David Lemieux: The Dead Archivist Abides – Part I
JPG: To get the shows from Giza, Egypt out there. One heard so many times about the band being unhappy with the performances. Was that something that either you and/or Rhino convinced them that it wasn’t as bad as they imagined?
DL: That is one of my duties, to bring ideas to the band and run it past them with an endorsement or maybe a concern. Usually, when it gets to the point when I’m bringing something to the band, it’s at the endorsement level. And in the case of Egypt, we listened to some of the music, we knew them. I’m a tape trader from the same time you are. I knew the shows very well. I knew there was some great music on there. The key was finding out. We knew that the multi-track tapes, there were some notoriously messed up parts to them that we could not use. So, the first key was getting the tapes shipped up and finding out what was useable and what wasn’t. What we determined was that the first night in its entirety and I think half of the second night was unusable. Missing tracks. Missing vocals and whatever the case was. Putting together a couple of CDs, you know what? This is phenomenal music. Throwing out an example, the last three songs of CD1 , I think “It’s All Over Now,” “Miracle” and “Deal,” and you can hold that up to anything from 1978 and it’s phenomenal. It’s some of the best stuff of ’78. I think that whole release is like that.
Digging through the film stuff, we realized that there was some amazing film footage but not enough to produce a proper standalone big hype item. We were used to doing The Grateful Dead Movie and The Closing of Winterland. So to do less than that we thought, ‘Let’s bust our butts and put together a DVD compilation of what we have.’ We put in almost every song we had that had either usable video as well as useable audio. Once we got those ideas together and we informed the band that we were thinking about it, they raised some concerns. ‘Make sure you choose good stuff ‘cause I remember that stuff. We were tired. ‘We weren’t in tune.” As we got going, we started sending them things. Absolutely no critique back. Nothing negative. Just positive. I distinctly remember getting emails back that said, ‘Go for it.’ So, that’s where it comes from when they realize what we’ve done is narrowed down potentially eight or nine CDs of music — four or five of which were gone strictly because the tapes were no good and then another couple because the performances weren’t great. What ended up coming out of it was music that I think everybody could be proud of having put together from the band members having performed it all the way down to the production team and the marketing team.
So, everything does go through the band at some level in the production process whether it’s the Road Trips or Egypt or Winterland box set. If they have concerns, we take them very seriously and address them. Occasionally, there’s vetoes and occasionally, there’s requests to have things changed or tweaked a little bit. Of course, we honor those. At the end, I think we have something that everyone’s quite proud of.
WOODSTOCK, ROCK BAND, STARBUCKS
JPG: Keeping up with the idea of releasing something that the band members originally disliked. I see that on the revamped Woodstock box set it contains contributions from the Grateful Dead.
DL: That was another thing where I would give off to the band where [they felt] the performances were notoriously bad, but I’m pretty sure, nobody, the band members really listened to them in 40 years. And then, when The Woodstock project was pitched by Warner Brothers Home Video as well as Rhino doing the soundtrack, they looked at the tapes, both the film and the audio and said, ‘Wow! It’s not bad. It’s pretty darn good.’ We checked it out. I remember getting that “Dark Star” and being quite amazed. It doesn’t go into the crazy deep spaces of February ’70 or February ’69, but it certainly is a pretty good “Dark Star.” And the “Lovelight” is not only one of the longest, but it’s got some of the most interesting playing in it. So, we would pass it on to the band and they all agreed.
JPG: Are those the two tracks that are on there?
DL: Yeah. I think the DVD has the entire “Lovelight,” the 40 minutes or whatever it is. The CD box set has the “Dark Star. There might be one more song on the video.
Quite frequently there are projects like that that are really out of our hands because they’re done through Warner Home Video. I don’t know if you play video games, but there’s that Rock Band videogame and they licensed a lot of Grateful Dead songs for that. That’s in-house in the Warner gaming division. They come to us and say, ‘We’re going to do this,’ and the band agrees. They pick eight songs that they want to do and we listen to what they’ve done with those songs to approve them.
There was a Starbucks CD. Nothing went out without the band and me being involved in the approval process. Then there are things like Road Trips that are much more hands on. It goes much beyond an approval process. Involvement from conception right to the end.
JPG: I didn’t realize that they had anything on Rock Band or in Starbucks.
