Ex-manager of the Grateful Dead, agent for The Doors, and sound and event pioneer Richard Loren talks to Access All Areas’ Tom Hall about artist maltreatment, corporate culture and his hopes for the industry in a passionate, exclusive interview.
The interview takes on a plethora of topics – from Spotify to Kanye West – and is an expanded version of the one that appears in Access’ March 2015 print issue.
BEST THEME: I love Bestival’s ‘Summer of Love’ idea for 2015. It really resonated with me.
ALTERED PERCEPTION: The Doors were an assault on the bourgeois psyche. Jim Morrison was like a shaman for his generation. I love The Stones, but you can see James Brown in Jagger. You have songwriters, but then there’s poets like Jim, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.
SMOKE CLEARS: I would see old blues musicians paid with a bottle of whiskey or heroin and the businessmen would take the recording rights. Mostly black people were taken advantage of. I had one foot in the business, one in the artist camp and realised I loved these guys [the artists], their worldview and marijuana smoking. All of a sudden I couldn’t work on the other side.
TUNE IN, BAIL OUT: In 1967, I bailed Jim Morrison out of jail [following a riot at a gig]; it was police brutality and Jim didn’t follow authority. I experienced The Doors when they were vital and the media hadn’t got down on them. 1967-68 were beautiful and free years for the band.
STREAMING OPPORTUNITIES: Pandora and Spotify provide opportunities for bands to create their own following. People can listen to the music from their local area, and bands won’t need a CD deal or record contract. It’s a positive view for the future.
KEY EVENT: The illustrious 1978 Grateful Dead performances at The Great Pyramid [executive produced by Loren] were amazing. I was riding on a camel and I saw the potential of the location. A lunar eclipse and the signing of the Camp David Accords both occurred during the gigs. It was unparalleled.
INTIMATE ARENAS: If a musician can hear themselves and the audience can hear them, they’re happy campers.
GREAT SOUND: In 1974, The Grateful Dead and Owsley “Bear” Stanley put together this monstrous sound system, The Wall of Sound. We had to move it between shows with a day gap in-between, employing 30 members of staff. It allowed us to play gigantic halls without a loss in clarity.
UNSUNG HEROES: Cellist and arranger Paul Buckmaster and The Beatles’ producer George Martin changed the quality of rock forever. Nowadays, U2’s producer Daniel Lanois has made an incredible contribution to music. He’s well known in the industry and his input becomes a vital part of the sound of the artists he’s working with.
KEY SCENE: San Francisco was 49 square miles of land surrounded by reality. Marty Balin, who started Jefferson Airplane, really formed its signature sound when he bought a club, The Matrix, in August 1965. It was key for The Doors and a lot of San Francisco bands, but later it came to epitomize the psychedelic scene, putting the area’s surrealistic pillow on the map.
PUPPET MASTERS: Corporatisation is pretty much inescapable and the lock it has on everything is very strong, not just in music, I mean everything. We live in a corporate world. Nation states are not the things they were. Corporate is vague term, but there is this unfettered capitalism that bookends the very wealthy and the poor.
GIVE A DAMN ABOUT THE GRAMMYS?: [The Grammys] is not really about music, it’s about dross and glamour and who can outshine everyone else. It’s not a celebration of the beautiful music that’s coming out today.
HIGH PRAISE: Grateful Dead member Jerry Garcia was an amazing human being, solely driven to grow as an artist. He made everyone around him feel like they were the stars. They create a force field around them, these artists, and people pick up on it. That’s why the Grateful Dead and their fans have such longevity.
CORPORATE DEMISE: The Eighties came and it was no to drugs and yes to greed. Hippies were replaced by yuppies. Suffering and money became positive virtues. We lost that hope and it was now about making money.
BREAKING FREE: The Grateful Dead resisted selling out, they were an anomaly and never catered to the corporate music industry. We created the ‘Deadheads’ and we served them, creating our own ticket system. They maintained the spirit of the 60s through the years. Jerry and the gang really cared about their fans.
BANDS OF HOPE: We don’t need more lowest common denominator acts, we just need good music. Acts I love like Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers and so forth are not finding that much of a showcase unless they choose to plug into that glossy corporate circus. I love The Milk Carton Kids, they’re really fantastic, they’re taking it back to musicianship, to sensitivity. The Avett Brothers are another great group, they turn to pure music, but don’t play up to an industry that wants to play up to the masses. Ed Sheeran is a big star, we need more like him. They don’t care about the mass media spectacle. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros play very interesting music, encompassing the spirit of the 60s. Lake Street Dive are great too, and have a wonderful lead singer, she’s great.
BRIGHT FLAMES: Jim Morrison was sick of being ‘that guy’ by 1969. He was Dylan Thomas at heart, but his frontman persona wore out really quickly for him. By 1969 it was over really. He grew a beard and became a really transformed person.
FORGOT ABOUT RAY: Ray Manzarek [The Doors keyboard player] was a sensational performer and even when Jim had passed out [during a gig] they could do it without him. Ray is a genius and the one I was really connected to personally in the group.
KEY GIG: When I put the Grateful Dead into Radio City Music Hall, a very conservative venue in 1980, they played a week of sold out shows. They did their acoustic and electric sets and that was an important first.
OKAY COMPUTER: Using technology to alter voices can work well. I was talking to [American singer songwriter] Grace Slick, who said she loved it when they got in with synthesizers. Music doesn’t have to come from a guitar. If technology can improve the sound, great. Music is just what you hear, what’s melodic.
IN THE MOOD: When the Moody Blues came through, I feared it wasn’t really music anymore, but it was. They were the pioneers.
A GOOD RAP: I think rap music, and the passion of people like Kanye West, is great. Some of the best lyrics came out of the 90s rap era and spoke of the unfairness in the world and indifference to their suffering. Eminem is incredible. These guys are lyrical, they write beautiful music. As a student of what they’re saying, I think they say things that need to be said.
SUDDEN BLESS: I started out at 20 years old, hair fashionably long, and all of a sudden I’m working with Jefferson Airplane. I thought I’d be ambitious, do my thing and get rewarded but I found that the business people I worked with were not treating artists well, they treated them like commodities.
HIGH HOPES: I was turned onto pot, and I found myself aligning with these artists and drifting from these businessmen with who I had no real connection as a person. I became aware of [the artists’] need to be protected from managers who were supposed to take advantage of their interests. I had one foot in the business, one in the artist camp and realised I love these guys [the artists], their worldview and marijuana smoking. All of a sudden I couldn’t work on the other side.
HIGH PRAISE: Working with Jerry Garcia allowed me to ply my trade, I took a year off but didn’t want to go back top working with the sharks. Jerry asked me to be his manager and it was destiny. He was an amazing human being, you can’t say enough about him. He was solely driven to grow as an artist. He treated people so beautifully. He made everyone around him feel like they were the stars. They create a field force around them, these artists, and people pick up on it. It doesn’t have to be spoken in words. That’s why the band and the fans have such longevity.
YOU’RE BOOKED: My book (with the cute book cover design named High Notes) is a collection of stories of a young kid gaining his right of passage through the 60s around people my own age that just happened to be rock stars. It was very illuminating to me to be around these people to awaken me, expose me to marijuana, a gateway to consciousness that can be used as a narcotic to knock you out instead of seek illumination. People in the 60s wanted to know more, not become numb.
Richard Loren’s autobiography High Notes is out now via East Pond Publishing.