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?
How about a new series (or at least one compilation) call the "Worst of the Grateful Dead", a blooper series with false starts, wrong lyrics (i.e, truckin, fire on the mountain. etc...) miss cues with the instructions and other assorted screw ups...all for a good laugh and fun time, and to lighten up our quest for the perfect music.
I was chastened recently for calling the complete show proponents by a less than complimentary name. I stand by that epithet. You manage to impugn their perspicacity without outright name calling. But the sad truth is that the wonderful, original idea of the RT series was shouted down by self-appointed guardians of the Sacred Principle of Completeness. The concept was sacrificed to the compulsive collectors. Were they the majority or just loud? Is there great music on the complete show releases? Yes! Still, the best RTs were those that adhered to the original concept and gave us the variety that was intended. Nice try. But if Dave's Raves 1 is an indicator, the knuckleheads won. Again.
Well you can't please everyone. I prefer the 80's with Brent and then Bruce on the keyboards. If I liked the show I bought it if I didn't I waited to the next release. Thanks for continuing to provide the high quality music at a relatively low price. I look foward to Dave's picks , by the way nice article Blair. A nice safe winter to all
I haven't bought every release since 1995, but I have all the Dick's Picks and a majority of everything else. I like complete shows, but I go for the compilations too. That concept is not a deal-breaker for me. It was a mental ordeal on whether to buy the Europe '72 all music offer, but I finally bit the $450 bullet and ordered it in August. Here it is November, and the help desk still doesn't know when the damn thing is going to be shipped, and the last I saw on Dead.net said October shipment. Woops, did I say it is now November. My point is, it doesn't matter what is put out there, this Europe deal has me pretty sour, and I definitely won't be committing to any more purchases until I get my Europe set. What the hell is going on with them? I'd just like a real explanation. Keep up the good work on the blog, keep the music coming, and hopefully I'll get over this. I know listening to the Europe set would help my mood.
interesting, JeremyP; i always thought that the John Oswald release didn't go nearly far enough. Dark Star/ Drums/Space remixed by Masami Akita, David Kristian, Jim O'Rourke, Aphex Twin, Makoto Kawabata, Squarepusher, Youth, Doof, or especially Yamantaka Eye or The Orb (or many more) would have truly opened the Third Eye.
MAMUFolded is what we need - John Oswald splicing all the versions together a la Greyfolded.
MAMU is quite the best cowboy song ever; perhaps we need a formal GD Cowboy Song CD.
Will always have a special place on my music shelf, I think.
I took a 1989-1998 hiatus from all things Grateful Dead, just was sick and tired of a lot of different things and I just walked away. I may have pulled a Grateful Dead album out my stack a few times a year, that was it.
Jerry's death hit me like a ton of bricks, but it just led me to Garcia/Grisman and not back to the Dead. It wasn't until my brother nudged me to the first Other Ones tour that I reconnected, and slowly started looking around again. So I missed the first third of Dick's Picks, not even knowing that they existed, and have been playing catch-up ever since.
That, plus not having internet in my home until 2007 or so kind of limited my options (missed the Archive soundboards as well) to whatever popped up in record stores.
Soooo...RT was the first series that I entered from the ground floor. Looking very much forward to the DaP next step.
Yes, it is a good time to be a Deadhead, aside from the pesky detail that the Grateful Dead no longer exist....
Regular releases, a whole channel on Sirius, this is the stuff we dreamed about when the band was still playing. Anyway, I really liked the original concept, a compilation on hard copy cd, and some whole show downloads. I was pretty shocked by the full show outrage that followed (full shows are good too!), but what can you do?
From Egypt w/ Love was the best one of the series if you haven't picked that one up. Really looking forward to 4.5 too, if you're down on '76 as a rebuilding year or whatever, don't miss out, you will be pleasantly surprised by this show.
Thanks a lot for the history lesson about Dix Pix/Archive, as a community I think we all appreciate the honestly.
We bitch and moan;
1) When we don't get any releases 2) When the releases are not the show, we are looking for 3) Whether is a complete show or not 4) Why isn't a box set 5) Sound/Speed was off. 6) The packaging was not "user friendly" 7) The cost 8) ETC
After all that.....its amazing they bother to release anything.
Let not have the GD catalog turn out to be like what they have done to all of the Jerry Garcia solo projects. I can't even remember the last time anything was released...
I know its difficult, but how about just being "Thankful" that someone still cares to release any music. Be it through 30 Days of Nov., Taper Section, Jam Of The Week
Like the Grateful Dead........You tend to forget what you got until there gone
Maybe next time instead of various complaints. We could just say "Thank You", I suggest you use your best Jack Nicholson's voice,
I am not an advocate for any particular rigid formula or method of release. I have enjoyed both styles. I really like the 2or 3 night complete venue runs which have been done. I understand that sometimes these are too pricey which is a problem, but they certainly can open up a lot of possibilities when a certain run is really terrific and should go out. I like the Road Trips for the most part on performance grounds, but get tired of the "cardboard drum" sound on several of the earlier releases in the series. Like many, I look forward to what future surprises may be in store.