Against a backdrop of anti-war marches, acid trips and the Summer of Love, the Grateful Dead were making their name on the 1960s San Francisco music scene. Though a far cry from Uncle Sam, frontman Jerry Garcia nonetheless looked the part on the cover of the band’s eponymous first album where he is shown wearing his famous ‘Captain Trips’ top hat emblazoned with stars and stripes. This month, the iconic hat will be sold in the Pop Culture sale at Christie’s South Kensington. We sat down with the man who took the iconic photograph of Garcia, Herb Greene, and the owner of the hat, Harry Strauch, a friend of the band from their time in the city.
When did you first meet Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead?
Herb Greene: ‘I met Jerry when I was wandering through North Beach in San Francisco looking for beatniks. I heard a bluegrass band coming through a coffee shop door and I went in. After the set I walked up and introduced myself to him ‘cause I was so keen on bluegrass. It’s an unforgettable moment for me.’
Harry Strauch: ‘We first met Jerry, my wife and I, when the Grateful Dead moved into a house two doors away from us on Ashbury Street. They used to come down to our boutique on Haight Street, In Gear. They were all customers of ours — and friends.’
How did you come across the hat?
HG: ‘The photograph [where Jerry is wearing the hat] was made in the old Spreckels Mansion on Buena Vista West. I photographed them and I turned it over to Kelly, the artist who did the posters, and Kelly took it and collaged them into the first cover. That hat all of a sudden became ‘Captain Trips’. It just sort of happened, in Grateful Dead style.’
HS: ‘In 1967, the first peace march and anti-Vietnam War march was held in San Francisco. It was going to come up Market Street and turn on to Haight Street and then to a stadium in Golden Gate Park — Joan Baez, Crosby, Stills and Nash, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, they all played at that event. My wife Hyla thought a red white and blue window would be perfect because at that time the flag was still very controversial, in that they only used it at specific events and the only other time people were using it was burning it in protest. She then realised Jerry’s hat, the Captain Trips hat, would be the perfect piece for the window. We saw Jerry one day and said, ‘Jerry, we’re doing this window, can we use the hat?’ And he said yes. When we were taking the window display down we told Jerry to come and get the hat and he said, ‘You guys keep it’.’
What’s your fondest moment of Jerry and the band?
HG: ‘I was photographing Led Zeppelin; the session was rolling along when I got a phone call. It was Rock Scully, telling me, ‘We got a new band member [Tom Constanten], so we need a picture right now — we're downstairs!’ I told him that I was kinda in the middle of something, but they came up anyway. My set-up was in a very large room, almost half a block long. There was a row of theatre seats at one end that Ben Van Meter had set up, so you could sit and look across the room to a screen. Pigpen was wearing a little .22 revolver, in a holster, and he pulled it out and started firing it off into the theatre seats. I guess I was almost done with the session when all this happened, because it was pretty disruptive! Actually, it freaked Zeppelin out. They exclaimed, ‘These westerners and their guns!’ In fact, Led Zeppelin got so distracted, that they quickly left and didn't pay me.’
HS: ‘Jerry was a spokesman for the generation. Sometimes it appeared he was some kind of joker [but] he was extremely intelligent, a brilliant musician, very sensitive and very concerned about the world.’
What was it like living and working at the heart of the music scene in San Francisco in the 1960s?
HG: ‘It was a lot of fun and very exciting. Things were just happening very rapidly. ‘67 was the height of the summer of love – it was all over the national media and by that summer we had thousands of young people streaming into the city.’
HS: ‘I was lucky, it was a great moment. The music industry has changed so much. Back then, getting a record cover was a big deal, but you could do it. I was able to do it because I was part of that generation and I worked at it. Being in San Francisco at that time was terrific. It was like a perfect storm.’