Me and the Dead: The Rocky Road To Unlimited Devotion

Me and the Dead: The Rocky Road To Unlimited Devotion

Written by Jay Jay French

My first book, Twisted Business will be published in the first quarter of 2021 through RosettaBooks. It is a business book/memoir.

In it I go into detail about my life and the following story, while not an excerpt, was written just for my Copper readers to give you an insight into my musical journey…enjoy this exclusive look into my musical evolution.

Hey Jay Jay, Why do you make fun of the Grateful Dead?

Really…what’s up with that?

OK…it’s time to ’fess up to my comic routine, which goes like this:

I saw the Grateful Dead 27 times between 1969 and 1972. 26 times were on acid and I saw God each time. On the 27th time, I went straight and they were the worst band I ever heard in my life and I never saw them again!

If you’ve ever watched the Twisted Sister documentary We Are Twisted F***king Sister, I tell this above referenced story.

Shortly after the TS documentary came out, I got an e-mail from a guy named Justin Kreutzmann. He wrote to tell me that he had just seen the doc, loved it (he watched it five times!) and he thought my comments about the Grateful Dead were hilarious. Hmmm, I thought. The name Kreutzmann was strangely familiar. Could it be? Yes.Justin was the son of the Dead’s drummer Bill Kreutzmann. Justin  is also a documentary filmmaker.

Justin got the humor. Many Dead junkies, however, don’t and get really offended at my comments. The Dead, Dylan, Springsteen…some of their fans have no sense of humor when it comes to this stuff.

Me? I could care less what anyone thinks of my band or whether or not they like what I like. I love the Beatles (as do some other folks) but when someone says to me that they think the Beatles suck, I just yawn…like, “who really cares.” The fact that I don’t get on a soapbox to proclaim the Beatles are the greatest band that ever existed, and defend them, also bothers some of my Beatles fanatic friends. That’s just plain nuts, in my opinion.

So, getting back to the Dead, allow me to finally describe my Dead conversion from “world’s biggest fan” to “If I never hear them again, it will be too soon.”

Sometime in the winter of 1967, I got an issue of Ramparts magazine. Ramparts was a counterculture mag and was at the forefront of the new super-literate, hyper-intellectual remaking of the new breed of journalistic criticism that also came to be represented by the music magazine Crawdaddy. Those writers were all college dropouts in love with rock music and hell-bent on describing its importance with intense prose and culturally rich but super-pretentious stories like “The Stones, the Beatles and Spyder Turner’s Raunch Epistemology.”

I was 15 and had no freaking idea what the hell that one meant!

Anyway, in 1967 Ramparts had done a story on the new San Francisco hippie music scene.

They covered the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and the Fish, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Big Brother and the Holding Company and Moby Grape. They described the Be-Ins and the legendary five-hour concerts in Golden Gate Park and the Winterland Ballroom, all within the background of free-flowing LSD supplied by Augustus Owsley Stanley III.

Here I was, in my bedroom in NYC, age 15 and fantasizing what it would be like to see these new bands. Free-form FM radio was just starting but this new music hadn’t hit yet but still, I had to hear these bands, so I went to Sam Goody’s record store on 50th Street off Broadway and found the Grateful Dead’s self-titled debut album.

The Grateful Dead, the band's first album.

I went home and played it incessantly.

Of all the above mentioned groups, the Dead were, at this stage, the least commercial-sounding and, with the crazy jam of “Viola Lee Blues” closing out their debut and me newly stoned from my discovery of weed, I felt that I was onto something that was really cool and very “inside.”

I grew my hair out to look like James Gurley from Big Brother and the Holding Company and I went full hippie.

Jay Jay in his hippie days.

In short order the Dead released Anthem of the Sun in 1968, and then  Aoxomoxoa in 1969.

They finally came to the Fillmore East in 1969 and opened for Janis Joplin. Finally, I would get to see my heroes. There was a problem, however. They didn’t play five hours. They played about 45 minutes because they were the opening band. In fact, my memory of it, confirmed by Bob Weir when I met him a couple of years ago, is that they came out on stage, tuned up for 20 minutes, played one song and said goodnight.

