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?
This is a nice piece of closure Blair.
I'm one of those who likes everything that's put out. I'll also echo dajokr in calling for a box set of all the bonus discs (something I've been advocating for a while now). As you point out Blair, some of the hottest tracks were actually on the bonus discs for this series. One can always find a way to download this stuff, but I certainly prefer having the physical discs.
(Also, can we get some better quality artwork images for Vols 1 and 2?)
I will also agree that when listening to the compilation releases one doesn't notice that it's not a complete show. I was just listening to RT1.2 last week and it blew me away - again.
I also view the official releases as an upgrade over what circulates out in the interwebs so I'll buy everything I can afford. Again, the benefit of physical discs is that they last longer than CD-Rs and don't have to worry about losing data in a hard drive crash.
Ironically, the GD and their releases are one of the few things about which I tend to be universally positive. Keep up the good work Blair, Mark, and all the other Powers That Be!
to "Uncles of the World" series (expanded in response to growing demand overseas): best of Weir's set-break announcements.
That isn't spam, it's the Asian production notes for Anthem of the Uncles!
Am I hearing a request for "Unclefolded"? Yipe!
I find it a bit funny that my reaction to From Egypt With Love and Rocking the Cradle is actually the exact opposite of Blair's. I strongly prefer Rocking the Cradle to From Egypt With Love (especially when accounting for bonus discs). Part of it probably comes down to era of preference. From Egypt With Love sounds like late 70's. As one of the reviews on Amazon says, Rocking the Cradle sounds different. You may love it, you may hate it, (personally I really like it), but they do sound different in Egypt. To be completely honest From Egypt With Love kind of soured me on the whole Road Trips experience. I only got on the Bus in '05, while I was in high school, and Road Trips Volume 1 Number 4 convinced me that my budding Grateful Dead collection could stand to grow considerably before the Road Trips series became the logical next investment.
As far as the compilation thing is concerned my bias is for complete shows, but there certainly have been some amazing compilations (i.e. Europe 72, Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack, Reckoning...) and I respect that some people prefer a highlight real. For my part I find the ebb and flow of highlights and low lights in the context of a given show more enjoyable than a chance assortment of where my preferences merge and diverge with those of The Powers That Be.
As for packaging I think that is where Road Trips made some real improvements on Dick's Picks. Road Trips was environmentally friendlier, had some beautiful cover art, and the one thing Dick's Picks lacked most: liner notes.
I am very excited about the new Dave's Picks as it sounds like more my cup of tea, but I understand that for some Road Trips may have been the ideal vault release formula and for your sakes I hope this doesn't shut the door forever on compilations not of the Europe 72 Volume 2/Fillmore West '69 3CD Variety.
Don't think I'll be sharing royalties...this is my big chance to cash in.
I think you are on to something here. Maybe parts of all of the Me And My Uncles could be spliced together into a single track, and included as part of "30 Days Of The Dead." Then when we tried to guess the date and venue, we'd almost always be right!
I'd prefer a plunderphonics-style mash-up of MAMU. A two-disc set. I couldn't afford the 23 disc box right now.
As far as availability, the mystery question is what can Rhino/GD afford to release? This is why I'm grateful for every release. Performance level- and sound quality- are what make releases so exciting. If one or the other is diminished, what effect would this have on sales? I have no idea. That said, if more shows of high quality are available only as downloads, this is the one thing that would make me get a computer(Thank You mobile browser)
The original vision was to have downloads of the complete shows that we were compiling from available a little after the RT came out. But the first couple from RT 1.1 appeared quite a while after the fact, I seem to recall, and with little fanfare, and they fizzled commercially. Mastering a full show up to the RT standards was not cheap and there needed to be a certain level of sales to justify the downloads, I guess. Personally, I think they should've had a straight-from-the-vault non-mastered version available for download. It would still be a little better quality than the best sources out there, and it would be nearly expense-free for Rhino/GD other than the mechanics of actually putting it somewhere where it could be downloaded and dealing with payments, etc. Still seems like a good idea to me...