Blair’s Golden Road Blog - Sticking Up For Road Trips
By Blair Jackson
I’m as excited as everyone else to see what the future brings with Dave’s Picks. But please permit me one moment of nostalgia for the departing Road Trips series, which I thoroughly enjoyed being a small part of these past four years.
The series was controversial from the start because of the initial decision to release compilations from tours rather than complete shows. Why was this done? Well, the last few releases in the original Dick’s Picks series came after a gushing flood of soundboard tapes made their way to Archive.org following the death of Dick Latvala. Many of those tapes were then downloaded many thousands of times before the Dead came to their senses and forced Archive to go stream-only for soundboard material. However, the damage was done. Sales for the last several Dick’s Picks—which in my view were certainly up to the high standards established by earlier releases (35 and 36 are among my favorites) — plummeted once Archive became a free source for nearly everything in the Grateful Dead vault.
In the meantime, remnants of the Grateful Dead organization cut a deal with Rhino to have them facilitate the Dead’s archival release program, and folks on both the Grateful Dead side and at Rhino looked for new ways to generate some interest in the vault material. When Road Trips was established, our thinking was that by presenting a nicely designed package containing two discs with the cream from multiple shows from a tour or series, plus a booklet with liner notes and photos, might be sufficiently compelling to attract both those who already had huge collections of soundboard material and new people who hadn’t been big collectors or were relatively new to the band’s music. The initial concept was to limit the package to two discs to keep the price down, then toss in a bonus disc with more material from the tour as an added incentive to buy early from Dead.net—not a new idea, as bonus discs had proven to be popular on a number of earlier releases.
The negative response by so many hardcore fans frankly caught us off guard. It was clear that a certain segment really wanted complete shows only and were not going to be satisfied by anything less. Personally, I still stand by the compilation concept. I listen to those first few Road Trips a lot more than I do individual shows from those tours. I don’t even think about what is from which show—I just enjoy the high quality of the performances on each, just as I would on a live compilation by any band. The two-disc format did end up being somewhat limiting, however, so I was happy when the series eventually moved to three discs each time. That also allowed us to put out a greater variety of full shows. Needless to say, some were disappointed when the Bonus Discs disappeared; others hated them from the beginning. I liked ’em; always have.
Less surprising than the outrage in some quarters over the compilation idea was the harping about the actual choices. Some people didn’t want to hear anything post-’77, much less something as late as ’93. Others complained that there wasn’t enough early ’80s. You name it and there was a segment of folks who attacked it bitterly—’twas ever thus in the Dead world, and so it will be with Dave’s Picks, no doubt. I even raised my objections to my buddy Dick Latvala a few times back in the day: “Dude, 10/14/83 is the best you could come up with from ’83 for DP6?” Comes with the territory. (Remember the bumpersticker “Just Another Picky Deadhead”?)
Herewith, some favorite performances from each of the 17 Road Trips releases:
RT 1.1, Fall ’79 — “Dancing in the Street” > “Franklin’s.” Not quite up to the 10/27/79 Cape Cod version, but still great. “Terrapin” > “Playing” also show some of the color that “new guy” Brent brought to the band.
RT 1.2, October ’77 — I’ve always loved the Norman, Okla., “Help-Slip-Frank” and the “Sugaree” on the same disc is one of the best in a great year for that tune.
RT 1.3, Summer ’71 — Two major finds made this release a winner: The long-missing Yale Bowl tape (love that “Dark Star” > “Bird Song”) and more of the spectacular Hollywood Palladium show (some of which was released on DP35), including the legendary “Hard to Handle,” which is on the Bonus Disc. Incredible “That’s It for the Other One” from Chicago, too.
RT 1.4, From Egypt With Love — This one was put out to coincide with Rocking the Cradle: Egypt ’78, and for my money it’s a much stronger release musically. Taken from the GD’s post-Egypt shows a Winterland, it contains the famous sequence of “Got My Mojo Working” (with Lee Oskar) into “The Other One” into what many agree is the finest “Stella Blue” the band ever played. Cool “Ollin Arageed,” too.
