'Czar' of the Grateful Dead


Hal Kant, the principal lawyer and general counsel for the Grateful Dead for more than 35 years who brought the band millions of dollars in revenue, died Sunday in Reno, Nev., after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 77.

Kant is credited with preserving the Dead's enduring legacy and their valuable intellectual property, including ownership of their music masters and publishing rights (a rare feat in the early days of rock 'n' roll).

Lead singer Jerry Garcia has been dead since 1995, yet the band continues to rake in millions of dollars a year through live recordings, merchandise, etc. For example, Garcia's estate (as well as Save the Rainforest) receives proceeds from every pint of Ben & Jerry's "Cherry Garcia" ice cream.

So domineering was Kant's influence that Garcia emblazoned the lawyer's Grateful Dead business cards with a simple title: "Czar."

Kant also did work for Janis Joplin, Sonny & Cher, the Association, Stevie Ray Vaughan, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Hot Tuna and Captain Beefheart. He was asked to represent the Doors but turned them down because they wanted him exclusively.

A native of the Bronx, Kant graduated from Harvard University Law School, then got a job as a clerk in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco.

Once in law practice, he noticed that "the only attorneys in the music business were the attorneys for the record companies, and their job was to get as much money as they could for their company and leave as little as possible for the artists," he said. "I decided maybe the other guys should have an attorney, too."

Kant also was an accomplished card player who won the World Series of Poker in 1987. The Dead often came to root for him during tournaments. (partialdiff)