A Glimpse at Garcia with Christopher Sabec
In October 1987 Jerry Garcia was Broadway bound. From October 15 through October 31,1987 he appeared at New York's Lunt-Fontanne Theater with his current quintet for eighteen acoustic/electric shows. During the acoustic performances Garcia was joined by stalwart bassist John Kahn, David Nelson on guitar, David Kemper on drums and Sandy Rothman on mandolin, dobro and banjo for a set of music before yielding to Jerry's electric band of this era. The ultimate and penultimate performances of this run, both of which took place on Halloween (yes in true Broadway fashion the group even offered matinees) are about to be released. These follow the recent After Midnight and Pure Jerry packages. With all this activity it seemed like a fine time to check in with manager and CEO of the Jerry Garcia Estate, Christopher Sabec, at least in part to make a grovel.
DB- I would guess that at least a few of our readers first heard your name in association with a popular pop band that first surfaced a few years back. I was wondering if you could outline how you came to take on your role with the Garcia Estate?
CS- I’m an entertainment attorney by profession. I worked for Dave Matthews from 92-95 and then I stepped out of the lawyer role and took on the manager role with Hanson. I discovered and managed Hanson for eight years and in that period I met the Dead organization though Pete Shapiro’s facilitation of the Bobby/Hanson Wetlands show, the infamous Bobby/Hanson Wetlands show.
Then I did some consulting work with GDP [Grateful Dead Productions] and back in 2000 one of the attorneys who represented the estate of Jerry Garcia invited me to make a presentation and proposal on how to preserve, as well as bring to market, his intellectual property and his legacy. I made that presentation in 2000 and two years later I was contacted by his beneficiaries, his family, and asked to take on the position and move up from Los Angeles. I have been doing this since November 2002.
DB- So I would assume it’s fair to say you saw your share of Jerry Band shows over the years?
Cs- I was a big fan of the Jerry Band, a big fan of the Dead. I saw a lot of Dead shows. I was big fan of live music in general. I went to law school in Athens, Georgia and I saw lots of Widespread shows back then. Then I moved to Richmond. I was introduced to the Dave Matthews scene as a taper. I was an early adaptor to the DAT format. I work with a band here in San Francisco, Tea Leaf Green, they’re a great live band and that’s what thrills me, the evolving nature of a band that believes in changing up their live performances.
DB- So you came to head the Garcia Estate and some time recently the Dead organization asked the Estate to clean out the Jerry vault?
CS- Yes, We were asked by the Grateful Dead to take possession of Jerry’s section of the Grateful Dead vault. They were clearing the vault and I believe every member of the Dead had to take his personal stuff out. They kept it for eight years but there were space considerations and now Bobby has his stuff, Mickey has his stuff, Billy has his stuff, Phil has his stuff and Jerry’s stuff is safe and sound.
DB- What surprised you most about what you found?
CS- I would say the depth of the musical archives that existed. It was seventy seven boxes of stuff that hadn’t really been gone through. That’s what led to the box set that came out last year, All Good Things. Some of the studio reels hadn’t been listened to since the time they had been put on the shelf. They were covered with dust and it was just this great untapped resource. It was exciting to be part of bringing it to the public.
DB- The release that just came out, After Midnight, I didn’t realize at first that it’s not a part of the Pure Jerry series. Can you explain the distinction?
CS- A Pure Jerry release is exclusive from two track soundboard recordings that we have in the archive- Dicks Picks comes to mind as the best comparison. They’re two track recordings so there’s not much we can do, they’re warts and all. We put them out exclusively through our web site and they do not go though retail.
That’s a business decision because we have more music than retail is going to want. The mom and pop who own a record in Cleveland, Ohio don’t want five Jerry Garcia releases in one year. But the Deadhead in Cleveland, who lives across the street from that mom and pop record store, does. So we were able to solve that problem by having our retail releases go through Rhino Records and Warner Strategic Marketing. The first of these was All Good Things and it will be the only studio release we ever do because there’s no more. We went through the archives and All Good Things is 100% of the studio recordings. The quality and quantity of what we put on that box set was astounding. We had 91 tracks, 95 tracks when you count our bonus CD and four hours of that had never been heard before.
