This is a brief outline of Bear's taping history. Bear was a compulsive taper (in fact, obsessed with capturing a complete 'journal' of all his shows), and the history of the Dead would be much different without his contribution. A book could be written about the relationship between Bear & the Dead, but I'll skip over his chemical experiments & sound systems & the history of Alembic, to focus on the tapes made by Bear and the other early sound-crew tapers.
Bear first encountered the Dead at an early Acid Test on December 11, 1965. Very impressed with them, he soon became their patron and soundman:
"The next time I saw them was at the Fillmore Acid Test, and I met Phil. I walked over to him and said, 'I'd like to work for you guys.' Because I had decided that this was the most amazing thing I'd ever run into. And he said, 'We don't have a manager.' I said, 'I don't think I want to be the manager.' He said, 'Well, we don't have a soundman.' And I said, 'Well, I don't know anything about that either, but I guess I could probably learn.'"
By Jan/Feb '66 Bear was already making journal tapes of their shows and rehearsals. He was the Dead's soundman until July '66 (he left after the Vancouver shows, when they were fed up with his system). So we have a bunch of SBDs from the first half of '66, and almost nothing from the second half, since nobody was recording after he left.
Aside from taping the Dead, Bear was also building a new sound system for them (with Tim Scully), which unfortunately turned out to be unwieldy & unreliable. As Garcia said: "We spent five hours setting up and five hours breaking down every time we played. Our hands were breaking and we were getting miserable, and the stuff never worked... Then we went to Vancouver, and that was the downfall... It was lousy, it was just bad...then we had to work until dawn to pack it up... We decided to disassociate from [Bear's] benevolence and his experiment."
Bear: "They decided that the system that Tim Scully and I built was too clumsy and wasn't doing what they wanted. So they wanted to go back to using standard amplifiers. I said, 'Go pick out any amps you want'...they did, and I ended up giving most of the old stuff away. By then I was out of money, so I went off."
Bear's first recordings with the Dead were pretty disorganized, with reels not dated and often having only the vaguest labels on them, when they were labeled at all. This set of '66 reels is an example of Bear's early taping work, from shows with unknown dates - his favored mix at the time was vocals in one channel, instruments in the other:
Much later, David Lemieux found a box of unlabeled '66 reels which was used for the Rare Cuts & Oddities release: "While poking around the Vault with Bear, he pointed to a large, brown, nondescript box amongst his other non-Grateful Dead tapes, and said, 'You ought to check that box out...' I opened the box to find about 15 reel-to-reel tapes, most of which were unlabeled, while some had the most rudimentary identifications, such as '3/2 LA rehearsal,' 'Trips '66 3rd night,' or 'February 23 practice.'"
Dan Healy became the soundman in '66 after Bear left - he had been working in a studio and was friends with Quicksilver Messenger Service. As Bear has said, "Healy is a very pragmatic kind of guy who liked to tinker with stuff and fix stuff...he was a consummate troubleshooter." When he first saw the Dead, not only did he fix a broken bass amp on the spot, he told them their speakers sucked and built a better sound system for their next show. The Dead were thrilled with his ability, and immediately hired him. He recorded and helped mix the Anthem of the Sun shows in early '68, but that was strictly for the album - at the time, he didn't record any other Dead shows, and seems to have discouraged anyone else from recording them. (Which accounts for so few Dead shows surviving from '67.)
The one show Bear taped in '67 was 9/3/67, when he happened to be visiting the band. "I was not on the Dead's crew, but I just came out to the show and taped it." I wish he'd dropped by more often!
From Jan/Feb '68, we have lots of 2-track reels from Healy's recordings that give a fairly complete picture of that tour - the trouble is the Dead did so much chopping-up in the studio, stray reels were left here & there, and a bunch of shows are lost. The new Road Trips snippets came from a couple mix compilations had been abandoned at a studio that was closing. Short of another miracle find like that, we're not likely to hear more new shows from '68. (I think it's possible the "lost" shows from that tour were already lost or discarded as useless by the time they mixed the album, as none of them are on the official Anthem "live tracks" list.)
Bear was busted with an LSD charge in December '67, but it didn't lead directly to any jail time or affect his Dead involvement, as he stayed out on appeal. (It did, however, increase the sentence he got when he was busted again in '70.)
