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Picking Dave’s Brain: The Grateful Dead Archivist Discusses May ’77 and Sunshine Daydream

With the box sets do you think there would come a time when there would be a release based on a city, all the shows from Pittsburgh or St. Louis or…New York would be kind of tough just because of amount but…

Not really because, again, our releases always come down to the music. Always. When you’re picking dates on a city, all of a sudden, you’re picking on something that has really nothing to do with the music.

For example, they played some good shows in Cleveland but they also probably played some mediocre shows, and if you were going to do a complete Cleveland box, all of a sudden, you’ve got to put in shows that you know are mediocre in there, but you’re doing them because of…I hate to put it this way, the gimmick of doing a Cleveland box set. So, no. The idea has come up a couple times and it’s been very quickly, I won’t say quickly, we certainly do our due diligence on these things. When you start looking at it, yeah, it’s a cool idea like Red Rocks. Do all the Red Rocks. Now, Red Rocks is interesting, they usually play pretty darn well at Red Rocks but we do have very inconsistent tape quality from Red Rocks. All of a sudden you’re putting out a box that has some very subpar sounding shows. We haven’t put serious thought about it but we put a lot of thought into it and we’ve done a lot of background and research into it but I would absolutely say we’ve never got to the point of saying, “Okay, let’s do it. A complete St. Louis box.” There were a lot of good shows in St. Louis but, nonetheless, you’re picking on something other than the music and that’s something that we’ve never really done.

I see or even as a compilation over the years like five CDs based on Oklahoma City.

Possibly. Yeah, yeah possibly. Then, you’re getting into putting in some Pigpen and then some Keith and Donna and then some Brent and then some Vince and Bruce and then some Vince. How well does a box like that hold together on five CDs or ten CDs? I don’t know. That’s, again, another thing. So, not really. We really haven’t done it. We’d rather let the music be the driving force in choosing a box.

There are a lot of very eclectic box sets like that that would work but…I would never say no. I never say never when it comes to these kinds of ideas but in our previous talks about them that’s what it always comes down to. Well, ultimately, musically it would be a challenge to make this thing a perfect box. I’d think you’d see a lot more future box sets where like the Winterland ’73 box or things like that where we take a complete run of shows. We could do it…St. Louis October ’72, a great three-night run at the Fox in St. Louis in ’72. That’s the kind of thing that I would be more inclined to do than start trying to wedge some later St. Louis or earlier St. Louis that might not be great. So yeah, I see other box sets that would be more along the line of a complete run from a certain year.

In other big Grateful Dead news, after I don’t know how many times we’ve discussed it in the past “Sunshine Daydream” is finally getting a public viewing.

It’s so worth seeing and I’ve seen probably as much as you have with bootlegs, VHS and now DVDs and online and whatever, and the restored version looks so good and the sound was so good. It was mixed over at Bobby’s studio at TRI in San Rafael and Jeffrey [Norman] spent a very long time mixing. It’s perfect. It’s really great. And then they mastered the audio for the screening at Airshow Mastering in Boulder, Colorado with our good friend, Dave Glasser. He’s been doing a lot of video and surround sound work with us. He mastered the “Europe ’72” box as well. Certainly, it couldn’t be better.

It’s going to be a great night out. I’m excited to see it. I’ve been watching it now for months during this production process, watching clips of it with the new sound and that kind of stuff, and that’s watching a DVD or stream online. To see it like this, it’s going to be very, very cool. I think it’s one we’ve all been waiting for.

Is there going to be different or additional footage than what we’ve seen in the bootlegs?

Yeah. I don’t think you’ve seen “Bird Song,” not in its entirety, for sure. And “Bird Song” has been restored and put back in. Now, the filmmakers, they filmed, luckily, most of the best stuff of the day – “China”>”Rider,” “Dark Star,” of course, “Playing in the Band,” “Jack Straw,” all that kind of stuff — but they didn’t film the entire show. So, everything that was filmed was in there and that now includes the “Birdsong,” which is very cool. It’s very similar in terms of structure to what you’ve seen over the last 20 or 30 years.

It’s still very sunny when they’re playing “Bird Song.” It’s right in the middle of the second set and it’s very, I used this the other day, in talking about it on Sirius, it’s very crisp. It’s a very crisp “Bird Song.” They’re very engaged, and Jerry just punching the bottom end on this thing is incredible. That’s the one thing that always lacking on the circulating audio copies of the show. And the video, of course, has never really had good audio but the bottom end they produce on this is just amazing. So, yeah, big news as you say, big, big news. It’s going to be a great night.

Is there going to be a soundtrack?

There’s been no officially released Veneta. I don’t know I’m not sure what the specific plans after the screening. Certainly, I would say we tell people to check ‘cause that’s where any announcements get made. But certainly our focus the last few months has been this screening on August 1 and beyond that it’s really just a matter of how much work we’ve all put into this screening, not to mention the May ’77 box.

