The Origins of Psychedelic Rock

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,

Psychedelic rock is a subgenre of rock music that emerged in the 1960s that was inspired by psychedelic culture. The style is marked by distorted guitars, lyrics about drug use and mind expansion.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

Psychedelic rock, sometimes called acid rock, is a style of rock music that is inspired or influenced by psychedelic culture and attempts to replicate or enhance the mind-altering experiences of psychedelic drugs. The music is intended to reproduce the experience of altered consciousness and is often associated with the use of psychedelic drugs.

Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters

In the early 1960s, Ken Kesey was a young writer who had just published his first novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He was living in California, and he and his wife were expecting their second child. One day, Kesey went to a local hospital to participate in a government-sponsored drug trial. He was given LSD, a powerful psychedelic drug that was still legal at the time. The experience changed his life.

Kesey became an advocate for the use of psychedelics, and he began experimenting with other drugs like marijuana and peyote. He also started hosting “acid tests,” parties where attendees would take LSD and experience the trip together. These parties were often very chaotic, and they sometimes ended with people being hospitalized for bad trips.

In 1964, Kesey met Neal Cassady, the real-life inspiration for the character Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Cassady was a wild man who lived on the edge, and Kesey saw him as the perfect person to help him turn his acid tests into something even more extreme. With Cassady’s help, Kesey recruited a group of like-minded individuals who came to be known as the Merry Pranksters.

The Pranksters used drugs to push the boundaries of reality and perception, and they documented their exploits in a legendary series of homemade films and audio recordings known as the Acid Test Tapes. They also traveled across America in a psychedelic-painted school bus named “Furthur,” spreading their message of peace, love, and mind-expanding drugs to anyone who would listen.

The Merry Pranksters’ antics helped popularize psychedelics in mainstream culture, and they played an important role in shaping the emerging counterculture of the 1960s. Ken Kesey’s acid tests were some of the first examples of what would later be called “psychedelic rock.”

The Acid Tests

Ken Kesey, the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and his band of Merry Pranksters put on a series of events in the San Francisco Bay Area in the mid-1960s called “Acid Tests.” The Acid Tests were all-night parties that revolved around taking LSD, listening to music, and dancing. These parties were pivotal in the development of the psychedelic rock movement.

The Acid Tests were open to anyone who wanted to attend, and they quickly became popular among the young people of San Francisco. The Pranksters would often advertise the tests by passing out flyers that said “Take the Acid Test” with a picture of a smiling face on them.

At the party, people would take LSD and then experience different forms of sensory stimulation, including music, lights, and movies. The Acid Test parties were some of the first events to bring together elements of what would later become known as the “hippie” counterculture.

Kesey and the Pranksters held a total of 12 Acid Tests between 1965 and 1966. The first few tests were held in private homes, but as word about the parties spread, they began to be held in larger venues like nightclubs and auditoriums.

The most famous Acid Test was held at the Fillmore Auditorium in early 1966. This party was attended by over 1,500 people and featured live music from garage rock bands like The Grateful Dead and The Jefferson Airplane.

The Acid Tests played an important role in popularizing LSD use among young people and helped to pave the way for the psychedelic rock movement of the late 1960s.

The Grateful Dead

Psychedelic rock is a subgenre of rock music that began in the late 1960s and peak in the mid-1970s. It was heavily influenced by psychedelic culture and attempts to replicate the experience of psychedelic drugs. The Grateful Dead was an American rock band that was a pioneer of the psychedelic rock genre.

The Warlocks

The Warlocks were an early incarnation of the Grateful Dead, formed in 1964 in Palo Alto, California. The band was originally composed of guitarist/vocalist Jerry Garcia, bassist Phil Lesh, drummer Bill Kreutzmann, rhythm guitarist Bob Weir, and keyboardist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan. They went through a number of lineup changes and name changes before settling on the name “Grateful Dead” in 1965.

The Warlocks were known for their psychedelic improvisational jams, which were heavily influenced by the acid rock scene in San Francisco. Their improvised jams often incorporated elements of folk, blues, and country music. They were also one of the first bands to use lightshows as a visual aid during their live performances.

The Warlocks released one self-titled album in 1966, which failed to make any impact commercially. However, the album has since gained cult status among fans of psychedelic rock. The band evolved into the Grateful Dead shortly after its release, and went on to become one of the most successful and influential jam bands of all time.

