[UPDATE 11/2/22]: In response to this article, Owsley Stanley‘s son Starfinder reached out to Live For Live Music disputing the origin of a pipe given to Jerry Garcia. Read his contesting account as well as further comments from Steve Cabella here.
10/30/22: A pipe that belonged to and was used exclusively by Jerry Garcia has resurfaced after being lost for three decades behind a bed in Merl Saunders’ San Francisco home. The crude piece was hand crafted by Grateful Dead sound engineer, patron, and LSD chemist Owsley “Bear” Stanley and gifted to the guitarist, who stashed it at Saunders’s house after using it during the recording of 1991’s Blues from the Rainforest and other sessions.
Merl Saunders’s son, Merl Saunders Jr., first discovered the pipe behind a built-in bed while remodeling his father’s house after his 2008 death, per Rolling Stone. Saunders sold it to art historian Steve Cabella, who owns California antiquities shop The Modern I and has developed a reputation as a collector of Grateful Dead and Owsley Stanley memorabilia, including a 1949 red Studebaker truck that belonged to Stanley nicknamed the Dread Dormammu after a villain from Dr. Strange.
According to Cabella, Saunders told him Garcia kept the pipe at his father’s house after he was arrested in Golden Gate Park with a briefcase of drugs in 1985. Saunders said in a letter that he smoked the pipe when he was recording Blues from the Rainforest and on many other occasions.
“The pipe is a special thing,” Cabella said. “I was told by Merl Saunders’s son that [no one else smoked out of it]. It was Jerry’s pipe. Only Jerry’s pipe. It was obviously used, but it never became a party pipe. That’s the only reason it still exists, because it was lost and nobody could find it. Everybody forgot about it.”
The pipe was one of many fashioned by Stanley after he honed his skills making pipes and “wearable sculptures” while serving time in prison in the ’70s.
“Owsley would anoint people with a spirit animal,” said Cabella, who met Owsley in a jewelry making class at College of Marin in the late ’80s. He went on to explain that he would often make a spirit pipe bearing a carved image of a person’s spirit animal and give it to them. “You don’t show these to people. You don’t show spirit pipes. They’re not a novelty. It’s like finding some religious object; it becomes a historic object. There’s a responsibility to it.” He claims that Jerry’s pipe, which has a cat resembling the cover of the Cats Under The Stars album, is an example of such a spirit pipe.
Cabella indicated that despite his jailhouse ingenuity, Owsley’s artistic abilities were far less potent than his chemistry. “If you look at Owsley’s early rock posters, they’re really cute,” he said. “They’re like an eighth grader made them. They’re very basic, as are his jewelry techniques. … [Jerry’s pipe] looks like someone with a few years of art school produced it and did the best they could. It looks like a hippie made it.”
As for the pipe’s future, Cabella said he is “very much into exhibition preservation and education. So the next place that this resides can’t just be a pot museum. It’s more than that,” he said, adding, “I don’t want it to end up somewhere where somebody smokes out of it. That was Jerry’s job.”
For photos of the recently rediscovered pipe, head here.
[h/t Rolling Stone]