Rock Scully
Living with the Dead

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Rock Scully
Living with the Dead
By Toni A. Brown

Rock Scully and David Dalton's Living With The Dead: Twenty Years On The Bus With Garcia And The Grateful Dead appeared on bookshelves shortly after the death of Jerry Garcia. Scully managed the Grateful Dead from 1965 through 1985, and this tell-tale biography serves as a valuable historical perspective of the Dead's early years.

I recently met with Scully and Dalton. They both commented that, in the editing of the book, the publishers may have lost certain perspectives. We touch on some of those topics here. And as Scully remarked, there are lots more stories to be told.

When Les Kippel started Relix in 1974, the Grateful Dead organization didn't seem very enthralled with the premise of a magazine about the Grateful Dead, even though it was actually more about taping and the experience than the band.

Scully: Well, it wasn't me! (laughter) I don't know. It could have been a number of reasons. One of them might have been our publicist, Ren Grevatt. I recently did an interview with High Times, and they have the same history, having difficulty supposedly with the Grateful Dead doing interviews, and here we were one of the premier acid-taking, dope-smoking bands and not talking to High Times. We were unaware of a lot of this stuff.

Was it difficult to interest the Grateful Dead in doing interviews?

Scully: We never could understand or believe that there was such an interest that a magazine could be founded on that kind of a fan base. If I had told them about Dead Base…the Dead Base guys didn't have all that much support either, 'cause most of us were computer illiterate. I mean, this is a long time ago. Now, I don't know what we'd do without them. And Relix actually chronicled San Francisco music. I don't know why this is my first interview with you.

I don't know why.

Scully: Nobody ever called me. (laughter) But I have seen countless quotes from other places, how everybody's talked to Relix. Everybody admires the organization.

In the early years, the Grateful Dead organization seemed very uncooperative about taping. Relix started as the First Free Underground Tape Exchange, and taping, at that time, was highly unacceptable.

Scully: Those taping sessions, the only ones that I was ever worried about, as manager, had to do with our live recording. And if we were doing a live recording, we didn't want anybody else to record it live either because we were going to sell it. We had a very delicate balance with our record company, whatever record company we were with at the time, whether it be Arista or Warner Bros. or whatever. We had a real difficult time convincing them that live recording was an acceptable way of selling Grateful Dead records.

The Grateful Dead, I don't think, really had any difficulty with Relix or the live tape exchange. I had to bust balls basically to convince Warner Bros., for instance, that broadcasting live was an acceptable way of marketing the Grateful Dead. Live broadcasting was something that the record companies were very much against.

It was a very early time for that. Now a lot of bands, like Phish… their record company understands that live taping is a remarkable marketing ploy.

Scully: I love Phish. Starting out, there weren't that many people that taped. We taped everything. In the early days, for at least the first ten years, you'd find at least two, three, four or maybe the whole band, sitting in my living room in a hotel suite listening to that night's show. It's how we learned to get better, how the band critiqued themselves, figured stuff out, yelled at each other. But it made it better the next night. Not only that, it reminded them of what they did that very night. They would go on [the next night], and without fail, not play the same songs. Even after they had figured out how to do the songs better, they'd go on the next night and do a whole new set of songs. And everybody wondered "How do the Dead do it? They never repeat themselves!" We did fifteen nights at the Fox Warfield and immediately came to New York and did six nights at Radio City Music Hall, and they only repeated themselves five or six times. They have a big book of songs. They don't write a set list, so how do they remember this stuff? Well, one of the ways is by listening to the tapes.

By the very nature of all of this stuff, there was a time when we were getting worried by our record company to not allow people to tape. Why will the Deadheads buy a live record when they can get the tape? But we didn't care because the Dead really never survived on record sales.

We didn't sell that many records. I was the only one that was out there pushing them. I mean Garcia was out there saying, "We don't make good records," over and over and over again. "We don't make good records."

You have a long track record with the Grateful Dead. When do you feel that the Grateful Dead's most productive time might have been?

