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Truckin’ Up To Buffalo (Part One of An Interview with Grateful Dead Archivist David Lemieux)

With the fortieth Anniversary of the Grateful Dead and the ten year anniversary of Jerry Garcia’s passing upon us, we offer this extensive interview with David Lemieux. Look for much more next month. A special expanded issue of Relix also is in the offing for August as well

It's no secret that David Lemieux has the Deadhead's dream job. As the Audiovisual Archivist for the Grateful Dead, he's immersed in the sights and sounds of the band that entreated thousands of us to "get on the Bus." With degrees in history and film and a Master of Arts in film archiving from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, he's found a career that combined his love for the Dead with his academic pursuits.

Already working on the band's video vault, Lemieux inherited the audio side when Dick Latvala (of Dick's Picks fame) passed away. Over the past few years, he's spearheaded numerous projects including continuing the Dick's Picks series, "Rare Cuts & Oddities 1966," View From the Vault DVDs as well as the CD/DVD sets for "The Closing of Winterland" and "The Grateful Dead Movie."

Lemieux not only knows his work intimately, as a Deadhead, but he offers a detailed, behind-the-scenes observation as a professional who's also taken on the role of producer for some of these projects.

I hope that what you read here offers an illuminating view of the process that goes on to give Deadheads the best possible sounds and visuals of, to their ears, the best band ever.

JPG: Give us an idea now of a typical day for you. Are you going in on a daily basis working on another Vault show or more bonus material from the Movie or can you reveal what may be a future project?

DL: Well, for instance, we just finished work on a big DVD that's coming out this summer, Truckin’ Up to Buffalo. What that involved, first of all was watching it a lot, comparing it to a lot of other shows. In the case The Grateful Dead Movie you know what the release is, it's the movie, it's the bonus stuff that you're looking through. The Dick's Picks or the Vault release, you're comparing it to many different shows from that tour. Decide, Okay we're going to do a summer '89.' Then, you're comparing it to the other videos that you have. Checking out the source audio, your multi-track does synch and that you've got the source material to really make a DVD happen. So, you're doing a lot of comparison, you're doing a lot of dubbing.

Then, you're working on putting the budgets together. You're calling up the video editing because these things have to be put together. They have to have the credit rolls. Overseeing that, actually putting the credit list. Doing the lyrics. You'll notice there's a visible lyrics option [on the Truckin’ DVD]. Making sure that that's done. And again that needs to be put in Word document, supplying them to the subtitling house. The artwork, we have a great guy did that cover art, and then a fellow here in the office, Brian, dealing with him and making sure that that gets done on time. Then Bob Minkin, who does the layout, making sure that he has everything he needs in terms of content. We have to supply him with all the credits, the liner notes, the photos, the cover art, the templates we have to make sure our distributor, in this case Monterey Video, has got him the template on time so he can actually do the layout.

And then Jeffrey Norman, in the meantime, will be mixing the whole thing. I'll check in on that and then ultimately syncing up the two. Jeffrey will go up to Colorado where we do our 5.1 mastering. He'll oversee that. Then, making sure that the video house has all they need to author the DVD, and then overseeing the menu design and check the discs to make sure that the quality of what is replicated at the pressing plant is good enough. Approving that, they proceed and to the final step of getting a shrinkwrapped product before it goes out and checking it to make sure the quality is good.

It's pretty much everything start to finish. That's because we're not a record company. I deal with record companies that have these departments where every single role that I just discussed is done by a different person. Here each of these 8, 10, 20 roles are done by one or two people. It's a lot of work, but it's not overwhelming. It definitely can be done and in fact, I think it runs a little more smoothly that way because there's a vision for the whole. I find that with a bigger record company there's no vision for the whole even when somebody is the producer. You've got somebody else who does the art or the liner notes or the photo acquisitions or oversees the credits. There's no committee meeting and, frankly, committees don't always work. The bottom line is even a producer who should have that vision of the overall has no idea what's happening in the package design or the DVD quality or sound quality. So I think it works a lot better.

