David Lemieux: The Dead Archivist Abides – Part II
JPG: Now, do you present several options for the year and they’re done? So, then it’s a matter of Rhino having options and deciding what to release when?
DL: No. Absolutely not. Each one is done with complete resources put to it, which is to say Jeffrey and myself and the design team and the photo acquisition team and Blair [Jackson] doing the writing. We’re not doing four at a time and having them sitting in the can. Whether it’s a Road Trips or a Winterland ’73 box set, 100 per cent focus goes into that. Once it’s done, which in the case of this one, the Road Trips ’93, that’s when we start running into production on the next one which means a couple months of tape research, listening and sequencing and the photo acquisitions. Then, Jeffrey doing the mastering and package design on Steve Vance’s side. We do bring up a lot ideas but by the time we go into production that’s the one that’s going to be. I can’t think of any cases except for Winterland ‘73 that something sat on the shelf that was in the can. And even Winterland ’73 wasn’t in the can; the music still needed a huge amount of work. But in terms of the packaging and photo acquisition and liner notes that was done two years in advance.
JPG: Why was it put on hold?
DL: It was done right at the tail end of Grateful Dead Productions’ existence, as an entity in San Rafael, which means the summer of 2006 as a possible release. Then things transferred to Rhino and it went in a couple other directions during the transition – the Cow Palace ’76 and Three from the Vault from ’71 and the beginning of the Road Trips series. It was really just finding a release slot to put that into which became April of 2008. Basically, Grateful Dead Productions proceeding on its release schedule that wasn’t exactly as the Rhino release schedule. So late in 2007 that’s when the production started on that one in terms of the mastering, the layout and design.
JPG: We would always hear about Dick Latvala having notebooks filled with information on shows and that it was used towards choosing the Dick’s Picks. So, are you the one who starts the discussion as to what should be released next?
DL: There’s a lot of voices that have input. It’s more a case of, whether it’s me or somebody at Rhino or Blair or whoever, saying, ‘Well…maybe it’s time for a ’93.’ And then, everybody agrees that, maybe, the time is right. Then, going through ’93 and there’s the top five contenders, which are the obvious ones that pretty much everyone would agree on. From that it gets narrowed down to the one that gets picked. That’s pretty much the way any Dick’s Picks or any release is done. In terms of a master list of the next 100 releases, absolutely not, but in terms of the ability for the team to decide on what the next release era or year will be. From there it’s a lot easier than looking at 30 years and saying, ‘What’s next?’
It’s a lot easier to say, ‘Well, we haven’t done a ’93 so let’s look at that.’ Once we all agree on the top five shows or runs of shows and the Cal Expo always came at the top of that. Even a master schedule over the next three releases, we don’t have a good idea in terms of what eras will be picked. But, the team could definitely narrow that down to five shows from any given era or tour or year or whatever it is. For instance, something as broad as, ‘You know what? It might be time for a late Brent era,’ which means ’88, ’89, ’90 or ‘It might be time for a ’83, ’84.’ Then that pretty much defines what that would be. Then, it could be a matter of deciding on the top 10 candidates and looking at the tapes from those 10 and making sure that all 10 are good. There are eras for instance from April of ’84, there aren’t board tapes of them in the Vault. In those cases, that rules that out. Spring of ’87, there’s some problematic tape things. I don’t know if that would rule it out because we’ve come across some pretty good decent things, but you get my drift of how the production goes.
JPG: Now, did you ever make any of the Cal Expo shows?
DL: I did. I saw Cal Expo in August of ’89 and I saw Cal Expo in May of ’91.
JPG: In the press release, it says, ‘it was one of the cooler places the band played in the ’80s and ’90s, as special in its own way as more celebrated venues.’ For someone who never made it there, what was it about the venue and the band’s reaction to it that made it so special?
