Grateful Dead

Blair's Golden Road Blog - Hellooooo, eBay!

By Blair Jackson

A while back, someone sent me a story from Forbes magazine, in which the billionaire owner of the Indianapolis Colts, James Irsay, was crowing about having spent $970,000 back in 2001 to buy Garcia’s “Tiger” guitar at an auction by the instrument’s original luthier, Doug Irwin: “It was a 15-rounder [at auction],” Irsay told the mag, “but I made the determination that I’d rather have Tiger than all the other Jerry stuff in the world...When I got it, it was like he’d literally [just] put it down at Soldier Field [in Chicago, site of the final Dead show in 1995]. I mean there were pot crumblings in [the guitar’s “stash box”]. The strap is sweat-strewn. ...Jerry was, wow, man, what can you say about him? What a guitarist, man, and what a character.”

OK, that’s the absolute upper end of Grateful Dead/Garcia memorabilia (so far). The guy has very deep pockets: Irsay also paid $600,000 for one of George Harrison’s main guitars, and a whopping $2.4 million for the original typed version of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. “I think it’s hard to overpay,” the same Forbes article quoted him as saying, “because they’re priceless.” We’re still talking about many millions of dollars less than just about any Monet or Picasso painting would go for, and who’s to say that Tiger or On the Road aren’t as culturally significant, or as “beautiful” in their own way, as an important art work? But that’s rarified air none of us will ever breathe.

A few notches down from that were the quite substantial holdings of Ram Rod (Lawrence Shurtliff), the much-loved Grateful Dead road crew chief who passed away in 2006, and whose motley collection of Deadrabilia was sold through a Bonhams & Butterfields auction in San Francisco in 2007. Quite a few impressive pieces brought high prices—including $300,000 for one of Jerry’s Travis Bean guitars from the mid-’70s, $102,000 for one of Garcia’s later custom Alvarez-Yairi acoustics, and $87,000 for three original paintings by Bob Thomas, including the back cover panel of Live Dead and an alternate version of the front cover painting.

This tie-dyed speaker
box went for $5,700 at
the Ram Rod auction in 2007.

OK, those were all very cool. But I saw the auction items laid out at B&B a couple of weeks before the event, and a lot of them were in shockingly poor shape—yet still garnered big bucks from eager buyers. Like, $15,600 for a worn Haliburton case “used by Ram Rod to transport important items for the Grateful Dead while on tour, 1970s-1990.” Surely the only reason this fetched such a good price is the buyer believed that this was actually a “stash case” that traveled with the band. No one pays that price for a briefcase that just carries papers. The rose-embroidered and rhinestone-studded guitar strap designed to match Garcia’s magnificent Nudie suit (designed by the famous SoCal C&W suit designer “Nudie” Cohn; Garcia wore it a couple of times onstage in 1973) went for $20,400, despite missing several rhinestones. (Alas, Phil’s entire Nudie suit, which was originally to be part of the Ram Rod auction, was withdrawn at the last minute, over questions regarding its true ownership.) There were all sorts decrepit and empty speaker boxes from the Wall of Sound ($3,600 for one), pieces of nonfunctioning audio equipment, random photographs in not-very-good condition (most of which landed bids in the $600-$900 range), and a bunch of other stuff (including Ram Rod’s own guitars, banjo and mandolin). Ram Rod’s heirs walked away with an impressive $1.1 million.

And for the rest of us, there’s eBay. God, there’s a lot of Grateful Dead stuff up on eBay at all times, and the quality varies tremendously, as you might imagine. Look under “Grateful Dead shirts” and you’ll find around 50 “pages” of 50+ shirts each, ranging from cool custom ones sold by individuals to obviously factory-made, mass-produced shirts being sold by big companies. Under “Grateful Dead CDs” there are hundreds more items, including some I’d never seen before: $35 will buy you a “limited edition” 2-CD set of Jerry Garcia music “housed in silver paper slipcases with Jerry Garcia's artwork on them (both the sleeves and CDs) and including the complete track listing and information as follows (sweet selections to be sure).” This one intrigued me because disc one of the set is a collection of tunes I put together for the limited box edition of the book Jerry Garcia: The Collected Artwork, and I was not aware that “rogue” copies of the music were being peddled elsewhere. Hmmm. Strange. Thanks for the compliment about the “sweet selections,” though.

