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David Lemieux: The Dead Archivist Abides – Part I

Having a conversation with David Lemieux, it’s easy to understand why Rhino records retained his services following his former position as archivist with Grateful Dead Productions. Not only would his easygoing personality be a positive in working situations but after two decades as a fan, tape trader and employee, when it comes to discussing the contents of the Dead’s vault, Lemieux has a memory akin to a speedy computer program.
With the Core Four’s signing up for a licensing deal with Rhino several years ago, Lemieux thought that his tenure with the Dead was over. Instead, he’s continued to work on releases such as the Road Trips series, and its latest installment Vol. 2 No. 3: Wall of Sound, plus other band projects. He’s also moved into other roles. On the Grateful Dead channel at Sirius XM, he contributes the daily “Today in Grateful Dead History” program. He also blogs weekly in the Taper’s Section page on the Dead’s website,

I catch Lemieux as he’s making a purchase at the local farmer’s market up in Victoria, British Columbia. His enthusiasm for his purchases nearly matches his role as an archivist and producer of audio and video releases for the Grateful Dead. Ten years following the passing of Dead tape archivist Dick Latvala – he of Dick’s Picks fame – it looks as if the Vault still has someone committed to quality, and of equal important for Deadheads everywhere, quantity.

“I was thinking about this the other day, my day-to-day Rhino duties are listening to music and coming up with release ideas usually on spec because you want to have them ready for when they do call and tap you on the shoulder and say, ‘What’s next?’ So I’m doing a lot of listening, dozens of hours a week and putting together releases and things like that. When it comes time to produce, go into production and just remastering, it really becomes more than a full-time job because at that time it’s the same thing we did at GDP. We collect the photos, we’re talking with liner note writers, we’re proofing material, package design, CDs, [engineer] Jeffrey [Norman] will ask different questions.

“All those things between Sirius and the website, the day-to-day production duties on Rhino Grateful Dead releases. When film festival time comes {He’s on the board of directors and programming committee for the Victoria Film Festival] which is really busy for me from September through November, December — the festival’s in January — I really don’t find myself with that much down time.”


JPG: When Rhino acquired the Vault with the licensing deal three years ago, did you anticipate that you would remain in a similar role? Back in 2005 during our first interview you said that as you listened to a given show and checked it out for use, it would be digitized. The sense I had was that after everything was digitized you would be moving towards other areas at GDP?

DL: I thought in 2006 that my time was over with them and I was not unhappy or happy about it. It was time to move on to the next step. However, I let it be known that if they ever needed any help with anything I’m there. That was really it. It wasn’t a formal proposal. They recognized, ‘You know what? It would be good to have somebody who’d been working on this stuff for seven years.’

With any archives you hear the phrase ‘institutional knowledge’ a lot. And that’s when you can have the greatest archiving system in place but if somebody isn’t working that archive for 20 years or in my case, seven, there’s a certain knowledge that goes beyond the organization and the physical tapes. We refer to it as ‘institutional knowledge.’ I’m certainly not the only one who has it. There were certain things where, basically, I can save a lot of time in that there’s no point putting up a multi –track of a show, for example, that I know the tapes are messed up. If somebody says, ‘Oh, this is a good show.’ ‘I agree, but we’ve looked into and the tapes have no guitar track,’ or there’s a certain thing that might not be labeled on the tapes. It’s a good thing to know.

Over the years, I think it was recognized that Grateful Dead Productions did a lot of good things. I’m certainly not taking the credit for that. I’m talking about [engineer] Jeffrey Norman and Cassidy [Law], Eileen [Law] and Bob Minkin on the package design side and the whole marketing side. For an in-house operation selling most of our releases by mail order, I think we did a great job. I’d like to think all of the music had a place in the official release canon and when it closed down, there was no bitterness on my part that it was moving down to L.A. and the company was shutting down. There was an immense sense of pride that we built it up, whether it was a release series like Dick’s Picks, the quality of something like The Grateful Dead Movie or the Fillmore box sets. When it went down, we were very proud that this was the level of perfection, if you want to call it that, that it was going to be carried on by another entity. If they wanted us involved, that would be great, and if they didn’t, then we sincerely wished them good luck. Ultimately, we want to see the quality of the releases, both the music, the sound quality, the overall packaging and the marketing to continue with where we brought them with GDP. I think everybody would’ve loved it to continue forever, but at the same time, it is certainly something that we can be immensely proud of.

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