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Houston, We Have a Problem: When the Grateful Dead Got Me Kicked out of Texas

In LIFE’s new special edition celebrating 50 years of the Grateful Dead, Sally Mann Romano tells of her encounters with the band. Here is an extended version of that essay:

In 1968, after several glitter-smeared years in Hollywood pursuing a serious dramatic career in elite works like Where the Girls Are and Love on Haight Street with all the ardor I could muster while staying out all night on the Sunset Strip, simultaneously exhilarated and exhausted by the demands of serial social alliances, so to speak, with Frank Zappa, Phil Spector, John Mayall, and other similarly irresistible musicians with similarly modest egos, I was persuaded to head north to San Francisco. I landed at Tiffany Mansion at 2400 Fulton Street, the new-ish residence of my former short-term L.A. lover and permanent ace boon companion, Paul Kantner, Jefferson Airplane’s kamikaze rhythm guitarist. Before long, as such things were wont to go in the overripe afterglow of San Francisco’s Summer of Love, Paul introduced me to Spencer Dryden, the Airplane’s celluloid-ready drummer. After one afternoon with Spencer exchanging commodities of approximate commensurate value, in keeping with my history of protracted deliberation concerning affairs of the heart, I was a goner.

Immediate mutual attraction notwithstanding, the course of true love never did run smooth, at least in my case, and before I could seal the deal with Spencer, I faced the daunting challenge of sweeping up the sticky-sweet residue left behind in his heart by my predecessor, the formidable Grace Slick—an undertaking made appreciably easier by Grace’s waning interest in Spencer and growing interest in Paul. Timing is everything, and, for once, mine was fortuitous. Along with the rest of the band, we managed to spend almost the entirety of 1969 on the road together without killing (or impaling) each other, staggering from airport to godforsaken airport, from gig to gig—traveling to Honolulu, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, New York City, and many more prosaic stops in between—playing anywhere the rock-and-roll rabble could be counted on to congregate in mass quantities in those halcyon days. Before the bone-numbing sameness of Midwestern terminals with their revolving day-old hot dogs and the maddeningly ubiquitous, stupefyingly unoriginal commentary of “Is that a boy or a girl?” had combined to diminish my enthusiasm for nonstop touring, I was thrilled to be on the road with the Airplane.

I was particularly excited about the Airplane’s gig in Houston, my hometown, where the band was booked for a huge show at the Sam Houston Coliseum on October 5, 1969, with Hot Tuna, Poco, The Byrds and the Grateful Dead (with Ken Kesey on harmonica in case the line-up wasn’t already radioactive enough). It would not be an overstatement to say that, on the whole, Houston’s municipal authorities were not overly avid about the invasion of their God-fearing burg by a passel of unrepentant guitar-slinging vipers and their gaudy camp followers with too much face paint and too few morals, all of whom were hell bent on pushing their loathsome acid rock on Houston’s tender innocents.

Every police officer in Houston not working a funeral procession had evidently been called out for the show, and they were in no way reticent about making their beefy presence felt, preening in front of the stage and hanging from the rafters in full gold-braid regalia. Not to be outdone, the Houston Fire Department was onstage in force, manning the breaker boxes and loaded for bear, fully prepared, if not eager, to shut the show down at the slightest provocation. (With my uncle being Houston’s former Fire Commissioner and a current city councilman, I took the Fire Department’s ominous presence as a personal slight.) According to the antiquated Coliseum’s equally antiquated Fire Code, the assigned-seating, maximum-capacity crowd of excitable fans was not permitted to dance, stand in the aisles, or even toss off a half-baked upper-body shimmy to “Somebody to Love” in front of their seats—all fiercely unwelcome restrictions that put quite a damper on the general joie de vivre of the Love-In. And thus it was that the rebellion began to foment.