The Dead

The Grateful Dead was an American rock band formed in 1965 in Palo Alto, California. Ranging from quintet to septet, the band is known for its long association with the counterculture of the 1960s, for its eclectic style, which fused elements of rock, folk, country, bluegrass, blues, gospel, modal jazz, reggae, experimental music and space rock,[1][2] for live performances of lengthy instrumental jams,[3] and for its devoted fan base, known as “Deadheads”. “Their music,” writes Lenny Kaye, “touches on ground that most other groups don’t even know exists.”[4] These various influences were distilled into a diverse and psychedelic whole that made the Grateful Dead “the pioneering Godfathers of the jam band world”.[5][6] The band was ranked 57th by Rolling Stone magazine in its The Greatest Artists of All Time issue.[7] The Grateful Dead have sold more than 35 million albums worldwide.[8]

The grateful dead was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994 and their honorary member Bob Weir was inducted into the Hall as a performing member in 2015.

The San Francisco Sound

Psychedelic rock, also referred to as “acid rock”, is a music style that emerged in the mid-1960s. The style is characterized by distorted guitars, extended solos, and experimental changes in song structure and instrumentation. The San Francisco Sound refers to a style of rock music that developed in the San Francisco Bay Area in the mid-1960s. The sound is characterized by its use of feedback, extended guitar solos, and heavy use of reverb.

The Fillmore

The Fillmore was a music venue in San Francisco that became the epicenter of the city’s psychedelic rock scene in the 1960s. The venue was started by Bill Graham, who also promoted many of the famous concerts that took place there, including the notorious “Human Be-In” in 1967. The Fillmore featured a wide variety of local and national acts, and played an important role in the development of psychedelic rock.

The Avalon Ballroom

The Avalon Ballroom was a music venue in the Fillmore District of San Francisco, California, that became the “00000000birthplace of psychedelic rock00000000” and the main venue for the San Francisco psychedelic rock scene in the mid-1960s. It was opened in 1966 and operated by concert promoter Chet Helms and his business partner Bill Graham. The Fillmore reopened in March 1968 with a capacity of 1,400-1,500 people. With Helms at the helm, The Avalon quickly developed a reputation as a “00000000 Mecca for hippies 00000000”, as it provided not only music but also mellow vibes, love beads, flowers, and incense. It also became known for its light shows, which combined slide projections with liquid light projections by Thomas McCracken. The Avalon held two shows every night: an early show for an all-ages audience and a later show for over 21s only.

Psychedelic Rock Today

Psychedelic rock, also referred to as “psychedelia”, is a subgenre of rock music that emerged in the late 1960s. The style is distinguished by a heavy use of feedback, extended guitar solos, and unpredictability. Psychedelic rock today is characterized by a heavy use of effects pedals, intricate guitar work, and often strange or pseudo-intellectual lyrics.

The Psychedelic Furs

The Psychedelic Furs are an English rock band formed in London in 1977. The band originally consisted of lead singer Richard Butler, his brother Tim Butler (bass), Duncan Kilburn (saxophone), Paul Wilson (drums) and Roger Morris (guitar). By 1979, the band had added John Ashton (guitar) and Vince Ely (drums) to the lineup.

The Psychedelic Furs were one of the first bands to be associated with the post-punk/new wave movement. Their sound was influenced by garage rock, proto-punk and early punk bands such as the Stooges and the Velvet Underground. The band’s debut album, The Psychedelic Furs (1980), was produced by Steve Lillywhite and reached number three on the UK Albums Chart. The follow-up album, Talk Talk Talk (1981), also charted in the UK and included the hit single “Pretty in Pink”.

In 1982, the singles “Love My Way” and “Runaway Train” both charted in the US Top 40. “Love My Way” became one of the band’s most successful singles, peaking at number seven on the Billboard Hot 100. The album Forever Now followed in 1983, reaching number three in the UK; it included another hit single, “The Ghost in You”, which peaked at number 24 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre

The Brian Jonestown Massacre is a psychedelic rock band that was founded in San Francisco in 1990. The band is led by singer and songwriter Anton Newcombe, and has been on hiatus since 2019.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s sound is rooted in the early days of psychedelic rock, drawing heavily from artists such as The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Love, and Jefferson Airplane. The band’s music is often characterized by its use of feedback, reverb, and delays.

Since its formation, the band has released nineteen albums, several EPs and singles. The Brian Jonestown Massacre has been through a number of lineup changes, but Newcombe has remained the only constant member.

The band has been praised by critics for its hybrid of 1960s garage rock and 1970s punk aesthetic, as well as Newcombe’s songwriting and production skills.

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