SUNDAY, MAY 7, 2006


"How'd you say you got your name?"

"We were hanging around in Puerto Vallarta. Seven of us wanted to go to Mesmolaya to see where Night of the Iguana was filmed. Me and Kesey and the two Hagens and Drew Johnson. We had a little VW beetle belonged to someone we ran into in Puerto Vallarta. Kesey saw the size of that bug and the number of people and said, 'We need someone to ramrod this operation.'
Ramon Rodriquez Rodriquez, famous Mexican guide, at your service," I said and jammed seven people into the beetle and we drove it out there as far as we could and walked the rest of the way to where they shot the movie and I've been called Ramrod ever since."

Now Ramrod is in the hospital. He went in last week with a collapsed lung and they found he had lung cancer.

Better get down there and see how he is doing.

-- Capn skyp

THURSDAY, MAY 11, 2006

On Monday afternoon I hopped in the car, after packing the essentials: pillow and blankie, popup tent, cooler loaded with bread and cheese and yogurt and trail mix, CD player and battery powered speakers, bag of CDs. Headed south, destination Petaluma Valley Hospital.

Monday night, forego the camping out, stop at a motel and a good move. Too grueling a drive to add the rigors of camping to the mix. Showering and shaving is a perk me up.

12:15 PM, Steve Parish meets me at the entrance to the hospital. He's Ramrod's cohort, both of them worked together with the Grateful Dead as luggers and personal equipmant managers to members of the band.

Ramrod is much better than I was led to believe. He'd just had his daily hit of oxygen they give him to replenish his system. He's hooked up to various tubes but he's mobile as a guy can be flat on his back. Alert, yakking, mostly about his condition. Clots in the leg. A weird rare thing called blue toe on one foot. A big blister on his other foot he had cut off the day before.

"What's the word on the street?" he wanted to know. "Grim," I said. "Everyone's saying you're on your last legs, about to check out, but I can see that's a bunch of bull."

"Yeah, you put out the word on the street that I'm not done yet. I'm fighting this thing and I'm determined to lick it so you tell everyone to pray for me and not to lose hope."

His son, Rudson, came in and he was enthusiatic about recovery. He found out about a new treatment, says it has an 89 percent success rate in healing lung cancer. Something that comes from hot lava spewing from a mountain in Hawaii and hitting the ocean and a reaction forming that creates a kind of pumice that is loaded with negative ions. The doctor who discovered it makes up a vial of liquid loaded with the stuff. You put three or four drops in a glass of water and drink it. The heavy metals in your body that the cancer creates cling to the ions in the water and you piss the bad stuff out.

I tried a couple drops. Didn't feel a thing but later noticed I lost a little weight.

I had a good hour and a half with Ramrod. He said, "I don't want anybody else coming in here to say goodbye, so tell them that." Then we shook hands and I left and went out and talked to Steve in the parking lot a while, got caught up on family news, found out the Dead has sold everything: the vault, the merchandise, the music. Go to and check it out.

I got in the car and headed north, destination home. Even before I got to Red Bluff Mt Shasta was peeking up over the horizon and the pointy headed snowcovered peak was with me for hours.

Spent the night in another motel and was home by noon yesterday. Hard trip but well worth it. Highest gas price was 3.49. Avoided eating in restaurants except for toast and coffee in a cafe. Had a great bean and cheese burrito at a trailer stand in Orland, California.

Picked up a classical music station on FM, listened to a short talking segment, something to do with the past, about a baseball player name Dan Williams, hit 30 home runs and stole 32 bases in 1928, was born in Merlin, Oregon, and as I was getting the news on the radio the sign on the freeway says, Merlin, Oregon. A good sign. Just like Monday, the first day out when I got to Crescent City on the coast just in time to watch the sun go down over the Pacific Ocean and saw the green flash, just like when we were in Mexico in '66 and Ramrod was there and we saw the green flash for the first time.

-- capn skyp

when I was lost
looking for a shortcut
from Petaluma
to the freeway
I pulled off the road
and checked the map
and recognized
an old familiar smell.
I was parked next
to a small grove
of old eucalyptus trees.
I got out and
cut a luxuriant branch
just the right size
to sit on my dash
and fill the car
with that succulent smell.
aromatherapy, I thought.
-- Capn Skyp

Hmmmm. I know that smell.
Silver Dollar Eucalyptus is the best.
Try driving down the Bennett Valley road in an open convertible.
Eucalyptus is considered invasive here....planted at the turn of the century by some knucklehead who brought it from Australia as fast-growing lumber for ship-building. Unfortunately, it is far too brittle.
It has crowded out most of the native Bay, Cypress, Pine, Black Walnut and Oak trees.
It does make good shelter for wildlife and our local deer hang out in a eucalyptus 'forest', (created by a neighbor who kept wacking it back every couple of years for 40 years and just spread it around).
The pale green and gray trunks, shot through with red and orange are covered with a peeling paper park that sheds all year long.
The leaves (which also have a deep fragrance) fall every time the wind blows.
It is truly a white trash tree.
Sure smells nice, though.