RT 2.1, MSG September ’90 — Much better than the Dick’s Picks (Vol. 9) from these first shows with Bruce and Vince together, this contains some wild and inspired jamming on “Playing” and “Dark Star,” and a great “Let It Grow.”
RT 2.2, Carousel 2/14/68 —The only multitrack mixdown in the Road Trips series, it’s one of the Dead’s most-loved late ’60s shows. The extra material on Disc 1 (including a fantastic “Viola Lee Blues”) and on the Bonus Disc are tracks from the same era that had been recently discovered in a defunct SF recording studio.
RT 2.3, Wall of Sound June ’74 — There were probably more gripes about us not releasing the full Louisville and Des Moines shows than with any other RT release. (C’mon, did you really need both versions of “Mexicali Blues” from those shows?) I’m partial to the “Eyes” > “China Doll” and “The Other One” from Louisville, but it’s all top drawer.
RT 2.4, Cal Expo ’93 — The “Playing in the Band” is probably the most adventurous of any early ’90s versions. Good takes of later tunes such as “Corrina,” “Liberty” and “Victim,” as well.
RT 3.1, Oakland 12/28/79 — A nice companion to Dick’s Picks Vol. 5 from the same set of shows. Another fine “Terrapin” > “Playing,” though in this case I like the Bonus Disc best, with the scorching “Scarlet-Fire” > “Let It Grow” from 12/30.
RT 3.2, Austin 11/15/71 — Like RT 3.1, this is a complete show. The “Dark Star” > “El Paso” in the first set is heady stuff, and the “Not Fade Away” > “GDTRFB” > “NFA” truly one of my all-time favorite Grateful Dead performances.
RT 3.3, Fillmore East 5/15/70 — Our first three-disc set (plus Bonus)! The acoustic material is priceless (especially “Long Black Limousine” and “Ain’t It Crazy”) and both the “Dark Star” and “That’s It for the Other One” are standouts. The Bonus Disc tracks from Merrimac College the previous night are killer, as well.
RT 3.4, Penn State/Cornell 1980 — I’ve listened to this one a lot. I particularly dig the “Shakedown” > “Bertha” and “space” > “Saint of Circumstance” from Cornell and the “He’s Gone” > “The Other One” from Penn State.
RT 4.1, Big Rock Pow Wow 1969 — Two crazy acid-drenched shows from Florida in May ’69. I’m a sucker for “He Was a Friend of Mine,” and there are a couple of fiery versions of “The Eleven,” a trippy “Dark Star” and a thumping “St. Stephen” out of “drums.” Two half-hour versions of “Lovelight” is a bit much for me, though.
RT 4.2, April Fools ’88 — Classic high-energy late ’80s Dead, with outstanding versions of “Scarlet-Fire” and “China Cat-Rider,” along with relative rarities such as “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” “To Lay Me Down” and Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man.”
RT 4.3, Denver 1973 — Love the “Playing” > “Wharf Rat” > “Playing” reprise > “Morning Dew,” and the lacy first-set “Here Comes Sunshine.”
RT 4.4, Spectrum 4/6/82 — For me, it’s all about the “Shakedown” > “Lost Sailor- Saint” and “The Other One” > “Morning Dew.” More early ’80s, please!
RT 4.5, Boston Music Hall 6/9/76 — This would make my RT Top 5, with the awesome “St. Stephen” > “Eyes,” best-ever “Crazy Fingers,” wonderful “High Time” and solid bonus versions (from 6/12/76) of “Comes a Time” and “Mission in the Rain.”
End of the line. Last call for Road Trips rants and raves! What do you think?
Perhaps I over-commented on this particular article. Blair always makes me think about the music, and I'm very grateful for this. A big thanks to Blair for the always excellent insights that accompany each Road Trips. We're very lucky he writes for us, Thank You!!!
