York City. So while America was protesting the war, taking part in the Acid Tests, and reacting and adjusting to unprecedented cultural changes, Loren found himself bailing Jim Morrison out of jail, muling dope across international borders for Spencer Dryden, and sipping mimosas with Ted Kennedy. When the heart of American rock moved west, he headed to the Bay Area, befriended Jerry Garcia, and became the manager of the Grateful Dead, masterminding their concert at the foot of the Sphinx in Giza in 1978 and their unprecedented Radio City Music Hall performance in 1980.

 

Read on and enjoy Loren’s often surreal, rite-of-passage experiences in the music business, which he colorfully reveals more below!

 

Richard LorenHi Richard! Where does this interview find you? What’s on the agenda today besides our interview?

 

I’m currently at my home in Maine still celebrating the big turnout and large sales made at a book signing event at my library last Friday that was sponsored by my local bookstore. I spoke for an hour and fielded questions afterwards. I prepared a slide show and played music of the artists I worked with during my two decades in the music business. Real party atmosphere in which we all had fun.

 

You seemed to have a real connection with most of the groups you worked with. What do you think it is about you and your personality that people gravitate towards?

 

I cared about them first as people. I listened to what they had to say. I think they sensed I had their best interest in mind. I was always completely honest with them and they knew I wouldn’t tell them just what they wanted to hear. Mutual trust and respect is what it was all about . It didn’t hurt that we shared the same world view and that I really loved their music

 

Do you remember when you first met Jerry Garcia? What was your interaction with him like?

 

I was introduced to Jerry by mutual friend David Grisman, backstage at the Fillmore East in 1970. David was bluegrass mandolin player who had met Jerry in 1964 at a festival when they were both young men. I had been David Grisman’s agent back in 1968 and in 1970 we became partners in a music business venture.

 

“Jerry took out a pre-rolled joint out of a silver case lit one up, and we proceeded to talk non-stop for well over an hour. We raved about everything–Altamont, the Dead drug bust in New Orleans, the American Beauty album the GD was in the process of recording. I was taken with Jerry from the first moment we met. He had an affable demeanor which made me feel very relaxed.”

 

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He had an absolutely engaging personality and I found him to be extremely intelligent and good humored. It was a consciousness expanding moment for me, as strange as that may sound. David and I got around to telling Jerry about our company and the Rowan Brothers, two young singer songwriters we represented, how disheartening it was that they had been rejected by several record companies and the frustrations we were having trying to launch their careers. He suggested we move our operation out to the Bay Area and generously offered to help pave the way for us. We followed his advice and he helped us in immeasurable ways. Two years after we first met, Jerry asked me to manager his affairs outside the Grateful Dead. For me, being in his presence for 10 years was, I felt, a gift from the universe.

 

High Notes, which is written in conjunction with Stephen Abney is broken up into four sections, Part One talks about your time in New York working with Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, and the Chambers Brothers. As with Jerry Garcia, can you share with our readers what your first encounter with Jim Morrison was like?

 

I worked for The Doors as their East Coast agent for two full years during the height of their career. I befriended Ray Manzarek almost immediately but it wasn’t until three months after that I really connected with Jim.

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“I rode back to NYC alone in a limo with Jim Morrison after I had bailed him out of jail in New Haven and we had an opportunity to speak. Jim who had been napping since his jailhouse adventure awoke and yawned and began to speak of how he would like to write and perform a piece of music that was a celebration of existence that expressed unbounded joy like the coming of Spring or the rising of the sun. Jim was full of love for life and in times like this his gentleness and vulnerability shone through.”

 

This was a special moment for me completely unexpected from the muse possessed shaman I watched on stage. Jim was a complex character, rich and unpredictable and over the course of the following year I would witness and be party to the many sides of Jim Morrison, the man who stayed true to his mad poetic vision.

 

You were hired for your business acumen. Did you always know you wanted to do this as a career, working with bands? How did you get your start in the “biz”?

 

I initially wanted to be a chiropractor but fell head over heels for an actress in college, joined the drama club to meet her. We dated for 6 months and during that time I became enamored with theater and changed to an english/drama major.

 

When I graduated from college I caught a break and became a theater manager for a summer tent theater in Baltimore. The final week of the summer season Liberace played at the theater. He was impressed with the job I had done fulfilling the requirements of his contract rider and when his agent and manager came to see him on closing night, he recommended to his agent that they hire me. I was interviewed the following week in NYC and began work immediately as an agent in training. I was appointed the job of booking colleges. However, The agency didn’t represent any artists of interest to college students.

