The Grateful Dead started out as the house band for Ken Kesey’s acid tests and the group has a long history of being immersed in the drug culture. Drugs and music often go together, but the connections between the Grateful Dead and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide, a hallucinogenic drug) are quite unique. The acid tests were parties primarily held in the San Francisco Bay Area during the mid-1960s, where people including the Merry Prankster’s indulged in taking LSD and these parties influenced the early development of hippie culture and kick-started the 1960s psychedelic drug scene. In 1964, the Merry Pranksters set out together on a cross-country trip in an old bus they dubbed Further to help publicize the release of Kesey’s novel Sometimes a Great Notion. This bus was a 1939 International Harvester school bus that was covered in kaleidoscopic graffiti and it was driven by Neal Cassady, who was immortalized in Jack Kerouac’s 1957 novel On the Road as Dean Moriarty.
Albert Hoffmann was a Swiss scientist that worked for Sandoz, the company that isolated an active substance called ergotamine from ergot, a fungus found in tainted rye. Hoffmann synthesized LSD in 1938 to learn about its psychedelic effects. Albert created 24 lysergic acid combinations, then he created the 25th, reacting lysergic acid with diethylamine, a derivative of ammonia. The compound was abbreviated as LSD-25 for the purposes of laboratory testing. He ingested 250 micrograms of LSD on April 19, 1943 and this day is now known as “Bicycle Day”, because he began to feel the effects of the drug as he rode home on a bike becoming the first person in history to intentionally take an acid trip.
In the late 1940s, the CIA received reports that the Soviet Union was producing mass quantities of LSD, so they wanted to learn more about this new drug and they began testing subjects. The CIA initiated a top-secret program known as MK-Ultra during the Cold War which was unethical. They thought that this drug could be used for extracting information from an unwilling subject and these experiments with LSD persisted until 1963.
On the suggestion of his friend and neighbor Vik Lovell, Ken Kesey volunteered for MK-Ultra experiments with LSD while he was a college student at Stanford University. Kesey was paid to ingest various psychoactive drugs, including LSD-25, and report on their effects to the government-sponsored scientists conducting the experiments. He began surreptitiously taking some of these drugs back to Perry Lane where they became an important part of the scene there. In April of 1961, Kesey worked as an orderly at the Menlo Park Veterans Hospital, where the CIA-funded research experiment were taking place and one day he found that his keys fit certain locked doors where the psychoactive drugs were kept and from this experience he was able to write One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In 1962, Robert Hunter, the Grateful Dead lyricist was another willing participant who earned $140 for participating in four research sessions at Stanford, one per week for four weeks. During the sessions, he was administered psychedelic drugs, including mescaline, psilocybin, and LSD.
At the time, psychedelics were not illegal, they were considered to be a way to expand human understandings of the mind and subconscious and LSD was not illegal in California until October 6, 1966. There was no evidence that they might be dangerous, cause harm, or result in long-term addictions or health problems. Ted Kaczynski, who is better known as the “Unabomber” was another participant along with the notorious Boston mobster James Joseph “Whitey” Bulger. In 1968, Tom Wolfe published a book titled The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, which talks about Ken Kesey being the founder the Merry Pranksters and becoming a cult hero. Jerry Garcia was nicknamed “Captain Trips” from the acid tests and in the early days of the group, wherever the Dead went, LSD followed.
Owsley Stanley was the Grateful Dead’s sound engineer and their financial patron, a clandestine chemist that became the world’s first illicit LSD chemist. Owsley became the group’s official soundman starting in 1965. In 1974, they asked him to produce a sound system that was powerful enough for the increasingly large spaces the Dead were playing, so Stanley and his associates designed a towering rig that featured more than 500 speakers, plus noise-canceling parallel microphones, delivering clear sound for a quarter mile and this was called “The Wall of Sound”. When Phil Lesh played his bass through this new sound system, he thought “It was like the voice of God”.