It also happened a second time a couple of months later when they opened for Country Joe and the Fish. Same story. Same result but this time Country Joe announced to the crowd that he was going to flip the order the following night and let the Dead close so that New York could finally hear the Dead the way they were meant to be heard.

That next night was nirvana for me. As I remember it, as far as I can because I was pretty wrecked on psychedelics at the time, was that, when they ended and the doors opened up, the morning light shone in.


I became a Dead addict. Every time they came into New York or the surrounding area over the next three years, I was there. I totally “got” them. I absorbed every nuance of every song. I played all the albums seemingly endlessly. Workingman’s Dead, American Beauty, Grateful Dead (the “Skull and Roses” album), Jerry Garcia’s solo album as well as Bob Weir’s Ace. I couldn’t get enough. We, meaning the Dead and my drug-laden brain stem, were connected. Totally.

When it came to live shows, the Dead shows were all framed around LSD. The only other band that I connected the acid experience with was Pink Floyd, especially their debut album The Piper At The Gates of Dawn. Pink Floyd, however, didn’t tour much in those days, although I once had tickets to see them with Syd Barrett but Syd lost his mind and left the band about a month before the scheduled Fillmore show. It was cancelled and when they did return, they came back with then-new guitarist David Gilmour.

The Grateful Dead, 1970. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Dead and LSD were intrinsically connected. The hippie in me was also enmeshed in this scene. It was all tied together – and this is where the break with the Dead had to happen.

In the Spring of 1972 a series of events took place in which I had to decide where my life was going. The drug scene in New York City, especially at the fountain in Central Park, had succumbed to heroin in the circles I traveled in and everyone around me was becoming a junkie. I had overdosed on heroin the summer before and my best friend Victor and his current girlfriend at the time were stashing hypodermic needles at my apartment. I woke up the morning of Easter Sunday 1972 and decided that, in order to save myself, I was going to stop all drug use the following Monday.

I did.

Except for some occasional pot smoking, my drug taking and dealing days were over. I also knew that I had to leave Manhattan for a while to avoid the peer pressure of falling back into the scene.

I joined a bar band in New Jersey and spent the summer living on a farm in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania rehearing with a band that only lasted one show on the following Labor Day weekend.

For reasons that can only be described at cosmic, I decided to subscribe to a Crawdaddy-style rock magazine called Fusion. The magazine offered three free albums with a subscription. David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Mott The Hoople’s All The Young Dudes and Lou Reed’s Transformer.

The magazine came with Bowie on the cover with a full color story about David Bowie and his Ziggy Stardust alter ego, and the three albums that came with the magazine all seemed to be connected to Bowie. Not only was Ziggy mindblowing but Bowie had produced the Mott album and also wrote the title song, and both Bowie and Mick Ronson, his guitar player, produced the Lou Reed album. Not since the Dead, and before that, the Beatles, had some artist or band had such an enveloping effect on me.

Fusion, January 1973.


The look of the Spiders from Mars was not “hippie,” it was androgeny. It was dark and foreboding. It was dangerous and sexy as hell. I wanted to be a part of that, not a Deadhead anymore but a Bowie devotee. I couldn’t see how the two musical lifestyles could coexist within me.

I had to prove to myself that I had moved on, so I agreed to go with some friends to see the Dead one more time at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City in October of 1972. I was still looking like a hippie but I wanted to cut my hair, dye it blond and look like Bowie’s guitar player Mick Ronson, my new guitar god.

I went to see the Dead. Straight. Not high on anything for the first time in the many times I’d seen them.

I said to myself: where are the songs? Where is a melody? Where is a great guitar tone? Where is their image?

In short, I had moved on into another world and I got up during intermission and walked out of the stadium, convinced that the Dead were yesterday’s news. They were over and done in my eyes.

I was convinced that the Dead’s best days were behind them, I was there, I rode the cosmic bus with them, but that was all she wrote!

In order to change I had to totally transform into a glitter god and never look back. The Dead became everything I had been and everything I had to leave.

Goodbye Grateful Dead, Hello Twisted Sister!

Close encounter: Jay Jay (foreground) and David Bowie (white shirt, behind him) at Manhattan's Mercer Arts Center, September 1972. Jay Jay didn't get to talk to Bowie. The building literally collapsed on August 3, 1973.
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