Country Joe & The Fish co-founder Barry “The Fish” Melton’s portrait of Rock Scully sounds more like the description of a spiritual guru than the manager of a band.
“Rock was the band’s visionary, not all that attuned to ordinary day-to-day tasks,” Melton says. “He was an idea man who helped chart uncharted seas.”
Most managers focus on booking, licensing and contracts. Scully wasn’t most managers – which was only fitting, because the Grateful Dead weren’t most bands.
Scully, who died of lung cancer on Dec. 16, 2014 at 73, didn’t know much about band management when he and the Dead hooked up in 1965. He did know that their music inspired and celebrated free thought and expression – and Scully’s managerial style was an extension of the music: largely improvised, creative and usually coming together really well.
One of Melton’s favorite recollections of Scully, a Carmel High grad, went down in London in 1968. He arranged a meeting with Beatles’ publicist Derek Taylor at Apple Corps on Savile Row. “I don’t know how Rock pulled it off,” Melton recalls. “He was trying to convince Derek that we – The Dead, the Beatles, Country Joe and the Fish and others – should all do a gigantic [Human] Be-In at Stonehenge.”
Scully and Melton ended up spending several hours at Apple and scored early numbered copies of the Beatles’ White Album. They also took a drive out to Stonehenge, so Scully could visualize the staging, but just as they arrived, the Druid monument closed.
They approached the guard, a man who claimed to be the father of British Formula 1 racing star Jackie Stewart. Scully promptly revealed detail after detail about Stewart’s career. Suddenly they were in, after-hours. It was the kind of trivia that helped Rock connect with people and negotiate the Dead’s first record deal (with Warner Brothers) and score gigs at the Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock.
“There was nothing he didn’t know something about,” Melton says.
Wherever Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Bobby Weir and Pigpen were, Scully was there, too. In 1967, when the Dead’s 710 Ashbury St. house in San Francisco was raided, uncovering a pound of weed, Scully was handcuffed and hauled away with the rest of the band. That fit with his priorities – to support, rather than blame, chastise or condemn his collaborators.
“If someone got busted, Scully would donate money to help him and his family,” Big Brother bassist Peter Albin explains. “He was more likely to say ‘Hey, let’s help this guy out,’ rather than, ‘You shouldn’t be doing that.’”
Saturday’s celebration of his life marks Monterey Music Experience’s first event. It also represents the kind of outside-the-box thinking that Scully relied on as a manager. Led by former Monterey Councilmember Nancy Selfridge and Monterey County Assessor Steve Vagnini – who’s booked music locally for over 30 years – the MME is a group of seven community figures dedicated to helping the struggling Museum of Monterey reinvent itself as an occasional live music venue (popular local garage rockers Pipsqueak are already booked for a Jan. 31 CD release party) and a showcase highlighting Monterey’s legendary musical history (the first-floor area has been converted into a new exhibit).
Rock Scully: A Celebration of Life will feature an acoustic showcase, including longtime local fave/horse whisperer Mike Beck, Great American Taxi’s Jim Lewin, New Riders of the Purple Sage’s Bill Laymon, Albin, Melton, Santa Cruz-based musician Scott Cooper and a slew of surprise special guests.
California State Senate Majority Leader Bill Monning will be on hand to present a state resolution to Scully’s family and U.S. Rep. Sam Farr (who attended Carmel High School with Scully) and Scully’s brother Dicken will speak.
Additionally, a special selection of films featuring Scully – Gimme Shelter, Festival Express and Monterey Pop – will run continuously in the museum’s 99-seat theater. An exhibit featuring various rock and roll memorabilia, art (provided by the Monterey Rock & Roll Experience and Scully’s private collection) and work from locally based photographers, including Tom O’Neal and Fred Arellano, will be on display throughout January.
“The whole idea is to make it an elegant night for Rock,” Vagnini says.
Life after the Dead wasn’t easy for Scully: He battled years of addiction, was blamed for Jerry Garcia’s opiate habits, lost a son to the 2004 tsunami that ravaged Thailand and experienced financial struggles. But he managed to come out of it all – he kicked a monster cocaine and morphine habit, stopped drinking and continued to work in the music industry as a consultant and producer. Today Scully’s such a loved and respected part of San Francisco’s storied counter-culture scene of the ’60s, even former Mayor Gavin Newsom acknowledged as much in 2007 with a certificate of honor: “On behalf of the city and county of San Francisco, I am pleased to recognize and honor Rock Scully for his successful management of the Grateful Dead from 1965 to 1985, and his involvement with Summer of Love.”
That understates his impact, but that’s OK, because despite his effects on music history, Scully was an understated guy.
ROCK SCULLY: A CELEBRATION OF LIFE 6-10pm Saturday, Jan. 10. Museum of Monterey, 5 Custom House Plaza, Monterey. Sold out. 372-2608, www.tix.com