It's really having a lot of incredibly competent people. You know Jeffrey, Bob Minkin and all these people who help put these things together. I don't think they could be done without all that.

JPG: Now as far as the Dick’s Picks, Dick Latvala left all these notes that have become kind of guide as far as what to release or why this should be released, etc. etc. For the video series, the View from the Vault series, is there anything similar?

DL: He didn't pay attention too much to video. Dick was definitely an audio guy. He loved his tapes, but in saying that we have so little video in the collection. It's a lot more limited to what we have to choose from. If you look at the last six DVDs, we did a 1990, a 91, a 90, an '87, 78 and a 74. We do have about four shows on video from 89 that are fantastic quality, performance first of all. The look of the band is outstanding. I don't know if you watched the "Morning Dew" and "Not Fade Away" on the Buffalo…

JPG: Yes I did.

DL: Specifically, "Not Fade Away," the interaction between Jerry and Brent and the rest of them is some of the most beautiful footage I've ever seen of the band. So we knew we wanted to do an '89, and also with the 89 material we have the good multi-track tapes, which means we can really do a big, huge 5.1 surround sound mix. Then it becomes a really big, fun project, not just a View From The Vault, hence the title Truckin’ Up to Buffalo as opposed to View from the Vault Five.

There are some shows on that same summer tour that have really great looking set lists, But in terms of performances, everybody who saw this Buffalo video around here, some people on the quote unquote outside really thought that this was some of the best video footage that they had ever seen from this period of The Grateful Dead; up there and in some cases beyond the Downhill From Here interaction of the band, the happiness, the energy which with which they're playing. You look at the "Cold Rain and Snow," the inflection Jerry puts on the words on "Bertha" right from the beginning, the "Touch of Grey." I remember showing "Touch of Grey" to Dick and Dick saying, Man, one of the best "Touch of Grey" I've ever heard." You know "Women are Smarter," "Ship of Fools"...a lot of people look at "Ship of Fools" and they say, Eh, Ship of Fools.' Get beyond it. Look at the performance, and it's an outstanding performance. The "Watchtower," "Morning Dew," "Not Fade Away" could be one of my favorite 20 minutes of Grateful Dead music, 25 minutes of their last 10 years of touring.

In this case, we decided at the beginning to do a summer 89, take a look at the four or five shows that we have and then really whittle that down to two or three. And this really came down to two shows. By putting out this one, a lot of people say, Well, it should have been that one.' That doesn't mean that that one's not coming out next year. It's just this is a great show, there's no arguing that. I think anybody who sees it and gets beyond initial biases of, Well it doesn't have a "Scarler>Fire." It doesn't have a "Let It Grow." It doesn't have a "Friend of the Devil" to open the set like Foxboro did. Get beyond that. Pay attention to the performance and really realize that this is some of the most special visual imagery we have of The Dead. Period.

Now, in asking how a release comes about, that's a great example of it. The Dick's Picks is a lot bigger workload only because we do three or four a year. We're dealing with 30 years of music. The Views from the Vaults, we have maybe eight years of material to choose from. The videos, we have pretty much 87 to 95. Even from those years, not very much. The audio, we all know, there's 1,500 shows. We like to vary it up a lot. So, we look at what we've released in the last two years.

JPG: I didn’t get a chance to look at my DeadBase, but because I watched it late at night, I thought I nodded off when there was that "Playin’" reprise…

DL: That was from the night before, the Foxboro show. The tour opener opened first set with "Playin' in the Band" and they never closed it again. And that little three-minute reprise in Buffalo is the closing. It's Weir's kind of cool sense of humor/paying attention that they played it the night before.

JPG: I was also surprised there wasn’t a "Truckin’" on it.

DL: Right. They played it the night before in Foxboro. You can see it on the video, Bobby saying, "Truckin' Up to Buffalo," kind of points west. So, yeah, you know we just had a little play on the song lyric.

