It has been said that 'if you can remember the Sixties then you probably weren't there' but the contrary is true for Roger Steffens, the 77-year-old photographer, poet, actor, and pot-smoking, LSD- aficionado that can instantly recall anecdotes of his vast and varied life just as quickly as he can recite lines from his favorite Shakespearean sonnets. Steffens is also a Vietnam War veteran and proprietor of the world's largest collection of reggae memorabilia. With a camera always in hand, Steffens has spent the last five decades snapping moments of his psychedelic and surreal life; a hobby that has produced a staggering number of photographs that capture America during a critical time when the country began change and rethink its trust for the government and long-held social institutions. Hundreds of these images will be featured in his forthcoming book that to be released this September, titled The Family Acid: California.
With guest appearances not limited to Keith Richards, Bob Marley, Sean Flynn, Marianne Faithfull, Tim Page, Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary; Steffens' outsize life would be almost unimaginable, had he not memorialized it so copiously on film.
Over the last 50 years, Steffens has shot more than 500,000 frames, dropped acid 'at least' 100 times, published ten books, acted in 24 films, narrated 500 documentaries, hosted 2,200 hours of radio programming, and spent 26 months in an Army psychological operations unit during the Vietnam War. He's been married twice, divorced once and fathered two children who endearingly call their unconventional household, 'The Family Acid' – a namesake derived from the fact that Steffens met his current wife Mary, 44 years ago, while tripping on acid in Mendocino County, California.
Sunbathing with poet Mark McCloskey, Berkeley, CA 1972. Steffens was born in Brooklyn and raised in a strict Catholic household before he was drafted to the Vietnam War and began experimenting with LSD. 'People knew me as a Goldwater conservative before I went to ‘Nam,' he said
February 1968, twin brothers in the military stand on the roof of Steffens' barracks in Saigon, it was the first day of the Tet Offensive, and the Vietnamese Naval Headquarters (seen in the background) was burned to the ground. Steffens was drafted to the army's Psychological Operations Unit at age 25 in 1967, he was reassigned a position that gave him the freedom to do 'any project he saw worthwhile' after the colonel was impressed by his work with local refugees affected by the Tet Offensive. 'There were 52 families living in sewer pipes. And I'd get up in the morning and you know, literally I have to step over dead bodies in the middle of the sidewalk' he said
Keith Richards visits Roger Steffens' massive archive of reggae memorabilia that takes up seven rooms in his Los Angeles home. As the world's foremost expert in reggae music, Steffens assisted Richards in the making of his 2010 compilation record of Rastafarian spiritual songs
Steffens (right) is pictured next to Sean Flynn (son of the legendary Hollywood actor, Errol Flynn) on his very first visit to the Island of the Coconut Monk, a place that Steffens said was like a 'religious Disneyland,' where you 'prayed for peace to Christ, Buddha, Muhammad, Laozi, Confucius, Sun Yat-Sen, Victor Hugo and Winston Churchill.' Sean Flynn was captured by Viet Cong soldiers in 1970 and never seen again
April 1970, Roger Steffens is pictured in Wisconsin, a few months returning from Vietnam. On experimenting with LSD, Steffens said 'It was a wake-up call. It made me change the way I thought about everything'
Traffic on the way to see The Rolling Stones at Altamont on December 6, 1969. Just days after Steffens finished his 26-month long tour in Vietnam, he and a few Army buddies drove to the legendary concert, only to get stuck on the highway nearby instead. As seen here, people abandoned their vehicles and hiked to the festival instead
Steffens is a man who does nothing by halves, he is insatiable for knowledge and compulsively curious. He was first introduced to reggae music in 1973 after reading a story in Rolling Stone magazine that piqued his interest. By 1979, he had his own radio show on National Public Radio and Bob Marley was his first guest. 'He was a once in a lifetime artist,' said Steffens who is regarded as the world's leading expert on Bob Marley and the Wailers. In fact, it was Steffens who steered Paul Simon to African music, an introduction that resulted in the culturally important album, Graceland. It was also Steffens, who assisted Keith Richards in his 2010 album of Rastafarian spiritual songs. Remembering Richards' visit to his home, Steffens said, 'He had a rider of things that had to be in the house when he came, a bottle of Stoli, a six pack, a pack of Marlboro's, some rolling papers and an ashtray.'
His passion for reggae music has manifested itself into the world's largest archive of memorabilia outside of Jamaica, one that fills seven rooms in his Echo Park, Los Angeles home. The veritable shrine to reggae music includes 300,000 recordings, 30,000 fliers from around the world, 2,000 pieces of art, 3,000 concert buttons and every issue of Rolling Stone magazine from its 52-year run. 'I bought the first issue on my way to Vietnam in 1967 and subscribed immediately,' said Steffens, who also goes by 'Ras Rojah.' The moniker was given to him by Bob Marley when he joined him on tour in 1979.
