Grand Junction deadheads wear label with pride
One of Louis Ganousis’ most prized possessions is the tip of the joint he smoked with Jerry Garcia.
Some might think it odd Ganousis kept a used joint for 25 years, or kept the tip of a used joint at all. However, there may be others a bit jealous of the Grand Junction man who spent one 1987 night smoking weed with the Grateful Dead in the common area of a Telluride condominium complex.
Photographs were prohibited, Ganousis said with a smile.
Although the Grateful Dead formally disbanded in 1995 after Garcia’s death, the music and spirit of the band lives on through its fans, and while the Grateful Dead isn’t unique in the fact that it had a large, passionate fan base, the band is relatively unique in that its fans became so well-known they were given a name all their own: deadheads.
As the Colorado Grateful Dead tribute band Shakedown Street readies for a Saturday, Dec. 1, show at Mesa Theater and Lounge, four local men — Ganousis, Kevin Mueller, Dyer O’Connor and Steve Solko — talked about what it means to be a deadhead and why they wear the label with pride.
Ganousis, 58, first heard the Grateful Dead on the radio when he was 16 and became intrigued by their individual talent and collective sound. His mother, having heard a TV report about “this druggie band from San Francisco” prohibited him from seeing them live.
In 1973, however, when he was 18, Ganousis traveled to the Iowa State Fair to see the band.
“The music sounded just like I had heard on the radio: complex, intricate,” he said.
Ganousis went to 146 more shows.
Kevin Mueller, 38, sort of shrugs his shoulders when asked how many Grateful Dead shows he went to because he can’t remember how many he saw and how many he spent in the parking lot.
“My story is more about the culture than the music,” Mueller said.
Growing up in the Milwaukee area, Mueller worked at the outdoor venue Alpine Valley where he watched numerous bands — the Rolling Stones, Guns N’ Roses, AC/DC — perform but was particularly struck by the Grateful Dead crowds.
For one, the fans cleaned up after themselves, and since Mueller’s job was to clean up after the crowds in the late-1980s, that stood out. Mostly he remembers thinking, “Wow. These people are amazing. I got caught up in the community, the love, the lack of aggression,” Mueller said.
In the early-1990s, when he finally had enough money and a 1972 Chevy Nova, Mueller went on tour with the Grateful Dead, sleeping in parking lots and selling merchandise at shows to make extra money for food.
“I felt safe,” he said. “These people I could trust.”
A Grateful Dead show started in the parking lots where throngs — some with tickets, some without, and some with no desire to even get tickets — danced, partied and sold goods in a community setting where people with corporate jobs mixed with people with no job, Mueller said.
Although the Grateful Dead is no more, Ganousis and Mueller found a way to share their love of the band’s music as programmers on the KAFM’s Brokedown Palace, a show dedicated entirely to the music of the Grateful Dead or the Jerry Garcia Band.
Mueller, who goes by the on-air name Lost Sailor, is the current programmer from 9 p.m. to midnight on Sundays and a man named DJ Catfish John sometimes joins him.
Ganousis’ DJ name was Sage & Spirit in 2008. Both his DJ name, as well as Mueller’s DJ name are titles of Grateful Dead songs.
The man credited with creating Brokedown Palace in April 1999 is Dyer O’Connor, or Dire Wolf, as he was called on-air. O’Connor led the show with a DJ named St. Stephen for nearly a decade.
Both also chose their DJ names from the list of Grateful Dead song titles.
O’Connor, with a library filled with Grateful Dead collectibles and a license plate that reads “GR8FUL,” attended his first Grateful Dead show at Fillmore East in New York City when he was 18.
“I think they played for something like six hours,” O’Connor said. “The band blew me away with their jams.”
O’Connor went to somewhere between 50 and 60 shows, including the Grateful Dead’s tour in Europe in 1972.
“You can get obsessed by it,” O’Connor admitted. “No two shows were ever the same.”
The music also is why Solko, 50, went to 38 shows.
And Solko took his appreciation to another level when he joined Shakedown Street eight years ago as a substitute drummer for many of the band’s Western Slope shows.
He’ll play with the band Saturday at Mesa Theater.
“Like being at a Dead show, there’s nothing like playing Dead music,” Solko said.
Never critically acclaimed for its studio albums, the Grateful Dead triumphed on the stage, the four fans said, because it had an attractive unpredictable element, both with the music and the shows, because the members fed off each other and the crowd, improvising continuously with no set list.
“One thing that struck me instantly was the first measure of the first song of the first show,” said Solko, who attended his first show in 1981 in Denver when he was 19. “Everybody was up dancing. I had never been to a show like that.”
He’s never seen a show like that since.
“I was on the bus, as deadheads say,” Solko said.