The First Time I Met Jerry
© 2002 Evan S. Hunt
Evan is the visionary of Tay
Music. For those not familiar with the Tay label, they
selectively offer diverse musical offerings that range from
contemporary and smooth jazz; folk, progressive rock and R&B;
techno and electronica-based pop and urban hip-hop; New Age and
world beat; Celtic, Latin, Middle Eastern, and Indian music.
The first time I met Jerry Garcia was quite by accident and quite
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
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
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
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.