The Cork Board

Goodbye Mr. Bear

Dancing Bears patch (from The Gypsy Rose Shopping Experience)


I awake this morning to the news that Owsley Stanley, “Bear” to his friends, has passed away as the result of a car accident in Australia at the age of 76.

The following is from today’s “Yahoo” News page:

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Owsley “Bear” Stanley, a 1960s counterculture figure who flooded the flower power scene with LSD and was an early benefactor of the Grateful Dead, died in a car crash in his adopted home country of Australia on Sunday, his family said. He was 76.

The renegade grandson of a former governor of Kentucky, Stanley helped lay the foundation for the psychedelic era by producing more than a million doses of LSD at his labs in San Francisco’s Bay Area.

“He made acid so pure and wonderful that people like Jimi Hendrix wrote hit songs about it and others named their band in its honor,” former rock ‘n’ roll tour manager Sam Cutler wrote in his 2008 memoirs “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

Hendrix’s song “Purple Haze” was reputedly inspired by a batch of Stanley’s product, though the guitarist denied any drug link. The ear-splitting psychedelic-blues combo Blue Cheer took its named from another batch.

Stanley briefly managed the Grateful Dead, and oversaw every aspect of their live sound at a time when little thought was given to amplification in public venues. His tape recordings of Dead concerts were turned into live albums, providing him with a healthy income in later life.

“When it came to technology, the Bear was one of the most far-out and interesting guys on the planet,” Cutler wrote. “The first FM live simulcast could be, in part, attributed to his vision, as could the first quadraphonic simulcast on radio.”

The Dead, a fabled rock band formed in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1965 known for its improvisational live concerts, wrote about him in their song “Alice D. Millionaire” after a 1967 arrest prompted a newspaper to describe Stanley as an “LSD millionaire.”

Steely Dan’s 1976 single “Kid Charlemagne” was loosely inspired by Stanley’s exploits.

I never knew him, of course, I couldn’t have. But he has featured in my life on an almost daily basis. Being a tie-dyed in the wool Deadhead, his dancing bears image (above) and the unforgettable skull flash image which he co-designed with his friend Bob Thomas, have never been far from what identifies me as a music fan and maybe even, me as me.

R.I.P. Mr.Bear, you lived through some extraordinary times. “May the four winds blow you safely home…………”

The iconic symbol of The Grateful Dead !

10 thoughts on “Goodbye Mr. Bear”

      1. There will always be innovators (counter culture) and there are so many fans of the Dead, young people especially, that the music will play forever! God bless America, and all of the “slighty off plumb” people that reside here!

  1. Tanks for the blog re Owlsey. It brought back many memories to me. Yes, they were strange times, indeed, but what a lasting effect on music,culture and social developments. Excuse me now while I que up some “Dead music”

  2. I was never a Deadhead, and have always been afraid of the recreational use of mind altering chemicals (lucky for me since my family has a crushing history of addiction) yet I was, and still am, a hippie and I’m still enamored with the rock and roll and pop culture of my youth. In my head I’m still young, and the passing of each of these people who played such important roles in creating that culture, makes me wonder at how long I’ve been alive. In my mind, I can’t be more than twenty — twenty-five. Does time strike you this way? Have we all, through the ages, felt this way when we hear such news?

    It doesn’t stop me from living in my moments in this time, I’d rather not live without my iPod for goodness sake, but I wonder about these questions every time I’m startled by some ‘whippersnapper’ who looks at me as if I shouldn’t know anything. How about you?

    1. I agree, sparks, my head too, is about 25. It seems I know just enough to stay out of trouble but I’m still curious and searching. I’m still enamored by those years too. Every generation will have it’s heroes but somehow we had some great ones (see, there I go proclaiming it was better in our day – slapped wrist). The passing of Garcia was a watershed day, though. Never really accepted that for a long while. One of my favourite things to do in summer is to lay out on a hot day and listen to the Dead’s “Field Trip” show from the Springfield Creamery in Oregon. It was baking hot – the fire trucks were spraying water on the crowd – the Dead played great – and if you close your eyes on a summer’s day you’re there !! (I’ve not been to your blog for a few days, sparks, you’ve reminded me to drop by. Thanks for such a nice comment. You got me going 🙂 )

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