VEDA Audit: Courtenay Pollock - The Man Behind the Grateful Dead Tie-Dye and VEDA’s Spring 13 Tie-Dye

How did you start with the Dead? I was living on a 500-acre commune in VT and the lease was up so I decided it was time to move on. During those years the oracle I lived by was the I Ching. I said, “What should I do?” and threw the coin 3 times. The fortune said I should head to the west. So I packed a bag full of tie-dyes and few clothes and I got on the Greyhound bus.

I met a girl on the bus; we hung out and chatted until we got to SF. I told her I needed an apartment and she told me to go to Switch Board in Haight Ashbury, which during that time was a place you could go to get apartments. I walked up to this hole-in-the-wall office and told them that I wanted to live in the country. They all laughed and said I need to go to Marin County where all the rock and rollers live! About 10 minutes later, someone called and wanted a roommate to share their house with. I arranged to meet this man at 5pm. We met at the bus stop and drove out to this beautiful home that was built around 2 Redwood trees. To me it was ideal. The scenery was perfect and the rent was cheap - about $37 per month. The next morning he was going off to work and I had no idea where I was geographically. I decided to put my tie-dyes in my knapsack and walked down the hill.

About a mile down the hill I noticed a property where I just knew that freaks lived. I walked up to the door and this pretty, petite, lovely girl with a ring in her nose (who I know was definitely different) answered the door. I introduced myself and asked her if she would like to see my artwork. She let me right in and said the guys should be off the road anytime now! 

She made some coffee and I hung my tie-dyes all over the room. Before the coffee was even done, 8 trucks pulled into the driveway and all these rowdy guys came into the house. They all stopped in the room with my tie-dyes and said, “Hey you! You can do all the art for our speakers!” It was a very cosmic change of events.

Back then it was much more of extended family vibes. Individual people from around the scene bought my work. I was doing all the shirts and speakers for the Dead. I was also doing work for Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother, and Holding Co. I am sad to say I missed Janis by about a month. I was working with Crosby Stills Nash, Young Bloods, even the Hell’s Angels.

It was the perfect thing at the perfect time. With the Dead’s newfound fame, the time was just cosmic.

What was your most magical or special moment with the Dead? Special Moments…well if you can remember it then you weren’t there! So many extraordinary times back then. The time I went to Egypt with the Dead was very special. I was in an on top of the pyramids the whole 17 days they were there. I got access to the pyramids day and night because I was on a quest. I was in the pyramid on the last night’s gig with a full moon in Pisces and a total eclipse. I had been alone in the kings’ chambers and I could hear the music. We had the place wired for sound but it just never worked because the electric energy around the pyramids was too much. I came out from the pyramids and the show had ended. Bill Graham had 40 camels and 20 horses waiting for us. We were going to take them 15 km down the desert to this nightclub called Sahara City. Everyone was mounting up to take off and all the horses were gone. Most of the camels had a driver, except one. I walked up to the camel, mounted up, and made the whip whip sound (like the drivers did) and pointed in the direction of the club. The camel just started walking. I was going across the desert and looked around. I couldn’t see anything but the sun rising and the moon in eclipse setting on oppositie horizons. The color of the energy during that time was such a magical moment. That was truly extraordinary…it was also extraordinary that the camel found the nightclub!

If you were a…

Movie: Easy Rider I guess. This movie is about persecution of freedom. I stood freedom. During the time I was in Marin County or even on the commune, our expression was all about freedom and individuality. We were just budding and flowering hippies. 

Fictional character: Some kind of super hero.

Place: Snorkeling in the Caribbean amongst exotic animals and colors - the would be my world.

Food: Something delicious and exotic.

Animal: I really have an infinity for wolves. I have seen so many of them. I also think I would be a big cat. I have always wanted to have big cat stealth powers. Like a snow leopard.

