This is a long post. So sit back and take your time…
I. THE SIXTIES
“I went to shows every night. In ’66 I didn’t do anything but go to shows… Because I thought, ‘This is what I’m supposed to do – take acid and go see this music.’”
Dick Latvala’s first love was the R&B music of the fifties, when he was in high school – singers like Fats Domino, Jimmy Reed, Little Richard. “The first music I ever thought was cool was gospel music... Music should have an emotional effect on you, instead of the effect white people’s music had, like Hit Parade with Dean Martin, Perry Como, and Patty Page.” By the sixties, he was going to see gospel shows as the most intense musical experiences around, one of the few white kids among all-black audiences:
“I started going to gospel concerts at Oakland Auditorium. Every year, they would have all the best gospel groups in the country: the Mighty Clouds of Joy, the Swan Silvertones, the Soul Stirrers, the James Cleveland Choir. You’d go into the auditorium, and there would be all black people in their Sunday finest, bright colors, and hundreds of ushers in white gloves. You’d wonder what that was about – and then you’d see people get the spirit, and go into epileptic seizures. These ushers would pick them up, carry them out into the hall, fan them, and carry them back in when they came back to their bodies. I saw this one guy run from the back of the auditorium straight down the center aisle and dive headfirst into the stage. I said, ‘That’s what music is supposed to do – move you.’”
He didn’t see any white groups that moved him as much until he saw the Dead – then his reaction was, “Finally, white people can play!” He was also hooked by the crowd experience that could be found even at the earliest Dead shows, the shared energy between people:
“That’s what the Grateful Dead experience is for me – music that moves people as powerfully as they can be moved. Each person expresses it in a different fashion – some twirl around, some sit still as a rock… I thought no one could be as hardcore as me. But now there are thousands – everyone in the building! This is energy in its highest form, in a group format. It’s better than sex, man.”
But first, Latvala was turned on to LSD:
“A major turning point occurred on June 28, 1965. I took LSD in a research project in 1965 in Menlo Park, in which I actually paid $500 to go through this experience, which was, perhaps, the most powerful single experience I ever went through. I was in my fifth year at San Francisco State College, and not wanting to be there, but I wanted to know who I was and this LSD deal seemed to be very appealing. So I studied it and then decided to take it, and something happened that changed me forever.
I took this LSD - well, it was actually mescaline by this time, but it was a major dose therapy and it transformed me fundamentally. Then I took it again six months later, in January of '66, and this was just before the Trips Festival, which was my first experience with the music scene that started in the Bay Area at that time.”
The Trips Festival was January 21-23, 1966; among the acts were the Dead and the new band Big Brother, who played on Saturday the 22nd; the Dead probably also played on the 23rd.
“My start in this whole situation was at the Trips Festival at Longshoremen's Hall, which I remember very, very vividly. There were three nights, and I went to the first and third, and the Grateful Dead weren’t even called that then. They were called the Warlocks, I guess, I can’t even remember. But there was so much else going on there, it wasn't like I noticed the Grateful Dead as being an entity separate from any of the other things going on.”
“The Grateful Dead played and some other groups that I can’t remember. I remember Bill Graham running around with his clipboard and Kesey and the Pranksters doing some audio-visual things all over the place.”
“It was fuckin’ awesome to be in a room of people who were tripped out. The fact that you could be really high on acid and be in a room with a whole bunch of other people was amazing! It was a real intimate experience, and everything I was looking for.”
“And then I knew where I was supposed to be. I really remember this. I wasn't supposed to be in college. I was supposed to take acid and go see the Grateful Dead. My mom didn't want to hear that, but that was really the facts.
And so I did manage to graduate, but barely, and my main focus became going to concerts. And it wasn't just the Grateful Dead, mind you. There were Quicksilver, Big Brother, and Airplane and slews of others eventually, but the Dead became the sole focus by around '68. So that's how I started it all. That's how I began. My passion - compulsion, I should say - with the Grateful Dead started in January of '66.”
In an interview with David Gans, Gans asked him, “So what did you do from that point on?”
“Go to shows. In '66 that's all I did was go to shows at the old Fillmore and all that stuff.”