DL: It’s tough to call something that holds 12,000 people tiny, but compared to the stadiums we’re talking about on the east coast, 12,000 was very small, even compared to the Oakland Coliseum Arena, which, I think, is 16,000. The cool thing about it was you walked in and it was a field about the size of a soccer field and along the sides and the back were bleachers. And I’m talking about eight rows of bleachers, and that was it. You had perfect sound and it had great viewpoints from anywhere because it was so small. And the cool thing was that even though you weren’t in the Bay Area it had a Bay Area vibe because it was so close. So, all the Bay Area people came out. And you had Rock Med and…it was a very comfortable place to see a show. When you came out, there were hotels within walking distance. It was just an incredibly mellow place to see concerts. I loved it. I thought it sounded great, and the band really rose to the occasion, played amazing shows. Both runs I saw I thought were incredible, particularly in ’89.
There were a few things on the spring tour of ’93 that we checked out that were good, a show in Albany, a bit of Fall stuff but this was the one that really came to the top. When we talked to a lot of people who aren’t necessarily involved in the decision making process but who agreed that these are terrific shows. You don’t even want to use the phrase ‘for ‘93’. You just want to say, ‘These are good shows, period.’
JPG: Since this compiles music from several shows, are you the person who comes with the tracklist or is that done through a team effort?
DL: It’s people giving a listen and bouncing ideas back and forth, very, very respectful. I don’t want to use the word ‘arguments’, but points are made. ‘This version of this song is so great but this song is much rarer even though the performance isn’t as good.’ And then, of course, what fits is a big part of it. Certain things do get excised or maybe included on the bonus disc. We include as much as we can on an 80 minute disc.
It’s never easy but it needs to be made sometimes, the edits. And when that’s made it certainly is a very fun discussion to make those decisions. Everybody’s passionate about it. I’m sure if everything could be a nine-CD box set we wouldn’t have to make those [decisions] but we do. Road Trips is a two-CD release series [with bonus disc for pre-orders]. Under that structure there’s not going to be a lot of complete shows. There’s some, certainly, but not a lot that would fit on two CDs.
JPG: As you try to cram as much music on a disc that you possibly can, are you envisioning it in terms of the flow of a complete show or…?
DL: We’re not trying to fool anybody. What we’re trying to do is when edits do need to be made is at least make it flow that it’s an enjoyable listen. We’re not trying to create a quote unquote complete show if it’s not a complete show. All you have to do is click your mouse and you’ll see in a hundred places what the full setlist was when it’s a compilation. It’s got to be a good listening experience.
I think like any compilation, go listen to some of the classic albums that the Dead created in the early ‘70s, Europe ’72 or Skull and Roses. Those were paced with a very specific intention. I think some of the better GDP compilations like Steppin’ Out… and Ladies and Gentlemen… we certainly use those as templates. You really want to make something that flows. It could be like a dream show but in the case of a two-CD set where you’re taking a complete show or two and narrowing it down, no we’re not trying to create a fake complete show. We’re trying to make as good a listening experience as possible. You have pretty much the [5/26/93] second set intact, some choices had to be made which in this case was cutting a bit of the “Drums” and “Space.” In the case of a jam, I can’t imagine a time where we cut something up unless due to tape reasons it had to be.
PURE JERRY – BAY AREA 1978
JPG: Tell me, why another visit to 1978 for the Pure Jerry series, and why these particular shows?
DL: Great music, first of all. I’m not as involved with the Garcia material as I am with the Dead. It’s really two separate worlds, but in this case I was asked about some good music from ’78 because I think the response to the ‘78 Warner Theatre (3/18/78) was so great as was the Theatre 1839 from 1977 (July 29-30, 1977), another Pure Jerry, that I think they wanted to revisit that era again. And I had done some tape research a couple years ago on material that I amassed over the years, put it together as stuff, whether or not it’s in the Vault or had been floating around as tape trader stuff, but wasn’t complete shows. And that’s what a lot of this material is. The complete shows are either unknown as far as tapes go and just taking bits and pieces that we all accumulated over the years and putting them together into… I don’t know if you heard the Listening Party on the website, there’s a couple tunes up there, “Mystery Train” and “The Way You Do The Things You Do,” the music is phenomenal. It really is great stuff.
That was the extent of my involvement, presenting a few bits and pieces that didn’t have known complete concert recordings and putting them together. So, just putting forth some ideas and on their side they produced the album.
JPG: I know you’ve been on the credits of past Pure Jerry releases, then how are you listed for this one?