In early '68 Bear became the soundman for the Carousel. "When the Dead played there, Healy mixed for them because he was their soundman. I mixed for a lot of bands that were there." Bear also recorded many of the bands that played there, though few if any of those tapes seem to survive. For instance in an interview, he specifically mentioned taping Fleetwood Mac, Thelonious Monk, and Johnny Cash, all now missing - and on his website he praises a Janis Joplin show he taped there. "Not all of the tapes managed to make it to the present, and I didn't have enough blank tape at the time to record all the shows."
In June '68 the Carousel closed. Dan Healy left the Dead to work for Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Bear rejoined the Dead as their soundman, at their request.
Our SBDs resume in June '68 (there's one fragment from the 6/14 Fillmore East show, and others from around that time). However, obviously, most of the '68 reels Bear must have taped are lost. Either a lot of them were taped over, or perhaps the Dead didn't start really organizing and archiving the tapes until Jan '69, when they started working on the live album.
Our '68 collection is pretty chaotic, with just a few shows (at most) surviving from each month, many of them incomplete. This collection gives a good idea of what the Dead's '68 collection must have looked like:
Random, unlabeled reels - some shows are known, some aren't - everything's fragmentary, and we can only wonder where all the missing pieces went.
There is one mysterious exception - the Los Angeles Shrine shows from August 23-24 were apparently taped by Dan Healy with Warner Brothers engineers (so the Two From the Vault notes indicate). As "official" recordings (were the Dead already thinking of a live album?), these are excellent; but many of Bear's mixes of the time, as in the October Avalon shows, are also great. Dead tape collectors have long been spoiled, expecting that the band's live recordings should be studio-quality - but this tradition of excellence started with the band in '68, even with reference tapes that were only meant for after-show playbacks. (Yet the band never thought, until the '90s, that a mere two-track tape could be used for release!)
(I should also mention that Bear seemingly had little involvement with our circulating Hartbeats shows at the Matrix - these were taped by Matrix owner Peter Abram. He notes, "Owsley lent me his mikes", but since he was recording on worn-out tapeheads, his tapes are muffled. Deadlists notes: "Circulating recordings of the 1968 Matrix shows trace back to Bill Gadsden's reels. Bill and Peter Kafer made copies of Peter Abram's (owner of the Matrix) two track 7" reels in the summer of 1974. Peter Abram's reels were either masters or 1st gens. There are also multi-track masters of some of these shows in the vault." One exception is the 8/28/69 show with Howard Wales, which Bear taped on cassette.)
The first live 16-track recording was done for the live album on 12/31/68, though it turned out to be too distorted for use. Though Bear was in charge of the live sound, a couple new characters enter our story here with the multitracks - Bob Matthews, a Dead hand from their early days, and his assistant Betty Cantor. It's worth saying a few words about them -
Betty started out working at the Avalon, where Bob Cohen was the recording engineer who taped many of the bands there, including the Dead. (He taped the September '66 show we have, for instance; but other shows were lost or erased.) She went to work at the Carousel in '68, and became involved with Bob Matthews there. He'd been on the Dead's equipment crew in '67, and when he became a recording tech, he lured her with him: "It was my way of getting her to be my old lady." They started out recording the Dead by working on Aoxomoxoa in the studio; recorded and mixed the Live/Dead multitracks; and the next year produced Workingman's Dead. At first Betty was mainly Bob's clerical assistant, but through '69 she started working more on mixing and editing tapes. At that point she didn't usually go on tours, staying in the studio - later on she and Bob taped the multitracks for Skullfuck and Europe '72. By then she was mixing the tapes herself.
Also by that time, as we can see by her Betty Boards, she was often on the road with the band (she recorded the Academy of Music shows, for instance) - although she seems to have made the tapes for herself, more than for the band. One thing that happened in '72, she and Matthews split up - he was still on tour with them in late '72, but after that seems not to have been involved with taping. By '73, Betty was recording not only the Dead's shows, but Garcia's shows as well. (She'd also taken up with fellow crew-member Rex Jackson....)
One thing that's interesting, the Dead seem not to have consulted Bear much when it came to studio work. Or if they did, no one has talked about it. Though he's listed as a "consulting engineer" on Aoxomoxoa and Live/Dead, as far as I know, they used him mainly for live work or technical experiments - when it came to recording and mixing an album, they used engineers with previous studio experience like Healy, Bob and Betty, or others.