“How did you support yourself?”
“I don't remember…”
As it turns out, Latvala actually worked for the post office for a little while – just as Phil Lesh had – while he continued seeing as many shows as possible.
“In 1966 I went to more shows than any year.” He remembered the Love Pageant Rally on Oct 6 ’66, the day LSD was made illegal and there was a protest in the Panhandle, where the Dead played for free: “The Dead played on a flatbed truck and Kesey’s psychedelic bus was there.”
“And it wasn’t just the Grateful Dead, of course – it was the Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother and Quicksilver, too. Moby Grape was pretty good, sometimes. But basically, there were these four groups that were just devastatingly unique, It was music that was unique, exploratory, something you’d literally never heard before – that no one had ever heard before, including the people playing it a lot of times.”
“All of it at the beginning seemed equally exciting and, you know, exploratory, brand new. I guess that's the key, exploration. Experimentation. The other bands seemed to get solidified into styles or easily seen conceptualized approaches, like the Airplane had a lot of political slant to it. And Big Brother, well they dissolved pretty quickly and then [Janis] took up another band. That never jelled. Quicksilver was wailing for me in '68, but then they dissipated right soon thereafter. But throughout all that the Dead just kept growing, and by late '67 it became for me like the band. Then I was a Grateful Dead fan, or freak. There was no question. There was no other band doing this anymore. And it became more and more exciting and compelling.”
He talked more about 1967, when the Dead really took off:
“It was right around that time that the Dead’s music started to take on this huge, monstrous dimension that really separated them from all the other bands. Within a year we got Dark Star, the Other One, Alligator, Caution, Lovelight, China Cat – they were steppin’ out! Back in ’66 it was mostly Pigpen singing…and they had three songs they’d really jam on, Viola Lee Blues, Dancing in the Streets, and Midnight Hour, and that’s the stuff you’d wait for. But when these other songs started coming in, that’s when the big change occurred. Mickey came into the band at the beginning of that wave. It was like the music itself was escalating. Everything became a vehicle to go out with, and the jamming was so focused but still totally on the edge of being out of control.
“I remember thinking, ‘This music is way, way unusual.’ Somewhere near the end of ’67, the music started getting too far out for me to even dance; I had to just sit down and be as still as I could so it could come through me. I remember being scared sometimes – there were times when Phil was making the bass notes so big that I thought I was going to explode, and maybe I should leave. But then I’d think, ‘Well, if I’m going to explode, let’s do it here!’ It was dense shit. Even today, you can’t listen to that stuff all day – it’s too much.”
In 1969, Latvala moved to Hawaii, though he continued visiting California to see more Dead shows.
Gans mentioned to him, “That would seem inconsistent with being a Grateful Dead fan, going to Hawaii where the band never played.”
“I know. It was terrible when I realized [I was] missing the Dead. So I came back a lot.”
II. DEADHEAD DICK
“I discovered that live tapes existed around 1974 when I was living in Hawaii, so once that happened, the only thing that became important to me was getting the tapes and finding people who made them, and collecting them. That's all I did from '74 through the present time, really, is collect and listen to Grateful Dead tapes.”
In the early seventies the Dead taping scene was still small and secretive – not even a ‘scene’ yet, really, just a few isolated fanatics – so other than the occasional radio show, Latvala had no way to collect the shows he’d been seeing. “I’d taped a couple of New Year’s shows from Winterland that were on the radio, but I didn’t know there were tapes of other shows.” But in the States, tape-trader networks like the Hell’s Honkies and the Free Underground Tape Exchange were starting up as more people caught on. In ’73 Rolling Stone wrote an article on the taping scene, and the next year Dead Relix started up, a magazine devoted to taping & trading Dead shows. So it was at that time when Latvala heard about it.
“I taped a couple of New Year's shows [off the radio], like in '71 and '72 at Winterland, and '72 and '73 I had someone tape for me because I went. But I didn't realize that live tapes existed until around 1974, which was just around the time that the good equipment started - the Sony 152 portable decks - and then people started having pretty good quality tapes. So late '74 I discovered that actual tapes existed, and I started writing people from Hawaii, you know, collecting a few tapes and then writing someone else and getting to know a few more people and just trying to get to the real core, the hardcore tapers that existed at the time.”
