Gut Terk – the legendary outlaw biker, Merry Prankster, Blue Cheer manager, poster and album cover artist and Acid Test graduate now rides in paradise
Allan “Gut” Terk, a legendary outlaw biker, Merry Prankster, graphic artist, and an original mainstay of the California 1960s counterculture, died of organ failure caused by metastasized cancer on January 18 in Reno, Nev. He was 78. He was, in the words of his fellow biker *Mouldy Marvin, “so fucking cool it almost breaks your heart.”
Soon after leaving high school, Terk joined the U.S. Navy, becoming a submarine sonar specialist. While serving in the Navy, he joined Hell Bent for Glory Motorcycle Club, which included several soon to be infamous Hells Angels, such as James “Mother” Miles and John Terrance Tracy (better known as “Terry the Tramp”).
According to Los Angeles-based author/filmmaker and motorcycle club historian Bo Bushnell, it was during this time that Terk received the moniker of “Gut”, because “although he was extremely skinny, he would eat a lot of food and was always in the refrigerator at the club house.”
Bushnell recounts, “Eventually Hell Bent for Glory became the North Sacramento chapter of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. Gut flew those colors for a few years until he and Terry the Tramp transferred down to the Berdoo chapter in San Bernardino in 1962, where he rode with such notable Hells Angels as Otto Friedli, Dougie Poo, Buzzard, Blind Bob and Funny Sonny.”
In 1964, Terry the Tramp transferred to the Oakland chapter and Gut Terk joined him–not so much to stay in the Hells Angels but rather to follow his dream of being an artist. Once in the Bay Area, Gut immersed himself in the intellectual beatnik/hipster scene blossoming in Berkeley, Palo Alto and San Francisco and soon met a young writer named Ken Kesey.
Kesey was then fresh off the success of his 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and had purchased a three-acre property in La Honda, southwest of Palo Alto. In La Honda, Terk, along with a few Hells Angels comrades, joined Kesey’s friends in experimenting with psychedelic drugs, most notably the then-legal LSD. Those gatherings soon became known as “The Acid Tests”, with Terk and the other more involved participants becoming known as “The Merry Pranksters”.
“But, if you ain’t cool, forget it; nothing can help you. All the money in the world won’t buy cool.”
In the Bay Area, the Pranksters became known for their “happenings” and their tribal kinship. When the publication of Kesey’s second novel, Sometimes A Great Notion, required his going to New York in 1964, a 25-year-old International Harvester school bus was purchased to allow as many Pranksters as possible to make the trip. Gut Terk helped colorfully paint and letter the bus, which was christened “Furthur” and which has since become a prominent symbol of both social protest and awakening consciousness.
Terk’s role in what the news media described as the “anti-establishment” movement received national attention with the publication of Hunter S. Thompson’s Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga in 1966, and Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test in 1968.
Thompson describes Gut Terk as “a wanderer…(who) wanted to be a commercial artist, and his sketchbook of motorcycle drawings showed a natural talent”. Wolfe depicts Gut as generous, providing the Pranksters a place to shower above his San Francisco head shop, called Joint Ventures, and enthusiastic. Wolfe describes Gut letting out a whoop while breaking into a dance when his name was called out at the 1966 Acid Test Graduation (Terk designed the certificates handed out that Halloween night).
By 1967, Terk had gained acclaim as a graphic artist by creating original lettering and designs for Grateful Dead T-shirts and posters for now-legendary Bay Area concerts—his posters for a Big Brother and the Holding Company concert at Sokol Hall and The Trips Festival at Longshoreman’s Hall are two 1966 works that are now highly prized by collectors.
Around this time, he met his then-second wife, Nancy Winarick (while in the Navy, Terk married his high school sweetheart, Jan Stowell, in a short-lived marriage). She remembers, “Walking with Gut, through concerts and backstages teeming with people, energy and craziness, was like walking with an Indian scout through a forest. He had an uncanny calmness, a clarity that cut through, and he took me into the center of the scene, which is where I wanted to be. He knew everyone, loved the scene and loved the music.”
Winarick, who later became a much sought-after knitwear designer and textile artist, described her husband’s talents: “Gut was a fantastic artist and craftsman. He had made beautiful ‘books’ full of psychedelic collages; exceptional handmade knives and handmade motorcycles. He was such a strange combination of things: at times, exceptionally peaceful, and, at other times, excessively rowdy. We married in the woods in Indian buckskin outfits; we sailed the South Pacific. Life with Gut was never dull.”
In 1968, Gut Terk’s many connections led him to become the manager of Blue Cheer, a hard rock trio pushing the sonic limits of volume, and a band Eric Clapton credits as “the originators of heavy metal.” Blue Cheer’s debut album, Vincebus Eruptum, which continues to gather respect amongst rock historians, peaked at number 11 on Billboard’s album charts; the band’s single, a cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues”, peaked at number 14 on the Billboard 100.
Terk’s daughter, Aura Winarick, was born in late 1969, amongst family and friends on a bedroom floor in a house in Marin County’s Corte Madera. She remembers little of her first few years with her father, saying, “I know there was a sailboat I was on, although my mom says no one knew how to sail; later, I learned my dad knew a lot about navigation and rigging, and often went out on his boat, ‘The Elixir’, with David Crosby, Peter Fonda, George Walker and Barry Hilton, who were all into sailing.”
Earlier in 1969, Terk had designed Jefferson Airplane’s Volunteers album, but drug use and escapism confounded his success. His growing reliance on opiates obscured much of his professional and personal history throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
His brother, land surveyor Ray Terk, recalls him “coming to us strung out, then getting clean, working some and then getting messed up again. He was homeless and destitute in San Francisco when he connected to Reverend Cecil Williams at Glide Memorial Church, off Ellis Street; the program there gave Allan what he needed to get back on his feet.”
