Saturday, May 20, 2006

Ramrod Passes Away


From Monterey Herald:

Grateful Dead roadie 'Ramrod' dies

PETALUMA (AP) - Lawrence ''Ramrod'' Shurtliff, a longtime crew member for the Grateful Dead, died Wednesday of lung cancer. He was 61.

Shurtliff died at Petaluma Valley Hospital, hospital officials said. A lifelong cigarette smoker, he was diagnosed with lung cancer only a few weeks ago.

He got his nickname from Ken Kesey while he was traveling through Mexico with the author.
''I am Ramon Rodriguez Rodriguez, the famous Mexican guide,'' he boasted -- and he was known from then on as Ramrod.

Shurtliff joined the Dead in 1967 as a truck driver and was named president of the Grateful Dead board of directors in the '70s. It was a position he held until the death of guitarist Jerry Garcia in 1995.

Like the rest of the band's few remaining staff members, he was laid off last year.
Shurtliff puzzled his way through elaborate situations, from the numerous psychedelic concerts the band played during the 1960s to a concert at the base of the Great Pyramids in Egypt in 1977.


From JamBase:

RAMROD: 1945-2006
Lawrence 'Ramrod' Shurtliff: 1945-2006

Larry 'Ramrod' Shurtliff, one of the
Grateful Dead's most celebrated crew members died of lung cancer in Petaluma, California on May 16. He was 61 years old. Ramrod linked up with the Dead in 1967 as a truck driver and would eventually go on to become the crew chief. Shurtliff garnered his nickname "Ramrod" while traveling through Mexico with LSD-hero Ken Kesey.
Yet another lifelong cigarette smoker, Ramrod was diagnosed with lung cancer a few weeks ago. In his final days he didn't want anybody to know he was dying, but band and crew members from the Grateful Dead family would visit him frequently.

Robert Hunter presented the following eulogy: "Most never knew his given name/they called him Ramrod/Lawrence didn't fit him. He came down from Oregon/Prankster sidekick of Cassady/Kesey and the merry crew, a silent stoic in a vocable milieu/his heart was stolen by the Grateful Dead."


From Monsters & Critics:

Lawrence `Ramrod` Shurtliff dead at 61

SAN FRANCISCO, CA, United States (UPI) --
Grateful Dead crew member, Lawrence 'Ramrod' Shurtliff, described by Bob Weir as 'our rock,' has died in Petaluma, Calif., at age 61.

Shurtliff, known simply as 'Ramrod,' died Wednesday at Petaluma Valley Hospital only weeks after being diagnosed with lung cancer, The San Francisco Chronicle reported Thursday.
Author Ken Kesey gave 'Ramrod' his nickname, which stuck with him through his life, the Chronicle said.

'I remember when he first showed up at 710 Ashbury,' Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart told the newspaper. 'He pulled up on a Harley. He was wearing a chain with a lock around his waist. He said `Name`s Ramrod -- Kesey sent me -- I hear you need a good man.` I remember it like it was yesterday.'

Ramrod started as a truck driver for the band in 1967 and was laid off with the remainder of the Dead`s staff last year. He served as president of the Grateful Dead board of directors when it incorporated in the `70s until guitarist
Jerry Garcia`s death in 1995.

Hart and Weir recalled a vast number of instances where Ramrod proved invaluable to
the jam band -- like the time Hart as so stoned, Ramrod fastened him to his drum stool with gaffer`s tape so he would not fall off.

He had a son, Strider Shurtliff, with his first wife, Patricia 'Patticake' Luft, and a son, Rudson Shurtliff, with his wife of 38 years, Francis Whalen.
Copyright 2006 by United Press International


From SF Gate:

Lawrence 'Ramrod' Shurtliff: 1945-2006 Mainstay of Grateful Dead crew dies
-- 'he was our rock'

Joel Selvin, Chronicle Senior Pop Music Critic

He was a psychedelic cowboy who rode the bus with Ken Kesey and took virtually every step of the long, strange trip with the Grateful Dead. Known to one and all solely as Ramrod, he died yesterday of lung cancer at Petaluma Valley Hospital. He was 61.
"He was our rock," said guitarist Bob Weir.

Born Lawrence Shurtliff, he was raised a country boy in eastern Oregon and once won a county fair blue ribbon in cattle judging. He got the name Ramrod from Kesey while he was traveling through Mexico with the author and LSD evangelist, at the time a fugitive from justice.
"I am Ramon Rodriguez Rodriguez, the famous Mexican guide," he boasted, and he was known ever after as Ramrod.

"It fit him," said Steve Parish, his longtime associate on the Dead crew. "He used to keep us in line."

"I remember when he first showed up at 710 Ashbury," said Dead drummer Mickey Hart. "He pulled up on a Harley. He was wearing a chain with a lock around his waist. He said 'Name's Ramrod -- Kesey sent me -- I hear you need a good man.' I remember it like it was yesterday."
Ramrod joined the Dead in 1967 as truck driver and was held in such high regard by the members of that sprawling, brawling organization that he was named president of the Grateful Dead board of directors when the rock group actually incorporated in the '70s. It was a position he held until the death of guitarist Jerry Garcia in 1995. Like the rest of the band's few remaining staff, he was laid off last year.

He traveled the full length of the Dead's tangled odyssey, joining up with the band when the it first began playing out of town, about a year after the Dead got is start playing gin mills on the Peninsula.

Ramrod went to work setting up and tearing down the band's equipment for every show the Dead played. He puzzled his way through elaborate situations and circumstances: from the myriad psychedelic dungeons the band played through the '60s, to a concert at the base of the Great Pyramids in Egypt in 1977 to the baseball parks the Dead filled on the endless tours of the '80s and '90s up until Garcia's death.