“I spent 12 hours a day finding the people who were making the best tapes, communicating with them, and trading. I used to walk 4 or 5 miles to the post office in Hawaii when I thought tapes were coming…”
Though not many shows were in circulation yet (especially not from the ‘60s), Latvala hoped to find some of the shows he had seen:
“I come from the sixties…that’s why I got into [collecting]. Because of my compulsion to collect and to see if I could find any of these shows from the past that moved me in real time. I wanted to see if it was the drugs talking or if it was real. And I found out it really was great.”
“The reason I got so into it was that I wanted to hear tapes of shows that had so devastated me in ’68 and ’69. Believe me, it was the most incredible thing in the universe…*things happened* that were in your bones. I got into tapes hoping to find those shows. And I did. What a thrill, when you find them.”
One show especially struck him years later, when he found it in the Vault:
“When I started collecting tapes, I was trying to find things that really blew my mind. The 3/1/69 show was one of the first I found that really reminded me of everything that was going on. What killed me was when I listened to it on tape and realized I had been there. After hearing it on tape I realized it was some of the greatest music I had ever heard…it’s absolute excitement from beginning to end.”
This show was one of the first he gave Rob Bertrando to circulate in 1985, along with several other new finds from ‘68/69.
Pat Lee: “Dick claimed to have heard Hey Jude at the Fillmore. When it appeared decades later, I was amazed.”
Michael Nash: “I once bought him a poster for a run of shows from the Fillmore West in 1969 – shows that meant the world to him – and he was just thrilled beyond thought. He framed it and put it on the wall of every house he lived in.”
As Latvala came into contact with more traders, by the late ‘70s he was able to have tapes of every tour sent to him. As Bob Wagner said, “He would get every show. Barry Glassberg and I would send him all the tapes that we made, and everybody else sent him the other tapes.” So Latvala was able to build up quite a collection (“I had hundreds and hundreds of tapes”), although he seems to have had a turning point in 1979. After he got the disappointing tapes of May 11 and 12, 1979, he announced that “he decided he’s no longer an archivist, that he wouldn’t keep every single show anymore.”
Later on, Latvala said:
“I wanted every show, so that’s what I pursued. When I was collecting, I kept them all. I wanted every one… You know, I have books – outlines of each date with stars by each song and all that – but the more I got into it, I became a little more discriminating and realized that some shows weren’t so good. I was pretty naïve – I just thought every show was the greatest thing I ever experienced for a long time. It’s only been in the last ten years or so I’ve not been screaming after a show with excitement. I mean, there are some terrible shows, and the more I’ve listened and the more I’ve educated myself…I’ve realized there aren’t so many great shows; it’s not as vast a quantity of great material as I thought. So what I have done is erase most of my [old audience] tapes at home.”
“The more critical and brain-damaged I get seeing [shows] over and over again, the harder it became to satisfy me.”
Though often referred to as a taper, Latvala was only into collecting tapes, not actually taping shows.
Bob Wagner: “He was never a taper himself at a show, he would never be bothered with that. At the time, he really didn’t know anything about taping. Back in that era, long before he worked for the Dead, he didn’t even know very much about tape machines. I remember Barry Glassberg and I telling him, ‘You’ve got to clean the heads on your reel-to-reel.’ He said, ‘I didn’t know that – I’ve never cleaned my heads!’ …But Dick was the most professional listener we ever knew of, even though he didn’t really, at that time, have an appreciation for what a good quality tape was.”
Wagner remembers Latvala saying, “It’s only the music that matters, not the sound. Even if the sound is bad, if the music’s there on the tape, the music takes over and shines through.”
Though his ‘day job’ in Hawaii was working at the zoo, Latvala’s main focus was growing pot, which turned out to be a key ingredient for his entry into the trading world, and later the Dead family.
