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?
Thank You- RT, almost completely, for at the final moment releasing some of my first show on June 12, 1976!!!!!
Comes a Time you know.................
What you say is true and has been true for many moons. The only changes are the medium for the trade!! Can you imagine in 50 years what we'll be trading?
To Blair: I really enjoyed this BLOG. I was looking at all the RT releases and I only have 9. I might buy the last one and the Denver one. I have found contentment in the music I have and it really takes something unique for me to really want something more.
I never thought of it that way. i always assumed it was because "I shot first and killed him, lord he didn't even draw..."
But you could be onto something!
My wife interprets the lines "I'm paying for those happy hours I spent there in her arms/With a lifetime's worth of the Mexicali Blues" as suggesting the singer contracted an STD.
Anyone else "read" it that way?
Nice to see others joining the campaign for re-release of the bonus discs. They've already got the mastering and packaging done for them. All that is needed is to order another manufacturing run. Personally, I'd still advocate for a boxset that has them all in one, but being available a la carte would be fine, too. A boxset would probably be better from a business sense because there would be fewer individual discs sitting around a warehouse.
By my count such a project could include the following bonus discs:
1. Dead Ahead
2. Beyond Description
3. Fillmore West '69
4. Postcards of the Hanging
5. Closing of Winterland
6. Rocking the Rhine
7. Spirit of '76 (Cow Palace)
8. Winterland '73
9. Rocking the Cradle
10. Winterland '77
11. RT 1.1
12. RT 1.2
13. RT 1.3
14. RT 1.4
15. RT 2.1
16. RT 2.2
17. RT 2.3
18. RT 2.4
19. RT 3.1
20. RT 3.2
21. RT 3.3
22. RT Bonus Disc 2011
Was there a bonus disc with the release of The Golden Road? I wasn't sure about that one.
But as we can see in the very least this could be an awesome 22 CD boxset. Or perhaps 2 different sets - one with all the RT discs (12) and one with all the others (10). I'd pay for physical copies of these. Put it this way, would it be better to pay $100 per set for new copies of these discs, or chance ebay and pay up to $100 per disc?
I realize that the bonus discs were originally a way to incentivize early purchase, but from a marketing/sales stand point it would seem to me that they still have a value as a commodity in their own right. A few people might complain, but I think most people would be happy they're available.
Just a thought!
Ditto on the comments from Pwdrtrns13-please always keep CD releases in the mix. The mp3 is a waste of time in my opinion-the detail is gone-makes the music pale and without nuance and emotion. Other than convenience-whats the point? It is worse than the old cassette. CD could be better obviously-SACD-but it is high res. enough to get most of the detail from the source. I love vinyl but 10 lps set of a concert at today's vinyl lp cost is not going to happen. Remember 78 sets of a single symphony.(I'm not that old but I like to browse used bins for old stuff including 78s.)
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.