"He was always there," said Hart, "making sure everybody was taken care of."

Hart said that it was Ramrod's practice to say "all right" at the conclusion of every performance as the band filed off the stage. "I looked forward to those 'all rights,' '' said Hart. "It was the way he said it. It was the tone that said it all -- 'it was all right ... not great.' You couldn't fool old Ramrod. I was playing for him."

Hart also remembered one New Year's Eve when he thought he might be too high to play. Ramrod solved the problem by strapping Hart to his drum stool with gaffer's tape. Hart recalled another show in San Jose with Big Brother and the Holding Company, where the starter's cannon the band used to punctuate the drum solo of "St. Stephen's" went off early.

"I looked back," Hart said. "His face was on fire. He'd lost his eyebrows. You could smell his flesh. And he was hurrying to reload the cannon in time. That was the end of the cannons."
A protege of Neal Cassady of the Merry Pranksters, the intrepid band of inner-space explorers who gathered around Kesey, Ramrod absorbed lessons from Cassady, a Beat era legend and model for the character Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac's landmark novel "On the Road." "He knew Neal better than anyone in our scene," said Weir.

He was a quiet, unflappable road warrior. Hart and fellow crew member Rex Jackson once decided to see how long it would take Ramrod to say something on a truck trip across the Midwest. He said nothing through three states before speaking. "Hungry?" he finally said.
"He was never a loudmouth," said Parish. "He was never anything but an honest, hard-working guy with a grip of steel and a hand that felt like leather."

He was first married to Patricia "Patticake" Luft -- their son is Strider Shurtliff, 38, of Los Angeles. His wife of the past 38 years, Francis Whalen, is recovering from an anoxic brain injury. Their son is Rudson Shurtliff, 34, of Novato.

A lifelong cigarette smoker, he was diagnosed with lung cancer only a few weeks ago. Typically, he didn't want anybody to know he was dying, although band and crew members visited him daily.

Guitarist Weir said he could barely remember the Dead before Ramrod. "When he did join up, it was like he had always been there. I won't say he was the missing piece, because I don't think he was missing. He just wasn't there. But then he was there. And he always will be. He was a huge part of what the Grateful Dead was about."

Parish said he and Weir left a recent visit from Ramrod's hospital bed. "Weir said 'They say blood is thicker than water, but what we've got is thicker than blood,' " said Parish.
Funeral arrangements are pending.

E-mail Joel Selvin at
jselvin@sfchronicle.com.

From Marin IJ:

'Ram Rod' was Dead's trusted crew chief
Paul Liberatore

Lawrence Shurtliff, aka "Ram Rod," the trusted crew chief of the Grateful Dead for three decades, died of lung cancer Wednesday at Petaluma Valley Hospital. He was 61.

The soft-spoken Mr. Shurtliff began working for the Grateful Dead as a truck driver in 1967. He would go on to become an invaluable member of the band's organization, both as head roadie and as president of the Grateful Dead Corp.

"He was the most honest and balanced man," said Grateful Dead publicist and historian Dennis McNally. "When things were crazy, Ram Rod kept everybody grounded. He was the trusted soul of the Grateful Dead."

Born in Montana, Mr. Shurtliff grew up in the ranch country of eastern Oregon and was once a practicing Mormon. With a friend, he went to Mexico in the summer of 1966 to hang out with the fugitive Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters.

On one occasion, Kesey asked for someone to ramrod the process of cramming seven Pranksters into a Volkswagen bug. When Mr. Shurtliff, calling himself Ramon Rodriguez, volunteered for the job, Prankster Neal Cassady dubbed him "Ram Rod," a nickname that stuck.

Grateful Dead singer/guitarist Bob Weir recalled Mr. Shurtliff as a quiet, but steadying, influence on a band that was at the center of the psychedelic maelstrom of the '60s and '70s.
"He was home base for us," Weir said. "He brought a cowboy/simple aesthetic to the band scene, to the Grateful Dead family. When things got weird, we'd go back to that cowboy/simple aesthetic, and he always helped us do it."

As a Grateful Dead roadie, Mr. Shurtliff's job description often veered out of the ordinary. Weir recalled that drummer Mickey Hart once planned to fire a cannon on stage during a concert in San Jose.

Mr. Shurtliff was the only one who had any idea how to load it with gunpowder from shotgun shells.

When the cannon went off on cue and no one was hurt, Mr. Shurtliff's only comment was, "It's working."

Within the Grateful Dead family, Mr. Shurtliff was universally respected for his gentle nature and unwavering service to the band and its members for nearly 40 years.

"We were brothers," Weir said. "They say that blood is thicker than water, but what we had is way thicker than blood."

Mr. Shurtliff, who was a resident of Petaluma, is survived by his wife, Frances; two sons, Rudson and Strider, and his mother, Patty. Memorial services are pending.

Contact Paul Liberatore via e-mail at
liberatore@marinij.com

Picture: Ramrod (left) w/ other roadies Steve Parish and Robbie Taylor. Photo by Jay Blakesberg

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

RIP RAMROD. THANK YOU !

Sunday, May 21, 2006  
Anonymous Helen said...

I can't say I ever heard a bad word about him. Rest in peace brother. You will be missed.
Peace............

Sunday, May 21, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember being behind the (drums) equipment at a concert in 89' (backstage/onstage) and seeing him light up a big fat joint right after Space/Drums...he was very content...he had put the band and the scene on Auto Pilot at that point of the show for atleast a song or two??...Peace....

Wednesday, May 31, 2006  
Anonymous GGrimm said...

Thanks RamRod. You're a generous man and I'm honored to have known you. RIP my friend. Sail on.

Sunday, March 06, 2011  

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