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Owsley Stanley

Owsley Stanley (b. Augustus Owsley Stanley III, January 19, 1935, also known as Owsley or Bear) was an "underground" LSD chemist, the first to produce large quantities of pure LSD. His total production is estimated at around half a kilogram of LSD, or roughly 5 million 100-microgram "trips" of normal potency, although accounts vary widely. The widespread and low-cost (often given away free) availability of high-quality Owsley LSD in the San Francisco area in the mid-1960s may well have been indispensable for the emergence of the hippie movement during the Summer of Love in the Haight-Ashbury area, which one historian of that movement, Charles Perry, has described as "one big LSD party" and which has had continuing influence to this day in American society in terms of increasing tolerance for alternative perspectives and lifestyles. Owsley was also an accomplished sound engineer, and the longtime soundman for seminal psychedelic rock band The Grateful Dead; the band's well-known "dancing bear" icon derives from his nickname, as he frequently printed the image on blotter sheets of LSD distributed at Grateful Dead concerts. He designed the massive "Wall of Sound" electrical amplification system used by the Grateful Dead in their live shows, at the time a highly innovative feat of engineering[1], and was involved with the founding of high-end musical instrument maker Alembic Inc.



Owsley's father was a government attorney, and his namesake and grandfather, Augustus O. Stanley, was a member of the United States Senate after serving as Governor of Kentucky. Owsley served in the U.S. Air Force for eighteen months from 1956-1958. Later, inspired by a 1958 performance of the Bolshoi Ballet, he began studying ballet in Los Angeles, supporting himself for a time as a professional dancer. In 1963, he enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley where he became involved in the psychoactive drug scene. He dropped out after a semester, took a technical job at KGO-TV, and began producing LSD in a small lab located in the bathroom of a house near campus. His makeshift laboratory was raided by police on February 21, 1965. He beat the charges and successfully sued for the return of his equipment. The police were looking for methamphetamine, but found only LSD — which wasn't illegal at the time.

Owsley moved to Los Angeles to pursue the production of LSD. He used his Berkeley lab proceeds to buy 800 grams of lysergic monohydrate, the basis for LSD. His first shipment arrived on March 30, 1965. He produced 300,000 capsules (270 micrograms each) of LSD by May 1965 and then returned to the Bay Area.

In September 1965, Owsley became the primary LSD supplier to Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters; by this point Sandoz LSD was hard to come by and "Owsley Acid" had become the new standard. He was featured (most prominently his freak-out at the Muir Beach Acid Test in November 1965) in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, a book detailing the history of Kesey and the Merry Pranksters by Tom Wolfe.

Owsley attended the Watts Acid Test on February 12, 1966 with his new apprentice Tim Scully and provided the LSD. Owsley met the members of the Grateful Dead in 1966 and began working with them (and financing them) as a sound man. Along with Bob Thomas, he designed the Lightning Bolt Skull Logo, often referred to by fans as "Steal Your Face" or SYF (after the name of the 1976 Grateful Dead album featuring only the lightning bolt skull on the cover, although the symbol predates the namesake album by eight years). During this time he made numerous live recordings of the Dead and other leading San Francisco acts, including Jefferson Airplane, Old and In The Way, and Janis Joplin.

Owsley and Scully built electronic equipment for the Grateful Dead until late spring 1966. At this point Owsley rented a house in Point Richmond, California, and Owsley, Scully, and Melissa Cargill (Owsley's girlfriend who was a skilled chemist) set up a lab in the basement. Owsley developed a method of LSD synthesis which left the LSD 99.9% free of impurities. The Point Richmond lab turned out over 300,000 tablets (270 micrograms each) of LSD they dubbed "White Lightning." LSD became illegal in California on October 6, 1966, and Scully wanted to set up a new lab in Denver, Colorado.

Scully set up the new lab in the basement of a house across the street from the Denver zoo in early 1967. Scully made the LSD in the Denver lab while Owsley tableted the product in Orinda, California. Owsley and Scully also produced a new psychedelic they called STP. STP was distributed in the summer of 1967 in 20mg tablets and quickly acquired a bad reputation. Owsley and Scully made trial batches of 10mg tablets and then STP mixed with LSD in a few hundred yellow tablets but soon ceased production of STP. Owsley and Scully produced about 196 grams of LSD in 1967, but 96 grams of this was confiscated by the authorities.

In late 1967 Owsley's Orinda lab was raided by police; he was found in possession of 350,000 doses of LSD and 1,500 doses of STP. His defense was that the illegal substances were for personal use, but he was found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison. A newspaper headline mis-identifying Owsley as an "LSD Millionaire" following his arrest inspired the Grateful Dead song "Alice D. Millionaire". The same year, Owsley officially shortened his name to "Owsley Stanley".