The bulk of our Bear tapes come from 1969 - he stayed with the band throughout the year, recording every show himself. The band seems to have regarded him with some exasperation, as the sound system was frequently still inadequate! (I suspect his main attachment with the band was through Jerry and Phil, who always had a yen for other abstract intellectuals, while Weir and the others simply tolerated him.)
I don't think his mixing approach was always perfect - most tapes are not like the famed February '70 recordings with their wide, clear stereo. A lot of those '69 shows are basically muddy mono, with maybe one drum over in one channel - maybe he only did spacious mixes when he had time for it? Many people who later worked for the Dead, like Betty or Kidd, also had high mixing standards and made consistently excellent tapes. Bear's prime value was that he was their first taper, and without him the Dead might not have gotten into the taping habit at all. (The second half of 1970 was the last time they didn't tape every show themselves, for whatever reason - after that, they consistently made reference tapes.)
I've mentioned in an earlier post (on 1970 AUDs) that Bear was completely opposed to audience taping. "I wasn't in favor of tapers...I didn't tolerate it." And he certainly never would've allowed people to plug into the soundboard! Much of this attitude, I think comes from his hatred of bootleggers - and the band also shared his fear that audience members might make money by selling albums of their shows. Up to '74 the band's crew often served as vigilantes, patrolling the crowd for reels and microphones to confiscate - not until after the hiatus did they become more tolerant of tapers.
From an interview:
Q: "At what point did the band start listening to tapes?"
Bear: "We listened from the beginning. 'What was it like?' We thought it might be good to hear what it really was like. Or someone might say, "Gee, I think that was terrible, let's listen and find out whether it really was." Back in those days after the show we were usually wired up and weren't ready to sleep anyway. Everyone was working to try to get better. How can you get better if you don't ever listen to yourself? The only way you could find out what you had done was to listen to it later. In the heat of the show, no one can tell."
More on taping:
"I turned it on and forgot about it - except for changing reels as needed... The tapes of a show were fairly complete so long as I was not too busy with some crisis or other in the hall to fail to notice the amount of tape left. And trust me, crises seemed to be an integral part of rock and roll as we knew it... If the recording was not perfect and complete it still fulfilled its purpose... After a while it got to where I rarely played a journal tape unless the musicians were interested, and very few were then."
"I learned to date the tapes more carefully after having to deal with tapes that said simply 'Saturday night' or 'second set' [as we saw in '66!]... For several years, when I went off to do my time, no one continued the practice, and for most of that time there were no tapes made from the board. That shows you how much interest everyone else had in taping - zilch." [He exaggerates here - it was really just a few months, the worst period was 3 years earlier - but I share his bitterness!]
"The tapes were stored in the basement of the house I was renting for a while. They were moved to Alembic studios when I went off to jail. I came back and found them on a huge pallet in the middle of a storage room. Tapes were missing. I've never recovered some of them."
One thing Bear and the Dead shared was a perfectionist streak. He's written that even into 1970, not only did the band frequently rehearse, they did sound checks at all the shows. ("Later they became lazier about both things.") We have hardly any taped soundchecks (mainly a few from the Wall of Sound days), but Bear says he still has the soundchecks for the Fillmore East shows in February '70....
"In those days, we rehearsed - we had sound checks. I insisted on it. I didn't like to go cold into a show. I wanted to make sure if the stuff worked - there had been a lot of times when it didn't work, and it was really embarrassing... We rehearsed not only to get the music together, but also to check on the band's gear - to check the guitars and the wires and to do maintenance, and to get together and throw ideas at each other. After every show, we'd gather in the hotel and play back the night's gigs. That's why I was recording all the time... There was always a tape being made. If it wasn't a reel-to-reel, it was a cassette. Something that could be played back. That's how I was learning.... They were critiquing their own performances. We would find a weakness and try to correct it."
Not only that, but in '69 he frequently taped shows on reels and cassettes at the same time! "I always tried to do simultaneous recordings on cassette.... There were a lot of shows that I couldn't afford [reel] tape for, so all we've got is cassettes." This turned out to be a boon for collectors - many of the shows of the time come only from cassette sources, but there are a few where we have both sources, and can patch the gaps in one with the other.
