JPG: Since it took a year to a year-and-a-half for the St. Louis box…
DL: We would’ve been early summer of 2020 when we pulled the trigger on it.
JPG: Was there much of a difference putting it together because of COVID restrictions? When Jeffery Norman’s working on stuff, do you come down to his studio to listen to what he worked on or does he always send you files to listen to songs and shows?
DL: I work with Jeffrey on virtually a daily basis. We are either on the phone, texting or emailing everyday, whether it’s about a box set or a Dave’s Picks or a future something.
Actually, it bothers me to say this. I haven’t seen Jeffery in probably five years. I haven’t been in a studio with him, I haven’t seen him and I miss him. He’s one of my best friends in the world. I talk to him all the time but we haven’t seen each other. That’s largely geographic because I’m in Canada and he’s in California.
The way we work together is, for instance, if he’s working on a show where, and this occasionally happens where the recording was made with the channels reversed. Let’s say Keith [Godchaux] should be on the right but Jeffrey will say, “I’m hearing Keith on the left and just confirming that this is incorrect” in whatever year it’s from. And I say, “That is incorrect. Flip them.”
We talk about things like that. When it comes to the actual audio, he sends me high-res audio files and I check them out. By the time they get to me he’s already spent weeks and weeks on them and then proofs them himself. Very rarely do I have comments about the sound quality that needs to be changed. The only time that happens is when he’s mixing a multi-track. That’s where it becomes a little more complicated because when he’s doing a multi-track he generally does about a song a day. That’s a bit of a generalization but that’s the focus.
If he’s doing one complete Dead show that has 21 songs, he’ll plan on a full three weeks of mixing, seven days a week, if not a little bit more, to fix some things. What he does is he mixes all day, sends me the high-res mix — his close to final mix — that night. I make sure I’m available every night from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. when he might upload it to me. I spend as much time as needed listening to it several times — headphones, speakers, I might even burn a CD and bring it in the car and drive around with it. Then, I give him notes. I’ll say, “Yeah, I’m not hearing Weir’s guitar enough in this part and I think the background vocals…” So, by the time he’s back in the studio at 9 or 10 the next morning to finish the mix, he’s got my notes that say exactly that. Tweak this, tweak that. When it’s a multi-track mix there are a lot of decisions to make whereas, with a two-track there’s not the same amount of decisions to make.
COVID did cause a few delays and they were minor, but they were a bummer, was that the Vault where the tapes live was largely closed down. The archive staff, Mike Johnson is my primary contact in Los Angeles, huge Deadhead and a great guy. He’s a Grammy nominee as a producer himself. There’s the crew down there but Mike Johnson primarily is the one who will pull tapes. I’ll hit him up and say, “We need 10/18/72 sent to Jeffrey.” Usually within an hour he’s got it boxed up and FedExed. It’s that efficient and that well-oiled of a machine.
During COVID when the crew was only allowed in once every two weeks, we had to really plan accordingly knowing that Mike was going to be in on Wednesday next week and we would load him up with our requests. So that when he went into the Vault he would know all the tapes we needed to pull for Dave’s Picks and for the St. Louis box.
Then, there’s also the thing where I might have a show in mind as a possible future Dave’s Picks that I’m still very far away from picking but I like it and I get those tapes pulled as well so Jeffrey can check them out because there’s nothing worse than getting really far on the process and selecting a show and then getting the tape sent to Jeffrey and he’s like, “I don’t know what you were hearing but the tapes I’ve got, there’s but there was a problem with these tapes.”
Before I even get close to letting Rhino know, which is developing the artwork and all those kind of things, before I do any of that for a Dave’s Picks I always make sure Jeffrey checks out the tapes. Oftentimes, I’ll have picked a show I’m certain it’s going to be the next Dave’s Picks and I can’t let everybody know and pull the trigger on it until Jeffrey’s checked out the tapes. Once he does that, then we can. Ninety-eight per cent of the time or more the tapes are fine because what I’m hearing generally came off of the Vault’s master.
