Sotheby's celebrates The Grateful Dead with auction

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Sotheby's celebrates The Grateful Dead with auction
Jerry Garcia's Stage-Used 12 String Guild Starfire. Courtesy Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- Just keep truckin’ on – this fall, Sotheby’s will present From the Vault: Property from the Grateful Dead and Friends, dedicated to celebrating the global phenomenon of the Grateful Dead’s musical and cultural legacy, spanning the band’s earliest years as one of the pivotal artistic focal points of the 1960s counterculture based in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, in which the group routinely performed for Ken Kesey’s Acid Test experiences, through the heyday of the band’s legendary live performances that filled arenas around the world and transformed the Grateful Dead into the definitive American band, and much more. Featuring items on offer directly from the collections of Grateful Dead Productions and their inner circle, the sale explores the vast cultural impact of the Grateful Dead, and is highlighted by stage equipment from all eras of Grateful Dead tours including surviving components from the legendary Wall of Sound, as well as Jerry Garcia’s stage-used equipment and other touring equipment. Also on offer are numerous personal items from famed crew members “Big” Steve Parish and Lawrence “Ram Rod” Shurtliff, as well as a trove of rare and highly coveted Grateful Dead t-shirts, and much more.

The online auction will take place from 7 – 14 October, and Sotheby’s invites Deadheads as well as all fans of music and more to view select highlights from the sale in a preview exhibition at Sotheby’s York Avenue galleries from 19 – 30 August, alongside highlights from Sotheby’s New York Fall Luxury Edit sales series bringing together an exceptional selection of the finest jewelry and watches. The full sale contents of From the Vault will be revealed in the coming weeks, with a public exhibition on view at York Avenue from 9 – 13 October.

Richard Austin, Sotheby’s Global Head of Books & Manuscripts, said: “The Grateful Dead are renowned around the world as one of the most famous and beloved bands of all time—attracting an incredibly devoted and loyal community of fans formed over decades that transformed the group into a touchstone of pop culture that goes far beyond just their music. In carefully curating the auction to capture the spirit of the band and the community that it supported, it is especially gratifying to have worked directly with Grateful Dead Productions and their inner circle to select objects that chart the earliest beginnings of the Grateful Dead throughout their legendary career, while illustrating the vast influence of the band’s musical and cultural legacy. From Jerry Garcia’s stage-used 12-string guild Starfire to the surviving equipment from the groundbreaking Wall of Sound, the band’s legendary sound system that defined their live performances, to the fashions worn on stage by Garcia to the chemistry set used to make LCD for the counterculture in the ‘60s. As the most important sale dedicated to the Grateful Dead ever assembled, we are excited to showcase these objects with veteran Deadheads and the general public alike.”



Jerry Garcia was a founding member of the Grateful Dead and the lead guitarist and vocalist for the band throughout their 30-year career. The upcoming auction features a variety of Garcia’s stage-used equipment, led by the present stage-used 12 string Guild Starfire (estimate $50/70,000). While Garcia’s use of the more common six string model is well-known, Garcia also played the present 12 string model during the late 1960’s. Additional equipment used by Garcia includes 1990s era stage racks from both Bob Weir and Garcia (estimate $10/15,000 each); Garcia’s favorite McIntosh 2300 Amplifier with “Budman” sticker (estimate $5/7,000); and his heavily-gigged and cigarette-burned blackface Fender Twin Reverb shell (estimate $2/3,000).


The psychedelic Sixties as we know them today may never have happened without clandestine chemist and sound engineer Owsley Stanley, who played a pivotal role in the psychedelic movement, and served as one of the key inventors of the Grateful Dead’s Wall of Sound. By his own account – and that of Federal authorities – Owsley manufactured millions of doses of LSD in the late Sixities, thus transforming the counterculture as one of the first chemists to mass produce LSD. Tom Wolfe credits a batch of Owsley’s potent LSD which introduced not just West Coast bands to the drug, but the Beatles as well. A remarkable psychedelic relic and icon of the search for higher consciousness, the present chemistry paraphernalia was given to Larry “Ramrod” Shurtliff – the Dead’s first roadie – while Owsley was out on bail in 1970 and awaiting sentencing for his activities (estimate $10/15,000). Owsley told Shurtliff that he wanted someone to preserve what he said was all that remained of his original lab set up used to produce the drug that so profoundly changed society.


Beloved by Country and Western stars and the counterculture alike, American tailor Nudie Cohn’s iconic tailored stage wear is instantly recognizable. With the trend among the Country music set for Nudie Rodeo Tailor’s stunning stage outfits continuing, the Dead decided to have their own made in 1973. Band members were fitted by Nudie in Los Angeles, and each member designed the motifs that they wanted embroidered on their pants. The pieces were worn during a few shows in Texas, but Jerry began giving away parts of his outfits shortly thereafter. Pieces owned by major music performers rarely appear on the market. The present black pants are embellished with designs befitting the Dead aesthetic (estimate $20/30,000).


The early history of the Dead is intertwined with the Ken Kesey Acid Tests – a series of parties held by author Kensey in the Bay Area in the mid-60s. This important link to the early counterculture is represented by “Ram Rod” Shurtliff’s psychedelic jumpsuit – perhaps the last surviving example from the Merry Pranksters, a group of friends and followers of Kesey who lived communally at the American authors homes (estimate $20/30,000).


The Grateful Dead’s innovative Wall of Sound live experience was legendary and transformative for touring acts in general. Created by audio engineer Owsley “Bear” Stanley specifically for the Grateful Dead’s 1974 performances, the Wall of Sound was the largest concert sound system ever made at that time. Unable to find speakers that were both of studio monitor quality for sound, and tough enough to withstand life on the road, the Dead road crew designed and subsequently made a suitable option by hand themselves. In late 1972, members of the Grateful Dead’s sound crew including Stanley, Dan Healy and Mark Rizene collaborated with Rick Turner, Ron Wickersham, and John Curl to combine six independent sound systems using eleven different channels in order to achieve high-quality sound. The auction features a range of surviving equipment from the Wall of Sound experience, including McIntosh amplifiers, hand-built stage cabinets, original tie-dyed speaker covers, and a dozen Wall of Sound stage cabinets including ones used by guitarists Bob Weir, Jerry Garcia and drummer Mickey Hart (estimates from $2,000).


Also featured in the sale is a Mickey Hart stage-used Sonar drum set with cymbals and hardware (estimate $10/15,000); and a grouping of rare t-shirts from Dan Healy, including an early official t-shirt from 1967 – around the time of the Dead’s first major performances (estimate $6/8,000). The shirt was likely designed by the Hells Angel, Merry Prankster, and graphic artist Allan “Gut” Terk, a key figure in California counterculture in the 1960s and acclaimed in the Bay Area music scene for his t-shirt and poster art through his work for the Dead (estimate $6/8,000). A larger selection of tour t-shirts will be available via Sotheby’s Buy Now marketplace, with further details to come.

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