"I always recorded all the bands and all the sets I mixed on all my shows like some people keep a diary, at least so long as I had enough money to buy reels of blank tape - sometimes I didn't, but cassettes were also made of all shows." (Sometimes on the Taper's Section picks of '68 or '69 shows, Lemieux will mention whether a show was taped on reels, cassettes, or both; deadlists also often notes this.)
As a sidenote, a couple recent sources from early '69 (for 3/28/69 and 4/21/69) come from Bear's 120-minute cassettes. It seems at that time, he may have preferred using the longer tapes to avoid frequent tapeflips!
Bear also says, "Virtually every band that played on the same bill with the Grateful Dead during my years as soundman, and who did not bring their own soundman, was recorded." (Note that if the other band had their own sound mixer, Bear might not have been interested in taping as it wasn't 'his' work.) "Even when they had an objection, I still wanted to tape them - but I sometimes had to give them the tapes afterward."
That's how the tapes of the Flying Burrito Brothers (from the Avalon, April '69) and the Allman Brothers (Fillmore East, Feb '70) were made - and there must be many more. (He also taped the Stones' Altamont gig, even though the Dead walked out!) Many are in the Vault, and many in Bear's own collection. It would be nice if there were a listing of Bear's tapes....I've always wondered which other bands he taped in those years. (His website says he'll post a list someday, but that hasn't been updated for years.)
One band he mentions: "I've got lots of nice Jefferson Airplane tapes, good and even great shows, but they always turned all the amps up to ten. As a result, there was very little dynamic action in their performances [compared to the Dead], and a lot of the mikes were overloaded. These tapes are basically fuzzy and unusable for making records."
This statement about his non-Dead tapes seems disingenuous, though: "I hope that a way can be found to make more of them available. It will all depend on the bands." (And on his site he also says, "I would be very interested in working with any of the bands concerned to see if the tapes represent anything worth releasing.")
In reality, Bear seems to have difficult terms for releasing tapes. If you read the actual liner notes to the Burritos release, it says plainly that Bear never authorizes releases of his tapes these days, and talks at length about the rings the producer had to go through to get this tape out!
Bear's taping run came to an end in 1970. After the New Orleans bust, the Fillmore East shows in February were the last ones Bear could tape out-of-state, as he was confined to California after that. The Dead apparently kept taping themselves until June - Bob Matthews became the soundman and taped several shows we know of that May (5/1, 5/2, 5/14, 5/15), and probably many of their other spring shows as well. Presumably the Fillmore West tapes up to June are Bear's work. The last shows he recorded were at San Rafael in July '70, before going off to prison.
I've talked elsewhere about the Dead's lamentable decision to stop taping themselves in 1970; but by 1971 they were recording every show again. Rex Jackson was the taper through much of 1971 (for instance, he taped the 10/31/71 show).
I presume Bear got to see the band when they played at his prison on 8/4/71 (halfway through his sentence). Betty Cantor said she copied tapes of the Europe '72 shows for him - this also illustrates how many tape copies of shows could be floating around, since so many duplicates were made: "In Europe I was doing the 16-track and simultaneously running a 2-track of my monitor mix. I made cassettes at the same time, and I had been feeding these a few at a time to Bear while he was detained. He said he was wondering who had done the mixing - he didn't think it was Bob because he liked the mixes. 'They sound like my mixes,' he said."
Once Bear was released after a two-year term, his first show back mixing sound was Berkeley 8/20/72. By then there were more people working on the Dead's sound crew who'd joined in '71 & '72, and Bob Matthews was the crew chief. Dan Healy had also returned - after seeing one of the band's NYC Felt Forum shows in Dec '71, he told them their sound system was terrible (the same complaint he'd had in '66!) and he decided to rejoin the crew to improve things.
Bear has talked a lot about his mixed feelings, coming back to the band in '72 and seeing a big difference in their approach since the freewheeling acid days. After all, they'd spent two years becoming more 'professional', more people had joined the crew, and the scene was not as welcoming to him as he expected. He found that the soundcrew was, as he put it, compartmentalized & territorial, everyone doing their separate jobs - he felt they didn't work as a team anymore, and the crew certainly didn't welcome him back. (And, Bear being Bear, he also felt he could do their jobs better than they could! Often his comments boil down to, 'I tried to tell them how to get better sound but they were too pigheaded to listen...' The guy was/is a cantankerous control freak, with wide-eyed dreams hard to achieve in reality, and probably more difficult to work with than he realizes.)