JPG: I didn’t make it to that show, but I went to Buffalo the next year…

DL: Oh yeah, the 90 show. Great show. It is a contender for a release. Next time 90 comes around, I would say that that one is definitely up there. We've released three 90s. I've already seen people saying, Aw, they should have released, 7/16/90, the next year's Buffalo.' I'm sure it will get released. But we've released two 90s of our last four late era releases. It was time for an 89. I, frankly, feel this show is equally, if not better, than that one. If anybody pays attention to the performance will agree. That 90 show definitely has some great stuff. First [set], I think it was a great "High Time," "Let it Grow" and then second [set] had a "Sugar Mag>Scarlet," so no arguing there. Great show too.

JPG: On a personal note, it was nice to find the first View from the Vault coming from the 1990 Pittsburgh show, which I attended. The only thing that was missing, was the squeaking sound coming from everyone bouncing on those cheap seats on the stadium floor.

DL: I remember. I was in the taper section on that whole tour. I remember it well. Interestingly, that summer tour '90, as you saw in the Pittsburgh video, there's a lot of those graphics and animation throughout some of the best jamming. The nice thing if you noticed on the Buffalo DVD we just did, there's none of that. It's a clean feed. That goes far also in determining. There actually is one show and I won't say which one, it's a terrific show, it could very well be released, but it is so marred by graphics and animation, I don't think I could release it. We don't have any of the isolation footage to cover it with. What we have is what we have so… It's unfortunate. I know the Buffalo 90 show has a lot of it too, but not so much and the performance definitely outweighs any kind of issues people have with it.

JPG: One just presumes since they were taping audio all the time that when they were using the screens at the stadium shows that they were videotaping them as well. I know some people who have bootlegs of certain shows, even one that seemed professionally shot.

DL: Yeah, that stuff floats around. We have some shots that are taped, one camera from the soundboard, but we're not going to do anything with that commercially. We focus on the stuff that was shot professionally for the big screen. Pretty much most of our video footage, whatever ended up on the big screen, is the cut that we have; hence, all that animation. The stuff is great at the shows, I think. At home I think you'd rather see Jerry playing.

JPG: That reminds me, as far as releasing shows, the Veneta in ’72, which is another video that has circulated. What is the status on that being officially released?

DL: I have no idea. It's not in our hands. The people who own the film, physically own the film, who produced the original one, who have restored it and are ready to do something with it…that's about all I know, that they still have it. It's in great shape and they have put some effort into doing a good HD transfer and restoring it and preserving it.

We all agree that it would be a good thing to come out some day. We do have the multi-track audio, so if ever it came out I would like to think that it would come through us so it could be mixed through a proper 5.1 mix. As it is, they can't do that. The only multi-track copy that exists is ours. The fact that it's Grateful Dead music, they would have to collaborate with us anyway. Nobody could just release something. Regardless, I agree it should come out. There's a lot of songs missing from the film and that's a product of them not filming a lot of songs. What I think would be ideal would be for it to come out on DVD, 5.1 mix, and then a three CD complete show of all released from the multi-track mix. That would be very pleasing to others and us.

That's another thing. We have so little of the early era. Stuff that does exist should be given proper treatment and not just slapped together and thrown out, but really do the The Grateful Dead Movie treatment with it. Give it a 5.1 with some documentaries. Interview some of the people who were involved. I don't think it would be worth doing otherwise.

JPG: When you talk about there being so little from the early era, it makes me wonder after the release of Rare Cuts & Oddities 1966 that there aren’t bits and pieces of performances on video, film, whatever from pre-1970s.

DL: Nothing visual. We've got a little bit of Europe '72. Show on 4/17 that's been circulating for a while. Okay quality, pretty good. We have the master of that and that's a really good thing. We've also got the multi-track of that. That again could be mixed to a beautiful 5.1. We have so little, a little bit of 1970 stuff. Actually, while digging through The Dead Movie outtakes, I found some pretty cool stuff from the middle of 1970 that's pretty neat, kind of eclectic. Definitely bonus material type stuff, if not compilation. I don't think anything at all in the way of complete shows but some pretty neat little things.

