SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - During their heyday, the Grateful Dead promised in their folksy lyrics to "steal your face right off your head."
Deadheads could figuratively lose their shirts Tuesday, when big bidders were expected to push up prices during an auction of memorabilia collected by the group's longtime road manager. Some items were expected to bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars, and a common mud mat containing grime from band members' boots was expected to fetch a couple hundred dollars.
Everything from guitars to ticket stubs kept by Lawrence "Ram Rod" Shurtliff during his decades-long stint co-ordinating the rock band's legendary touring operation was on the auction block.
"He just really loved the band and he didn't want to see any of their equipment or stuff thrown away," said Margaret Barrett, director of entertainment memorabilia for Bonhams & Butterfields Auctioneers, which was staging the sale in San Francisco. "He didn't want their legacy to go away."
Shurtliff, who started as a truck driver for the Dead in 1967 and became president of the band's board of directors when the group incorporated in the 1970s, died in 2006.
The band, one of the most popular and lucrative touring acts of all-time, formed in the hothouse psychedelic atmosphere of San Francisco in 1965.
Auctioneers believe that baby boomer doctors, lawyers and entrepreneurs - many of whom wore flowers in their hair to the Dead's early shows - would gladly pay a premium for ordinary items touched by band members, including Jerry Garcia, a founding member who served as lead guitarist and vocalist.
The auction house expected a 1975 cream-colored electric guitar played by Garcia during some of the Dead's most famous shows to bring between $250,000 and $300,000.
Included with the guitar was a custom leather case still containing items that Garcia, who struggled with drug addiction throughout his life and died of a heart attack in 1995, left inside: his guitar strings, a tuning fork, a string winder and an unopened pack of his nonfiltered Camel cigarettes.
A black rubber mat used to switch on stage microphones with muddy footprints was expected to fetch at least $200. Photos verify that band members did step on that very mat, Barrett said.
"It's one of those things that, `If it could only talk,"' Barrett said. "What did it see? What did it hear?"
A speaker cabinet from the band's famous "Wall of Sound" - without the speakers but with a "Support Your Local Hells Angels" sticker on the side - was expected to sell for as much as $1,500. The Wall was an allegedly distortion-free but notoriously finicky portable sound system designed by Dead sound man Owsley "Bear" Stanley, who went to jail for manufacturing LSD in 1970.
Though the Dead once epitomized the anti-consumerist ethos of the Summer of Love, Bonhams - the British auction house that specializes in the appraisal and sale of fine art and antiques - doesn't see any irony in the big price tags attached to the band's vintage gear.
"They became very rich themselves and sort of transcended the whole peace-love hippie movement," Barrett said. "Jerry went to concerts in limos. He wasn't in the back of equipment vans. By the 1980s, it was big business."