Owsley Stanley was nicknamed “Bear” and he used his acid funds to provide rehearsal space and sound equipment for the band in their early days. Without his technical innovations, him being one of the first people to mix concerts live and in stereo, the band might never have emerged from the San Francisco scene. He had the foresight to plug a tape recorder directly into the sound board during Dead shows, so the music the band made at the peak of its power has been gloriously preserved in recordings. Long before the Summer of Love drew thousands of hippies to Haight-Ashbury, Owsley was already an authentic underground folk hero, revered throughout the counterculture for making the purest form of LSD ever to hit the street.
Owsley could be described as an insane genius, a rebel without a cause, as he never fit and was a complete outsider, kind of a lost soul. He was brilliant at everything. He was in the Air Force and he worked as a rocket engineer. Somebody gave him a half a dose of pure Sandoz acid, and it was beyond anything he’d ever taken before. At the time, he was taking classes at the University of California, Berkeley, and after his LSD experience, he went to the Bancroft Library and spent a couple weeks reading all the existing literature on LSD and then he began to manufacture acid.
Owsley did two years in federal prison in the early Seventies for manufacturing acid, where he taught himself how to make jewelry. For twenty years, Owsley lived off the grid in a remote section of the Australian rain forest and he passed away March 13, 2011. Bear manufactured millions of hits of the cleanest LSD, at a time when the drug was still legal. He’s directly credited with expanding the minds of many of the most influential figures of the 60s, including John Lennon, who once tried to obtain a lifetime supply of Bear’s potent product.
Jerry’s Love Life
After his brief stint in the military, Garcia headed to Palo Alto, California, where he hung out in several bookstores and cafes. Palo Alto is home to Stanford University, and as a university town, the community had many progressive people, artists, and activists for Jerry to befriend. One of his favorite places was Kepler’s Bookstore, founded in 1955 by Roy Kepler, a conscientious objector during World War Il and a noted peace advocate. Jerry frequented the store with a guitar in hand, writing poetry and music almost daily. He found a place to live at the Chateau, a large house with rooms for rent in Menlo Park, just a mile from Kepler’s. Many artists, musicians, and poets, including Robert Hunter, lived at the Chateau. As he moved in and out of the coffee houses in Palo Alto, Jerry began to keep company with Robert Hunter, and soon the two began collaborating in songwriting, a partnership that lasted a lifetime. Alan Trist hung out with Jerry at Kepler’s, and he later became part of the management team for the Grateful Dead.
Jerry Garcia met Barbara “Brigid” Meier around March of 1961, when she was fifteen and Jerry was eighteen and she became a regular in Jerry’s circle. They met when her friend Sue invited him to join them on a hike. Jerry and Robert Hunter played folk songs and they had a kind of hootenanny for her 16th birthday party. A few months later they became sweethearts and were a couple until around Christmas of 1962. Barbara enjoyed hanging out with him and his friends Robert Hunter and Alan Trist as they wrote music and poems. Barbara, who was quite beautiful, worked as a fashion model and her image appeared in local and national magazine advertisements. Barbara often used the money from her modeling gigs to buy cigarettes and other necessities for Jerry, and she also bought him his first acoustic guitar.
Late in life, Jerry Garcia took up scuba diving in Hawaii, sometime in the late ’80s and he was introduced to the sport by Vicki Jensen, a friend and former ranch hand of Garcia’s bandmate, Mickey Hart. Garcia had recently come out of a diabetic coma, but he loved the water. In 1993, Garcia hooked up with Barbara Meier again, and he took her scuba diving and proposed marriage.
In 1963, shortly after his relationship with Barbara Meier ended, Jerry met Sara Ruppenthal as he was walking across the Stanford Shopping Center parking lot, carrying a guitar in his hand, Jerry hitched a ride on her bicycle, and the two quickly hit it off. She was working at the coffee house in the back of Kepler’s Books, where Garcia, Hunter, and Nelson regularly performed. Sara was a student at Stanford University, active in the peace movement and into folk music. She enjoyed listening to the music that he played and a relationship developed between them. Jerry and Sara Ruppenthal formed the group Jerry & Sara and the couple made a few public appearances together with Sara singing and playing the autoharp or guitar. Jerry and Sara enjoyed a passionate, carefree time together, but their happy-go-lucky days ended when she became pregnant with his child.