'LSD changed my life in 1966. I did LSD almost two years before I ever smoked my first joint, which was in Saigon,' said Steffens to DailyMail.com. 'You needed something in Saigon to break the tension.' Like many in his generation, the politically polarized war changed Steffens. 'People knew me as a Goldwater conservative before I went to 'Nam,' he explained. Born to an Irish-Catholic family in Brooklyn, Steffens' father worked for Remington Rand typewriters while his mother was a homemaker. 'I was a conservative after 15 years of Catholic brainwashing, the American Legion State Oratory champion, I had worked for William F. Buckley in New York in '65.' – all of that right-wing sh*t,' said Steffens.
Steffens snapped this photo of Bob Marley while en route to his show at the San Diego Sports Arena in November 1979. Steffens began hosting his own reggae radio show in 1979, after only six weeks on air, Marley's record label called and asked if he wanted to join then on tour for two weeks
The Albion Peoples Fair in May 26, 1975. This was the same day that Steffens met his second wife Mary 'under a total eclipse of the moon' while on an acid trip in Mendocino County. They married ten days later, had two kids and celebrated their 44th anniversary last month
While stationed in Vietnam, Steffens wrote a few letters to local newspapers back home asking to send aid packages for local families displaced by the war: 'Three weeks later, two five-ton trucks pulled into the compound with my mail. 10,000 pounds of little packages pouring out of these huge steel Conex containers.' Eventually, he raised over 100 tons of food and clothing for Vietnamese refugees
Roger Steffens' wife, Mary pictured in Jamaica in June 1976. For years, the Family Acid (Roger, his wife Mary and two kids Kate and Devon) would take trips to Jamaica as Steffens would MC the reggae music festival Sunsplash
Photo taken from the back of a military jeep in Saigon, November 1969. Steffens didn't smoke his first joint until he got to Vietnam: 'You needed something in Saigon to break the tension,' he said to DailyMail.com
Actress Lise Hilboldt sunbathing in Racine, Wisconsin. August 1969. Steffens studied acting at the prestigious Carnegie Mellon School of Drama and was performing his one-man poetry show in schools throughout the Midwest when he was drafted
Nevertheless, some of his most evocative images hail from his time serving in the Vietnam War. After attending the prestigious Carnegie Mellon School of Drama, Steffens then 25-years-old, was working as an actor when he received his draft card in 1967. He took bad advice from a local recruiting officer; and was given the option to avoid combat by serving in the Army's Radio and Television Division under the provision that he enlist for an additional year. He was told that Vietnam didn't have any radio stations at the time; 'but what he didn't tell me is that they were building nine,' said Steffens to DailyMail.com.
Instead, he was sent to the JFK Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg for intense training in psychological operations (PSYOPS) and propaganda warfare where they trained him with Nazi films. He was shipped out to Vietnam in October 1967 and given his marching orders that required him to carry 80- pound speakers through dangerous Viet Cong territory, calling for their immediate surrender.
'I bought a camera as soon as I got to Saigon, because I realized it was in the midst of something historic,' he told DailyMail.com. But upon arriving in Vietnam, Steffens caught a lucky break; the Colonel noticed his IQ and offered him an air-conditioned office job as a typist. 'Three months later the Tet Offensive struck and the city went up in flames around us...That's when I started working with refugees.'
'There were 52 families living in sewer pipes. And I'd get up in the morning and you know, literally I have to step over dead bodies in the middle of the sidewalk,' said Steffens to DailyMail.com. He wrote a few letters to local newspapers back home asking to send aid packages and his plea was well received: 'Three weeks later, two five-ton trucks pulled into the compound with my mail. 10,000 pounds of little packages pouring out of these huge steel Conex containers.' Steffens was instantly promoted to corporal, assigned a division of men and given the freedom to go anywhere in the country between the DMZ and the Mekong Delta with the ability to work on any project he saw worthwhile under one stipulation: he had to photograph everything.
GIs on the road in Pleiki, Vietnam, March 1969. Steffens told DailyMail.com: 'I bought a camera as soon as I got to Saigon, because I realized it was in the midst of something historic'
Bob Marley backstage at the San Diego Sports Arena in 1979. Speaking of Marley to DailyMail.com Steffens said: 'He was a once in a lifetime artist. He was without question, the most important musical artist of the 20th century. One whose work is going to last longer and have more profound influence on the entire world than anybody else'
Allen Ginsberg at a private party of poets in Milwaukee, February 1967. His reading at Marquette University had just been canceled because the week before he had taken his clothes off while performing at Columbia. 'So Marquette hired me instead to do the poetry show and of course I read some Ginsburg!' he told DailyMail.com
Cynthia, (Roger's first-wife) at Stonehenge, October 3, 1971. Steffens met Cynthia on the Island of the Coconut Monk in Vietnam while she was working as a war correspondent. After he finished his tour in Vietnam, the couple traveled throughout Europe before they landed in Marrakesh
Bob Marley (right) and a touring member of The Wailers at the San Diego Sports Arena in 1979. Steffens was first introduced to reggae music by Rolling Stone magazine in 1973 - by 1979, he was touring with Bob Marley and had his own radio show. Today he is known as the world's leading expert on all things reggae
During his 26-month