In one interview he has this to say about his return:
"I came back to a crew that was totally different when I left, and the job that I had been doing was split up amongst three other people, none of whom were willing to yield the territory. I met a lot of resistance in the scene, and after you spend a couple of years locked up, your social adaptability is not very good."
And another comment on '72 in his site:
"I was having some problems with the crew, many of whom had come to work after I had gone, and resented my drive to improve things onstage and with the equipment, which I decided was obsolete for the most part. They preferred to let things stay the same - an attitude I thought was due to simple laziness. The various problems, particularly the one of getting those who did my job while I was away to back off and allow me to return to my work, eventually inspired me to design the Wall of Sound... The hassles however, did not interfere with my ability to mix, and the band played many fine shows during this period."
And in another interview:
"I found that the three things I did - recording, stage monitors, house mixing - there were three guys doing that! Each one fiercely defending his little territory. 'That's my job, that's your job'... There was a lot of cocaine and a lot of beer, and they were bitching at each other, and everything else. Lots of power trips. I was feeling very uncomfortable."
Bear taped most of the shows from August to December '72, as far as I know. Kidd Candelario started recording shows in late '72 or early '73, once Bear got tired of the hassles and stepped down - Kidd was an old roadie who'd been with the band since the Carousel days in early '68. (In fact, quite a few of the Dead's sound crew - Bear, Bob, Betty, and Kidd - had worked at the Carousel then; and by '72, with Healy now in the crew as well, there must have been quite a crowd behind the soundboard! Yet it's strange - in their interviews, they hardly ever refer to each other, so it's hard to tell who actually did what. Healy has said of Bear's involvement, "Bear had other things going on. He didn't really have that solid a role on a continuous basis.")
Bear recounts a mishap at the Vanderbilt University show on 10/21/72, when Bob Matthews didn't show up: "I had to recruit some of the kids from this college to carry the stuff back. Two of them took half our PA and split. At the next show, there's no PA. I said, 'I sent it to the truck.' A roadie picked me up and threw me into a water cooler."
Apparently some recording equipment was stolen as well, which may account for the rather poor mixes of many of the shows from 10/21 to the rest of the fall tour - either that, or personal squabbles & disputes at the board! (Did anybody listen to the 11/12 mix?) Some shows have missing or incomplete SBDs (from 10/21 to 11/13, though not everything could be in circulation). There are several shows where Bear actually resorted to "audience-taping", making nice room recordings of 10/27, 10/30, and 11/13.
None of our tapes from '73/74 seem to be Bear's work - apparently after the hassles of fall '72, Bear became more a 'behind-the-scenes' equipment tech rather than the on-site sound mixer. All of our tapes from '73 and '74 were made by Betty Cantor or Kidd Candelario. (Generally Kidd's tapes were kept by the Dead and went into the Vault; she kept her tapes from '73, and they were eventually salvaged by Dead traders.) Bob Matthews, no longer in the on-site sound crew, would travel to the band's venues before they played there to see how their sound system could best be set up. Meanwhile Bear spent 1973 offstage, gradually designing the Wall of Sound (along with Healy and others).
Bear did not tape any Garcia Band shows. (Betty generally did those - for instance she and Rex Jackson taped the July '73 Garcia & Saunders "Live at Keystone" shows, and many others thereafter). But in '73 Bear did tape the Old & In The Way shows, and these tapes were later used for release.
Kidd Candelario has said a lot about his practice of taping the band in those years, which illuminates how they thought of it:
"I wasn't taping for the sake of taping, but only so that the band could listen to the tapes later on. I was either working with Keith or Phil's bass. Sometimes if I wasn't doing anything, I could listen to the taping, and this allowed me to hear problems that were happening, like a blown speaker or something wrong with someone's pickup. So lots of times I'd have to run back and fix something, which meant the tape might run out while I was away from it. This accounts for many of the cuts and missing music out there. But then there's always the problem of when to change the tape..."
