David Lemieux: The Dead Archivist Abides – Part I
DICK’S PICKS TO ROAD TRIPS and COMPILATIONS VS. FULL SHOWS
JPG: You mentioned the Dick’s Picks, it stopped at 36. One always heard that [original Grateful Dead archivist] Dick Latvala left a lot of notes on shows. Did he have anything to go beyond that? Why did it stop at 36?
DL: With Rhino coming onboard and with 36, I think it was the thought process that if this thing ever got to 79, how were people going to keep track like Dick’s Pick’s 62? I think more than anything, it was more of a logistical way to make sure that the numbers didn’t pile up so high. Really in essence, the release series hasn’t changed that much. There’s been certain configurations of it that have changed a little bit. It’s a two-CD set now with a bonus disc (the Road Trips series). Overall, we select music based on this is the right release for now. Did you ever see the movie, The Big Lebowski?
DL: You know how they referred to him? He was a Dude for his time. He was a Man for his time. So, when it comes time to release something that’s the right time… If we know we haven’t released anything from ‘68 in awhile, now is the time to release a ’68. So, we do. Whatever the name of a series is, frankly, is irrelevant. We feel that we’re paying tribute to Dick everyday that these tapes are taken care of.
In terms of that, it was sad to see the name Dick’s Picks go. Ultimately, to get down to the essence of this, which is to make sure the tapes are preserved and, more importantly, make sure that the good music gets out then, yeah, a name change. You know the Warlocks became the Grateful Dead. Things change names and ultimately the tribute is in the music, the tribute to the band, to Jerry, to Pigpen, to Dick. To everybody involved who made this music or in Dick’s case preserved it. I wasn’t part of it but I think it wasn’t any big philosophical change or anything. It was just time for a change.
I’m very proud of the Road Trips series while at the same time I wish we had a little more flexibility and do four-CD sets sometimes. But we can’t. These are two-CD sets and I’m very much a person who lives the way things are. I don’t complain about the way things should be. I’ll raise concerns and if they don’t get listened to, then I’ve done as much as I can.
JPG: According to Wikipedia, it ran from ‘93-2005.
DL: Sounds right. The last one was 36 in October/November of ‘05. They went on for 12 years. Whether it was good or bad, it was just a name change and the music continues. You see things like Hartford come out and Winterland ‘73 box set, so you still get to see music being released, which is really the key element.
JPG: But, where the Road Trips are designed as a cool compilation, like a mix tape, I thought that Dick’s Picks relied on full shows.
DL: I think less than half of the Dick’s Pick’s were complete shows.
DL: Yeah let’s go through them. One was not a complete show. Two was not. Three was not. Four was a compilation of two shows. Five and Six were. Seven was not. Eight was not. Nine was. 10 was not. 11 was. 12 was not. 13 was. 14 was not. 15 was. 16 was. 17 was. 18 was not… So, as you go, I’m literally walking down the street, this is off the top of my head.
I think there’s a place for complete shows and I think there’s a place for compilations and I think there’s a place for incomplete shows if there’s tapes that have songs that are technically messed up and we can’t really put that out. Also, stuff that’s just a bad thing, we can’t put that out either. Ultimately, we have to represent the band in a good light. If you do look at the history of the Dick’s Picks, you go through all 36, at least 15 and maybe even 18 or 20 are not complete shows.
JPG: I knew that a few were not complete shows. I didn’t realize it was such a large amount.
DL: Recently, I’ve heard about this recent outcry for complete shows and somebody mentioned to me the same thing, ‘Dick’s Picks, they were complete shows.’ And I thought about it quickly. I know the Dick’s Picks like the back of my hand, so I know which is which. I literally did what I just did with you. Counted up to 36 and I think like 18, 19, 20 are not complete shows. And some are flat-out compilations of three shows on three CD’s. It was pretty much what we’re doing. We always have the place for something like the Winterland ’73 box set, which 10 years ago never would have seen the light of day, but instead we can do a nine-CD of every note played. So, we do get to do that. We get to do the Hartford ’77 thing. You know we definitely get to mix things up. It’s a little different than the way it was only because I think we’re a little more aggressive on the release schedule of Grateful Dead Productions. We’re not quite doing a DVD a year any more.
I think that complete shows are great when they’re available , first of all, and warranted. And at the same time, I think compilations have a great place. When you think of the great compilations in the Grateful Dead canon are things like going back to Europe ’72 and Skull & Roses. You go to Dead Set and Without a Net, these are live albums, but they’re compilations. I wish we could do everything as a 10-CD box set, but knowing that’s not possible. And I also wish every tape was in A1 mint condition and had the ability to have every song sound phenomenal, but it’s just not the case.
JPG: You have to work with what you have to work with.
DL: Exactly, you nailed it. Also, with so much music being available through tape trading or whatever it’s called now, downloading and tape trading and CD trading, everything is out there. And we’re very aware of that. So, why shouldn’t certain releases be the highlight because we know that you could in the same amount of time go and find the complete show? Instead, what we’re doing is presenting the highlights of things and some that were pretty darn high, these highlights. They’re really good. And doing the mastering as good as it can be in HDCD. Bumping up the packaging and stuff like that.
JPG: In regards to the Road Trips series, was that something that Rhino came up with and then came to you and said, ‘Okay, what do you suggest we put out for the first one and the second one and…?’
DL: The format was a decision made by a lot of people, I think by Rhino and their consultants, being two CDs. I think Blair Jackson did a press release or maybe just a website notice about what the target was for Road Trips, which was compilations and occasional complete shows, which you could probably find on the Dead website, www.dead.net. Just doing representations which is really exactly what Dick’s Picks have done. If you look at showing Dick’s Picks 14, two shows from Fall of ’73 and what it is, yeah, it’s a representation of two great shows, but it’s also a representation of that tour, of how good it was. I remember when Dick was working on that. That was right when I met him and he was so proud that what he was getting on there was everything that was very important to him in ’73, which was to say a “Playin’ in the Band,’ and a “China”>“Rider” and a “Here Comes Sunshine.” All that stuff was so important to him to be on there from ’73. It was a representation of the era.
We just did a complete show from ’68 that was phenomenal (“Carousel 2-14-68”). The format was decided to be two CDs with a bonus disc, so we’re working in that constraints with the two CDs. But it’s a challenge and it’s a ton of fun to work on ‘em.
JPG: Once they came up with the idea of the series, did they come to you for suggestions?
DL: Yeah exactly, for release suggestions. And then, they’ll throw a suggestion. They’ll look at the GDP history of the last few years and say, ‘Well, there hasn’t been a ’68 in awhile.’ They’ve done their homework. They know that the last ’68 was Dick’s Picks 22, Lake Tahoe. So they’re very aware. Sixty-eight’s a bad example because ’68 doesn’t sell well. On a musical, creative level, they know how important it is. They hear about it. They’ve got Deadheads on staff who know, that get the recommendations. So, they’ll call and say, ‘I’d really like to put out a ’68.’ That’s pretty much how the system goes. And you go through the tapes and you find out what’s best. There’ll be occasional tie in with other releases like when we did the Egypt album (_Rocking the Cradle_). I don’t want to call it an overload because it’s only a total of four or five CDs of material, but you kinda get it all out there. It’s pretty cool.