Meeting Jerry
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Grateful Dad
Meeting Jerry
N. Y. Eve 1972

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The First Time I Met Jerry Garcia 
© 2002 Evan S. Hunt

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Stories about the Grateful Dead

The first time I met Jerry Garcia was quite by accident and quite embarrassing.

On Saturday December 4, 1965 I borrowed my mom's Corvair and drove myself to San Jose. I left Lafayette in the mid afternoon with only one admonition from mom. "Just have the car back by 8:30 tomorrow morning because I have to go early to church."

It was not the first time of taking mom's car overnight. Since I had received my license less than two months earlier on my sixteenth birthday I had spent part of two other weekends with my brother Al. Al was a freshman at San Jose State University and, to escape living in a dorm, had pledged Delta Upsilon Fraternity. Al's fraternity brothers frowned upon letting his kid brother sleep on a frat room floor, though they did not object too strenuously because Al was 6'2" of solid 230-pound muscle. He was a fullback on the San Jose State Football Team, and, as someone regarded merely a freshman, with whom one would not want to tangle.

The Rolling Stones were playing that night at San Jose Civic Auditorium and some of the frat guys decided they were going to walk the few blocks over to the Auditorium and try to crash the door, but security was tight and it thwarted our plans. Some guys tried to sneak in, but did not succeed, so we gave up and started back for the frat house. As we were crossing the street a school bus of brightly painted swirling colors drove up with a bunch of wild looking college students (I thought) on top of the roof and hanging out of the windows banging on drums and blowing kazoos.

The bus stopped in the middle of the street and some of the passengers got out and began passing out handbills, which were invitations to a nearby party. The handbill read, "Can You Pass the Acid Test?"

My brother and his frat brothers discussed what to do and a few of us, having nothing better to do on a slow night in town, opted for the party. They all believed it was just another frat party that they hadn't gotten wind of. We determined it was no more than 4 or 5 blocks away and walked to the "Acid Test" not knowing a single thing about what we would find, but the general consensus was if there was any possibility of girls and beer being there then that's where the action was and off we went. There I was, 16 years old going to my first frat party. HOO BOY!

Once there it was obvious that we were in for something most likely out of our league. There were at least a hundred people in the front yard with probably fifty more on the front porch. This crazy, screeching wailing was emanating from within and there were cops driving slowly by in their squad cars maneuvering around all the double-parked cars.

We attempted to get inside the house where the frat guys were hoping they could score liquor, but it was plain to quickly observe there was no liquor extant. This did not sit well with the Frat guys and, though there were girls there, the girls were not provocative enough to quench the curiosity of the Frat boys, so they left. My brother said he was going to go with them, but that he would return later, so he advised me to stay and listen to the bands-he'd be right back. I think he had been pressured to ditch "Little Brother." That was the last I saw of him until Christmas Vacation.

I stood there on the sidewalk for a while and then heard the band start playing "Wooly Bully" a hit record at the time for a group called Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs. It was the loudest thing I had ever heard and it was wonderful. Minutes later the music stopped abruptly. There were all these drunk-looking people running in and out and around the yard and street in American flag-decked white jump suits.

Many of the jump suited had their faces painted in this stuff so bright it made them glow in the dark. They were in sharp contrast with the others. Most of the crowd was college aged, some were older-more sophisticated, some were around my age, and a few were downright ancient-at least 30 or 35 years old. Most were dressed in the popular garb of the day-Pendleton shirts and Beatle boots for the guys, and bouffant hairdos and culottes for the girls. At the time I wore a red and blue Madras shirt with a white dickey, a v-necked gold sweater, wingtips and dark green Levis jeans.

Eventually I got up more courage and went inside the house, which was bursting to the seams with ear-to-ear swaying-drunk college students, but nobody had a drink in their hand. The music started up again and moments later the entire house went black-blown fuses! Everybody was screaming, but not the screams of fear. They were screaming the screams of ecstatic delight. I felt terribly out of place.

Then the band started playing the Loving Spoonful song "Do You Believe In Magic?" and it was so loud I thought I was going to barf. It was a large house, a Victorian, like I'd seen before in the neighborhoods of San Francisco near Golden Gate Park. At one end of the living room was the loud band blasting versions of Folk and R&B tunes like nothing I had ever heard or even conceived was possible. On the other side of the room was another band playing God knows what. It was just all this disjoint and cacophonous noise. What was also highly unusual was that one person would sit down on the organ and noodle around on its keyboards and then would get up and go start playing a flute while another drunk sat down to the organ. This went on for a while until the fuses blew once more and jettisoned us all into darkness.

