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?
Agree with so much of your blog Blair, keep up the good work. Personally I am not so fixated on whole shows, but I do prefer whole sets. In my view the 60's and 70's eras are way better than what came after, although there were some great shows in the 80's and 90's, just few and far between. Two releases from the Dick's Picks and Road Trips series really stand out for me - DP33 from Oakland 1976 and RT3.2 from Austin 1971 - these 2 sets are head and shoulders above all the other releases in the 2 series in terms of consistent top quality music throughtout. All of the others have some fantastic stuff on them such as thMojo Working - Other ONe - Stella Blue on RT1.4. My vote for the best bonus disc goes to RT3.2.
I was into "country rock" at the time (but now I'm into alt.country or Americana, still country rock to me), so the cowboy songs helped suck me into the world of the Dead. MAMU definitely tops my list, as it is the best story, hands down (who knew that John Phillips was a closet cowboy?) After that, "Big River," a favorite Johnny Cash song o'mine. "Mama Tried" a virtual tie with "River." After that, I kind of tolerate "El Paso" and "Mexicali." But a big LIKE to another country song, which like "River" isn't really a "cowboy" song: Jerry's version of "You Win Again." I'd like to have heard that one at least once, but it was long gone out of the rotation by the time I saw my first show...
And PS, it really would be nice if the "reply" button pinned the reply to the original post. Not complaining, you understand, just sayin'...
Road Trips was a great series and I'm sad to see it go. I very much liked the "two discs, two shows" layout of some of the releases. Everyone involved did a nice job. Thanks.
Two of the releases had massive pitch/speed issues which could have been fixed. A couple had a real choppy feel and covers that scratch the discs. The complaint about having whole shows also became an issues after a year or two of nothing BUT compilations. The other problem with comps is that not everyone is going to agree about what the real highlights are of an entire tour or even a massive run of shows. Besides what's wrong with Me And My Uncle->Big River if it's a smokin' hot Me And My Uncle->Big River. The same goes for C.C. Rider.
As for 10-14-83 (DP 6) it actually has some cool performances in it.
A very nice story, Blair Jackson is a fine writer as always. Got many Road Trips, my favourite ones are Austin '71, Denver '73 (n.1, to me) and MSG '90 (love very much the Hornsby era). Thank you, Blair!
That is what makes this experience so BEAUTIFUL...all of those REAL moments!!!
Thank you SO much for helping to keep our art alive.
Can't remember how many times I danced like a fool and fell down, only to right myself and get on with the show..."the show must go on"....you know Jerry adhered to this motto!!
Folks...lets face it, these compilations are absolutely awesome. The mastering by Jeff is nothing short of magic and the shows are as smooth as silk. The concept of getting in the mail on a regular basis ANYTHING that is professionally mastered as they are and shows hand picked, is absolutely wonderful. Yes, I am a neophyte, only having attended about 100, and first one being Cape Cod 10/27, but when I sit and listen to each one of these discs the only thought/feeling that races through my brain/body is pure joy.....KEEP 'EM COMING!!!!
I enjoy almost every GD song (not much of a fan when Vince sang). Though it depends on how well it's played- If the boys are on, Mama Tried can be fired up and like a quick bolt of lightning. If played well, Rooster can be exploratory and it's interesting to hear how Garcia breaks down the jams. A friend once commented during a show, it's not what they play, but how they play it- So true.
Wasn't always in the mood to hear 'em, but once they were there I always enjoyed them. I do skip over them on CDs a lot, though. I still love the juxtaposition of "Dark Star" and "El Paso" or "Uncle"; totally works for me.
For me, the cowboy tunes were greatly preferable to "Rooster" or "C.C. Rider" (which was at least decent in '81 and later the couple of times it was paired with "Train to Cry"), or some of those other lame blues tunes from the mid-80s--"Down in the Bottom"? C'mon, man! Dug "Smokestack" and "Spoonful" occasionally (actually always loved "Smokestack," with Pig or Bob), but the best of the blues tunes IMO was 'Wang Dang."
As for weird compendiums, in Issue 25 of The Golden Road. I had a fake ad for "Oops: The Worst of the Grateful Dead; Foul-ups, Bleeps and Blunders, Vols. 1-33," which included:
"Over two hours of muffed verses from "Truckin' on two CDs
"Every 'We Want Phil' chant since 1983 on a single disc
"'Golden Clams': Two hilarious compendiums of missed cues and blown notes.
"Bob Weir's Lamest Jokes
"Gaps, Tune-ups and Dead Air, 1973-77
"Lots of other stuff too weird, raunchy or just plain stupid to leave in the vaults."
A friend of mine actually made me an "Oops" tape of some of his favorite GD miscues; it's around here somewhere...
Right On Mr Eleven! I'm with you man. Some "jams" compilations would be great. Imagine a Bird Song boxset that would begin with the pre-jam portion with vocals followed by a chronological compilation of every jam portion for the subsequent year (or 2 or 5 or 10), and ending with a final post-jam vocal portion! It might make sense to divide it into sensible "era" segments for some stylistic unity (e.g., 80-84, 85-89, 89-93). Truly heaven. They could do the same for PITB and Other One. And I'm always on here carping for chronological "Space" compilations!
I suppose I prefer complete shows for anything 68-74, especially for special cases, like Fillmore West '69 and europe '72. But I've bought everything officially released from this period and love it all- heck I usually don't even know or keep track of which are complete shows and which are not.
My favorite Bobby cowboy songs are "Me and Bobby McGee" and "El Paso". I remember hearing "El Paso" as a child- my father was a huge Marty Robbins fan. Yeah nafoster, Jerry's mastery of that country style was just amazing....