New Orleans Cops & the Dead Bust - Rolling Stone
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New Orleans Cops & the Dead Bust

Police in the Big Easy giving bands a hard time

Grateful DeadGrateful Dead

Grateful Dead, circa 1970.

Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

New Orleans  — Warning to musicians coming into this town for a gig: stay clean and stay cool.

“Tell them not just to be cool, but to be exceptionally cool. New Orleans police just aren’t welcoming rock bands,” cautions Lenny Hart, manager of the Grateful Dead. “Any group that goes there should be awfully careful.”

Hart speaks from experience. In New Orleans to open up a new ballroom, locally known as “the Warehouse,” most of the Dead and their road crew were nailed in a dope raid in the same French Quarters hotel where members of the Jefferson Airplane were busted just weeks before. State and federal narcs rounded up 19 people in the Dead raid, and were none too polite about it, either.

“It was very perculiar, and it seems like they set them up,” says Hart, who was not with the band, but arranged for their bail over the phone. “They were waiting when they got back from their concert. They had a warrant and had already searched the room when the band got back. So they called them into their own room, one by one, and busted them. Nothing was found on any of the people except stuff they had prescriptions for. Everything they claim to have found was in the room, they said. But nobody in the band knows where any of it came from. It wasn’t their stuff. The Grateful Dead are normally very cool and cautious.”

Everybody in the band, except Pigpen and Tom Constanten, was included in the bust, along with several members of their retinue and some local people. An added bonus for the New Orleans heat was a man listed as Owsley Stanley, 35, of Alexandria, Virginia, a technician for the band, booked with illegal possession of narcotics, dangerous non-narcotics, LSD, and barbiturates. “King of Acid Arrested,” the local press bubbled.

When they were picked up at the airport Thursday they were warned of New Orleans heat and given the name of an attorney just in case. Later that afternoon, the house detective at the Dead hotel stopped guitarist Jerry Garcia in the lobby and asked him if he was with the Flock, another band on the bill at the Warehouse. When Garcia replied that he was with the Dead, the house dick supposedly told him, “Look, you better be clean, because you’re going to be busted.”

When the Dead got back from their gig sometime after 3 AM, January 31st, their room had already been searched and the narcs were just sitting around waiting for them. All of the 19 people caught in the raid were booked for possession of some combination of marijuana, LSD, barbiturates, amphetamines, or other dangerous non-narcotic drugs. Mere possession in Louisiana is 5 to 15 years.

Bail is usually $5,000 to $15,000 per person, and that’s what they tried to stick each of the 19 with at first. But earlier in the week, the son of a Navy admiral had been busted there, and was let out on $2,000. So, after countless hassles, Hart finally managed to get all 19 out on a total of $37,500—or $3,750 in non-refundable premium. It was the Dead’s earnings for the gig that night.

“The cops made it extra heavy for us, too,” Hart said. “They detained the band, handcuffed them all together and lined them up in front of the building for press photos. The cops were enjoying it, just getting their own thing on. They ended up having to spend eight hours in jail; even though the bail was ready right away, they hassled them that long. I don’t think that’s the way police are supposed to handle it.”

Two weeks later, nobody still knows the specific charges. According to Hart. “We keep asking them and they say all the information is sealed. So there’s still no word on anything.”

The Dead responded to their bust by playing a beautiful set Saturday night after a so-so Friday debut. Sunday, they joined Fleetwood Mac in playing a benefit for a bust fund for both themselves and other out-of-town bands. It was a shitty wet day in New Orleans, and with such short notice, only about 850 showed up anyway. But the bands blew the lid off the house.

New Orleans police seem to fear that their good town will become the next Haight-Ashbury, and maybe they feel that way with some reason. The fact is, New Orleans is starting to burst out. Head shops and boutiques are springing up all over, and there’s a lot of long hair walking the streets.

What makes this so amazing is that the straight citizens of New Orleans view the phenomena more with curiosity than with contempt. While a long-hair might run into an Easy Rider scene in the country, he’s as safe in New Orleans as any other big city in this country. And in the deep South, that’s saying something.

Many say the police chose the Warehouse as their target, and that they figure they can shut down the entire scene just by picking off bands as they come into town. Their tactics seem to justify this fear. Besides busting the Dead and the Airplane earlier, they were out in force for the opening of the Warehouse—customers complained of harassment, cars were towed away, and the usual riff.

And the Warehouse is very important to the hip movement in New Orleans. It’s an old brick building, formerly used for storing cotton and coffee, located just a few yards from the Mississippi River. It held 6,000 on opening night. Like many of the older buildings here, it has magical vibes. Or, as Peter Green put it: “This place—wow, you know—come down to New Orleans and find this—wow, you know?”

The Dead go back to New Orleans late in February for their day in court. The band will handle the legal defense for all 19 people “just because we feel it’s the right thing to do,” according to Hart. They need about $50,000 dollars for their legal defense, and Bill Graham’s giving them a benefit at Winterland February 23rd, with Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Santana, and It’s a Beautiful Day playing for free. 

In This Article: Coverwall, The Grateful Dead


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