DL: I don’t know. I guess we’ll find out when it ships. Maybe there’ll be a ‘thanks,’ I don’t know. I put forth some suggestions, some sequencing ideas but I really don’t know. And I don’t really care. I’m just very happy this music is getting out. I remember hearing this “Lonesome and a Long Way From Home” years ago and being blown away by it. Just amazing. “Let Me Roll It” is just stunning. These are really choice pieces of music. It can truly be considered a great live album. You’d like to think that all the Dick’s Picks and all of the Pure Jerrys are great live albums but at the same time they’re also great historical documents, first and foremost, in a lot of cases. As a compilation, as choosing music over three or four or five shows over the course of four or five months, I think it gives you the ability to find the very best bits of music that otherwise aren’t part of a full show recording. I know these songs well. I’ve been listening to them for years. These are some great versions. It’s exciting that people are getting to hear them. It’s tough for me to suggest to friends who like the Garcia Band but might not want all the Pure Jerrys, this is the one where you can point somebody in the direction and say, ‘Yeah, this is the one you should start with. From there you should try this and then this…’
It’s one of those ones where somebody says, ‘Oh, I like the early ‘70s Dead but I don’t know where to start.’ Well, you give them Steppin’ Out… You give them Ladies and Gentleman… You give them Dick’s Picks 36. There’s a few choice bits that are the obvious ones at the top of the heap. This, I think, will prove to be one of them. The music on it’s just relentlessly good.
JPG: Giving it a shot here. Would you be able to give a hint as to where future releases will be going?
DL: I’ve got some good ideas what the next one or two things will be but in terms of release schedules, I’m not even in the dark. I don’t pay as much attention to them. I pay more attention to production schedules. There’s absolutely no way that this Road Trips was the end of 2009 releases. I know that for sure. As for what or when, I don’t know. I just know that we’re heading into production on a few things now. And I can also say…I can honestly say that the next two things, I think, are outstanding. (slight laugh) And I always say that and I do think that everything is really, really good, but I think the next two things and one of them, in particular, is a mindblower.
JPG: Where would you go next?
DL: I think that my picks have spoken for themselves over the last eight or nine years. It would depend on what was right for the time. The first question that we talked about in the previous interview was exactly that. I think I dropped the Lebowski quote about it, the pick that’s right for its time. If we just released three releases from ’72, ’73 and ’74, I think that would indicate where my preference might be but does that mean the next pick will be there? Almost definitely it won’t be from that era. We haven’t done a ’93. We’ve been doing all this ’77 and ’78, ’74 and ’71. The prevalence of all those releases, and Winterland ’73 and Cow Palace ’76, all those things indicate where the taste might lie but at the same time be a strong indicator of what might not be next. We can’t, we can’t just release what is from one eight or 10 year era. We do have to go around and that’s why you do see a release from 1990 with the Madison Square Garden. You see something from ’93 and I’m sure you’re bound to see some ’80s material.
I don’t think there’s any debate that the best tapes, a lot of them come from that era, which is largely what we’re working from. Also, a lot of the best shows can certainly be said to be from that quote unquote Golden Era from ‘69 to ’78. That may be the Golden Era but there’s still some amazing material from ’79, ’80 and ’81, ’82 and ’85, certainly ’87 to ’90 and ’91 and ’93 have some great stuff. I really don’t like using, ‘Oh, it’s hit-and-miss by ’93.’ You just might have to dig a little deeper or the consensus release might be a little easier to come by because the great shows from certain eras aren’t quite as common as the great shows from 1977 or 1972. You’re talking about some of the best shows the Grateful Dead ever played are from ’72, ’74 and ’69 whereas can you say that about ’94 and ’95? I don’t know. But there are certainly very good shows for ’94 and ’95 that, overall, in the Dead history certainly do hold up as good shows.
So, that’s why something from ’93 is important to get out. Aside from that, I think it’s a great album. I really do. Jeffrey and I were just commenting on this a couple of weeks ago, saying, ‘When we went into production on it we’re so used to producing ’72, ’73, ’77 and things like that you forget that there were some really great shows in ’93.’ There’s some great shows in ’90 that we heard on Road Trips. There’s some good music from all eras if you open your ears.