Of counterculture icon Timothy Leary, Owsley would later write, "Leary was a fool. Drunk with 'celebrity-hood' and his own ego, he became a media clown, and was arguably the single most damaging actor involved in the destruction of the evanescent social movement of the '60's. Tim, with his very public exhortations to the kids to 'tune in, turn on and drop out', is the inspiration for all the current draconian US drug laws against psychedelics. He would not listen to any of us when we asked him to please cool it. He loved the lime-light and relished his notoriety... I was not a fan of his." Leary himself, however, wrote the reverent essay "God's Secret Agent A.O.S.3" glorifying Owsley and the LSD manufacturers of the early psychedelic era; the essay appears in his 1965 book "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out."

After he was released from prison, Owsley (1999 pic) went on to do more sound work for the Grateful Dead. Later, he would work as a broadcast television engineer.

A naturalized Australian citizen since 1996, Owsley and his wife Sheilah live in Queensland where they manufacture jewelry.

Zero-carb diet

Stanley firmly believes that the natural human diet is a totally carnivorous one, thus making it a zero-carb diet, and that all vegetables are toxic. He claims to have eaten almost nothing but meat, eggs, butter and cheese since 1959. He also claims that his body has not aged as much as the bodies of those who eat a more "normal" diet. He is convinced that insulin, released by the pancreas when carbohydrates are ingested, is the cause of much damage to human tissue and that diabetes mellitus is caused by the ingestion of carbohydrates.

Musical references

In 1966, the Grateful Dead sometimes performed a song titled "Alice D. Millionaire", which is a reference to the newspaper headline of when Stanley was arrested. The headline read "LSD Millionaire Busted".

The Jimi Hendrix cover version of the Beatles song "Day Tripper", from a 1967 BBC session first released on CD in 1987, features Jimi Hendrix clearly shouting out, "Oh Owsley, can you hear me now?" during the climactic guitar solo.

The title of the Jefferson Airplane song "Bear Melt", from their 1968 live album Bless Its Pointed Little Head, is a reference to Stanley's nickname "Bear". Paul Kantner also refers to Stanley by name on the album. The Jefferson Airplane song "Mexico", which was released as a single in 1970, opens with the lyric, "Owsley and Charlie, twins of the trade, come to the poet's room."

The Frank Zappa song "Who Needs the Peace Corps?", from the Mothers of Invention' 1968 album We're Only in It for the Money, satirized the hippie scene and features the opening verse:

What's there to live for?
Who needs the peace corps?
Think I'll just DROP OUT
I'll go to Frisco
Buy a wig & sleep
On Owsley's floor [2]

The Steely Dan song "Kid Charlemagne" from the 1976 album The Royal Scam was inspired by Stanley:

While the music played you worked by candlelight
Those San Francisco nights
You were the best in town
Just by chance you crossed the diamond with the pearl
You turned it on the world
That's when you turned the world around
Did you feel like Jesus
Did you realize
That you were a champion in their eyes

On the hill the stuff was laced with kerosene
But yours was kitchen clean
Everyone stopped to stare at your technicolor motor home
Every A-Frame had your number on the wall
You must have had it all
You'd go to L.A. on a dare
And you'd go it alone
Could you live forever
Could you see the day
Could you feel your whole world fall apart and fade away [3]

In 1990, a UK psychedelic Ska Punk band named themselves AOS3 after Owsley's initials, culled from a chapter of the book "The Brotherhood Of Eternal Love". They used an Image of Owsley as a T-shirt graphic, and named their first tape release simply "Owsley".

In 1996, Peter Kember's post-Spacemen 3 band Spectrum released the "Songs for Owsley" EP. The song "Owsley" is an appropriately tripped-out melange of electronic mayhem and highly processed vocals.

Glasgow psychedelic pop group The Owsley Sunshine, take their name from a brand of LSD produced by Stanley.

Owsley has not worn shoes for many years, resulting in constantly blackened soles.


  • Martin A Lee, Bruce Shlain (March 1, 1986). Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond, Grove Press. ISBN 0-8021-3062-3
  • John Bassett McCleary (February 1, 2004). The Hippie Dictionary: A Cultural Encyclopedia of the 1960s and 1970s pp. 495, Ten Speed Press. ISBN 1-58008-547-4
  • Tom Wolfe (August 1968). The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc.

See also

  • Grateful Dead
  • Merry Pranksters
  • LSD
NAME Stanley, Owsley
ALTERNATIVE NAMES Stanley, Augustus Owsley, III (birth name); Owsley (nickname); Bear (nickname)
DATE OF BIRTH January 19 1935
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Owsley_Stanley". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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