Old(er) Writers: It’s Never Too Late

Writing doesn’t have an age range. There is no too young or too old to start writing or get published. People of all ages have made an impact on the writing world. Here I have compiled a short list of writers whose debut book was written or published after they turned 50.

Richard Adams published Watership Down when he was 52 years of age. It became an immediate success and Adams won the two most prestigious children’s book awards in Britain. He became a full time author two years later after the publishing of his second book.

Laura Ingalls Wilder was 66 when her first novel, Little House in the Big Woods, was published by Harper & Brothers in 1932. She followed up the initial book’s success with seven more in the series prior to her death. The series has since sold over 60 million copies worldwide and has been translated into 30+ languages.

Anna Sewell started writing Black Beauty, her first and only novel, in 1871 The book was published in 1877 when she was 57 years old. Black Beauty has sold over 50 million copies, making it one of the best selling books of all time.

Frank McCourt won the Pulitzer Prize for his first book, Angela’s Ashes, a memoir he published at 66. He followed up his success with two more memoirs, ‘Tis and Teacher Man. His books sold over 10 million copies.

Millard Kaufman started writing novels after a long career as a screenwriter. He began his first novel, Bowl of Cherries, when he was 86 and published it four years later at age 90. His second novel was published posthumously.

Bryce Courtenay was 56 when his first novel, The Power of One, was published. He has gone on to write over a dozen more novels and is one of Australia’s best selling authors. He still writes today at age 79.

Donald Ray Pollock worked at a paper mill until he was 50 when he enrolled in Ohio State University’s English program and published a short story collection four years later. The Devil All the Time, his first novel, was published in 2011 when he was 57.

Nirad C. Chaudhuri was a political commentator in India and published his first book in 1951, An Autobiography of an Unknown Indian. He was 54. He continued on to write an additional ten books, the last published three years before his death when he was 99.

Mary Wesley was 57 when her first two children’s novels were published in 1969, but she didn’t achieve fame until she began writing novels for adults in 1983. She wrote and published a total of seven novels during her 70s. Her books have sold over 3 million copies.

Young Writers: It’s Never Too Early

I’m in the process of restoring these awesome Hard Truckers speakers.

The cabinets were made in the mid-1970s by the Grateful Dead’s sound guys following the Dead’s Wall of Sound era. All I did was clean the dust off and rub in some natural wood oil.

I commissioned the new fronts from Courtenay Pollock who did all of the Dead’s tie dye work (speaker fronts and backdrops).

I’m installing period JBL 8" speakers and rewiring. 

Good Lovin'
  • Good Lovin'
  • Grateful Dead
  • 82-05-22 Greek Theatre, Berkeley, CA

This Friday’s “Daily Dose of the Dead” is Good Lovin’ performed at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, CA on May 22, 1982. A really nice performance of this song with heavy Phil undertones. 

Good Lovin’ was originally written by Rudy Clark and Arthur Resnick and was first recorded by Lemme B. Good (Limmie Snell) and then made a #1 hit for the band the Rascals. The dead released the song on their 1978 album Shakedown Street but it was pretty much a non-event. 

The dead had been playing Good Lovin’ for a long time and it had originally been a Pig Pen tune in which he often went off into one of his classic raps. It was picked up by Bobby on lead vocals at the 10/20/1974 show at Winterland and then after two shows where it was played in 1976, it was put back into heavy rotation starting in 1977. It was one of the most played live Grateful Dead songs clocking in at 428 times played.

The tie dye panel you see as the backdrop of this show at the Greek was designed and manufactured by Courtenay Pollock. He also designed the DVD box case for the recent Sunshine Daydream release. He produces really spectacular tie dye shirts and tapestries. Check out his website here and have a look at the incredible backdrop he did for the 9/27/2013 Furthur show at the greek… spectacular stuff! His tie dyes are stuff of legend and highly sought after… Not a bad gift for the holidays for a guy that writes a grateful dead blog… hint hint to my kids!

Enjoy this Friday’s dose of the dead.