Scully: That's hard to say. I think that by reading the book, maybe you'd understand that the early days, the transition from blues to what Warner's called "psychedelic music" was definitely a turn. And it was a turn for the better. It's when the Dead were at their jazziest. Very experimental. But I don't think that had that much to do with the band's ability to understand what was going on with their music. Then, when they got next to people like the Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash and so on, they started to understand and be encouraged. Even Kesey and I encouraged them to get back to where they started from. Not just the blues, but bluegrass and country western. So perhaps, the most creative turn of energy was the Workingman's Dead, American Beauty period and the incorporation of their, I can only use the term psychedelic, jazzy extended jam stuff. This is when shows were like four hours or all night at the Fillmore East, that kind of thing. The reintegration of their original roots, because Garcia was a banjo picker and they originally had a bluegrass band, and to bring back some of that ability with electric music, with electric instruments, and then to reincorporate their jazz stuff. You'd have things like "Friend Of The Devil" and "Uncle John's Band" and these extended "Lovelight's" and songs like that.

Having that first set with the New Riders added a whole dimension to the band. That was a really fun time. Was that an era when experimentation was at its peak?

Dalton: Basically there were two factions in the '60s. There were people who wanted to sort of keep doing what they could actually play and the other people who wanted to press on, like Lesh and Garcia. I think there was a tension always between the songs and the experimentation like when you know you've got Anthem Of The Sun, which is a lot of long jams, and then you've got Aoxomoxoa where they tried to actually do songs that still make it psychedelic. You got to the '70s and they basically went all the way back to their kind of folk origins again, but looked at [them] more profoundly. All those old folk songs they thought they'd bypassed, gone into the stratosphere. Now they went back and they said, "Gee. These are gems." Like "I Feel Like A Motherless Child" suddenly seems like "Wow! Now I know what it means! My God!" (laughter)

Do you feel that taping helped the Grateful Dead's popularity?

Scully: I'm sure of it. Yeah. That and the live broadcasting.The records, as Jerry said, weren't always that good. And so taping and broadcasting really helped a lot.

Dalton: First of all, they were much better live than in the studio. But also, it kind of generated this whole Dead Base thing where you could only hear them live, and everybody wanted to be at every concert which generated all those Grateful Dead jokes, you know…

Scully: "Who are the Grateful Dead and why are they following me?" (laughter)

Dalton: People wanted to hear every tape of every variation and also because it's sort of like the trajectory of the vibe at these concerts. Who knows what he's gonna do next…We're talking about a religious experience here.

The Grateful Dead were always at an innovative peak technically. Between Owsley's financial backing and otherworldly views and Healy's productivity…Was there a source of pride among the band, having all this technical stuff that no one had even thought of?

Scully: Yeah, there was.

Was there envy from other bands? Did they want to use your equipment?

Scully: Absolutely. We ended up loaning out our speaker cabinets to the Rolling Stones, developing sound systems for promoters and nightclubs, how to provide the power if you were using stereo. The whole idea of stereo in live performance was unheard of. Most shows were just like Fender amps and whatever you ended up with. You'd show up and go "Oh, my God." You know, blown speakers and speaker boxes hanging in the wrong places. The weirdest sounds. One of our early gigs in New York was at the Cafe Au Go Go…the one where Frank Zappa was upstairs and we were downstairs blaring into the brick wall, with the sound coming back at us. We ended up actually developing a system so that the band could hear themselves and play better. And if it hadn't been for Owsley, and if it hadn't been for Dan Healy, and Bob Matthews and so on, we would've sounded lousy forever.

Dalton: It changed the speaker industry. Altech Lansing-Bear (Owsley) went to see them, and they wouldn't change a thing. And what Healy did was he rented these speakers, more than they needed, and they would blow out in two or three songs. Every night. So the rental people started calling Altech Lansing and saying, "You've gotta make speakers that can carry this amount of amperage." So then they started making bigger amps with more power. I'm still amazed. This hippie band that developed the most hi-tech sound in rock 'n' roll.

That innovative door of perception was open...

Dalton: Speaking of that, Bear told me the other night that his revelation about the sound system came when he was at one of the Acid Tests and he saw the sound coming out, and he realized what he was doing wrong. And the direction it was going was not in the direction he had anticipated. (laughter) I have to look at my notes, but this is acid at work.

The Wall of Sound that the band used in 1974 was a monstrous sound system, though cumbersome, to say the least. What happened?

Scully: It was too expensive.

Immediately afterwards, in 1975, the Grateful Dead took a hiatus. Why?

