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 love a complete show. Having missed the golden period of the band (60's-70's-80's) it makes me nuts when these are Not a Full show. I am openly greedy for the full night. Someone else's idea of "great mix" is a hit or miss thing when you start trying to cherry pick the "best moments" from a Dead Show. April Fools 88 (RT Vol 4 -#2)is a prime example of this. Disc #1 for some reason has an Outstanding run of 1st Set Songs from 4/01/88 capped by a solid Deal. Butt ended by MasterPiece and Let it Grow from 3/31/88 with an added bonus of a randomly placed Brokedown Palace the ENCORE from 4/01/88 to Close Disc #1. Which should have closed Disc #3 of this mess. This pattern repeats across the RT collection sadly. There was a chance to do more. It was missed on these.
No way would I disparage Dick's Picks, or Dave's Picks, 1-3 From The Vault, etc. - the apex of vault releases was in my opinion Road Trips and the Download Series. Judicious editing of the Road Trips produced live CDs without "down" spots and some interesting configurations of material that the "complete shows" just can't match for quality or interest. Kudos to those who assembled the Road Trips - I'm still listening to most of them regularly.
[I cherish the idea of box sets of complete "runs" like the Winterland and Fillmore West sets but honestly I don't play them very often. The latter day boxes of tour highlights with 5 or 6 complete shows from the 80s and 90s must fill a need some people have, but my tastes are more catholic and I kind of prefer the Dead without so much electric keyboard and generally in less massive venues . . . Also the persistent sound of tens of thousands of people cheering indiscriminately is kind of a drag - like the laugh tracks on MASH or your favorite old sitcoms. I like it when you can identify individuals in the audience on the live recording! You can do that with the older Dead shows.]
BIG ROCK POW WOW, AUSTIN '71, CAROUSEL 2-14-68, SUMMER 1971 and FILLMORE EAST 5-15-70 are my idea of a good time! Road Trips Forever!!!! or until Daddy takes the T-bird away.
I think the Road trips series were excellent!! They were primo to these ears and as Blair said...how many Mexicali's does one need!!! I loved the packaging too...and I for one am going to miss them!!
another reason i like the road trips is because when i put music on an ipod, i like just the variety. for example i love me the 30 days of the dead specifically cause it is so ipod-able! back at the beginning of the tapers section, when you could keep those, thats where they are, on the ipod. now i do love certain full shows, and there is a place for them, but i hope that with the new series, the bonus disc might be compiled, as well as filler material when space presents itself...
I believe that Golden Road pre-orders came with two bonus discs of radio interview material. I don't remember the details, but it could have been similar to the Twisted Radio Waves (Dr. Demento) disc that came with The Very Best of Jerry Garcia.
Obviously that intro was not on the master tape or it would have appeared. Not sure why they didn't use an aud. patch. But think about the 5/2/70 Binghamton DP "St. Stephen" where it comes in at "wishing well with the golden bell..." (if memory serves)... Alas, there are imperfections on nearly every master. I still think this Boston show sounds astonishingly good....
Bravo to you, Blair, for coming to the defense of the RT concept. I am all in favor of the band putting out complete shows, so long as those shows are completely fantastic. This is not at all uncommon for the glory years from 69>78 or so. But I can think of very many shows from the later years where there is a good stretch of excellent music mixed in with some uninspired repetition.
Look, I LOVE almost all of the releases, but I am seriously pissed that the intro of St. Stephen is clipped on disc 2 of the last Road Trips from Boston. Does anybody else have this problem? I mean it was the first one in 5 years.
I loved this series. There were lots of gems nestled in these releases. I know I am going to buy all of them, so I really liked the subscription option this past year and am pleased that Daves Faves is going to have a subscription option as well. My only complaint the the packaging. They are torn up with in days. Hopefully the new series will include new packaging.
Like with Dick's Picks, when the Road Trips series came about, I made it a point to purchase every release that came out. I was a moderate tape collector starting around '87, mainly seeking out shows I attended, then being turned onto the more commonly collected shows like 2/13/70, 8/27/72, 5/8/77, 12/31/78, ect.
By late '90, I began to dabble in taping some shows, but after a couple of years, bdecided it was more hassle to deal with noisey crowds, flying balloons/beach balls, lugging around mic stands, rain, ect than worth it. It was easier to seek out recordings of shows I wanted, plus DAT was common place and I could find people with better quality recordings than what I had.
As my tape collection grew, though a relatively small number of shows compared to most of my friends, I enjoyed what I accumulated greatly.
So in '93, when Dick's Picks started, I was ecstatic at the possiblities. As the series progressed, I liked every release, but found the '70s heavy focus to be a little boring after a while. There is such a wealth of untapped top notch material from the '80s that I was beginning to wonder why so many fans only like certain eras. Granted, I'm a fan of all line-ups, but went on the fence after DP #32. For the first time since the beginning of the series, I didn't immediately order the last four editions. Ultimimately, by the time #36 came out, I bought the last four in one lump sum just to have them all. Admittedly, there are a lot of '71, '72, '77 and '78 sets that I seldom listen too as it's kind of an overload from that era for me. Of course, the E72 box rejuvinated my interest in that era.
When Road Trips came around, the first release being from '79, my excitement level went through the roof because, finally, my favorite era was finally started to be tapped. As the series progressed, once again, being that the focus was '70s heavy, I was almost on the fence again until the MSG '90 and Cal Expo '93 came out. The Penn State/Cornell '80 release kept me interested, and when April Fools '88 finally arrived, I felt like "finally" we're getting into the best stuff.
Don't get me wrong. I like all era's, but the 80's, release wise, is still grossly under represented, especially from '84 on.
My hopes for Dave's Picks is that we'll get a break from the the heavy '72 - '78 concentration and see a lot more from '80 - '93. To me, many of the shows from '88-'90 are just as good and/or better than anything from '71-'78.
Again, I like all era's, and will purchase most if not all that comes out, but we have more than enough '72 to last many lifetimes of listening. I may be one of the only people here who would be only moderately excited with a release from the famous 8/27/72 show so many people desire. Bring on the Laguna Seca '88 run, Cal Expo and Eugene '90 runs and the Giants Stadium '89 runs please!
As a side note, I don't mind compilation/highlight releases from some runs or tours, but always welcome full shows. How about Red Rocks '87? Now there is a worthy box set.