Another big thing with COVID is a lot of the pressing plant and shipping warehouses and things like that through 2020 and into 2021 had minimal staff, if any. So, a lot of things got delayed as well. What normally might be a four or five-month lead-time became an eight or nine-month lead-time. We just had to alter our productions, where instead of saying, “This is coming out in October, we need to have it done by June.” Now, we have to get it done by March. Clearly, we manage.
A good example, the St. Louis show from 12/10/71, the second show in the box set, was released on its own. We generally do that, select a show or a compilation from any box set, and release it on CD and vinyl. Well, the vinyl was supposed to come out the end of September, early October with the other elements of this release but because of delays it didn’t come out until the middle of November. It would come down to some of the delays that go back a year-and-a-half to backlogs at pressing plants.
JPG: That time period, ’71 to ’73. What makes it so special? Do you feel it is growth from recording American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead or something that stayed with them after the Europe ’72 tour?
DL: Well no, because that would mean getting into their heads but I do think it was an unparalleled burst of creativity. It’s like you said, American Beauty, Workingman’s Dead…that alone, those two albums, that in pretty much any other band’s career would be everything. That’s an incredible run. Two albums, they came out four months apart, which is just mind-blowing. Then, you add several months later Skull & Roses material, all that new material starts coming out.
The most impressive thing on top of that — the almost forgotten thing that Bobby and Jerry in ’72 with all that material being introduced in ’71 — put out Ace and the Garcia solo albums. Those albums are just mind-blowingly good! Not including the cool instrumentals on Jerry’s album but that’s 13 more bonafide Grateful Dead classics all coming out within a few months of each other. Then, you’ve got all the new Europe ’72 material.
Then, in February of ’73 they introduce all that Wake of the Flood material plus a couple of those songs, “[Mississippi] Half-Step [Uptown Toodeloo]” and “Stella Blue” came in ’72. We’re talking a two-year period where I could keep going on and on and on.
By ’73 some of the Mars Hotel material started popping up. It was unparalleled creativity. It was a band that really loved playing together. It’s like they were bursting with creativity and new directions. They went from this sound to that sound and then in ’77 they went to that sound. It’s not reinventing, it’s just adapting. It’s just changing. I get the feeling that they never allowed themselves to get bored because they were constantly changing things up.
I really don’t know how to pinpoint why they were so good. You’re a huge hockey fan. You’re a New York Rangers fan. You hear about teams. Players will be on their three-year entry-level contract and then at 21, 22-years-old a team will often try to sign that player for eight years because something happens where they hit a new gear. As great as they were at 21, 22, the expectation is that at 25, 26, they’re going to hit a new gear. The team wants to have that player under control during that time when they hit that new gear. This is the Dead hitting a new gear. To me, again, that’s what blows my mind.
You listen to Live/Dead. To a lot of people the absolute peak of Grateful Dead performing in live music and Grateful Dead creativity and yet a year or two later all the stuff we’ve just been talking about came out. Complete change in direction.
Then, you’ve also got the Grateful Dead, most certainly on the improvisational level, able to do something like they did at Veneta, Oregon with that “Dark Star” or a month after Veneta in Philadelphia, another “Dark Star” or all those great “Other One”s. Every single one was a unique moment created right there on the spot that lasted 20, 30, 40 minutes. There’s a great 36-minute “Other One” from Baltimore in ’72 that is…I listen to that one quite a bit and I don’t even understand what’s happening because it’s so creative and so in-the-moment. It certainly wasn’t rehearsed.
That is what continues to blow my mind about Grateful Dead music. So much of their excellence in this period in particular was created right there on the spot. There’s a great jam on 8/6/74 at Roosevelt Stadium. As they’re going from “Playing In The Band” heading into “Scarlet Begonias” before going back into “Playing In The Band,” there’s a jam they get into that, again, created right there in the moment, you listen to it and it is a fully-orchestrated, melodic, beautiful piece of music. And yet they never did it again. They never did it before. They only let it jam for a couple of minutes before they moved on to another idea.
That’s what I don’t understand about the Dead is how anybody can do something so great every single night and it’s made up there on the spot essentially. That’s what I love.