Pat Lee said, “He was working his way up the tape chain by looking for tapers with low-generation copies.” He would make the enticing offer: “I grow some of the best stuff in the world over here,” and would send a box of blank reels and his homegrown pot. After sampling his wares, many traders became very enthusiastic about sending him whatever tapes he asked for…
Bob Menke: “He wanted to collect all the best tapes he could get his hands on, [so] he sought out and befriended all the very best tapers he could find. There’s a list of us that he sent letters to and offered ‘inducements’ to be his friend and trade tapes with him… So this group of people [such as Steve Rolfe, Barry Glassberg, Bob Wagner & Menke] knew each other through Dick.”
Some tapers were impressed because, as Menke put it, “Dick was a deadhead from the very beginning; he was at the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park in ’67.”
Bob Wagner: “We were relative latecomers. He was there at the Summer of Love, at the Human Be-In. It was incredible to some of us…to know somebody who was at the Human Be-In.”
Carol Latvala: “Dick started trading tapes with a group of people on the mainland. There was no one else in Hawaii that had any tapes… So Dick had an idea that if he could get all these guys together in Hawaii for a tape traders’ summit that he would be in absolute heaven. So once he began trading tapes, his goal began to be to get all these guys together, and they could all trade ideas and put on tapes for each other…”
He sent letters to many traders inviting them to visit him in Hawaii – some of those who came included Steve Rolfe, Jerry Moore, Rob Bertrando, Bob Menke, Pat Lee, and Eddie Claridge. (Though never all at once!)
Pat Lee: “[In his letters] he would rant on and on for pages over some jam or particular version of a song or show that he found amazing. He was never ambivalent.”
Steve Rolfe: “I remember getting calls at 2:30 or 3:00 in the morning from Dick. ‘Listen to this show from San Antonio! You should hear this thing they do…’ I’m like, ‘Okay.’ And I’d sit there for 40 minutes and couldn’t get a word in edgewise because he’s so stoked about this particular show.”
Bob Wagner: “He listened to Dead music 24 hours a day. Nobody else did that. And he would get every show… He would tell us, ‘As soon as I get out of bed, I have to get a tape going. Otherwise, I’m wasting time if I don’t get a tape started immediately, there’s so much to listen to.”
Steve Rolfe: “I’d go to bed at 10:00, and he’d be sitting in his chair. And when I’d get up the next morning, this is no lie…he would still be sitting in that chair. He would have the headphones on, sitting there listening to music. He’d do it all night long.”
Eddie Claridge: “I was staying with him one time. It was 5:30 in the morning and I got up to pee. Walking across the hallway I see Dick, sitting there in his chair, listening at the absolute maximum volume, joint in his hand, writing notes feverishly on a show.”
Latvala was also famed for his notebooks:
“I’ve got notes over every Deadbase I own. I’ve got notes in books, binders, everywhere.”
This page has some examples of his show reviews from the late ‘70s/early ‘80s -
But there are many more detailed journals from later years that haven’t been put online.
Pat Lee: “I got to read Dick’s tape diaries which are a constantly changing dialogue with himself on how he liked a given GD show. As he got new versions of the same show, his opinions would change or he would notice something new.”
Steve Rolfe: “I’d watch him write in his notebooks. All of a sudden he’d add this bright red star next to a certain part of the show. He’d say, ‘Listen to this particular 35 seconds here. This is the best and most interesting part…’ He’d scrutinize the tapes up and down, hearing stuff that nobody else would catch.”
Kidd Candelario: “He goes into such details about the shows and the songs. He seemed to know every great or unique version, whether it was Dark Star or Bertha. He specialized in those little precious moments of magic… He really knew the music as well as the musicians themselves did… When you sit down and look at his journals and you read about songs and dates and how well the band played, the tempo of the songs, the emotions of the songs, and stuff like that – it’s simply incredible. The guy had it together.”
Kirk West: “One time he came to visit so I got out my new copy of Deadbase and said to him, ‘Tell me what I need to know in here.’ He began making colored notations on the pages until he got through 1973… He rated shows, pointed out hot jams, and so forth.”
