When the Grateful Dead Performed on Hugh Hefner’s Playboy After Dark & Secretly Dosed Everyone With LSD (1969)

At one time, what­ev­er else peo­ple did with it, they real­ly did read Play­boy for the arti­cles. And what­ev­er oth­er vic­ar­i­ous thrills they might obtain from Hugh Hefner’s Playboy’s Pent­house vari­ety show or its fol­low-up, Play­boy After Dark, they def­i­nite­ly tuned in for the music. Guests includ­ed Ike & Tina Turn­er, The Byrds, Bud­dy Rich, Cher, Deep Pur­ple, Fleet­wood Mac, Step­pen­wolf, James Brown, and many more. On Jan­u­ary 18, 1969, the Grate­ful Dead per­formed, and it went exact­ly as one might expect, mean­ing “things got total­ly out-of-hand,” Dave Melamed writes at Live for Live Music, “but every­thing wound up work­ing out just fine.

Things worked out more than fine, despite, or because of, the fact that the band’s leg­endary sound-man Owsley “Bear” Stan­ley (at that time the largest sup­pli­er of LSD in the coun­try) dosed the cof­fee pot on set. Dead drum­mer Bill Kreutz­mann tells the sto­ry in the Conan clip below. It all start­ed, he says, dur­ing sound­check, when he noticed that the crew was act­ing “kin­da loose.” Know­ing Stan­ley as he did, he imme­di­ate­ly sus­pect­ed the cause: “the whole crew, all of you” he says point­ing toward the Conan cam­era oper­a­tors, “was high on acid.”

There’s not much evi­dence of it in the footage. There don’t seem to be any tech­ni­cal prob­lems in the clip at the top. In their brief, jovial inter­view, Hefn­er and Gar­cia seem plen­ty relaxed. Jer­ry tells the Play­boy founder why the band has two drum­mers. (They “chase each oth­er around, sort of like the ser­pent that eats its own tail” and “make a fig­ure in your mind” if you stand between them.) Then he takes the stage and the band plays “Moun­tains of the Moon” and “St. Stephen.”

Hefn­er was so appre­cia­tive of what­ev­er hap­pened on set that he sent a per­son­al let­ter of thanks the fol­low­ing month (below), addressed to each mem­ber of the band. “Your par­tic­i­pa­tion played an impor­tant part in the suc­cess of this par­tic­u­lar show.” He enclosed a film of the per­for­mances and expressed his grat­i­tude “for hav­ing made the tap­ing ses­sion as enjoy­able to do as I think it will be to watch.”

Kreutz­mann relates some oth­er anec­dotes in his 2015 Conan inter­view, includ­ing a fun­ny bit about how the band got its name. But the best part of the appear­ance is watch­ing him imi­tate Hefn­er, who was appar­ent­ly plas­tered to the wall by the end of the set, the cof­fee real­ly start­ing to kick in.

This strange chap­ter of Grate­ful Dead his­to­ry is one of many memo­ri­al­ized in the new graph­ic nov­el, Grate­ful Dead Ori­gins.

via Laugh­ing Squid

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

How the Grate­ful Dead’s “Wall of Sound”–a Mon­ster, 600-Speak­er Sound System–Changed Rock Con­certs & Live Music For­ev­er

Watch the Grate­ful Dead Slip Past Secu­ri­ty & Play a Gig at Colum­bia University’s Anti-Viet­nam Protest (1968)

Take a Long, Strange Trip and Stream a 346-Hour Chrono­log­i­cal Playlist of Live Grate­ful Dead Per­for­mances (1966–1995)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • WW says:

    Despite the cool, hip-vibe, and great music, a thing jumps-out. All the peo­ple there, includ­ing the band, are dressed like adults, have no weird tat­toos or pierc­ings, kept their hair-col­or, and are not obese, stay­ing in-shape (even Jer­ry). Sophis­ti­ca­tion ruled-the-day, things changed in the 90’s, and here we are, with an infe­ri­or pop­u­lar-cul­ture. What hap­pened?!

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