JPG: Do you think something like that could be put together with the DVD release of Backstage Pass?

DL Exactly. That would be perfect. If not that, more of a compilation similar to Backstage Pass. It would have all the music videos, all these little bits, the Robert Nelson 1968 film. Stuff like that. There's enough little bits and pieces going back to about '68 to about '94 that would lend themselves to that kind of treatment.

JPG: What was the 1968 film you mentioned?

DL: Robert Nelson did a little film that's been circulating for years. He was, well he still is, an excellent experimental filmmaker. I guess he somehow befriended The Dead and made this amazing little eight-minute, nine-minute film. I think he shot the whole thing with a 16 millimeter Boles, but he used all these great experimental filmmaking techniques and then did a lot of optical printing so there's a lot of jumping around in time. I don't think there's very much in terms of performance in it. It's just goofing around in the canoe. Phil playing the bass with all this great little action sequence stuff going on. Then Nelson put together a really neat soundtrack to it using The Dead's first album. He did another soundtrack using the "Anthem of the Sun" album.

It's pretty cool. We have the master 16-millimeter elements. We bought the rights from him. But he's still around. I think he's still showing it in New York pretty soon, actually. I think it's actually showing at Anthology Film Archives. I think they're doing a Robert Nelson night.

JPG: Speaking of Dead-related matters, the movie Festival Express, did they have to come to you for the work on the music or anything or did they have all the rights?

DL: They had everything. We had nothing except for the rights. They kind of blanket statemented all the bands and offered the same fees to Buddy Guy and everybody. As far as the rights go, that was through us. Otherwise, the whole production was done outside. That was shot by a good friend's grandfather's film company up in Canada, Budge Crawley, Crawley Films. Then, it just sat in a garage and ended up in the National Archives of Canada. When I started working at the archives in '98, the Festival Express filmmakers had just come and got the film the year before. When I got there I just kind of quietly asked, 'Do you guys by any chance have that 1970 material?' 'No, they came and took it.'

JPG: That’s funny. I love the film. I haven’t got the DVD yet, but I’m hoping that they packed it with tons more performances ‘cause it was not only great to see the Dead at that time but also the Band playing so fierce and Janis Joplin was just amazing…

DL: Right. I know that they put a lot of stuff on, but they did leave a few things that I know existed off. The movie has, I think it has "Don't Ease Me In," and at least one other Dead tune. But then the bonus stuff I think has "Hard to Handle' and "Easy Wind." But there was still at least one or two songs that they left off by The Dead. I don't know if that was a rights thing or what happened. They were still there. I think six songs by The Dead were filmed. Two were in the movie. Two were in the bonus disc on the DVD and then there were two that didn't make the cut.

I did recently hear the audio tapes from both Winnipeg and Calgary and they were pretty good. It's basically two full shows, maybe an hour-and-a-quarter each. Just to know that they existed was exciting.

JPG: It would be nice if those would be released. I was surprised, unless it was a matter of rights, that there was never a soundtrack.

DL: I was surprised too. The DVD release company that put that out was a DVD company. DVD companies don't necessarily think in terms of soundtracks for a DVD. Whereas to me, it's something that I would definitely be interested in buying. All that music to drive around your car in. The shows, I think they're excellent. There's some interesting material. I know there was a good "Lovelight" and a good "China>Rider." Bunch of neat stuff. Typical 1970 material. Some sloppy stuff, some out of tune stuff, but also some incredibly interesting Pigpen stuff. There's a good "Attics of My Life" too.

JPG: Listening to the Rare Cuts & Oddities 1966 CD, on the one hand it’s kind of funny because it’s like The Grateful Dead sounding like that kind of 1960s swing/dance/party band in spots. Then there are other spots where they sound more like a blues band and within all that you can even hear them breaking the bounds of either genre. When did you discover this and put this all together?

