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 really like the inside reporting and was wondering if your new blog could be a report on what went wrong with the 72 box. A behind the scenes report on who knew what and when. It could show what really went down when customers began to report ripped sleeves, scratched discs, no personalization, or even no box set. What did Rhino say? Did the sh#* hit the fan (pun intended)?
My suggestion for a title would be: "What is ephemera and what does it mean to me..."
Anxiously awaiting the arrival of the last Road Trips. Each day when I get home I feel like Ralphie from A Christmas Story checking his mailbox for the wonderful surprise.
I love all the cowboy stuff, especially El Paso and Big River, but also MAMU. Not that I seek it out in particular shows, but I don't mind it when it comes around, especially when it's in the middle of an Other One sandwich ala 1971. The best thing about the cowboy songs is Jerry's mastery of that electric country guitar style of playing.
How's 'bout a "Grayfolded" style pastiche of the most jarring transitions our of, say, Bird Song or Stella Blue and into Promised Land? I think I got the idea from something Blair wrote, to be honest. Unclefolded was pure spontaneous genius on my part alone, though.
Big River is easily my favorite Cowboy Song, if it can be called that. Why? It has 3 jams in it, it's not even a contest really. Also, there are quite a few Dick's Picks compilations- 12, 14, 18- To name a few. Number 10 has a bit from 12/30/77 on it, number 17 has a Samson-Eyes from 6 months earlier on it- And on and on.
The original idea behind Road Trips wasn't completely new, but it was described as only compilations- That is what lit the fire, in my opinion. The inclusion of World To Give on the From Egypt With Love Bonus Disc is one of the most special performances in my entire music collection. And The Music Never Stopped and 1/2 Step from the 77 Road Trips are Fantazmo!
Most definitely NOT hung up on complete show releases for the reasons heretofore stated: just about every Dead show had some less than stellar moments. Hell, I rarely listen to first sets anyway. Give me the good stuff, aka the second set long jams, anyday.
Furthermore, the greatest of all Dead releases, Live/Dead is a comp.
So I'm fine with comps.
P.S. - Speaking of jams, I've proposed this before: a series devoted JUST to jams. Consider the possibilities. That would be Dead heaven to me.
Attack of the compilationists, ouch! I guess I am really bad then as not only do I want complete shows (although I agree with deadhead brewer who suggests that compilations featuring tracks from otherwise unworthy shows would be satisfactory, If I Had the World To Give 8/30/78 comes immediately to mind), but I want them from peak years (mostly 69-77, with a few great ones from 78-85, 89, maybe 90 thrown in) AND, in general, shows that don't already circulate as A SBDs. Wow, how the hell can my expectations ever be satisfied?!?!? As it is, I have purchased all but a handful of DiP's (I guess that is the new shorthand for Dick's Picks, as used by someone else here first, not me), all of the boxes, and about 1/2 of the Road Trips (I didn't purchase 11/21/73 because it already circulates as an A SBD and the 3 shows preceding it are far better shows, see http://deadessays.blogspot.com/2011/02/dick-latvala.html and scroll to the bottom for a secondary source quoting Dick Latvala on this).
That isn't the point of my post though. Release what you want and some will buy everything, some will buy only complete shows, some only compilations and great shows, etc. I just don't like what often results in the great debate, name-calling and arguments about who is a real deadhead.
I like that Blair selected, in my opinion, the worst of Bobby's cowboys songs to illustrate his point that we don't always need complete shows. And then, many others jumped in with the song that is most-cited by the compilationists, Me & My Uncle. I think it is pretty safe to say that most of us would agree that there are 5 Bobby cowboy songs, listed in order by the number of times performed (as per deadlists.com): MM Uncle (621x), Mexicali (443x), Big River (399x), El Paso (396x) and Mama Tried (306x). Based on the numbers, I can see why MM Uncle is disfavored by so many-it was played the most. Personally, I would rank Mama Tried, the least played, as my favorite Bobby cowboy song, with MM Uncle 2d (I love the story), Big River 3d (it usually contained a nice Jerry solo), El Paso 4th (story is similar in a way to MM Uncle but less compelling) and Mexicali last. What does everyone else think?
I should stress that at the moment I have no actual knowledge of what DL2 has in mind past the first release, but don't be surprised if a couple come out that are, in fact, compiled from more than one show. I don't think he feels limited in any way. That just won't be the focus of this series, as it was for the early Road Trips.
Anyone remember a modest three-disc set known as "Dicks Picks Vol. 4" from 2/13-14/70? F***in' compilation ripoff!
I have to say that I'll never & always will (yes, both) understand the complaining. As my dad used to say, "Some people would complain if you hung them with a new rope.". Deadheads seem to often be right at the top of the heap too. Must be because we tend to be people with strong opinions. Anyway, I for one am happy with either comps or complete shows. There's not enough time to hear it all anyway! Thank for the nice run with Road Trips & I can't wait to ENJOY what you guys serve up next.
I have loved every release and have them all (I think) and still want more. Since it sounds like the folks at dead central are paying attention to these posts I figured I would send out a thumbs up. We deadheads are a picky lot for sure but hopefully the complainers are the minority. Also I too would like to see more early 80's (82 and 83 especially) so thanks again.