The Dead Recall the Colorful Life of LSD Pioneer Owsley Stanley

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PARISH: He set the pace for dressing. He would wear Afghan vests, fur on the inside and beautiful gold embroidery on the outside. He had us all wearing boots and boot-cut jeans. He said it gave us better lines. It all had to do with his ballet career. He was conscious of how people moved and walked.

LESH: He convinced us we should record every show. At first it was simply to listen back to each one and figure out how to change an arrangement. We never played the same show twice. Bear made sure that we understood how listening to those tapes was necessary. 

WEIR: He taught me to question everything.  We used to listen to his tapes and say, "That didn’t work," or "You hear that accident in there? Let’s make something from that." We questioned everything we did.

HART: He cared so much about sound. One night we were at Winterland and Bear was mixing. Everyone had left except me and Bill Graham. We heard somebody sobbing and we went over to the side of the stage and Bear was talking to the amplifiers: "I love you and you love me—how could you fail me?" He was addressing these electronics as if they were a person. At first Bill and I were laughing, but then we said, "Wow, he’s really serious."

WEIR: His powers of concentration were pretty high. One time in Atlanta, Bear had met a girl at the show and brought her back to the hotel. She might have been underage. Now, Bear was not the quietest guy on earth in bed. I was walking the halls and went past his room and it was pretty noisy in there. The elevator door opens up and here come the police. They hear these unearthly sounds from inside the room and figure there’s some kind of Satanic ritual going on. They pound on the door. Nothing happens. They pound again and say, "We’re coming in." They broke the door down, but this didn’t faze Owsley one bit. He’s banging away and making his flying-saucer noises, and one of the cops shouts, "What are you doing to that girl?" And he just looks at him briefly and says, "I’m fucking her," and goes back to his business. They let him finish, but needless to say they all went to jail. 

HART: When we played Playboy After Dark [Hugh Hefner’s variety show, in 1969], the technicians were drinking coffee and Bear put acid in all the coffee urns. After a while the Bunnies’ mascara was all running and they were starting to take off their clothes and the technicians weren’t operating at full capacity. The Bear was after Hefner, but he didn’t drink the coffee.

SAM CUTLER [former Dead tour manager and friend]: Things changed in rock & roll [in the Seventies] and he decided to leave America and come to Australia. He had very specific ideas about nuclear winds and all kinds of apocalyptic visions about what might happen. It’s ironic what’s going on in Japan is happening so closely to his passing. That’s the kind of thing he warned everyone about. He was absolutely convinced that nuclear disaster and earthquakes were going to happen sooner or later. 

LESH: He kept his enthusiasm for sound design all the way through. Just two weeks ago we were discussing a sound system for a venue I’m going to open in Marin County, Terrapin Landing. Hopefully we’ll be using monitors with Bear’s design. 

HART: I never thought the Bear would die. He was too tough and ornery. But his neck was almost bone because of the chemo [from throat cancer diagnosed in 2004]. The last time I saw him, he was pureeing meat in a veggie mixer so he could drink it through a straw. At least now Jerry and Pigpen have someone to talk to. They’re yucking it up together, wherever "there" is.

WEIR: Bear was way, way more than the acid guy. He instilled in us quality consciousness: If you’re going to do something, you have to absolutely achieve excellence, because nothing else matters. 

HART: He left an ample legacy [smiles]. LSD is very delicate. It doesn’t like heat or light. It has to be well kept. It’s all how it’s stored. But I can’t tell you where it is. I’d have to kill you.

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Song Stories

“Whoomp! (There It Is)”

Tag Team | 1993

Cecil Glenn — a.k.a., "D.C." — was a cook at Magic City, a nude dance club in Atlanta, when he first heard women shout "Whoomp — there it is!" Inspired by the party chant, he and partner Steve "Roll'n" Gibson wrote a song around it. Undaunted by label rejections, they borrowed $2,500 from Glenn's parents and pressed 800 singles, which quickly sold out in the Atlanta area. A record deal came soon after. Glenn said the song was meant for positive partying. "If you're going to say 'Whoomp there it is,' and you're doing something negative, we'd rather it not have come out of your mouth."

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