 

So if I wanted to keep my job I found I had to find some rock artists to book. I was tipped off that Jefferson Airplane would be playing for a week at a club in Greenwich village. I was able to ingratiate myself with Jefferson Airplane manager Bill Graham and Jefferson Airplane founder, Marty Balin. I introduced Bill Graham to my boss and he and Marty agreed to representation by my company, the Agency for the Performing Arts, and I became their East Coast agent. The Doors came on board shortly afterwards.

 

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You had a lot of dealings with Bill Graham, who was the manager of Jefferson Airplane. What was that relationship like?

 

Bill was complex guy and my relationship with him was equally complex. Bill could be harsh and avaricious but was also an innovative and creative promoter who could charm the artists and was their backstage buddy. He was the first to place musicians from different genres on the same bill. Pairing the likes of Miles Davis and the Grateful Dead. Bill had become the golden boy of entrepreneurial rock n roll and was emulated by others. He also gained a reputation for unscrupulously exploiting bands financially. In 1967 when i was the Jefferson Airplane’s agent and Bill was their manager I was in a sense working for him, as the Jefferson Airplane were my clients. In 1974 when I was hired by the Grateful Dead to manage their financial affairs, a band that he had sought to manager for years, the tables turned. As the GD manager, I had to keep a close eye on him. True to what I’d heard, I found him padding expenses, undercounting the gate, and trying to pull off other unethical practices. I couldn’t ignore what he was doing. The band knew what he was up to but could do little short of refusing to work with him. Bill and I fought tooth and nail for years over these issues.

 

Nonetheless, despite our adversarial relationship there was much about him that I loved and respected. He was larger- than- life personality, who defied categorization, contrasting his shady practices with great personal generosity, his combativeness with compassion, and his vulgarity with sensitivity. I will always have mixed feeling about Bill and will never forget him. God bless.

 

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One of the stranger episodes in your book is Garcia’s encounter with John Lennon, who showed up at a concert drunk and kept calling him “JC.” Can you fill our readers in on this episode?

 

It was the fourth of July weekend in 1974, the Garcia-Saunders Band was playing in New York at the Bottom Line in Greenwich village. The owners had contacted me back in February offering a 4 show engagement. Maria Muldaur, who was riding high on her hit single “Midnight at the Oasis” sat in as guest vocalist. Word was out, and lines stretched around the block for every show. It was a happening place and all sorts of people were showing up. John Lennon showed up backstage at the beginning of his eighteen-month ”Lost Weekend” estrangement from Yoko, and he was shit-faced. After making his bizarre request for a guitar louder than Jerry’s, he turned and left, leaving me thinking, “what the hell was that?” When Jerry took his backstage break, I relayed Lennon’s desire to sit in with a louder guitar. “What the fuck!” Jerry snorted. Lennon returned and repeatedly kept calling Jerry “J.C.” Fueled by alcohol and who knew what else, he was creeping me out with his uncool behavior.

 

To me John had always been a hero and an icon, and it was hard for me to see him stumbling around, a bad drunk, grappling with his demons in public. His music and his songs attested to another side of the man, and if he had shown up sober, his encounter with Jerry could have evolved into something extraordinary.

 

“After the show, I asked Jerry, “What’d ya think about that?” “About what?” “Lennon, Don’t you think that was weird?” Jerry pulled out a joint, lit it, took a puff, and shrugged, “Yeah, no one ever took me for Jesus before.””

 

If you were a young man in this business today would you work with bands? If so, which ones do you think you would like to work with?

 

It is difficult to project what I might do in the music business if I were a young man today. If I did I would want to work with artists with whom I shared a friendship and whose music and lyrics I loved.

 

Artists like Michael Franti, The Milk Carton Kids, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Gillian Welsh and David Rawlings, and John Mayer come to mind as artists I might enjoying working with.

 

What was the first record you bought yourself and why?

 

I can’t remember exactly the first record I bought some 60 years ago but it was surely 45 rpm disc popular among teenagers in those days. I was into a lot of the quartet groups like the Shirelles, The Coasters, The platters etc, as well as the mentors of classic rock musicians. Elvis, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and the like. My first purchase could have been songs by any one of those performers.

 

What’s on tap next for you, Richard? What are you most excited about for this year?

 

This year is the 50th anniversary of the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane’s first performances and the 20th anniversary of Jerry’s passing. I’m excited to take advantage of that opportunity to promote my memoir High Notes A Rock Memoir: Working with rock legends Jefferson Airplane through The Doors to the Grateful Dead.

 

Quite frankly, I’m looking forward to traveling later this year. I’m not particularly seeking anything after that. I currently have no unfulfilled desires. I’ll just wait and see what opportunities arise and go from there. The idea of passionately embracing leisure sounds good to me right now.