Sara knew Jerry wanted to be a professional musician, and neither of them had adequate means to support themselves, let alone a baby. But none of this seemed to bother Jerry, as when Sara told him about the baby, he replied, “Well, I’ve always wanted to get married. Let’s get hitched”. Jerry and Sara married at the Palo Alto Unitarian Church on April 23, 1963. The couple’s daughter, Heather, was born December 8, 1963. Shortly after Jerry purchased a banjo and he began to practice long hours, hoping to be skilled enough to support his family with the money he earned from gigs. He seemed to have potential. Less than a month after they were married, Jerry performed at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, winning an amateur bluegrass competition for his performance with the Wildwood Boys. In 1967, Sara and Jerry officially divorced after a long separation. Sara Ruppenthal read Aldous Huxley’s book Doors of Perception, which instigated her interest in and fascination with psychedelics. Jerry took LSD for the first time with David Nelson and Sara Ruppenthal in 1965.
Carolyn “Mountain Girl” Adams Garcia grew up in Hyde Park, New York as Carolyn Adams, and after she was expelled from high school she took a cross-country journey at the age of 17 in 1963 with her brother Don who was heading for graduate work at Stanford University, and then she made her way to Palo Alto. She got a job at Stanford University, working for Carl Djerassi in the organic chemistry lab analyzing psychiatric drugs, and she eventually was fired for, dipping into the experimental psychedelic chemicals that she was analyzing. Carolyn got a ride from Neal Cassady, he picked her up and took her out of a coffee shop, whisking her off into the mountains where she saw the bus that she immediately fell in love with and after that, they couldn’t get rid of her.
She joined up with author Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, and because she was a tall girl, she was given the name Mountain Girl. Carolyn had a daughter by Kesey who they named Sunshine. When Kesey went to Mexico to avoid arrest, she had a relationship with another Prankster named George Walker, who she married in 1966, but they separated and were divorced in 1978. Years later she married Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia who she had a relationship with that lasted nearly 30 years and they had two daughters together Annabelle Walker Garcia born in 1970 and Theresa Adams “Trixie” Garcia born in 1974. Jerry raised Carolyn’s first daughter Sunshine, as his own, and she became an older sister to Annabelle and Theresa. Carolyn met the musicians who would form the Grateful Dead when they were performing as a jug band at a Palo Alto pizza parlor and beer joint.
In early February of 1966, the Dead followed the Merry Pranksters down to the Los Angeles area to continue and expand the Acid Tests. Carolyn met Jerry at the Watts Acid Test on February 12 when she was basically living in a bus, that had no furniture and the refrigerator only had chicken. The Grateful Dead were willing to play and to the people that came to listen to them, it didn’t really matter that much what they played, because they were usually so high that they didn’t know what the hell they were playing anyway. They played strange old folk songs that turned into blues tunes. They didn’t play very long sets, because it was too chaotic with all the crazies in the audience, and nobody really paid much attention to them, but they were brave enough to get on stage at these Acid Tests.
Kesey was arrested for possession of marijuana at La Honda in 1965 and he was arrested again on January 19th, 1966. He tried to avoid jail time, by faking his own suicide and then he ran off to Mexico, where he hid out for much of 1966. He became dissatisfied with the life of being a fugitive, and he snuck back over the border in the fall of 1966, but was arrested by the FBI in October. In June of 1967, he reached a plea bargain, and started serving his time in the San Mateo County Jail and that is when the Merry Pranksters split up.
Carolyn started living with her brother and his family in San Francisco and this is when she and Jerry started seeing each other. She moved into the Grateful Dead’s house at 710 Ashbury where she did a lot of cooking and some house maintenance. She had a baby that was fathered by Ken Kesey by this time. 710 Ashbury ended up getting creepy after a while and the house got busted for pot, but luckily Jerry and Carolyn weren’t home at the time. They arrested Pigpen and Bob Weir, even though they didn’t smoke pot, and nobody wanted to go home for a long time because they were paranoid.