I don’t know how to define why the Dead were so good then. They were just at an unparalleled burst of creativity that every night they loved playing. I remember reading an interview with Jerry — I think it was an interview he did on the Europe ’72 tour — and he was asked if he’s having fun, if he’s enjoying the tour. He said, “I’m really loving it. The problem is we’re not playing enough.” They were there for 50 nights or so and they only did 22 shows in 50 nights. The way Jerry was telling it, he prefers to play. You can’t play every night but you can certainly play more than that. It was scheduling of Europe and the travel that you had to have two or three nights off, sometimes, between shows. That, I think, bothered him in a way because he loved playing so much. They really loved playing.
If you look at Jerry’s schedule in ’72, ’73, and if you look at the Dead schedule from late ’69 through mid-’70, they’re constantly playing. The few times they’re not playing and on tour, they’re in the studio recording Workingman’s Dead or American Beauty. It’s really amazing. It’s really inspiring. Sometimes, we all feel our procrastination level is pretty high. The Dead are a good antidote for that for me because they really inspire me to get off my butt and get things done.
JPG: You mentioned “Dark Star,” and it’s interesting the line that runs from the 10/30/73 “Dark Star” in the St. Louis box set to the present day. In my mind, I heard a bit of The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence” in that “Dark Star” within the first nine minutes and then last summer Dead & Company covered “Dear Prudence.”
DL: It’s typical Grateful Dead synergy.
JPG: Also, the other thing that I noticed that was fun about the St. Louis box set, especially the ’71 shows. I’m sure it wasn’t fun for the band to having equipment problems but hearing the band talking and joking and being relaxed and even hearing one of Bobby’s jokes…
DL: They were definitely having fun. That ’71 tour was a lot of fun because a couple weeks before they got their first gold record for Skull & Roses, which had just come out. They were touring. They were being on the radio a lot with these FM broadcasts. It was yet another new high for the Grateful Dead.
This band had momentum and you hear that from ’68 onward. It’s really since Mickey joined the band. That momentum keeps building and you can look at it as these steps of momentum. Now you’ve got Keith in the band…every time somebody new joined the band it was a whole refreshed, renewed energy. Then, Pigpen comes back, which is a whole new thing and that’s great, too, because now you’ve got some organ, you’ve got some piano plus you’ve got Pigpen as a front man on a few songs, which is amazing.
I do find that momentum just keeps growing. As ’72 rolls on and Pigpen leaves the band and then they settle into the groove and the next bit of momentum is starting their own record company and Wake of the Flood coming out. Then, the next bit of momentum is the Wall of Sound and the development of that through ’73 with its debut in ’74.
It’s this constant momentum rolling so fast that it led to October of ’74, which led to the Grateful Dead taking a couple of years off because that momentum, I think, took them a little too far too fast.
JPG: Speaking of Pigpen. Nice timing that this box set came out just before the holiday season and it contains “Run Rudolph Run” with Pigpen on vocals during the ’71 shows.
DL: They only played it a half dozen times. They only played it in December of ’71.
JPG: A version also came out on Dave’s Picks Volume 22 (12/7/71) as well.
DL: It’s a nice little fun Pigpen rocker. There’s not enough of those. Anytime that we can get another cool Pigpen sung song in the repertoire, I love it.
I remember hearing that 35 years ago in the mid-’80s, hearing a tape, I think it must’ve been one of the Felt Forum shows that had it. I knew the song. I’d heard the song before on the radio, the original. I couldn’t believe the Dead were playing it, an amazing addition to the repertoire. Again, it’s a neat little time period in the Dead’s history where they only played that for that two-week period half a dozen times and then it was gone. Now, we’ve got two here, so that’s pretty cool.
JPG: The recordings themselves — the ’71 shows were done by Rex Jackson, Owsley “Bear” Stanley for the ’72 shows and Kidd Candelario for the ’73 shows. Thinking of those three different recorders as well as previous official live releases taken from Betty Cantor, Betty Boards, when you’re listening, are you able to notice differences between them?
