The Story Behind the Grateful Dead Ice Cream Kid

Grateful Dead Europe ’72 cover art, featuring the ice cream kid.

The Grateful Dead’s Europe ’72 is an undisputed classic in the Dead canon. It features what the band felt were the best recordings from their European tour in the Spring of 1972, packed into one big live album. It contains definitive versions of many Grateful Dead songs including “Brown-Eyed Women”, “Ramble on Rose”, “Tennessee Jed”, and of course the notorious “Morning Dew” from the Lyceum on 5/26/72, during which Dead publicist Dennis McNally recalls seeing Jerry with tears rolling down his face, back to the audience and completely in tune with the song and the audience. It’s frequently brought up in conversation as the best “Morning Dew” of all time, right alongside 5/8/77 and 10/12/84.

The official release of the live triple album Europe ’72 came in November of 1972. The cover art for the vinyl featured the iconic Ice Cream Kid, designed by Stanley Mouse in collaboration with his partner Alton Kelley. Mouse and Kelley collaborated on many Grateful Dead art, posters, and album covers in the 1960s and 1970s, however the Europe ’72 Ice Cream Kid is one of the most well-known of all Stanley Mouse and Grateful Dead pairings, second only to the Skeleton and Roses artwork, lovingly nicknamed Bertha.

On the back cover of Europe ’72 is another famous piece of Grateful Dead art created by Kelley / Mouse, the Rainbow Foot, or the “Truckin’ Shoe” as former Dead manager Rock Skully referred to it.

The Mouse / Kelley Rainbow Foot from the back cover of Europe ’72.

According to Skully, Alton Kelley claims that the idea comes from something that he witnessed in his youth, but the band always had their own take on the meaning. To them it came to represent their shenanigans in Europe, which were notoriously zany and disorganized, as it was the band’s first time in Europe during the years when they were experimenting with and indirectly helping to distribute a lot of LSD. In combination with the Rainbow Foot on the back, the Ice Cream Kid art embodied the youthful and carefree spirit of the Grateful Dead on their first European tour, which is certainly in the running for the best Dead tour of all time.

In 2011, all 22 shows from the Spring 1972 tour were also released on a huge box set containing full soundboard recordings from every show, titled Europe ’72: The Complete Recordings. The artwork on each these CDs are another rabbit hole of awesome Grateful Dead art, this time from the creative brains of illustrator Scott McDougall.

Upon closer look at the Europe ’72 vinyl cover art, fans have noticed that the red squares on his t-shirt happen to be the exact same size as standard a tab of acid. Coming from the Grateful Dead world this couldn’t possibly be a coincidence. Further support for this theory comes in the 2017 Amazon documentary Long Strange Trip, where former band roadie Ramrod accidentally condensed the LSD for this tour into an extremely powerful liquid form, leading to the band and the entire rest of the Grateful Dead crew soaring around Europe in rainbow land.

Today the Ice Cream Kid, and to a lesser extent the Rainbow Foot are still in heavy rotation in the Grateful Dead art sphere. You’ll find the Ice Cream Kid logo all over t-shirts, bumper stickers, and whatever else Deadheads have dreamed up. It’s not quite as prevalent as the stealie or the dancing bears, but there’s no mistaking that frozen cone to the head as part of the Grateful Dead mythos, which is one that will live on forever.

One thought on “The Story Behind the Grateful Dead Ice Cream Kid

  • November 14, 2021 at 2:28 pm

    The guy who inspired the ice cream cone kid was a one of a kind. RIP Brockett

    Reply

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