'Mr Summer of Love' dies at 62

THE hippy generation was in mourning yesterday for one its founding fathers and the architect of the famous 1967 Summer of Love.

Chet Helms, who was also credited with discovering singer Janis Joplin and bringing hippy bands such as The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane to prominence, died from complications of a stroke at a hospital in San Francisco. He was 62.

"It was a beautiful death," said his widow, Judy Davis, who was with a number of family and friends at his bedside.

"It was a goodbye party. We all sang to him and told stories. He died as he lived, surrounded by love."

Chester Leo Helms was seen as a pioneer of the "peace and love" hippy movement that began in the San Francisco area in the mid-1960s and gained huge popularity by tapping into the growing anti-Vietnam War sentiment among the nation's youth.

Mr Helms, who embodied the hippy look with his long hair, grizzly beard and battered hat, was a music promoter who helped organise free concerts, "love-ins" and protest gatherings that attracted hundreds of thousands to the city.

The term Summer of Love was later coined to describe the mood there in 1967, and the culture and values of the new hippy generation, including a distrust of the establishment, flower power, sex, drugs and music.

The hippy movement began in the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco in the early 1960s, where Mr Helms would host informal jam sessions for musicians in his basement.

He persuaded Joplin, a folk singer and Texas college friend, to hitchhike back to California with him and sing with early hippy bands, and she remains an icon of the era despite her death from a heroin overdose in 1970 at the age of 27.

Mr Helms set up his own production company, Family Dog, and guided many fledgling bands to stardom through his innovative psychedelic light-show concerts at the Fillmore Auditorium and later his own Avalon Ballroom.

"Chet Helms was one of the founding fathers of the music scene here," said Mickey Hart, drummer for The Grateful Dead. "He was a hippy. We were all hippies."

Barry Melton, guitarist for Country Joe and the Fish, said: "Without Chet, there would be no Grateful Dead, no Big Brother and the Holding Company, no Jefferson Airplane.

"He wasn't just a promoter, he was a supporter of music and art. He supported people emotionally, psychologically and psychically. He made the scene what it was."

Mr Helms was born in Santa Maria, California, in 1942 and, growing up in Texas and Missouri, he helped to organise events for civil rights groups before moving to San Francisco in 1962. He quit the music business in 1970s and latterly ran an art gallery.