I love these discussions. I'm just here to say that of the "5" Bobby/cowboy songs that seem to be in discussion, I regularly seek out and listen to Mexicali MORE than any of the others. I think it has the best MELODY of any of them, and I like the sentiment of the lyrics better too. So there. Yes, I said I'm a Mexicali fan.
I just received my RT 4/5 in the mail today.
I haven't read all of the comments on this subject but I hope it hasn't taken this long to mention that Blair's liner notes have made a great contribution to the series. Reading the latest I am struck by how he gives historical background, chronicles the changes in the setlists and arrangements, acknowledges negative criticism leveled at the time and puts it all in perspective. He doesn't try to hide his own enthusiasm, and why should he? On the whole, he puts me right back where I was then - thrilled with the return of my favorite band and fascinated by the changes.
Thanks to him and I hope his skills will be part of the next series.
Ten years from now copies of the releases will be traded like tapes once were. If they're out of print, and fans want to hear them...I never really looked at the releases as the bootlegs for the next generation of fans, but isn't this what will happen? Maybe by then all will be available as downloads, like Dick's Picks are on iTunes. And this compromises sound quality- it sacrifices the integrity of the original recording. Nothing sounds as good as the releases, it's a freakin' shame they disappear so quickly.
i dont have a lot of these shows but definetly a few. and i think u failed to mention a beatiful song that i was listening to and jerry had me in tears --if i had the world to give- a very rare gem. i remember being at these shows and they were showing pics of egypt on the wall at winterland and during eyes of the world verse ,sometimes we ride on your horses it had a pic of mickey riding a horse on the wall- what timing i also found myself on the inside cover where it shows the back of jerry n donna and pans out to the audience n there i am big as life , just a young 17 yr. old dead head. this year i celebrate my 50th.. i got on the bus n 75 jerry n friends s.n.ac.k. sunday but 77 was the start of my touring daze until 82, then i moved to hawaii and didnt seee a show til 90. man thos were the daze,,, a.k.a. bekeley jay. aka frisko now residing 20 min. from redrox.. real name christopher hutton
...captbleigh and pwdrtns...
Even after 35 years connected tangentially to the music industry, I frankly don't understand the mechanics of what's involved with keeping a title "in print." I suppose in a sense it's like betting on the continued success of something and balancing that against the costs of reprinting/remanufacturing something. One thing I do know is that if something costs X amount to make 10,000 copies, then making 1,000 more copies is not 1/10th the price; it's considerably more. Volume always equals a reduction in price in both album manufacturing and book/magazine publishing. The fewer copies you make, the more per unit it costs.
In this tough record business climate, the economics of nearly everything have gotten scary. And the Dead world is no exception. If the Dead were to suddenly re-release every Dick's Picks, how much demand would there be? Would 500 copies be sold of #32 or 2,000 of #4 or just 25 of #16? It would be a tough thing to predict. You could go the CD-on-demand route potentially, but that's fairly labor-intensive and involves higher administrative costs, I'd guess.
I dunno. Like I said, I don't really know why things go out of print so easily and so quickly. Is there really NO demand for copies of the great Jerry Garcia Band live album that Arista put out? Or not enough demand to make it worthwhile to keep that classic alive? Yet it's been out of print for many years. As a fan, it's extremely frustrating. And as we all know, there are new Dead Heads coming along all the time.
IMO, there is NO good reason why all ten discs of Fillmore West '69--containing some of the greatest and most important music the Dead ever made--shouldn't always be available, if not on disc (which it should be), then by download. Releasing that music tomorrow would not violate the sanctity of people's precious numbered box sets in any way.
But obviously there's something about the economics of actually making that music available that way that makes what seems like a no-brainer way to make oodles of cash somehow seem frightening. Frankly, I don't get it at all.
Then again, no one has ever asked me for financial advice. Now, THAT is wise. ;)
I have collected everything that GD have issued, collections, DiP's, RT's, Runs, Boxed sets, etc.
1. Compilations have a place. By selecting things where the groove was right and leaving out the chaff we don't have to do anything but listen to these often overlooked gems. They should continue to be a part of the GD release canon.