The screening has really been the focus because the screenings have really proven to be incredibly popular in terms of getting people out. We do a lot of really great stuff in terms of making the archives accessible in terms of the May ’77 box, the Europe ’72 but the one thing we don’t do that often is get people out and dancing and into a room together because we’re not a live band. We’re an archival release record company but we did something in Port Chester, New York with the Capitol Theatre. We played a complete Grateful Dead show (2/24/71) and they have a full light show, the in-house light show, and they played it through the huge sound system. A thousand people came out to come and listen to this. It was a very good Dead show from a very good era that happened to also be at the Capitol Theatre.

What it showed us is that there’s really an appetite…well, we know that there’s an appetite for Deadheads together. Look at the crowds at Furthur shows, at Dark Star Orchestra shows. People love getting out and hearing Grateful Dead music, whatever the content, and for us to go to play a Dead tape or CD as the case were of an unreleased show certainly there was in interest in that.

Likewise, the meet-ups at the movies. Two years ago, we did The Grateful Dead Movie. Last year, we did the July 18, 1989 in Alpine Valley show, the middle night at Alpine ’89. The response was just absolutely huge in terms of both the amount of people that came out and we played it at more than 500 theatres around the country. Then, the feeling about it after the fact is, “Could you please do more of this at least once a year but hopefully even more than that?” To us that’s what we’ve really been focusing on. It’s nice to once in awhile get people out.

Okay, because it would just make sense to package the DVD and CD together. “Here’s the video. Here’s the audio. You’re set.”

I love it, man. I really do think it’s a great show. The legend of the show is certainly matched by the performance. You think of so many of the legendary Dead shows like Woodstock and Egypt and Watkins Glen and I’m not talking about sound check, but the actual show. And the legend is there but the performance sometimes doesn’t match up with the legend. Europe 1990. Europe ’81. Some very good shows there but these didn’t end being at the level of Europe ’72. That kind of thing.

So, a lot of legendary performances don’t measure up to the legend where this one not only is that but I think performance absolutely surpasses the legend. You take the legend of this show away, the 20,000 hippies in a field at a benefit show. You take all that stuff away and you listen to this as music and it’s one of the best Dead shows ever. And obviously, you’ve got the songs like “Dark Star” and “Playin’ in the Band” and “China”>”Rider,” which are some of the bigger songs of 1972. They’re some of the best versions of those songs ever. “Bird Song,” all that stuff, it’s the smaller songs that are absolute monsters. You think “Jack Straw,” “He’s Gone”…I was working on “He’s Gone” from the show, just a few months ago. It’s a great show, the smaller songs. So anyway, the point is I would love to see this thing come out. It’s a show I certainly would put on the top of my CD pile as I listen through things.

Speaking of unreleased, when you were at the Rock Hall you played some unreleased stuff.

Right. Well, we released a couple of ‘em. We played a little bit from Fillmore Auditorium12/2/69. I played that really spacey sequence from “Dark Star.” That was released ( Dave’s Picks Volume 6) and then I played that sequence of “Lovelight into “Not Fade Away” back into “Lovelight” in St. Louis on 2/2/70 (also packaged on Dave’s Picks Volume 6). So, those have been released.

I think I also played some May 1979 material from Brent Mydland’s third and fourth concerts. No plans to release those. You know, the problem with some of those shows is we don’t have complete shows from…actually of few of them. Hampton on 5/4/79 we don’t have a complete show. We’ve got a good chunk, but not a complete show. We’ve got Easton, Pennsylvania. We’ve got the end of the first set and the end of the second set but we don’t have the rest of that show. What else is there? Amherst, Massachusetts, I think we’re missing a few songs on 5/12/79.

So, no specific plans to release that material but it certainly is good that you heard…there was a great “Estimated Prophet” and it sounds good and crisp. We’re just beginning to wrap up selections on Dave’s Picks Volume 7. We’re really not that far ahead of the curve.

Even releasing that little bit of Brent stuff was surprisingly strong for how early it was in his time with the band. Even if you put it out on like an odds and ends compilation…

I agree totally and I’ve looked into that, actually. I’ve looked at some of the material from that tour and I think it’s just such a unique sound for the Grateful Dead. Brent has joined the band literally two weeks before and he was really working through the sounds that work and which ones didn’t work and the most interesting thing is how seamlessly his voice and his organ playing and all those people playing fit in perfectly with the Grateful Dead sound.

And they transformed the sound but they transformed it in incredibly good ways, really, from the beginning. You listen to stuff and you think, “How could this band have ever existed without him?” kind of thing. Don’t get me wrong! I’m a huge fan of Keith and TC and Pigpen’s organ playing but boy, It transformed the Grateful Dead sound.

You listen to Dave’s Picks Volume 3, which is from October of ’71, Keith’s second or third show, and it’s the same thing. It just transformed the band’s sound immediately. It’s still that core of…in that case it was Billy, Phil, Bob and Jerry but then all of a sudden you add this keyboard player, this piano player, that is unlike anything you’ve ever heard with the Grateful Dead sound and yet, it’s absolutely Grateful Dead music.

To me the cool thing about Dead music, it’s so different. People say, “How do you listen to so much?” And that’s the cool thing is that you can listen to ’67, ’68, ’69 and then you can listen to ’79 and you can listen to ’84 and then you can listen to ’91 and they’re very, very different, and yet it’s still the Grateful Dead.

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