Sunday, October 26, 2008

Legally Dead

Lawyer to the Grateful Dead.

Hal Kant, the longtime attorney for America's quintessential hippie band, gave the legal nod to what became the Grateful Dead's commercial signature: While most groups prohibit taping, the Dead tacitly allowed fans to make their own not-for-profit tapes and pass them around. "Every one of those tapes became a marketing device," says Dennis McNally, the Dead's publicist for many years.

It was Mr. Kant who led the Grateful Dead to incorporate, making it one of the first rock bands to offer health benefits and pensions. He negotiated contracts that preserved the Dead's master recordings for the band, not a record company, and coordinated its many businesses. And it was Mr. Kant – "the Czar," to lead guitarist Jerry Garcia – who convinced Mr. Garcia to protest when groovy Vermont dairy Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc. named one of its flavors Cherry Garcia. The company now pays royalties, split between a Grateful Dead charity and Mr. Garcia's heirs.

Cherry Garcia seemed such a perfect name; apt. And why should Ben & Jerry have benefitted from what was obviously a play on Garcia's name?

Still, as a registered Republican with an office in Beverly Hills, Mr. Kant, who died Oct. 19 in Reno, Nev., at age 77, seems an unlikely candidate to have spent three decades as lawyer to the San Francisco band, starting in 1971."I didn't hang out with them – they were not an important client to me financially [at the time], so I could be very independent," he told Mr. McNally for the publicist's history of the Grateful Dead, "A Long Strange Trip."

Mr. Kant said he never charged the band a percentage but only billed hourly, and insisted that the band pay managers a flat fee. "Hal was the sounding board, the adult in the room" during the band's anarchic and consensus-driven meetings, Mr. McNally says. Although he ended up as a pioneer entertainment lawyer, much of Mr. Kant's practice was a general one, with specialties in tax and corporate law.

Born Harold Sanford Kant in Queens and raised in the Bronx, he was the son of immigrant Russian Jews in the dry-cleaning business. Itchy after attending City College for two years, he traveled west to Seattle and finished college at the University of Washington.

A Queens boy.

He earned a master's in psychology before service in the Navy during the Korean War, then used his G.I. Bill money to study law at Harvard, graduating in 1958. A clerkship on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals took him back to the West Coast, and he went on to join a Beverly Hills law firm next door to the William Morris Agency. Mr. Kant counted a few starlets among his early clients. His first musical client was the Association, to be followed by Captain Beefheart and Stevie Ray Vaughan, among others.

I remember the Association; mid-1960s. Along comes Mary. And SRV as a client?

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