From time to time some obviously fake Dead merchandise goes up on eBay—usually reproductions of old posters for events that never had posters (and which occasionally have blatant historical inaccuracies on them—a 1966 photo on a 1965 poster, etc.)—and “autographed” photos and posters of dubious origin and questionable veracity. These usually get sniffed out by Dead Heads pretty quickly, and the sellers often get their feet held to the fire long enough that they eventually withdraw the item. But no doubt many bogus items have been sold to unsuspecting Heads this way—just as the sports and movie memorabilia markets have been plagued by counterfeits and forgeries forever.

Attaché case:
A mere $15,600!

I often wish that I had a collector’s mentality. For instance, when I was living overseas in Rome, Italy, in the mid-’60s, why didn’t I save the literally hundreds of Marvel and DC comics I carefully shipped over from the U.S. during my summer visits—all those now-valuable X-Men and Spider-Man comics? Through the years, I lost the few cool sports autographs I’d gotten—Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax signed a menu for me at Toots Shor’s restaurant in NYC in about 1962; boxing legend Jack Dempsey talked me up and signed an autograph as he sat getting his shoes shined in the men’s room downstairs at his old Times Square joint in the early ’60s. My thousands of baseball cards bought between 1957 and ’65? Fuggedaboutit! Later on, I almost never held on to the free swag that record companies used to send out with promo copies of albums I got as a rock critic. I once figured out I could have an entire promo wardrobe (including enormous underpants promoting an album by Gentle Giant!). Wish I’d kept the 45s from my youth I used to lug around from move to move, but eventually either lost or tossed.

And it hasn’t been any better with Grateful Dead stuff. Even though I interviewed every member of the band multiple times from the early ’80s on, I never asked for an autograph (I thought it would look tacky and possibly harm my “professional” relationship with the guys, or some such nonsense). When I’ve occasionally gotten multiple copies of GD-related CDs I’ve worked on, I’ve given them to friends or the folks I’ve interviewed for liner notes. Some posters I had were damaged when the roof of my garage blew off in a storm a few years back. Hey, someone on eBay is trying to get $19.95 for Issue Six of The Golden Road. Why, I believe I have a few hundred of those babies sitting around here in boxes! Jeez, by now I could’ve paid for some of my son’s college tuition if I’d been smarter about getting and hoarding and selling stuff. But it just ain’t in me.

I have to admit, the one large signed Garcia litho I own — still in mint condition and safely encased in cardboard in a closet because, frankly, I never liked it enough to actually put it up in my house — keeps calling out to me in the raspy voice of late-period Jerry: “Sell me, man!” Thanks, Jer. I need the encouragement! Today I saw that someone is asking for $4,200 for the same litho on eBay. That’s nearly a quarter’s tuition at UCLA. Hellooo, eBay!

Ever bought or sold Dead memorabilia online? What’s the coolest Dead-related item you own? Anything you wouldn’t part with, even if the price were right?

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gratefaldean's picture
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Spammer

On the loose. Now I don't feel quite so bad about hijacking the thread.

Vinyl, cd, downloads:

"Live music is better"
Bumper stickers should be issued

(Neil Young)

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Photomatt - CD/Vinyl comparison

I do have a couple of Audio Fidelity 24k gold CDs. Even more relevant is the fact that not only do I have the Mobile Fidelity half-speed mastered vinyl reissues of Little Feat's "Little Feat", "Sailin' Shoes", "Dixie Chicken" and "Waiting for Columbus" - I also have the Mobile Fidelity 24k gold CD reissues of all four of those. Both CDs and LPs were mastered by the same people from the same original analog master tapes. This makes them perfect for comparison. In all four cases, the CDs sound great, having a more natural and better sound than the old "ordinary" CD reissues, but the MoFi LPs are still noticeably better than their CDs.
I had mentioned the five new and forthcoming Audio Fidelity GD vinyl reissues somewhere earlier in this thread, but hadn't realised that "Blues for Allah" was already released.

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still more vinyl talk

Blair I can assure you the vast majority of my large vinyl collection plays without pops and ticks.
Simonrob you many want to check out the CD releases by Audio Fidelity, I agree vinyl has a greater soundstage, but well mastered CD's can also sound amazing on a good system. Audio Fidelity has gotten the rights to the 1970's Dead catalog, with a new vinyl pressing of Blues for Allah already released. I didn't mean to hijack the threat Blair, but it's sure nice to hear from my fellow dead vinyl fans.