Aura Winarick, a private chef—who, incidentally, has had Tom Wolfe as a long-time client—describes her father’s experience in despairing detail: “He came to see in me in New York when I was about 20. He was desperate, disheveled and strung out and I ended up yelling at him; I told him to get lost and he did. Years later, he told me he felt so alone and sad, and that I made him think about what had made him happy–where he had been happy–and he remembered working with horses on a ranch when he was 10 or 12 years old. And that’s what he did, he took a job as a ranch hand.”
Back in San Francisco, Terk responded to a newspaper advertisement offering riding at a Richmond ranch and kept showing up to ride, staying around the barns helping out until he was offered work. Eventually, in 1992, Terk was offered an on-site home there, and then moved into Antelope Valley, outside Reno, with those same ranch owners, in 2002.
Long-time Reno resident and auto enthusiast Casey Evans remembers first meeting Terk at a car show 15 years ago: “Al came up and complimented my car; we talked a little but he didn’t stay long. I could see he wanted to keep to himself. Still, everywhere he went, he attracted attention–people already knew him as ‘Cowboy’, because that’s what he looked like, like a cowboy out of a picture book.”
Evans continued, adding, “Over time, I saw and learned how Al made knives, sheaths, and buckles; repaired watches and cowboy hats; custom-designed cars, all with rudimentary tools and no budgets. He never smoked or drank and rarely cursed. When he told me about his art and his other life, I barely believed him. And, even after I saw it, I never called him ‘Gut’; he liked being ‘Al or Allan’. I think he was ashamed of a lot of what ‘Gut’ had done, except the artwork, and he didn’t think anyone cared much about all that anymore until Aura connected him to Bo Bushnell.”
“Ride in Paradise, you legend…You lit the match that ignited the zeitgeist of the 1960s, and then disappeared into thin air.”
Outlaw Archive curator Bo Bushnell reached out to Aura Winarick in late 2015, asking if Gut were still alive and if he’d talk about his days with the Hells Angels. He wanted to include Gut’s memories in a book centered on “Mother Ruthe”–Marilyn Ruthe Foster–a woman friendly to many of the early 1% biker clubs. Her house was conveniently located halfway between Venice Beach and San Bernardino (Berdoo) and she became a caregiver, and “mother”, to the roughneck riders who made their way to her doorstep.
With encouragement from Aura Winarick, Bushnell convinced Terk to provide his perspective on the era and then to design the cover art for the book, Halfway to Berdoo, which documents the biker era between 1961 and 1965. Participation in the book, published in 2016, reconnected Terk to a few of his Hells Angels brethren, most notably, Buzzard and Dougie Poo (Doug Feazell).
On his relationship with Terk, Bushnell recently posted, “Gut was so many things to me: friend, brother, mentor, grandpa. His influence on me and countless others will live on. In my opinion, he was one of the best Hells Angels to ever live. But Gut was so much more than just a Hells Angel; he was so many things in one person, so much so that it’s actually hard to define him. He was an amazing artist to many rock bands; he was a Merry Prankster; he managed Blue Cheer; he was a knife maker, a motorcycle builder, a car builder, a sailor and a cowboy…Ride In Paradise, you legend…You lit the match that ignited the zeitgeist of the 1960s, and then disappeared into thin air.”
A descendant of frontiersman Kit Carson’s brother, rancher Lindsey Carson, Allan Terk was born August 1, 1939. He is survived by his daughter, Aura Winarick of Sag Harbor, NY; a granddaughter, Ruby Yassen; his brothers, Ray Terk of Placerville, CA and Bill Irvin of Todos Santo, Baja California; his sister, Susan Irvin of Brentwood, CA; first wife, Jan Codorniz-Fridrich of Natomas, CA and second wife, Nancy Winarick of Shelter Island, NY and Troncones, Guerrero, Mexico.
Terk has donated his Acid Test Diploma, from his days as a Merry Prankster, along with select personal items, to The Oakland Museum of California. Memorials are being planned for February 19, both in Reno and outside of Quincy, CA.
*SIDEBAR: Hells Angel Mouldy Marvin on Gut’s “cool”:
You know what’s cool? Being cool. I have got some brothers who are so fucking far beyond cool, that it is unbelievable. I have one brother–Gut–who is so fucking cool it almost breaks your heart. Number one, he is the world’s oldest juvenile delinquent, cause that’s what he is, a juvenile delinquent.
You know how when you were a kid and there was this one guy around that was just too fucking cool? I mean the way he walked, the car he drove, the girlfriend he had, I mean even the way he stood was cool. You know, like Fonzie wished the fuck he was and was never ever even able to get close to.
Anyway, you know what I mean about cool? Well, that is how my one brother is; I mean, way beyond cool. Way cooler than the cool guy in your neighborhood could have ever been.
When he brings something new to your attention, you know that he has thought about this thing for weeks, from every angle, in every light, bounced it off of things; I mean, beat it to death, before he ever mentions it. Then he asks, “Hey bro, what do you think of this idea I have?” What do I think? I think I’m so fucking honored just to have Gut ask me what I think that most times I can’t even begin to think of a response.
Anyway, he has got super cool cars from the fifties; cool motorcycles. He is just super cool. I got all kinds of cool brothers. Goddamn, it’s hard being cool. It takes an awful lot of fucking work, but it’s worth it. But, if you ain’t cool, forget it; nothing can help you. All the money in the world won’t buy cool.”
Benito Vila is a features writer living on the East End of Long Island, where he can be found on the water when he’s not researching and typing. A former New York City design firm honcho, he occasionally still helps companies with their operations and marketing.