They got a house in Larkspur which they shared with Robert Hunter and his girlfriend Christie Bourne. Hunter was very prolific at this time, writing a lot of stuff together with Jerry. Really good songs that ended up on Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty. Carolyn was in her late twenties with three little kids, when Jerry Garcia came upon a windfall of cash receiving a $20,000 advance from Warner Bros. for a solo album and they used this money to purchase a really neat house in Stinson Beach.
In 1975, Garcia and Adams eventually went different ways. Jerry Garcia spent a lot of his time on the road in the mid-’70s, with a growing array of drugs and women and he always seemed to have a girlfriend. One of those was Deborah Koons, a 23-year-old University of North Carolina grad who met Garcia when she hopped on the band’s bus after seeing her first Grateful Dead show in 1973. Garcia and Adams separated in 1975 after he began a relationship with filmmaker Deborah Koons, as they both shared a passion for film. The two spent months writing letters while she briefly explored Italy’s art scene. Garcia began seeing Koons while he was still involved with Adams, with whom Koons had a less-than-perfect relationship and after his death the war of the wives ensued. Garcia and Koons drifted apart in 1977 after she confronted Garcia about his heroin use.
Later in the spring of 1993, they resumed a relationship, and they were married on Valentine’s Day, 1994, 18 months before his death. In 1995, Garcia finally recognized the need for acute change and he agreed to enter an inpatient treatment facility. In mid-July, he went to the Betty Ford Clinic which was recommended by Koons. But after two weeks, he wanted to check out early to celebrate his 53rd birthday at home. He was weaned off heroin, but his body was still in very bad shape. He was married to Deborah Koons when he died although they had no children together.
In Chicago during the autumn of 1978, Jerry Garcia began a long friendship with artist, Manasha Matheson. Manasha Matheson met Jerry at a Grateful Dead concert and they lived together for six years and she bore his daughter, Keelin Noel Garcia who was born in December 20, 1987. Manasha Matheson met Jerry Garcia while she was a student at Shimer College in Mount Caroll, Ill. She was sitting near the front at one of his concerts in Chicago when a drummer came up to her and asked if she’d like to meet him, and after that she followed him on tour for a while, hanging out back stage and she became pregnant. In August of 1990, Jerry and Manasha married in San Anselmo, California in a spiritual ceremony, free of legal convention. Manasha was into health food, she was very supportive of his drug problems and she helped Garcia recuperate after his coma in ‘86.
While they were together, they shared a country manor, often had dinner delivered by taxi and went on scuba diving trips to Hawaii. When they split up in late 1992, the rock star bought her a big house on a hill overlooking San Rafael, leased her a BMW and sent her $8,000 each month to run the household and take care of their child. On Dec. 30, 1992, Matheson, said Jerry kissed her, told her he loved her, left the house and never came back.
Garcia and Adams reconciled, but had a bunch of on again, off again moments, and it was more of a plutonic relationship due to Jerry’s heroin and cocaine addictions. When Carolyn and Jerry’s relationship became rocky, they sold the Stinson Beach house in 1978. That’s when Jerry Garcia loved to work, so he would work every day if he could. He was sometimes doing two shows a night in San Francisco and he was comfortable doing that. In 1981, they got married and Carolyn became Jerry’s third wife. They may have married partly for tax purposes and partly out of a fond flickering of a once-bright romance and possibly for the sake of his daughters.
In 1986, while Carolyn was back in Oregon, she got a phone call about Jerry being very ill. Jerry was in a diabetic coma from high blood sugar, and it took him a long time to recover. Carolyn moved back with Jerry to help out at that point, and they stayed together until 1990. She got a call the morning he died. It was not an unexpected phone call, but it was just really shocking. She went by the memorial service, but she wasn’t allowed in.