The Good Old Days in Denver, Part One

by Philip Rosmarin, October 13th, 2013

Originally published at

I’m just a plainspoken Colorado criminal defense lawyer, but the way I see it…

Used to be, in my home state’s capital, you could be arrested for walking around in public under the influence of long hair.

Denver, like maybe most places in the United States in the 1960’s, used to be terrified of young men who didn’t care for the “regular man’s haircut.” One slightly older man, a Denver narcotics detective, John Gray, was particularly horror-stricken by tonsorial outliers. He vowed “to rid Denver of all-long-haired people.” It wasn’t clear if he was just talking about the men. It was plain good luck that the Second Coming didn’t come to pass in Denver in those days. But it was bold talk for a one-eyed fat man known as the “Wyatt Earp of the West,” though any fair geographical reckoning should have made him maybe the “Wyatt Earp of the 872.6 Miles Somewhat to the Northeast.”

John Gray did run a lot of people out of town, after swapping grooming tips in his jail. Four of these people, arrested in October of 1967, comprised the Los Angeles blues-rock band Canned Heat. (Blues-rock — not even hard rock — showing all the more Detective Gray’s head was screwed on about three turns too tight.)

Apparently word of the passage of the Fourth Amendment had not yet reached Denver by Pony Express, because news reports of the time say Detective Gray just walked into the motel room of drummer Frank Cook and cheerily announced himself: “Hello, I’m Detective Gray and we’ve just arrested the rest of your group.” Gray, fancying himself a pretty darn good amateur magician, showed he had nothing up his sleeve but maybe something in his pocket, because Cook said Gray miraculously put his hand in his pocket, waved it over a coffee table, and presto! hashish. Just warming up, the detective next picked up an empty shoe, walked into the bathroom, shut the door, and when he came out again abracadabra! a bag of marijuana in the shoe. Cook screamed his applause; the news reports just say he screamed at the detective.

Ah, the good old days.

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