--Duke Durfee


Someone said a long time ago, "Let the Dead bury the dead."

from To Kill a Mockingbird:
Let the dead bury the dead this time, Mr. Finch.


Matthew 8:18-20: "When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, 'Teacher, I will follow you hwerever you go.'
"Jesus replied, 'Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.'

"Another disciple said to him, 'Lord, first let me go and bury my father.'
"But Jesus told him, 'Follow me, and let the dead bury the dead.'"

Ramrod died this morning at 6:30 AM

I just talked to steve parish and he said in the past week it was obvious it was coming. steve and ramrod shook hands, steve said it was the strongest handshake he'd ever had, a little while later Ramrod eased on out.

I first called Robert Hunter's piece a eulogy but I see it is an elegy. Skypilot Sparks sent me the definitions:

Cap' teacher in chief, you perked my interest in the meaning of things and of there subtle differences. Just like the "b" in subtle. Case in point, the use of the word Elegy and not Eulogy. In my haste to read on into said Elegy, i believed the words to be interchangeable, but alas as usual you so gently pointed out the distinction. In blessing Ramrod the choice was significant and right on point. Anyone can write a eulogy, one only need the facts and maybe do some research. However to write a Elegy it seems to me now one must have his heart engaged with the heart of its object. One is the realm of the head, the other is the realm of the heart. Now it just means all the more to me, and i thank you for pointing me in the direction so i could learn. Eulogy...A speech or writing in commendation,praise, panegyric, laudation. Elegy...A poem or a song expressive of sorrow and lamentation. Thankyou Cap'n...#43


yeah, handshake was RR's strongest form of communication. Best shake I know of.
Thanks for sharing the Elegy - that's what it's for.

Elegy for Ramrod

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.

A country boy, not given to complexity,
his crowning gift was loyalty
for which he was loved more than
the common run of men by friends.
This is not to say more than was so,
the common fault of eulogies
which shine the silver of modest virtue
into the gold of rareness.

Every soul owes life a death.
Between each heartbeat is a moment
within which the pulse is still.
In the longer beat between life and death
a man was here we called a friend,
a father, a husband and a son.
He is us and we are him,
his death is ours, our lives are his.

Some see Heaven as dying's recompense,
some acknowledge only nothingness
in a space we know not of,
in a place we know not where.
But this we know, as a poet said:
"To have been here but the once
Never can be undone."

Some will pray, some just remember.
Those who pray, having prayed,
will go on to pray for others.
Those who remember,
having remembered for awhile,
will in the course of time forget,
more so as the years dissolve.
This is as it should be
lest death overstep its bounds
and impinge too much on life.
Life, being what is, cannot
impinge too much on death.

The circumstance we most desire
in grief which shakes our branches
like some holy hurricane raging
through this barren world of little light,
is that our brother be gathered in glory.
If so, rejoice! If wishful thinking,
give thanks instead
that he was here among us.
Delivered from the testing fire of pain,
a truer heart was never broken.

-- robert hunter

Man, I both loved and respected that dude. Both. How often can you say that?

Cowboy Simple.



Lawrence "Ramrod" Shurtliff (left) with other veteran Grateful Dead road crew members Steve Parish and Robbie Taylor.
Photo courtesy of Jay Blakesberg

Mainstay of Grateful Dead crew dies -- 'he was our rock'
- Joel Selvin, Chronicle Senior Pop Music Critic
Thursday, May 18, 2006


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

The unlikely union of the Grateful Dead, the Lithuanian Olympic Basketball Team, and the NBA came about because Ram Rod, the Dead's long-time road crew chief, is a hoops fan. The end result in 1992 was a popular fad and hundreds of thousands of dollars raised for Lithuanian children's charities.
In March, 1992, the Dead and the Golden State Warriors found themselves on the road together in Auburn Hills, Michigan -- the Dead ending a tour at The Palace and the Warriors having a night off before a game with the Pistons. So the Dead extended an invitation to their home-town Warriors, and then-coach Don Nelson, Assistant Coach Donnie Nelson, and Sarunas Marciulionis came to the show -- and had a great time, of course. On his way out, Sarunas slipped a band staff member a request for a donation toward the Lithuanian Olympic Basketball team's training expenses. This is not the sort of thing that the Dead's Rex Foundation normally underwrites -- but Ram Rod and his employees are nothing if not flexible and possessed of a sense of humor, and the grant was made.
A mutual friend kicked in some tie-died warm-up sweats and t-shirt, which featured a Dead-style skeleton dunking a basketball. The team loved the t-shirts, and in fact began to get offers of $100 and more as they wore them on the streets of Barcelona during the games. When they wore the sweats and t-shirts to their Bronze medal ceremony, more than a billion people saw the shirts -- and a healthy percentage wanted to own one. So, after the Olympics, the Dead and the Warriors teamed up to sell them, with a hefty chunk going to Lithuanian children's charities.
So, it's possible to do good and be incredibly stylish all at the same time. We're glad Ram Rod likes basketball.