DL: Well, I'd always wanted to do something with the '66 material beyond Birth of the Dead because I remember working on that and saying, 'This is a great album, but there's still some things that should come out.' As I revisited that around 2001/2002, doing a kind of '66 early thing, I just wasn't finding enough material that was really exciting me for a disc or even two discs. That was when, as the liner notes say in the CD booklet for "Rare Cuts," Bear was here visiting after the Terrapin Station Family Reunion in Wisconsin. He and I were in the Vault and Bear says, Oh, what about that? You've gone through that, right?' I said, No, no I haven't. That's your box Bear. It has your name on it. I haven't gone through it.' He said, You know I'm going back to Australia tomorrow, but when I'm gone you really should go through that box.' Literally, he walked out the door and the box was open, the tape deck was on. It was a reel-to-reel, about 15, 20 reels of tape. Some were blank. Some were garbage. Some were what you hear on this thing.

I had heard pretty much, and taken notes, on everything we had from '66; even more importantly, everything that was outside the Vault from '66 that we didn't have. I was hearing stuff on these that I knew did not exist or circulate anywhere — Jerry singing "Promised Land," "Walking The Dog" by Bobby, alternate "Cream Puff War" chorus and melody. All that kind of stuff I knew was something special. As I went through them I was taking very detailed notes, recording them to DAT and CD. Taking notes on every reel and seeing that there was at least one or two things that I knew would make people pretty darn excited.

I think we got everything. We originally focused on a two-disc set and what I was finding at that point was material that was a little less compelling, that one disk made it absolutely perfect. So, we were happy to do it this way. It really was about two years of work on and off with a good four month chunk going forward in late 2004, knowing we were going to do this early 2005. Definitely, one of the more exciting things we've done.

JPG: It reminds me of some bootleg I have around here of studio sessions with like eight versions of "Stealin’" or something like that.

DL: Right, right, right. That's the Scorpio Sessions. Eight versions of everything. Really not that interesting. Interesting to hear one. To hear that they're all identical with maybe one little vocal change or something, not so cool. But this album, it's 18 songs and I think you can go through them and be pretty much excited by everyone one of them. Every one is unique. Even if you're quite a serious trader, there's a lot of material. I'm talking 12, 13 or 14 songs I'll guarantee you haven't heard before. That's what's also really exciting. With pretty much everything now in the Vault now circulating in pretty decent quality, it's nice to once in awhile come up with something that nobody's heard even a note of. And that's good. I'm sure we could pull some stuff out that nobody's heard, but generally it's not very good. The best stuff is out there. So when something is this good and has been heard, it's I think doubling exciting for us.

JPG: Let’s see, out of the current releases, we haven’t talked about Dick’s Picks 34 (11/5/77, Community War Memorial, Rochester, NY). Any comments on this 77 show? You’ve been in the 70s, except for the Buffalo DVD, a lot lately.

DL: It's just so good. Well, it does come down to a few things. It is an excellent decade and there are certain excellent years in there 72, 74, 77, 76, 78. It also has a lot to do with the tapes we have. We just don't have outstanding quality tapes of every year. When we do, we don't necessarily have more than maybe two to five great tapes of a certain year. Whereas 77, we have two-thirds of the year in outstanding, really good quality. 73, 74, we've got 90% of both of those years in great quality. In addition to having great quality performances and really unique shows every night, we've also got these amazing tapes.

We do try to bounce around a fair amount. We do pay attention. We do have this 89 DVD and soundtrack [coming out]. We do have this big box set (_Beyond Description_) that was 73 to 89 that was very heavy on 80 to 89 on the bonus material that went on Dead Set and Reckoning and Go to Heaven. We consciously looked at that and did the 66 thing. We're hoping to do some 69 later this year, something substantial. We did an 82 Dick's Picks quite recently.