As far as Kantner’s volatile sensibilities were concerned, blue uniforms were like a flaring red cape to a thrice-gored bull still smarting from the banderillas. Very little in this world, if anything, pleased Paul more than pissing off the Powers That Be—especially in a hopelessly out-of-it hinterland (to his way of thinking) like Houston. So, naturally, Paul exhorted his highly receptive audience to defy the Fire Marshal’s bull-horned orders in all their flaming stupidity, rise up off their collective thang, and dance, dance, dance to the thunderous music. In row after row, the revolutionaries-manqué exuberantly complied—until, that is, there was no more music, thunderous or otherwise. Not surprisingly, the HFD had pulled the plug with amazing alacrity—first on Paul’s microphone and then on the mains—and Paul once again found himself in the warm embrace of a local constabulary, cheered on as a hero of the revolution by a howling crowd of thousands. This entire psycho-trauma performance-drama ended with the Dead and the Airplane (those of us who were not in custody) right back at Houston International Airport somewhat sooner than reflected on our itineraries, under explicit orders to get out of town before sundown.

When Spencer and I arrived at the airport’s main restaurant, desperate to pass some time unaccosted before our flight, things failed to improve. The Grateful Dead, including their jitter-buggy brown-eyed road manager and my lifetime crush, Rock Scully, their entire crew of ne plus ultra roadies and technicians—and, of course, Augustus Owsley Stanley III (“Owsley,” underground chemist to the stars and pathologically obsessive sound engineer), whose job assignment on this trip was somewhat amorphous to say the least—were already sprawled out at the largest table in the dining room in all their tie-dyed glory (courtesy of The Master, Courtenay Pollock), silver aluminum Zero Halliburtons all in an understated, anodized row. For some months prior, Owsley had been proselytizing to his acolytes and anyone else he could corner about some typically weird Planet Nine dietary theory of his that mandated frequent consumption of only the rarest red meat (and by “rarest” I mean that with a good vet, the cow could have recovered), and in keeping with His Eminence’s nutritional guidelines, each person at the Dead’s crowded table had ordered the most expensive steak on the menu with firm instructions to an already dubious waitress that each order must be served extremely rare, or there would be hell to pay, or not pay, as the case might be.

Lo and behold, like everything else that day, the Dead’s food orders didn’t turn out as planned (quelle surprise), and when Scully and Owsley objected vehemently to paying for their food due to its improper preparation, the management felt just as strongly about summoning the police to see that they did. While this highly energized brouhaha was playing out before an audience of slack-jawed diners, Spencer and I were sitting at a nearby table by ourselves, heads down and minding our own, when out of the blue, another HPD officer approached us (truly, their numbers must have been legion), tapped me on the shoulder, and told me in no uncertain terms to pull up the front of my dress, cover the rest of myself, and “start acting like a lady.” As it turned out, some patron had complained that my spectacularly beautiful Holly’s Harp repurposed piano-shawl dress was too low-cut on the top and too high-cut on the bottom, and what with murders and violence in Houston being so comparatively inconsequential, the gendarmes thought it necessary to dial down the heat on my sartorial splendor for the public welfare.

This terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day finally ended with the offending bands being escorted—all the way to the ramp and right past my uncle’s official portrait hanging in the marble corridor of the airport—to a waiting United DC-6 headed out of town. Since then, I have made it a rule never to dine with, or anywhere near, the Grateful Dead in a public transportation hub more than 25 miles from San Francisco. One has to draw the line somewhere, and I’m drawing it at Walnut Creek.

Grateful Dead book
LIFE Books

Sally Mann Romano is an attorney in her native Texas. In the 1960s she was not a lawyer but sometimes needed lawyering-up after one of her several—make that myriad—associations with rock stars. No one remembers the day more colorfully. Her book, The Band’s With Me, with a foreword by Grace Slick, will be published by Jorvik Press in 2016.

LIFE’s special edition The Grateful Dead: 50 Years Along the Golden Road is available in stores today. A digital edition is available at TimeSpecials.com