Our first live release in the retail program is After Midnight and that’s a multitrack recording from Kean College, 1980. We have more multitrack recordings in our vault and these multitracks will be released through retail. As for the two tracks, there are probably 500 live concerts in the Jerry vault in the two track medium, right off the soundboard. Hopefully we’re going to put out between three and four out a year for the foreseeable future. We have a wealth of live material. Jerry performed in 35 different ensembles in the 70s alone. That’s pretty incredible. He was a working man.
DB- On your website you’ve been soliciting the opinions on fans in terms of show selections. To what extent have those suggestions had a role in terms of identifying shows for release?
CS- We read every single one. We get them compiled and email them around to people in the brain trust that I’ve invited to help me. The number one request was for an "After Midnight"> "Eleanor Rigby"> "After Midnight" jam from the early eighties. So I called David Lemieux and asked him what he thought of this, what he knew. He lit up like a Christmas tree and told me not only did he have an "After Midnight">"Eleanor Rigby" jam for me but he had one in multitrack and it would be an outstanding candidate for release. So it was absolutely started by the input of fans. You know what they say, the squeaky wheel gets the grease…
DB- Well then let me squeak. Do you have representative performances from most if not all of these ensembles?
DB- I have three words for you- Legion…Of…Mary.
CS- I have two letters for you…OK.
Budnick then prattles on about the majesty of Legion Of Mary which predominantly performed when the Grateful Dead took time off between 1974 and 1975. Garcia’s interplay with Merl Saunders on keys and Martin Fierro on sax and flute is something to behold.
DB- You mentioned that you discussed the selection of 2/28/80 with [Grateful Dead archivist] David Lemieux. What role does he play? I assume that he’s rather busy as it is?
CS- Joel Bernstein is officially our archivist. David Lemiuex is a consultant and researcher. He’s full time with the Grateful Dead so he doesn’t have a lot of time but he’s been an instrumental member of the team and he provides the road map that I follow.
DB- Back to After Midnight, the liner notes identify Jerry himself as the producer of the original recordings. What led to that credit?
CS- It was a multi-track recording they were producing the night of the show and decisions were being made. So we felt that it was appropriate to credit him as the producer of the tracks.
DB- And so there was at least some intention on his part to make those decisions with the intent of releasing this one day?
CS- Well you don’t bring in the truck, bring in all that expense without the intention of doing something with it. They decided to capture it and then it was put on the shelves.
DB- Back to the two-track recordings, since you do have so many, is there some possibility that you will offer up a range of them on-line as downloads?
CS- We’re exploring a lot of options and there is an intention at some point to have digital downloads but right now as we crack open the vault and get the pump primed we’re focusing on the hard goods CDs. But it’s not far off in the future.
DB- In terms of other future releases such as DVDs, what if anything do you have in terms of film or video footage?
CS- We do have some video that we’re going though now and trying to come up with a plan. I would say there’s at least one if not more DVDs in the future.
DB- How far back does it go?
CS- We know we have some stuff some from the 90s and we’re trying to go through it and archive it. I’m told there’s some stuff from the mid-70’s too. We’ve been approached by somebody but I have not seen it yet so we just don’t know what the quality is. There was nothing in the vault though, there was nothing in Jerry’s’ stash of videos
DB- One final topic. I noticed you’ve also placed some emphasis on Jerry’s artwork. The web site references a lost art program, can talk about your aims and intensions there?
CS- We’re creating database of all the artwork Jerry created. When it was being created during his lifetime he didn’t think it through in terms of it becoming historical. Some of the originals disappeared and that’s why we refer to it as lost art. They didn’t disappear in any kid of nefarious way, they just got bought or he gave them to someone and we’re just trying to account for them. There’s a print called "Snail Garden," it had appeared as a print so we knew it existed and we were able to locate it through the lost art program in Japan. The owner was gracious enough to allow us to photograph it. We’re creating a database of all of Jerry’s art.
DB- With the intention of releasing a book?
CS- Yes, we’re putting together the definitive Jerry Garcia art book that will be released about a year from now. That’s never really been done.
From here Budnick inexorably guides the conversation back to Legion of Mary. Please do note that Sabec responds "OK," to the interviewer’s entreaty above (fwiw). Feel free to send your own release requests to the Estate firstname.lastname@example.org