We don't group the 80s Dick's Picks together too much because we just don't have great tapes of a lot of em. But we do have a lot of good multi-track from 89, 90, so we consider that to be very much 80s releases, whether their Dick's Picks or not. We've got Nightfall of Diamonds. We’ve got Go to Nassau out. We do try to get out a good representation, but I agree that it's definitely weighted towards the 70s but it's twofold, based on performance, first of all, and the kind of tapes we have.

JPG: I’m just surprised that the 80s don’t have good quality tapes.

DL: Well, they're mostly PA tapes. A PA tape is a board tape that's exactly what came out of the PA, that mix. If the hall didn't sound good, the PA didn't sound good. Whereas a Betty Board or something "Kid" [Candelario] recorded or Rex [Jackson] or any of those people in the 70s, those tapes were actually mixed by somebody offstage specifically mixed to tape. Those were mixed in order to be specifically listened to by somebody dedicated to mixing a proper tape as opposed to a guy, Dan Healy, whose main job is to make it sound good for 20,000 people. As a side note of that, he hits record on a cassette deck. So, you're getting a cassette tape of a PA mix vs. a reel-to-reel of a properly mixed tape by a professional recording engineer. That's why something like Alpine sounds as it does, which sounds fine, but it doesn't have the fullness of the stature of a Betty Board from 77. You listen to Dick’s Picks 29, (5/19/77, Fox Theatre, Atlanta, GA and 5/21/77, Lakeland Civic Arena, Lakeland, FL) versus an 80s cassette board. It's like a professionally mixed album versus a good quality PA tape. It really is largely weighed on that. If we had Betty Boards, if we had reel-to-reel properly recorded tapes of every show in the 80s, believe me, we would be seeing a lot more 80s releases, equal amount as there is from the 70s.

JPG: Yeah, the 80s. Makes me think of the Brent Mydland era. I’m a big fan.

DL: Me too.

JPG: The Buffalo DVD is an example of what he could do, and when he was around Jerry could throw the band to him and Brent and kind of kick back.

DL: Exactly.

JPG: All the pressure wasn’t on him. As much as I appreciate all the other keyboardists that played in the band, Brent seemed to really be able to take over, as a musician.

DL: I totally agree. I think you'll find a lot of people who agree with you about that. He definitely could elevate the band much more I think than some previous keyboardists might have been able to and predecessors. Some of the stuff Brent did on the organ or vocally was some of the most impressive stuff that you'll hear the band do. He was always just very alert. He could really play off the rest of the band. He was definitely engaged with what they were doing.

JPG: Switching gears, digitizing the vault, is that been something you’ve been doing…

DL: No, because that's somebody's full-time job and nobody here has that job. It's not an active process but in saying that, anytime we listen to anything when it comes to a 1974 Dick's Pick or something, we back up everything we listen to. So, if we're listening to the entire February tour of '73, looking for Dick’s Picks 28, we do a proper digital back up of that while we're going through. It's not necessarily methodical, but it is. It's pretty much the best way we can do it. W're doing what we're working on and we do it very exhaustively while we do that.

JPG: Now is that something where you come in the morning and you look at the Vault and you go, Let’s go to 78,’ and then listen as you’re listening to it just to check it out for either your own fun and/or to check out the quality, you, basically, hit record and start…

DL: Absolutely. Nothing gets put on for pleasure without a backup being made, a high res backup, Nothing, a cassette, a reel, nothing is put on, listened to and put it away. For all we know that could be the only time that tape is going to play or it could shed or it could break. Something could happen that one play that we did for pleasure that just ruined the tape. It never happened, but it could.

We figure if we are going to spend the time, to spend the three hours listening to a show, let's back it up and it is that easy to just hit record' and string it through the right digital processing to make a proper high res digital back up. By digital back up I mean something that if that tape ever dies, this digital back up is high enough resolution that we can use that as a production master for release some day.

Next time: the Grateful Dead Movie, the Boat Tapes and more…

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