Scully: It was so much work. Carting that thing around. Going to Europe. Taking this thing wherever we were booked. We played out there in Roosevelt Stadium and got rained out. It was the first time we ever got rained out. It took us so long and so many guys. We had this giant system and had to cart all of those speakers up without any hoists or anything and everybody's backs were breaking. After running that system around the United States and taking it to Europe and so on, we were exhausted. It did have a significant role to play in our year long retirement.

It was an interesting time because the band broke off into different factions. Garcia played some solo stuff, Weir did his Kingfish thing.

Scully: I did all of those bands.

People have mentioned your critique of Weir's guitarmanship...

Scully: That wasn't me picking on him. I'm just reporting how Jerry was dealing with it. I've got to say in no way do I mean to pick on Bob Weir. I don't. Bob Weir picked himself up by his own bootstraps and learned the doggone electric guitar and learned how to do it. Jerry yelled at him like a teacher would yell at a pupil. And when I say yell, I don't mean, you know…but he thought he had to take some drastic steps a few times and got drastic on Weir. But I'm not picking on Weir. Weir actually learned what he was supposed to learn. It's just that his style always stayed close to an acoustic guitar. The electric guitar is a whole different thing. And Bobby, God bless his soul, developed an electric guitar through this that suited his style of electric guitar playing.

The Grateful Dead's form, style and sound of music developed over this very issue. And what it did was, it made Jerry comp a lot of rhythm. So he became a lead rhythm guitar player and Bobby became his partner, ally. Phil with his own unique blend of bass playing. It developed into this Grateful Dead that everybody loves. Perhaps with the 200 pages that were edited out of this book that might have been lost in the translation.

Dalton: Bear said to me the other night, the thing with Bobby's guitar playing is that, I don't know whether this is true or not, but that we criticized him for experimenting. Basically, those parts where he was falling down, he was trying to get to another level or whatever. You also have to remember when you're writing a book, you can't cover all the corollaries. We were really interested in a good story that rolled along, and you can't stop and do a sort of Chamber of Commerce on everybody.

Did you intend to de-mystify the Grateful Dead?

Scully: I wanted to do that.

Did you feel that it was time for people to know what was really happening behind the scene?

Scully: My intention wasn't to de-mystify or knock them off of their pedestal or bring anybody down about how human the Dead are. And they are basically human beings that have their doubts, their fears, their insecurities and their flaws, warts and all, just like all the rest of us. They're not God on a pedestal smiling down beneficently on their loving public.

When I left the Grateful Dead, I left with some resentments. I worked through all of that and part of that process was this book, but it wasn't a resentful book. As a matter of fact, I had a lot of anti-mean-spirited editors that helped me out on this including Mountain Girl, Nicky Scully, Alan Trist, Bob Hunter, a lot of people looked after this book. At some points, this is the way I remembered it, but it is my point of view. This book is my point of view. The last thing I really wanted this to be was mean-spirited, and it isn't. What you're supposed to come away with here is a feeling for the love we all had.

Did your publishers rush the book out when Garcia died?

Dalton: No, we had it finished.

Scully: The way I describe it, we actually were overly heavy on the '60s. Maybe 200 pages. [The current time is more chronicled through the media], through Dead Base, Relix. But most of the curiosity is about the '60s.

Dalton: Even Mountain Girl said she loved the parts that were there before she got involved.

Scully: And the kids! The kids were going "Oh, man. I'm so glad." They're so happy with this book because it's talking about where we were and what we were doing before they were around, and when they were little children.

Dalton: Also, it was a time of huge idealism. I went out to the Haight to live there, and Rock was like the Minister of Culture. When you wanted to get anything done, you went to see Rock. I see it as a utopian venture, and in a way, the folly which nobody really saw at the time was you can't build a revolution or a society on pop music. It helped change people's minds, but I mean, we really thought, or I really thought, that a new culture was coming. We were not so materialistic, and everything was gonna be like it was in the Haight. I think that's what's important in this book. The optimism of that era was boundless. The Haight in those days was like, you could walk down the street and talk to anybody. Anybody would engage you in a conversation. It was like being in a very small town of hip people.

Scully: It was so trusting.

Dalton: Yeah. You could engage people on your way to buy groceries, you could engage a whole discussion about existentialism or whatever, to somebody you'd never met! It was like a fantastic thing that never recurred because very smart people and speed freaks, interchangeable, probably, people seeking wisdom, that kind of excitement and energy, it seemed as if it could change the world.