DL: Absolutely, 100%. They all sound so distinctly different from one another. Instantly, in particular Betty’s tapes from ’77. An interesting thing is Betty’s tapes, which are uniformly magnificent, I’ve never heard a Betty recording that didn’t absolutely knock my socks off. Her recordings from June of ’76 and then her recordings from spring of ’77, her recordings from fall of ’77 and her recordings from the spring/summer of ’78, each of those eras sound distinctly different. I don’t know what that is. I don’t know if it was different equipment, different techniques, different stage equipment for the band. You listen to summer, June of ’76, all those theaters and then go listen to spring of ’77. It is so distinctly different. It’s still magnificent. I have a huge smile on my face just thinking about them, and now I want to go listen to the June ’76 box set that came out last year because it is so good. They were always some of my favorite recordings, performances too obviously. Performances are wonderful but those recordings are studio level recordings.
Kidd’s recordings put them up against Bear’s from fall ’72, put them up against Rex’s from ’71, put them up against Bear’s from early ’70, late’ 69. Remarkably different. Again, I don’t know how much of that is recording equipment, how much is stage equipment, and how much is different recording techniques.
Absolutely, they are very very different, whereas by ’79, pretty much all recordings were straight up PA recordings. They reflected the sound in the hall. They were stereo output out of the soundboard, whereas everything else we’ve just discussed were not that. They were all things that had embellishments and changes and manipulation done to the recording to make it a very very good recording as opposed to a PA mix that happened to have a left and right split that also went to cassette or DAT or whatever it was.
JPG: Do you have any idea why there was a switch in ’79?
DL: I don’t know. I’m not sure but the last shows Betty recorded, not the last shows but the last two-track recordings that she recorded was the New Year’s run in ’79. Now, a year later with the Warfield and Radio City, she was part of the team that recorded that as well but that’s different. That’s not what we’re talking about here. Summer of ’78, that July ’78 material was all Betty. The fall of ’78 she did not record. She didn’t go. She didn’t record those. There’s some PA tapes of a few of those shows but not all of them. No actual mix to tape recordings.
Then ’79, unfortunately nothing from Brent’s first tour, the May tour. There is a really wonderful board from his first show at Spartan Stadium but the May tour, no. In August the Kaiser shows, the Oakland Auditorium shows and then the Red Rocks and McNichols shows, and then not again until the California shows in San Diego and UCLA in November of ’79. But unfortunately not the October, November, December shows. Then, the five nights at the Oakland Auditorium, those were all recorded by Betty.
Of course, I wish that everything had been recorded to that quality but it isn’t. So, I don’t lament what we don’t have. I celebrate what we do have. That’s the way I’ve always looked at things. You can spend all the energy you want lamenting the things that you don’t have but instead I choose to — whether it’s in my personal life or professional life — celebrate the things that we do have.
JPG: A gratitude mindfulness approach.
DL: Always, man.
JPG: I know I won’t get an exact answer but what’s in store for 2022?
DL: No, you won’t. You probably know Baltimore 5/26/77. That’s the next Dave’s Picks, which is a great one, coming up in February of 2022, Dave’s Picks Volume 41.
Aside from that, Jeffrey’s started on number 42. We’ve already set in stone the box set for 2022, which is very exiting. I don’t know if you picked up on this on any other interviews I’ve done this year but our 2022 release schedule in terms of variety, in terms of formats, was so packed we actually had to move a couple of things into 2023, which is a great problem to have because it indicates that we’ve got a really wonderful 2022 coming up. I’m really excited about that. I say this every year. If it sounds like it’s a company line, it’s not. I am very excited about next year.
Whether it’s a Dave’s Picks or a box set, or if you just look at what we’ve done the last few years in terms of whether it’s a Record Store Day thing or whatever, we’ve always got something cool happening. 2022 is going to be one of those years that is going to be exciting to focus on.
JPG: Looking forward to it, as usual. As a fellow Deadhead it’s always exciting to hear what comes out. Listening to this box set, it’s just so interesting to hear what goes on from one night to the next and how the band handled things. It’s always amazing. You just feel like, “I’m on the right path. I chose the right band.”
DL: That’s how I feel. Every day I’m grateful that I found this band or they found me, but I sure love listening to it on a daily basis.