DL: Yeah. Rock Band, I think they’ve got at least six songs. It might be going up to 15 or 18. A lot of friends play them. I remember Blair Jackson saying, “Man, “China Cat” is one heck of a song to play.’ You’re playing Jerry’s part on “China Cat.” A buddy plays, his favorite one is “Alabama Getaway” because on guitar you can play Brent’s cool organ solo.
What it comes down to is there’s an incredible variety of things going on. At Grateful Dead Productions we were focusing our energies strictly on the CD and DVD releases. What Rhino has been able to do is allow us to continue that with things like the Terrapin: Hartford ‘77 and the Winterland ‘73 box, the Road Trips and all that kind of stuff. Then, they’ve been able to take it to the next level by getting a CD in Starbucks. I distinctly recall a few people online criticizing, ‘Oh, Grateful Dead CD in Starbucks.’ They weren’t criticizing that the CD was being sold in Starbucks, I think people were over that, they realized that this was the reality of how to sell music. I think they were more saying, ‘Oh, look at the track list, what is this a greatest hits?’ Exactly! It’s for a Starbucks coffee buyer who might not have listened to the Dead for 10 years. It wasn’t for the collector. It wasn’t the kind of thing that was meant for the hardcore Deadhead who wants to buy the Fillmore West box set. It was for the person who knows of the Dead and they know “Touch of Grey” and “Truckin’” but they might want to get turned on to something that shows them how diverse this band was. It was a great two-CD set with a studio CD, a live one.
Grateful Dead Productions didn’t have videogames. We didn’t have a film track on the Woodstock DVD. It’s allowed the flow of music maybe to abate it a little bit and I only say that because we were up to four Dick’s Picks and one or two DVDs and a box set and a rare cuts 1966. And then some Jerry stuff. I certainly don’t think we were putting out too much. We were putting out a lot. And what they’ve done, they’ve kind of brought that back a little bit and in a more structured release schedule while at the same time been able to do these much, much bigger things that we couldn’t have. Deals that simply we didn’t make because we were so busy working on the day-to-day CD/DVD productions that kept us going as a small independent record company. That’s what Grateful Dead Productions was. And a pretty darn good merch company, too. There was some tremendous merchandise coming out of GDP as well.
JPG: As far as the Woodstock, I’ll have to find my copy that I downloaded. I thought it was the whole performance.
DL: The thing about the downloads, the copy that we’ve all had there. There’s some pretty bad cuts in those. And this presents the whole “Lovelight” and the whole “Dark Star.” I’ve had those tapes forever from when I was a tape trader and I distinctly remember just being disappointed with the listening experience. I didn’t dislike the show but I remember going, ‘Oh, “St.Stephen” cuts half way. Oh, “Dark Star” cuts half way.’ This presents more of it.
Back to the whole Rhino thing, I think where the band benefits is they are allowed to keep their eye on everything that gets done through the approval process . They get to make sure that the Deadheads are kept happy with CD and DVD releases at a pretty good pace compared to most bands. They’re releasing at a phenomenal pace. At the same time, the partner with Rhino who have this phenomenal background in marketing and packaging and PR and ideas, and they come up with some pretty big ideas, there’s a lot of them that are really good. These ideas are just big, and they can implement them as Warner Music. I certainly see it so far, three and a bit years in, completely mutually beneficial and satisfying. I think that Warner and Rhino are very happy with it. I know the band is very happy. And on top of that, the band to know that their physical tapes are being stored so well, ultimately, I don’t know if it’s a perfect relationship, but it certainly feels that way on most days. That isn’t just me blowing smoke. You know, I’ve talked to you before, that I take the protection of these tapes and the propagation of the band’s legacy very seriously. Knowing that it’s in the hands it’s in, again, we sleep well at night.
JPG: That’s good. Now, when the stuff is digitized versus the actual tape itself, I don’t know if I’m asking trade secrets but are those stored separately so if something happens to one, you still have something to master?
DL: They are. I’m not trying to be cryptic here, I don’t know the specifics but digital copies are stored separately from the analog masters and another digital copy. So, the person who runs Warner has a very, very, good notion of preservation and recognizes its importance. Not just Grateful Dead, it’s an overall, anything in their control, whether it’s on licensing or ownership agreement, taking care of what the assets are. That doesn’t mean commercial assets necessarily. I’m talking about physical assets. They, fortunately, have a leadership group that recognizes taking care of the music of the tapes, on a physical level but it’s also on a cultural level. Knowing how important the music is.