"After getting all the gear set up, I created a little room to listen to what I was recording. Gradually, everyone began hanging out in my little taping room. Jerry was usually there with us. It was hard to really fully enjoy the music - I had to listen to make sure the technical aspects were functioning. I had lots of dubbing duties cause lots of people wanted to hear the show later on. And they wanted to hear quality!" (David Lemieux has said that in backstage film outtakes from Winterland '74, the band praised the quality of Kidd's tapes from the September Europe tour, so they were still listening!)
"In those days we hustled from show to show. We got there, threw it up, went right to work, show was over, we packed it into a truck and took off for the next city... We'd drop the tapes off at the warehouse, because back then we really didn't have a vault or anything like that. [The Vault itself didn't exist til about '76.] For a long while I kept tapes at my house. There was no place yet in the warehouse to put things, so I would come home and leave that tapebox there and get a fresh tapebox, and then go about making tape copies for anyone who asked me. The first thing I usually had to do after a tour was sort out the requests and get taping for them. But when Bear was doing it, he, Bob, and Betty shared all the duties [in late '72]."
He mentions the Europe '72 tour, perhaps his taping debut - remember, this is on top of the duplicate tapes that Betty made! "Bob and Betty were out recording that whole tour. I still recorded, but it was just a secondary, cause they had multitracks going... Phil got tapes from me, Jerry got tapes from me, and anybody else who really wanted them. I had to make copies every night for everybody - all of the band members."
While Bear wasn't taping in '74, he did come to work on some notorious '74 tapes when it came time to work on the Steal Your Face album and the film soundtrack. For whatever reason, despite having so many expert tapers on-hand, the band decided that while filming their 'farewell' performances in October '74, the recording would be done by a clown named Bill Wolf, who had worked with the Rowan Brothers (a group Garcia liked).
Betty had just had a baby, and did not work on this project. She said, "The tapes were pretty awful. [Bill] used a lot of audience in the mix - I don't know why or how he recorded so much leakage." Bear has griped endlessly about it since then:
"The master tapes were a disaster of epic proportions, requiring a complete overdubbing of all the vocals and many of the instrumental tracks. I had absolutely nothing to do with the recording of the master tapes, and was called in to try to 'fix' it." "Donna's tracks were missing, Weir's signal was lost, Lagin wasn't recorded, and there were weird noises all over. Phil and I hated that stuff, but Rakow insisted we had to have them mixed in nine days, which was inconceivable. We worked for 18 days, and tried using delays, filters, tricks to overcome the sound - but the job was next to impossible... The finished work was garbage."
He had no kinder words for the film. "It was made from totally screwed-up master tapes... We spent months on it, almost overdubbing the entire multitrack tape in the studio. There was never any possibility to salvage any of it, and the movie was a total disaster as well as the album. The performances sucked, and no one could change that.... I was originally allowed to work on the film sound, but due to my criticism about the unsuitability of the performances, I was kicked off."
Aside from the technical aspect of the Wall of Sound, Bear seems to have found the Dead family circa '74 an unpleasant working environment:
"There was a lot of coke and a lot of booze and a lot of roughness, and there were too many people working, there was too much weird shit going on, and too many power struggles at the top... The brotherhood was gone... It was like a lot of guys protecting their territory... Eventually it collapsed, and the band just backed away from it suddenly... In this case they couldn't fire anybody...so they just stopped playing, hoping that the people would go off because they had to make a living.
"When the band was getting back together, I wasn't around. They started back up with the guys who hung in the tightest - Parish was working with the Garcia band, and Ramrod was involved in something - the core guys were the ones who had clung to the Dead and made something to do, and those were the guys who were there when they started back up. I didn't have the leisure or the money or ability to hang around."
From time to time Bear would still attend Dead shows - for instance, he taped the 5/10/78 New Haven show. He also went to Egypt that year, and has a long story about how disastrous the Dead's shows were since they wouldn't heed his advice. ("If they had done it the way I thought they should do it, it would've been dynamite and everything would've worked. Because everybody would've been there two weeks ahead....")
There are not many interviews with Bear - the best source is David Gans' book Conversations with the Dead, which has a long interview. In his interview in the Taping Compendium he also talks a lot about his miking & taping philosophy, as well as his history with the band.
For those who want to read Bear's notes, here's his page where he talks about the Dead releases from his tapes, including the liner notes he wrote for each Dick's Pick - he takes lots of opportunities to talk about his mixing approach.