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even more on vinyl

Not to hijack the thread Blair but a lot of the pops and ticks and wear were the result of crappy turntables. Believe it or not, turntables design has advanced in the last 20 years. Don't play your records on cheap turntables with plastic bases and thin aluminum platters, isolate the turntable from the floor (build a platform out of wood and fill it with tennis balls sawn in half) and a lot of the noise goes away. My original copy of Live/Dead stills sounds great after hundreds of plays and the little sound cues that brings life to the music just aren't there on my CD copy, though the artificial 'jam' plays without me having to get up and flip the record. Life is full of trade offs.

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More on vinyl

I have (unlike poor Blair) a top-end hi-fi system and it is interesting to note the difference between vinyl and CDs on such a system. In general I find that vinyl has a warmer, more natural sound. The biggest difference, however, is in the stereo image. With a CD all the stereo width is there, but with very little depth of soundfield (i.e. front to back). With vinyl the depth is noticeably greater. Although I don't listen to classical music, I would imagine that more is lost with CDs due to this phenomenon - one should be able to hear all the instruments in an orchestra in their correct place, front to back and right to left. Having said all that, I must confess that I buy little vinyl these days - only really good stuff e.g. half-speed masters and the like. The recent Mobile Fidelity half-speed mastered vinyl reissues of Little Feat's "Dixie Chicken" and "Waiting for Columbus" are unbelievable audio treats. An added bonus with LPs is decent-sized artwork and of course LP sleeves are ideal for putting on your lap to roll a joint on (which is perfectly legal where I live - the rest of the world eat your hearts out!) whereas trying to roll the fifth or sixth joint of the evening on a jewel case is a recipe for disaster.

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Agreed, Underthevolcano

I've had more "oh wow!" moments trolling used vinyl bins than I can count.

Sorry for hijacking the thread, Blair. I guess that collecting vinyl fits into at least part of the theme...

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re:vinyl redux

gratefuldean: the other thing I like about vinyl is collecting music that isn't avail on CD-esp. older classical/opera recordings and including soviet era Melodiya stuff. But yeah, I like those LP w/CD sets too for the convenience-I can jog with my old Sony port CD player and listen to good sound and don't have to deal with MP3 downloads on an ipod.

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Vinyl redux

I'm not one to make a claim that I love the sound of vinyl more than cds, but I do love the physical thing, the object, way more than any other recorded medium that has come down the pike. Mostly, it's that the album artwork is in a size large enough to be appreciated rather than glanced at and thrown on the shelf. Downloads? Absolutely souless in that department, lossless or not.

Though my collection is about 2:1 cds:vinyl, I'm probably 1:1 in my current buying habits...of course it helps that new vinyl usually comes with either a cd or a download so as to maintain both portability and decrease the wear and tear on the big disc -- fewer skips and pops, and you can still play the music in your car or on your iPod. So...I consider this to be the best of times with the availability of various formats, and am happy as punch about the current vinyl "renaissance."

First vinyl album purchase: Meet the Beatles
Never spent any serious money buying albums on cassette
Zero 8-tracks or reel-to-reels
First cd purchase: Dire Straits -- Brothers in Arms (also already had the vinyl)
First download: made no impression on me whatsoever, no clue.

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vinyl

Blair-I can't fault you for your opinion about vinyl-I love my CDs also-but a clean vinyl LP will knock your socks off-esp. Mono-I found this out when I put on a repressing of the David Crosby solo album a few years back-I could not believe the difference. Granted-the system on which it was playing was first rate, but I have found that I can still get most of that thrill on a more modest(mine)system. Re: the price-most 180 gram reissues are in excess of $30.00 new except Sundazed which are more resonably priced. I still get mostly used LPs at low prices. Viva Vinyl.

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Wow, photomatt...

I had no idea vinyl was going for those kind of prices! The whole cult of vinyl mystifies me. Yeah, yeah, I know there are some who believe it sounds better--maybe on a really great audiophile system--but nothing will ever convince me that it's worth it go back to the world of pops and ticks and record wear. Needless to say, YMMV, and plenty of people I respect highly love their vinyl. It's not for me, however.

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