Let's clarify that you, Rock Scully, are the experiencer and you, David Dalton, are the writer. Rock, did you take notes during this time? How did you remember so much?

Scully: I went around and I talked to a lot of people that were there. Old crew and any current [staff].

Dalton: Can you imagine trying to reconstruct…

Scully: When so much of it was the same every day.

Dalton: The whole point of this book was not to just do a general thing, but to convey people right in there. That's why it's written first person, present tense. It was so hard. Of course, after a while we violated a whole bunch [of rules].

Scully: Well, we violated the European notes completely [on the third European tour]. That's a fabrication. But it was all based on fact.

Dalton: We already had two fabulous European tours and I thought, well, let's do this as a diary.

Scully: Plus, we had all of these tapes of Dan Healy and Sam Cutler and all of these people and their memories, and so there I am being forced to remember. Because I only see what's over your shoulder (laughter). What they see is a whole 'nother thing. We put 'em together.

Dalton: I think we really wanted to transport people, and in order to transport people, you've got to have the details so we talked to Healy and Mountain Girl and we tried to take you into the room through listening to the conversation-and you are there. Because actually, that's really what people want.

Scully: What kind of cigarettes they're smoking, what they're wearing…You understand that we're, David and I, are dealing with these publishers that want the history of the Grateful Dead. And we're saying, "We're not writing a history of the Grateful Dead."

Why did Tom Constanten stop playing with the Grateful Dead?

Scully: He was sooo different. You know, he was like a crew cut. He was like a marine in a prison camp full of Japanese. He was like our boss in a way. Nobody could go for the hard wire technology of his brain power. I was told I was too hard on him, too. But I had no beef.

When the Grateful Dead began soliciting for its mailing list, it took years before we heard anything from them. Were you overwhelmed and surprised by the response?

Scully: Totally. Yeah, we were. You know, we started it out with the Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion. Then we put our "fan club" information on that Europe album with the eight-page color photograph book of the tour inside. We were overwhelmed with that.

But this is when we started realizing that we could actually communicate with people that were coming to hear us and actually set up a hotline and sell Bill Graham our own tickets instead of him screwing us. That kind of thing.

What was the Grateful Dead thinking when it started its own record label?

Scully: Did you get my point in the book about that? I didn't like it. It's too bad. A lot of stuff slid and slipped. But I knew this about the record company, and it scared me to death. And I was going, "Oh, no! What's going to happen to our music?" And it slid. It did.

Wake Of The Flood. I mean, it's like Garcia said, we have one good side. Sometimes Jerry was really instrumental in doing that whole thing with Ron Rakow. It was Jerry instrumental in doing it. But then here he is running around, checking out vinyl quality and going to the pressing plant in Santa Maria, California and down to Sunset Sound and looking after the lathing, and he should have been playing with the Garcia Band.

It seemed that a lot of the people working in the Grateful Dead organization were friends, people who were there from the beginning. They weren't all business people, per se. Was it a problem that there was no one to actually pick up the slack, forcing the band to do more than just create music?

Scully: There is this happy anarchy about the Grateful Dead that involves everyone that's around them-secretaries, crew, the band members, friends, and so if the band decides to go on some wild hair-up-their-ass trip, like start their own record company, it gets hard to stop a steamroller. Voices of reason sometimes are not heard very well.

There are some great anecdotal stories in the book.

Scully: I've got a lot more. One of the things about doing this book is that it's reminded me of so many more stories.

Do you think you'll do another book?

Scully: I hope so. Originally, Living With The Dead was supposed to be all of us living in Los Angeles, in the Haight Ashbury and just end it at Woodstock, Altamont. And by the way, my Altamont stories got edited out…the first time anybody's done a really honest-to-God appraisal of that whole thing and I wasn't allowed to use it.

Was it the most significant, most pivotal point of the era because it ended it, harsh and real?

Scully: Well, if you look at it the way I do, on the yin yang, positive-negative thing, Woodstock-Altamont, I gotta tell you something. Woodstock, to me, wasn't all peace, love and music. I saw some terrible things there. No water, no port-o-sans. Nothing.

For decades, Deadheads have held this purist, mythical overview of the spiritual aspects of the Grateful Dead. Is there a basis for that mystique?