-- Bernie Bildman

In the fall of '72 or '73, I believe, I went to a series of GD shows in Williamsburg Va. to talk with the road managers about a design project I was going to do for Alembic on behalf of the GD. I went backstage at one point to make a sandwich where I saw Ramrod taking a rare break, and talking with John Hagen. I gave them the hi-de-ho, fixed my sandwich and walked back to where Rock Scully was waiting next to the side-stage scaffolding. While we were talking a frisky photographer climbed in under the scaffolding next to me to get a shot of Garcia onstage. Out of nowhere Ramrod appeared scooping that guy up and gently carrying him, camera and all to the back door and outside. It all happened in one long graceful move. That guy must have out weighed RR by 50 pounds but that didn't deter a determined RR from enforcing the safety rule. It was the most graceful thing I ever witnessed next to a Barishnikov jete'. RR walked by me and broke his stare long enough to give me a wink as if to say "thats how you get-er-done." He is simply the most vigilent guy I ever encountered on a R'nR crew. I crewed for years with different sound contractors all over the world and never met anyone so focussed on the job at hand. When ever I got into a fix and had to solve a problem on the road I usually asked myself how would Ramrod handle it? Thanks for setting the standard!

I want to add a line from Dr. John.
Whenever he admired somebody he would always say to them, "Darlin' you' old school" Ramrod is definitely "Old School!

-- jt


One time in 1972 (like early Spring) we were playing a gig at U.of Michigan w/the GD, staying at the cylindrical Holiday Inn (you know, the one with the rusted iron [artsy-fartsy] facade). After the gig, we repaired to the band suite. This was all new to me, I was the rookie - had been properly initiated and installed in Fall/71 at Pauley Pavillion and been dosed by the GD Crew - I was earning my stripes, but still green.

Parish was pretty new as well and half-drunk, bozoing around like he was a tough guy. Ha-ha...!
In fun, he grabbed a bus tray of ice cubes and tossed them across the carpet - Ramrod was standing in the corner quietly observing this varsity shit. Then, in an inspired moment, Big Steve grabbed me by the arm and flung me across the room as well on top of the cubes - all in all it was a pretty spectacular slide! I suppose...

He was crowing about some reference to my Canadian birth by har-haring over some facsimile to human ice hockey. Ramrod didn't budge but I thought I saw a flicker. The room went still - like in Asimov's Robotic Rules, Rule # 1 to "Never let harm come to a musician." I didn't mind the embarassment and semi-faked a hurt shoulder from being launched into the wall. Then, the room went DEAD. Ramrod made the heavy comment - can't remember the exact wording but the nature was crystal clear.

Whereupon Parish, seized the moment to cover his blunder and offered to 'wrassle' RR! Hmmmppphhh...not a bright moment. He shoved RR into the adjoining bedroom, RR smoking this stogie - the door closed abruptly. There was an ensuing scuffle behind the door, lottsa noise! A few seconds of silence followed, and emerging from the door was RR, still smoking that damned see-gar. Poor Steve was all laid out on the bed - comatose. But he looked happy. Peaceful.

Oh Ramrod. Love, Buddy

SUNDAY, MAY 21, 2006

The younger Ramrod, pic by Snooky Flowers, taken in the Seventies

I called Steve Parish to see what has happened with Ramrod since he died. He's been cremated and his sons are going to scatter his ashes in various locations over the next few weeks.

There's an effort afoot to get a web page going where people can send in their stories about Ramrod.

Like this one, for instance. One time the Dead were touring the midwest. They had two buses, one for the musicians, the other for the roadies. Ramrod was sleeping in the crew bus and Bill the drummer came in and started rooting around for something and woke Ramrod up. Ramrod came out of the bus with a can of lighter fluid in his hand. He poured it all over the front of the bus and lit it off. Stepped back and surveyed the flames. Said:

"Once a band member steps foot in there it's no good to me any more."


the back of a Phil Lesh tour truck

In the early 1980s, my friend was a member of a bunch of drumming circles. One of them had some African members, don't know from where, but they made something called a "talking drum." It was an interesting instrument--it had two heads and some ropes between the heads and a string going around the center--by increasing and decreasing the tension on the string in the center, the drums could make differing tones while you were playing them, thus, the name.

So, somehow, who knows how, she found out that Mickey Hart was in the market for these drums. She became a middleman between her Afican friends and Mickey Hart and he bought several of these things. When it came time for payment, she refused money but said she'd like a backstage pass for an upcoming Dead Show in Boston.

So, the night of the show, she is standing on the side of the stage, where you get to stand to watch the show if you have backstage passes, trying to stay out of the way and not be an asshole. Ramrod came up to her and told her that the drinks in the coolers were for everyone and she could help herself--there were sodas and beers. She told him she appreciated that but she had a nasty stomach thing and couldn't drink any alcohol or carbonation. So, he disappeared. About 15 minutes later, he came back with a paper bag. This guy had gone down to the corner store to buy her some fruit juice. My friend says--here's this guy--he doesn't know me from Adam, I'm nobody important here,  he wasn't putting the moves on me, he was just obviously doing what he did--taking care of people.

-- CGunsullas