2. Whole shows are wonderful for the reasons sited, either as individual releases or in some grouping such as Tour, Venue, etc.
3. Bonus discs often have some of the better material from the tour and it is a disservice to not make them available, either as a later purchase ("For only $8 more you can add selected bonus discs from our prior Issues") or just eliminating them altogether and including the material in the release outright. Bonus discs imply a limited release, or need to increase sales Now, making me wonder about break even sales, cashflow, profit, etc.
4. Discontinuing releases is criminal and incredibly short sighted. Think fifty to 100 years from now. People will still be interested in this music, much like the Classical material such as Bach, Mozart, etc. In just these few years since Jerry's death, many new Deadheads have gotten on the bus. To presume that this will not continue is just insulting. Think of someone who cannot get any Europe '72 five years from now, as the box set will in all likelihood preclude further releases of this material. Even now, to not be able to get your hands on the Filmore '69 stuff is ludicrous.
5. Archive, Sirius, etc all are good, but does not compare to having your own fingers on the discs, the pleasure and freedom of listening on high quality stereos, etc. The "streaming/mp3" ethos that will overcome our concepts of "music" is to lose the nuances of hi fidelity and in many cases make something that was magical ordinary by the loss of harmonics, warmth, etc that even CD's lose in relation to the original tape. to some degree.
I am grateful for every one of these releases, much like thinking of past girlfriends, some are better than others, but having one is generally an improvement over the alternative.
I second that emotion- If only things were that simple
Just gotta address the idea of discontinuing DP's, VFTVs, RTs, etc.
It may come as a surprise to some 3-pc suited Record Company Execs, but CDs are NOT indestructable. (D-heads, just follow along)...Hint to Rec Co bean counters: CDs break, scratch and get lost! Shocking, I know. (Have you ever tried to fish out a dropped CD from under your brake pedal while motivating down the road feeling good @ 75 mph? You can't pick it up gingerly without possibly scratching it!) Soooo, we may, from time to time need to replace or upgrade to remastered versions...So discontinuing these cds deprives many of us of the music we love!
Jerry was quoted at least once saying something like once the music is out it's for the fans. My guess is that Pig and Jerry would not be happy about depriving fans of the music they are willing to pay (a reasonable price) for. Perhaps the other guys in the band might also think similarly.
Frankly it makes poor business sense to kill these titles...associated costs are covered--the artwork is paid for & the cd's are mastered. Covers and inserts ordered in large quantities wind up costing little more than a 70% smaller order. OK, so how are costs contained for profitability? Do not store the components in a remote location! Keep only enough on hand to satisfy sales for the time it takes to produce more. It would easy to put in a pop-up that the item is out of stock and will ship shortly...we don't mind. Have a sale about Feb 1st (a nice Valentines Day gift idea!) till tax inventory time to reduce taxible inventory. For the really slow moving titles, burn 'em when ordered! Just say so in your product listing.
One "unanticipated consequense" of discontinuing these cds (and bonus CDs too) is the disgusting exploitative profiteering going on by Dealers, resellers and con artists online. eBay and amazon are littered with $45 RTs ($85 to $100++ w/Bonus disc!) and $35+ scratched-well used DPs...some 'like new' DPs can go for $75-89). I, just a couple of weeks ago, saw a bonus disc get bid up on eBay for $115!
How about Reissuing volumes I, II & lll of Bonus discs for RTs, DPs, the '76 New Years Bonus disc, etc. Maybe 3 discs @ $12.95! Put 'em in cardboard sleeves w/minimal art, just track lists w/times, etc. Betcha they'd sell l like heaters to Eskimos in December! It would also surpress, if not kill the disgusting profiteering online of these titles.
Bottom line is fans want the music without getting financially molested while GDM/Rhino needs to remain profitable. So let's work together to preserve and keep available this music fans love. OK?
if you feel the same, let Dead.net and Rhino know!
...brilliant with full releases AND bonus disc. For $6 a disc you have great selection, good value, nice packaging and great production values. I won't ask the obviously pertinent question...