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 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.
I am fascinated to finally find out some details about the circumstances and decision making process that went into the creation of Road Trips. I have wondered for a long time about the reasoning behind the original intent and then the subsequent evolution of the RT series.
So, once Road Trips finally delivered it's first complete show (RT Vol. 2 No. 2), did the sales improve?
And, did the sales of Road Trips decrease when you dropped the bonus CD from each Road Trips release (RT Vol. 3 No.4)?
Also, what were the thoughts leading up to the creation of the once-per-month Download Series that kicked off in May of 2005? I know that this series overlapped with the last two Dick's Picks and was started before Rhino officially got into the picture in 2006. Why did this series end?
Thanks! This is a great article!
I actually feel slightly bitter about how this has all turned out. It's not like we're short of complete shows, is it? Road Trips was a fine idea and I'm sad it's gone.
I wouldn't say I listen to them more than Dicks Picks (although maybe I do), but I listen to them.... better... and skip around a lot less.
The above is a nice reminder of all the gems on offer. It's not all perfect, and I agree on the pitch thing (esp 1.10), but when they're good, they're very good, and offer nice variety to the customer. I had to get the bonus discs on ebay, and that wasn't cheap, but again, very worthwhile.
How about "Badger's Beauts"? "Cosmic Cock-A-Thons"? "Weasel's Wang Dang Doodles"? "Melinae's Monster Mountainous Melismas"? Or.....all right, i'll stop now.
good points though, CB. totally agree about the 73/74 shows; June 10, 1973 at RFK Stadium, October 29 & 30, 1973 Kiel Auditorium, September 18, 1974 Dijon, France...
and classic that independent Heads corrected the pitch problems! that's truly beautiful.
no surprise about the packaging too, deadmike; but with costs already reasonably high....
those Pink Floyd sets are stunning though.
To me it really doesn't matter if it's complete shows or compilations being released. In a way I prefer the latter, because I do tend to like second sets much more than first sets. So I would really appreciate a compilation of more jammy material than one consisting of those non-jam songs I have heard a "thousand times" already.
As for the bonus discs, I like them as well even though I do feel bad about those I didn't get. In the Road Trips series that's only one - R.T. 2.1.
I was quite surprised when I listened to the 1988 Road Trips to find out I very much liked that release. Especially since my previous experience with that particular year isn't so good. Some of the later years have their ups but I do feel more compelled to like pre-1982 shows. To me the musical career of the Dead was mostly uphill until 1977 and mostly downhill after that. But it wasn't a always deep slope downhill and every now and then there were ups on the way down.
The release from the past years which I find really boring is "Crimson, White & Indigo". On the other hand, I do like "Nightfall of Diamonds" a lot more. But overall, I do prefer pre-1982 shows.
My main criticism towards the Road Trips series is about the packaging. And then only when it comes to pull out the records. Other critical point of views have been about the high postal charges to Sweden and sometimes on delivery matters. The later might have been because Swedish Customs issues as well, and of course therefore out of Rhino's hands.
I do hope the series will be released with better packaging. By that I certainly don't mean the much poorer packaging of the Complete Europe '72 albums (a friend in Sweden who purchased the recently released Pink Floyd box set, discovered those album packages to be as bad as the Europe '72 albums, so Rhino isn't the only company to go for lower quality).
I'm looking forward to the years of releases to come.
so here are some thoughts
It was a good series. I bought them all and listen to many of them still. The compilation idea was not inherently wrong, and for the eras I am not so particularly interested in, compilations were fine for me; some good tasters (1.1) , some real eye openers (4.4) and some reminders why I avoid certain periods (4.2).
Yes I would have liked two Mexicali Blues! Those 73/74 shows in partiular have a special flow and ‘wholeness’ and their magnificence is only fully revealed as an entire piece of work. Cutting them up is like cutting up a fine painting.
One (probably unforeseen) consequence of issuing compilations including big chunks from shows is that the shows are then removed from Archive. So those two Wall of Sound shows are now lost. That is a real shame.
