Europe 72 and Onward: MoreTales from the Grateful Dead Archivist
Despite recordings available online, there’s still a demand for official Grateful Dead releases by those seeking high quality sound and distinctive packaging. Dead archivist and producer David Lemieux brought that to the ultimate level last year with a Europe ‘72 box set that included all 22 shows from the legendary trek overseas. The longtime Deadhead brought up the idea a several years before but Rhino Records, which releases the band’s albums, wasn’t thrilled about putting out a 72-disc set.
Pointing to the success of previous multi-disc sets such as the 10-CD Fillmore West 1969: the Complete Recordings set, he eventually convinced them that there was an audience for such an endeavor. A limited edition run of Europe ‘72 sold out in less than a week. The music-only box set and individual shows are now available at www.dead.net.
During the second part of my conversation with him we discuss the formation of this massive release as well as its companion piece, a two-CD compilation, Europe ’72 Volume 2 and the return of Stanley Mouse to add his artistic vision.
JPG: When you were talking about the sound and about people having favorite eras, favorite years and stuff like that I remember when I first started collecting tapes and I really didn’t like the late ’70s because the way the tapes had this very AM radio sound quality. It didn’t sound so strong, especially when you started getting into the later ’80s tapes where there was a very heavy muscular feel to the sound on those tapes. So, for years I never really cared for the late ’70s but now I’ve heard better recordings and I’ve come to appreciate those years a whole lot more.
DL: I hear ya. This comes down to listening experience, where it can be a great show and if it’s not fun to listen to and you have to wade through some bad mix or maybe too much audience or whatever it is, it detracts from it. Going back to your earlier question, that’s why we do pay a lot of attention to the listening experience we give to the Dave’s Picks buyer because, ultimately, we want them to enjoy it. The music is first and foremost always but there’s been plenty of releases that have been mixed based on subpar tape quality, where the engineer listened and like, “Look, I can’t get any bass out of this” or “Bob Weir’s guitar is not in the mix.” Things that I know and I notice this when I listen but I always figure, “Oh, they can fix it in mastering.” And now I clearly know they can’t [fix] a lot of these things when it comes down to a two-track mix. It’s a many person process. There’s a lot of checks and balances and certainly Jeffrey Norman is one of the major checks and balances because he’s the engineer that’s got to make this stuff sound good.
JPG: Speaking of sound, I reviewed the two-disc compilation Europe ’72 Volume 2. Was everything on that and the entire Europe ‘72 box set from two-track tapes or multi-tracks?
DL: Those were all multi-tracks, 16-track recordings, when they did that. The entire tour, all 22 shows were recorded to multi-track. Going back to earlier, talking about fixing things, occasionally we did have to fix things because they weren’t running two machines. There’s no overlap. So, when a tape ended in the middle of a song it takes them 30 seconds to put the new tape on. So, you’re missing 30 seconds of music on the multi-track. Fortunately, for the most part, they were recording two-track recordings as well. And so we would fix with those. Yeah, 99.5%, maybe more, 99.9% of that box set is from the multi-track, which is to say of the 71 hours in there, we’re talking a few minutes, a couple minutes from the two-track, where you won’t notice it unless you’ve got the headphones on and you know what you’re looking for. Again, that’s kudos to Jeffrey and David Glasser, the mastering engineer on that project for making these fixes so perfect.
JPG: From what I’ve heard it sounds astoundingly good.
DL: Make sure you put that statement into this printed piece because I agree and Jeffrey who spent almost a year working on this stuff. You get so close to it, you forget how good it sounds. I agree 100%. I listen to this stuff at least a couple of times a week and I’ve been listening to it now for a year-and-a-half. I’m just blown away by how great everything sounds. And again, Jeffrey’s mix and David Glasser’s mastering, a really absolutely spectacular combination.
JPG: Bringing up my review’s last paragraph, “It should also be pointed out that both discs sound amazing! One expects good things from the folks at Grateful Dead Productions but the clarity of these tapes is really a treasure. Even if you were never there, you can still feel as if you’re reliving the moment.”
DL: And the nice thing is no matter what you’re listening on whether it’s in your car or a mediocre home system or a huge studio version of a home system, it just sounds great. You’ve got perfect balance of the instruments. And you’ve got the nice bottom end keeping things down between the kick drum and the bass but you get defined bass as well. That’s the great thing is that you get the bottom end Phil’s putting down but you do get to hear every individual note that he plays, which is the unique thing about Phil. He’s constantly playing melodic lines that you want to hear as opposed to just keeping the rhythm down. Yeah, I agree 100 percent. I’m glad you said that.
JPG: I mentioned in the review about clearly hearing Pigpen’s organ fills on “Not Fade Away” and stuff like that. Maybe I didn’t notice it so much on other recordings but it was just really a cool thing to hear going on here.
DL: Yep. Agreed. And that’s something that Jeffrey was very conscious of doing, making sure that the nuances of the things that you might not have heard before. He wanted to make sure that that stuff all came through clearly. Not accentuating anything unnaturally, but like you say, when Pigpen is doing an organ flourish at the end of “Not Fade Away” or doing the vocal at the end of “Not Fade Away,” he wants to make sure that that is heard because they, obviously, did it for a reason onstage. So, it certainly should be heard. The word ‘nuance’ of what Jeffrey was doing in the mixes came up many times during the mix and there’s a version of “Loser” on that compilation and it’s the same thing where you really hear the nuances of what Bobby’s doing on guitar and, of course, what Jerry’s doing. But it’s just that you really hear everything. Kudos to Jeffrey once again. He brought these 40-year-old tapes to life. Now we get to hear them forever. So, it’s great.
JPG: Speaking of Pigpen, when putting together the compilation, was it an accidental set of circumstances or was it always an idea of making disc one highlighting Pigpen and disc two focus on lengthy jams?
DL: Not really. We knew that we wanted to make disc one similar to a first set and, generally, a first set on this tour would have three or four Pigpen tunes. So, we got those ones on there. We got “Next Time You See Me,” “Good Lovin‘” and “Chinatown Shuffle.” We knew that we wanted those. And, obviously, we didn’t want to repeat any song titles that were also on “Europe ’72,” the original one. That’s why you don’t see “Mr. Charlie” or “It Hurts Me Too” on there.
Disc two, there really weren’t any Pig tunes that we hadn’t already released from the tour that were the exceptional versions. So, we definitely wanted disc two to be focused on a major jam, either “Dark Star” or “The Other One.” Fortunately, we got both. And then, we wanted to end it with the typical rockin’ ender of the tour, which in this case was “Not Fade Away”>“Going Down the Road”>“Not Fade Away.”
It wasn’t by design like, “This’ll be the Pig disc and…” It was more playing it like a show. The versions of “Lovelight” on the tour, there are only a couple. We’ve released them. So, there were no other versions of “Lovelight” to put on there. And in terms of doing a “Caution,” the only way we could have done a “Caution” is…the “Caution”s came out of “Sugar Magnolia” and there’s already a “Sugar Mag” on the original album. So we didn’t want to do one of the “Dark Star”>“Sugar Mag”>“Caution”s. There was definitely thought in terms of all that stuff. A lot of things that maybe you don’t think about, but then you realize, “Oh, it would have been great to have a “Dark Star” and “Caution” on that disc, too,” but they all came out of “Sugar Mag,” which meant that we would have been repeating “Sugar Mag,” which we didn’t want to do.
So, it wasn’t by design. It just happened that way. What we ended up with we were very satisfied with. We originally thought about doing this as a three-CD set and then when it was decided to do it as a two-CD, it became very exciting because you’re really getting it packed with the important songs from the tour and great versions of them all. It worked out well.