The Enduring Legacy of Jerry Garcia

The Long, Strange Trip Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead forged a completely unique musical identity, playing thousands of concerts over a 30-year period. Though Garcia's death in August 1995 effectively ended the band's touring days, the Dead's music and cultural influence have continued to grow. Digital copies of the band's concerts continue to sell briskly via iTunes and fan sites, while a Hollywood biopic about Garcia is in the works, and a pair of Deadhead marketing experts have just released a book that posits the band as an ideal model for marketing in the Internet age. Oh, if that's not enough, Cherry Garcia remains Ben and Jerry's No. 1–selling flavor. RB/Redferns/Getty Images
Photo of Jerry Garcia
Dead to the Core The crux of the Grateful Dead's musical identity was the band's willingness to constantly experiment. No song was ever played the same way twice, and no two concerts are remotely alike. This jam-band approach has been successfully co-opted by a number of contemporary groups like Phish and the Dave Matthews Band. Paul Ryan—Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images
Scully, Garcia, and Wolfe Talking on the Sidewalk
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test The Dead gained its early audience by performing as the house band at the many LSD parties, known as "acid tests," that were organized widely in the Bay Area in the mid-1960s. The scene, centered on the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets, was later memorialized in a best-selling work by Tom Wolfe, who stands with Garcia and Dead manager Rock Sculley in this 1966 photo. Ted Streshinsky—Corbis
The Grateful Dead At the Family Dog
The Music Never Stopped The free-flowing approach to music that the band perfected over three decades of playing together was possible because of the extraordinary abilities of the musicians Garcia partnered with. After his death, guitarist Bob Weir and bassist Phil Lesh formed a series of bands — the current incarnation is called Furthur — while drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart (not visible in this photo) lead the group the Rhythm Devils. In 1970, when this photo was taken, the group included Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, rear left, who sang and played keyboards and harmonica. He died in 1973. Robert Altman—Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Jerry Garcia Getting into Car with Suitcase
My Love Is Bigger Than a Cadillac Small-scale tributes to Garcia and the band abound. More than a dozen musical artists paid tribute to the guitarist at the 25th annual Jerry Garcia Birthday Bash in West Virginia; The Grateful Dead Hour, a radio program hosted by David Gans, can be heard on 73 stations throughout the U.S.; and the San Francisco Giants will give out Garcia bobble-head dolls at their game against the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 9, the anniversary of his death. Roger Ressmeyer—Corbis
Grateful Dead live
Spinach Jam A critical component of the band's enduring popularity is the visceral connection Garcia et al established with the group's fans, known as Deadheads. Unlike virtually any other act, the Dead encouraged its audience to record its shows and did not object when digital copies of those recordings were made available on the Internet (as long as no one took a profit from the sale of the music). In their book Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead: What Every Business Can Learn from the Most Iconic Band in History, authors Brian Halligan and David Meerman Scott relate that this unorthodox business model actually proved wildly successful. By giving away its music, the band brought in new fans and increased sales from concerts, records and merchandise. Ed Perlstein—Redferns/Getty Images
Photo of Jerry Garcia
Captain Trips For most of the band's career, Garcia and his fellow musicians did not live the glamorous life that one commonly associates with top rock acts. Though money flowed in, the band was terrible at managing itself or finding someone trustworthy to do it. And in many ways, Garcia was cool with that. The Dead scene is more "inclusive than exclusive," he said in a 1967 interview. It has more to do "with integrity ... The point is, we're not trying to be famous or rich, we're just trying to make our music as well as we can and get it out." Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
The Grateful Dead
Truckin' In 2008, the band donated its archives to the University of California at Santa Cruz. The collection, which includes documents related to the band's history, fan-generated art and letters, photographs, posters, stage pieces and more, will be open to the public. An assortment of pieces was featured at an exhibit at the Museum of New York in March 2010. Of Garcia's two most famous guitars, dubbed Rosebud and Tiger (played above by Garcia in a 1981 Berkeley, Calif., concert), the former belongs to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, while the latter was purchased by a private collector — Jim Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts football team. Clayton Call—Redferns
Jerry and the Mountain Boys Concert 1988 - Palo Alto CA
Acoustic Set During his lifetime, Garcia was known for his unrelenting obsession with music. He was rarely seen without a guitar in his hands, and he played in numerous other musical groups besides the Dead. He played jazz with Merl Saunders and Ornette Coleman, contributed to albums by the Jefferson Airplane and Crosby, Still, Nash & Young and formed a bluegrass group with mandolinist David Grisman, Old and in the Way, among other projects. Tim Mosenfelder—Getty Images
Jerry Garcia, David Letterman
In on the Joke During their 1982 appearance on David Letterman's show, Bob Weir and Garcia joked with the Late Night host about the '60s, the origin of the term Deadhead and the band's willingness to let its fans record concerts. "The shows aren't the same ever," Garcia says, "not even remotely, so when we're done with it, they can have it." David McGough—Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
Jerry Garcia
Not Fade Away Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead performs in concert circa 1987.L. Busacca—WireImage/Getty Images

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