The failure to apply pitch correction to those late 70s and early 80s shows was a real mistake. We all (I hope) understand the ‘caveat emptor’ warning, but the speed/pitch issue could have been fixed. Why use the plangent processing only for some releases? To save money? To compete with the traded Soundboard market, these official releases have to be palpably better. It is absurd that dedicated heads were driven to produce and circulate pitch corrected versions of some RT releases (only ever supplied upon proof of buying the flawed original)
What happened to the Road Trips full show downloads? There were howls of protest about the pitch issues on those , but the concept was good.
I like the cover art, but printing the booklets on grainy brown paper ruined a lot of nice photos. They did improve the paper and cover quality to a smoother finish at some point.
Some releases fell awkwardly between being ‘best ofs’ and ‘whole shows’. Bundling large chunks from a few shows perhaps increased the frustration that the whole show was not released. Maybe the compilation idea would have flown better if there had been LESS effort to provide continuity, with more small chunks from many shows (hard I know to cut up the long jams). Just about everyone is loving the diverse cuts of '30 days of Dead' .There have always been discussions about best versions. Perhaps we could have ‘Blair’s Bests’ and ‘Gans’ Goodies’.
All in all Road Trips have been a great series. Your words here and on other forums convey a slight sense of disappointment Blair. No need for that at all.
well, i definitely had no real complaints with the Road Trips series; obviously there are many factors involved in making certain choices, monetary and technical and more; crappy first set, missing portions, glitches on the master.
personally, i'm not such a fan of compilations, as i like the ebb and flow of a continual show, but not everyone has time to put aside two and a half hours! (or can concentrate, it seems).
and thats a good point regarding the downloads of full shows, blair. however, if they were to make available a non-mastered full show, the purchases would still be pretty low, i believe. why not just allow those shows to be downloadable again at archive.org? i'm guessing there's that thorny issue of copyright on the covers they performed, but with a show that has maybe only 5 songs missing from being complete (i'm sure, i, like many Heads out there, actually don't mind vocal drops, crackle, bass disappearing for a couple minutes! adds to the atmosphere), it doesn't seem worth the trouble to withhold them.
please note that i am not someone who expects free product; i've never downloaded anything without an artist's permission and never will. the releases from dead.net so far have been beautifully produced. with such an historical archive, it's wonderful to see new photos, essays, ephemera; but i wonder how long this will carry on. be interesting to see how much profit is actually made from these releases.
is it worth it? is it enough to justify the time and expense? not that i'm complaining about them, mind you! am looking forward to Dave's Picks mightily. but with music intake and distribution that is ever evolving, well, i have no real answers....
i guess what with the Rhino deal, there's no chance of archive.org being allowed anything. but a bit of a shame really.
i think there's every chance in the future, when people will think, "so what about owning re-mastered Dead shows?...". that sounds terribly pessimistic, which isn't really how i feel, but who knows when technology will shapeshift again, and people can unlock the stream only option and download anyway?
me? looking forward to what the future holds....
So compilations aren't favored by some--couldn't every (say) fourth DaP be a tasteful compilation? I love the compilations and regret that it has to be all one way, i.e., complete shows ONLY. Perhaps folks would have been less vociferous against the compilations had the powers-that-be not sliced up some sacred shows (I'm thinking of 10/21-22/78 and the Wall of Sound release), and had instead stuck to plucking gems from shows that otherwise would never be a complete-show release, no matter how many shows eventually are released? It didn't bother me, since I'll never have time to listen to everything I've already purchased, but if the compliations were strictly from shows that would otherwise never see release, then perhaps the outrage would be lessened.
I would much rather hear the 2nd-best Estimated of the year (from a show later in the week) spliced in place of the 17th-best Estimated of the year--prefering to not suffer through the mediocre version just to say that I heard a complete show.
p.s. I loved the RT covers, but do not love pulling CDs from cardboard cases. I also purchased every release, even if I had it off of Archive--the official releases were better, and I wanted to support GDM/Rhino to make sure that the stream continued.
.....every Yellow Dog Story ever told!
Amen to that, LB 16. I generally prefer the complete shows but not once during the tenure of Road Trips was I disappointed with a pick. And the sound is always great. Here's hoping that there will be something for everyone going forward.