Scully: I think so. I really do. There is a true, wonderful heart in what the Grateful Dead do, and I know I wrote about this in the book. It has do with their belief in their audience and what they're doing. It really comes from that. Communication with people that love them and they really pour out. There really is, definitely. I didn't fully explain that, so in my next book, I'm gonna try to do that. There's a belief and a faith and a love of life and a love of peaceful exchange and a smile and a dance that goes on in human relationships that the Dead really encourage and really encourage the Dead. And if it hadn't been for that, there would be no Grateful Dead today.

The spirituality definitely existed, and it came from somewhere. The doors of perception were opened wide for us, likely with the help of psychotropic influence. Do you believe the Grateful Dead played a major part in opening those doors?

Scully: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, without a doubt. This is an interesting step, and I might have put this in the book. I don't know what's been edited out. Tim Leary, when he was promoting acid-because we promoted acid too, [but] we had to stop promoting it because it was starting to get people in trouble, we were promoting it when it was still legal-said, "Turn on, tune in, drop out."

And we said, "Plug in, freak out and fall down." (laughter) It all had to do with the spirit. The spirit was truly full and the Dead promoted a joyous spirit, and it's the mean-spirited stuff that we don't like. The Vietnam War and Nixon and Reagan. That kind of mean-spiritedness. We don't need that.

All of the intense negativity that surrounded the Dead's final tour…for Garcia to die at that time, it was like this premonitory thing.

Scully: I gotta tell you something. My premonition was long before the last tour. The whole thing started to culminate after he came out of that diabetic coma, I really thought he was well. I did everything in my power to believe he was well and every time I saw him, he was smiling and happy and suntanned. He had come back from Hawaii and everything. But I caught him at the Oakland Coliseum for Chinese New Year's and he had that…I didn't write about this in my book…but I caught that furtive look. A user again. And I thought, "Man, if he's gone back to this…" I was really scared. I went to the Louisville concert, 68 kids got busted for LSD there. I went to Deer Creek. I went backstage, and Jerry seemed okay. I think it was when he went on tour that he was being exposed to these drugs.

Would people give him anything he wanted?

Scully: Yeah, and he'd ask.

There wasn't anyone there to stop this?

Scully: No. There's nobody can do that. Remember this…addictions and everything…you have to want to [stop]. But I was surprised that Jerry didn't want to, because after his coma, after going to Hawaii and scuba diving…

The DEA has spent a great deal of time and money targeting Deadheads, especially in recent years.

Scully: The DEA's targeting big time. And this is little stuff. It's harmless. Totally harmless. The DEA are thugs. They are big criminals.

Dalton: It's like anything else. They concentrate on this because it's like shooting fish in a barrel. Why aren't they dealing with the border? Why aren't they dealing with heroin more than anything? We can go on, there are many stories of tragic waste.

Is there anything you wanted to add?

Dalton: What we wanted to convey was the spirit of the group and the times. The whole movement of the thing and the movement of that vibe and spirit through the whole art, through the '60s up into the '70s and then when the problems began. And I would say about this book, it's the story of everybody because it was really a dream. I always refer to the '60s as the First Great Psychedelic Age because I think that really this was a revelation, and we'll come back to it at some point.

Scully: A lot of people forgot.

Dalton: I think it's the greatest invention of the 20th century. And I think that what's really important about the book is the spirit it conveys…

Scully: We talked about the spirituality of the Dead, and it is a righteous outfit. We had our warts just like everyone else has their warts, and we think good of ourselves sometimes and think bad of ourselves sometimes. But mostly, the spirit has always been really forward, progressive, righteous, on with the world, let's survive and let our kids grow up to be cowboys. (laughter)

That's true-the Grateful Dead gave people the impetus to be whatever they wanted to be and I, for one, am incredibly thankful for every single second.

Scully: Me too. The main thing I want you to know is that I am too. I really am. I saw Nicky Scully the other night, she came and stayed in our house and talked to us about this book and everything else and she still carries that spirit. Mountain Girl still carries that spirit. Our kids do, and I try to imbibe that thing to everyone I can.

It's important. Do you think now that Garcia's gone, it'll be perpetuated?

Scully: Oh, it'll go on.

This article originally appeared as the cover story in Relix Magazine, Volume 23 #2 (April, 1996.)

Copyright © 1999-2004 - Toni Brown

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