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?
I'd prefer a plunderphonics-style mash-up of MAMU. A two-disc set. I couldn't afford the 23 disc box right now.
As far as availability, the mystery question is what can Rhino/GD afford to release? This is why I'm grateful for every release. Performance level- and sound quality- are what make releases so exciting. If one or the other is diminished, what effect would this have on sales? I have no idea. That said, if more shows of high quality are available only as downloads, this is the one thing that would make me get a computer(Thank You mobile browser)
The original vision was to have downloads of the complete shows that we were compiling from available a little after the RT came out. But the first couple from RT 1.1 appeared quite a while after the fact, I seem to recall, and with little fanfare, and they fizzled commercially. Mastering a full show up to the RT standards was not cheap and there needed to be a certain level of sales to justify the downloads, I guess. Personally, I think they should've had a straight-from-the-vault non-mastered version available for download. It would still be a little better quality than the best sources out there, and it would be nearly expense-free for Rhino/GD other than the mechanics of actually putting it somewhere where it could be downloaded and dealing with payments, etc. Still seems like a good idea to me...
Too bad there were some pitch problems with some of the releases (1.1, 3.4, etc.) Hopefully the Dave's Picks series will pay more attention to this issue and take it seriously. It's quite annoying forking out the money for a release only to discover that it's slow by 3%. :)
If the average Me and My Uncle is 3 minutes, it would take about 23 discs to fit them all. Please let us all know when you're finished with the project!
Complete shows have their place, if the recording, setlist and performance are great enough. Most shows, however, even really good ones, have some great moments and a bunch of other stuff. If you actually attended a show, the complete recording brings back memories, but that's what the Archive is for. By definition, most of us didn't go to every show (more's the pity), so we don't have those memories for any given cd release.
As a listener, I enjoy whatever comes up next on the iPod, but I don't think, "oh my goodness, 'Mexicali Blues' came after 'Sugaree' in New Mexico, and instead it's 'Cassidy'." I've heard a zillion Mexicali's, and I'll hear some of them again, but I'm not missing them.
Does Rhino have a proposal for releasing all 600-odd versions of "Me And My Uncle?" It's a short song, so it should fit on about 15cds.
Summer Of '71 and Austin were the only two I went for primarily because it's one of my favorite vintages. Might even go for 4.5. Did they ever play poorly in Boston? I will admit that listening to the SBD's on Archive played a part in my choices. Some of the picks I found to be mediocre and others I had already downloaded and was happy enough with the sound. The Austin show was a broadcast (I think) but it's great having a decent copy. Which brings me around to nudging once again for 11/7/71 to be part of the new series. C'mon folks!
P.S. Until you mentioned it, I didn't realize RT's were not necessarily complete shows. Hah. Give me one clear moment.
What promise the Road Trips idea had. Especially with the release of full show downloads to complement the CD compilations (what ever happened to that idea??).
Looking forward to Dave's Picks, but was hoping for something a bit more innovative - this is the GD after all.
One last request, though one that is destined to go unfulfilled: now that the series is defunct, PLEASE consider a compliation release (or download only release!) of all the Bonus discs. Some of us were distracted by life and missed some of the better bonus releases, and want to pay GD/Rhino rather than eBay'ers for them.
(As for the legality of rereleasing limited / bonus releases, consider the Bob Dylan Brandeis University show, which was originally issued as an exclusive bonus disc with Bootleg Series 9 and the Mono Box, only to be released separately within about a year.)
Either way, its a good time to be a Head. Thanks for all you do, Blair!
Right on Blair. I couldn't be more proud of the work you have all done. History will serve you well, always has really. A huge thank you for your efforts.
From one who's brother ,on his wedding day, brought me to my first concert,the wall of sound test March 23 1974, at 15, and told me ...This is the Grateful Dead, you will not see shows like this from anyone else. He was correct, to this day.
A few of my favorite Road Trips moments that aren't mentioned- The Super Funk Shakedown from the Road Trips debut, the China/Rider from the Wall of Sound (and the groovy intro to Big River), and the Foolish-Jam from the bonus disc of MSG 90. On a side note, this jam is featured on the beautifully produced So Many Roads Box Set, without it's lovely cousin Foolish Heart. Thanks Blair! P.S. The transition from He Was A Friend Of Mine into China Cat always makes me say Pow WOW!