Slowly I moved towards the kitchen and when the lights came back on I looked in the refrigerator. There was a gallon of apple juice in it and I pulled it out and began to look for a cup, but there were none. Some woman all dressed in lace and heavily made up eyes said, "I wouldn't drink that, if I were you!" Thinking I was stealing somebody's juice I put it back in the fridge just as another guy walked up all done up in motorcycle club colors. I thought he was a Hells Angel.

He takes the fridge door and grabs a beer and while popping the top of the can notices me with the apple juice. "Hey," he says rather gently, "I'm Ron." I say hey back and he grips my hand in what was to become known as the soul shake. "Don't drink my beer, okay man? That's all I have left," he added gruffly but with a slight smile bending the corner of his mouth. I nodded sheepishly--trying to be cool and he walked menacingly away.

I stood there in absolute shock and then this other guy walks up also in biker's colors. This guy was definitely a Hells Angel and he was black. I'd seen Angels before-they were sporting an infamous legend in 1965-but I'd never seen a black one. The black Angel was collecting money from everybody and he hit me up for two dollars-which I was glad to impart in deference to his enormous, fierce demeanor.

After that I kept inching my way through the partygoers. There were wires on every square inch of floor and theater lights, speakers and microphones in every corner of the living room. People would be standing in little groups arguing intellectually about politics and metaphysics. I stood there listening-thoroughly confused. Heck, I was still playing with model trains and these nuts were discussing Nietzschean philosophy! I still don't understand Nietzsche!

I turned to walk away when suddenly I heard the lofty conversation being broadcast back through the P.A. system and echoing all through the house-just bits and pieces of all this gobbledygook all garbled until the words came out played back in hilarious little snippets: "Butttt…was obserrrrved…existentialllly…going to the toilet." I couldn't get over it and staggered off in utter delete. This was way too much for my young brain.

The loud band was playing again and people were dancing so hard the chandelier shook. The music was gloriously vibrant. I had attended a few rock and roll concerts, but those concerts were nothing compared in sound volume like this party band. This was 1965. Public address equipment and guitar amplifiers were puny jokes compared with the equipment that would replace them not three years later.

I didn't know the party band was the Grateful Dead. I didn't know that the gruff-looking biker dude with a sweet disposition was Ron "Pigpen" McKernan. Everybody had heard about the Hells Angels, but nobody had ever heard of the Grateful Dead in sleepy Lafayette, and though I'd seen people smoking funny looking, hand rolled cigarettes I had no idea it was marijuana. I could not have possibly understood that the garbage can in the middle of the room was laced with Owsley LSD. I merely assumed it was booze because in those days everybody who drank liquor brought their flask and poured the contents of the flask into the punch bowl.

When the loud band took a break I spotted Ron and asked him if I could play the organ and he said, "Sure, man!" and stalked away with a girl on each arm. So I went right up to the loud band's equipment, stepped upon the Vox organ's volume pedal and started wailing away. My mom had an electric Wurlitzer Organ and I had taken organ lessons, but the Wurlitzer wasn't anything so loud as the Vox and I was creaming in my green Levis playing that thing.

And I'm really into it when all of a sudden this kinda ugly looking guy comes up and taps my shoulder and growls at me, "Get the fuck outta here, man!"

I shrink away from the Vox with tail 'tween my legs. I look back at the nasty bastard as he was slinging his guitar around his back. I was going to tell him that Ron had given me permission to play his organ, but the asshole launched into the loudest solo guitar ever and I turned around and left the party.

Once outside I noticed the cops hassling suspected curfew violators and slinked away from their grasp. It was 5:00 a.m. I walked about 5 blocks, found my mom's car and drove home. I got home around 7:30, put the keys on the kitchen counter and slipped into bed. Mom and Dad never said a word.

A number of weeks later I attended the Trips Festival in San Francisco and recognized the guitarist who had kicked me off of Pigpen's organ. It was Jerry Garcia. It took me a long time to like Jerry Garcia, but I got over it.

The second time I met Jerry Garcia was in 1971 at Keystone Korner in San Francisco, and I met him a third time, also, at Keystone Berkeley. He says he didn't remember the time in San Jose he rebuked me, but said he had seen me at shows. In the days before arenas and stadiums, when one could walk right up to the stage, one could breed a familial type relationship with members of his favorite rock bands.

Whenever I had some smoke that was really fantastic I would go to Keystone and ask the security guard if I could meet Jerry. Garcia treated me very kindly on those occasions. And as he sucked up the special stash I had brought personally for his consumption, he would crack jokes and act sincerely interested in who I was and what I was up to. We would chat briefly about the blues, jazz, classical music and R&B, and then I'd be on my way back to my table. After that, he and the Grateful Dead got too big and famous for small clubs and informal meetings, but that's a story for another time, another place.

Stories about the Grateful Dead



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