Carol Latvala noted how eager he was to play the Dead for visitors. When anyone came around, “he thought, ‘Oh good, you’re here. Now I can play you twelve hours of the greatest thing on earth!’ But rarely did anyone have patience for more than 15 or 20 minutes’ worth. Then they’d want to start talking – imagine that! He could not understand that… Not very many people showed up on his doorstep just wanting to listen, and he never could understand that.”
Michael Nash: “He would routinely invite me to his home…for momentous listening sessions which could easily last six hours at a stretch. After ensuring that I was in the proper state of mind, so to speak, Dick would instruct me to hold on to the couch because he was about to play me something which, in Dick’s words, “*is going to blow your mind right out the window!*” or perhaps “*is the greatest example of collective improvisation in history!*” …Thereupon, he would push the play button on his tape deck and turn the volume up to such extremes I was certain neighbors would soon be axing down his door… Dick didn’t speak when the music was playing, and you weren’t supposed to either. It was for LISTENING.”
Harvey Lubar: “When I was at his house the music was too loud to say much, short of a few hollers and whoops of joy.”
Rob Bertrando: “He always liked to have a surprise ready for somebody. He loved surprising people with things he thought they would like… He was also really disappointed when they didn’t. But, fortunately that rarely happened.”
Steve Silberman: “Dick’s greatest pleasure is to blow the minds of deadheads out there… He can listen to tapes for six hours straight and still get beside himself when an especially ass-kicking version of some tune gets laid down. “This is the best version there’s ever been!” he’ll rave with absolute seriousness – like a kid discovering not a bike under his Christmas tree, but a jet-powered Harley with a space helmet… For that moment in Dick’s life, there is nothing else…the shape of wow, over and over again. And being a scholar, Dick writes it all down, on hundreds of notebook pages…”
Shortly after Latvala was introduced into the Dead scene, Mickey Hart visited him in Hawaii. Carol Latvala remembered: “Mickey drove down and Dick promptly put him right between his JBL speakers and said, ‘You HAVE to listen to this!’ Mickey did stay and he listened for a spell. I think there were parts of it where he even perked up his ears.”
Mickey Hart said: “He took me to his house in Hawaii, where you walked into his living room and there were these giant six-foot high JBL speakers. He listened to this music all day and into the night, and he had all of it written down – whatever we played, whenever we played it. I thought, ‘This is fantastic, this is amazing!’ He said this was the best thing he had ever done in his life. And I asked him, ‘What would be better for you?’ And he said, ‘Well, just listening to Grateful Dead music all day.’ Can you imagine that? Dick listened to more Grateful Dead music than anybody in the Grateful Dead has heard.”
Steve Rolfe: “I’ll say this, when he got the job with the Dead, they certainly hired the right person for the job.”
III. GETTING IN
“I love tapes, and I can’t think of anything more important than to sit and listen. That’s all I want to do, and now, that’s all I’m supposed to do, so I’m happy.”
On August 12 1979, Latvala went to the Red Rocks show where he met Kidd Candelario, a turning-point in his life.
Carol Latvala: “He went to Red Rocks with a friend… His friend had backstage passes, so they went to the hotel in Red Rocks. His friend got freaked out, though – he was too far away from Hawaii and there was too much going on for him. So he took the plane right back home without ever going to the show. He took Dick there and dropped him off.”
Kidd Candelario: “He’d come from Hawaii with one of his friends, and the guy just split on him and left him there, and he was kind of freaking out. I ran into him, we started talking, and I took him under my wing, brought him to the show, and we talked and got to know each other… Of course, he was chemically impaired. I kind of baby-sat him that night, sat there and fed him beers, kind of took care of him. After the tour we hooked up at my house, talked music, and got to be good friends, and it all took off from there. I pretty much took him under my wing and brought him into the whole scene.”
Once Latvala became friends with Kidd, he was sometimes able to get tapes from him as well – for instance, he wheedled a copy of 9/28/72 from Kidd. But soon his involvement with the Dead became deeper than just tape-collecting.
“From then on, I started meeting people. Every time I'd come back from Hawaii I would pass through and bring treats from Hawaii and see everyone in the office. Gradually, over the next five years, I got to know a lot of people, was always able to go backstage and get passes or things like that.”
Pat Lee: “Dick announced his plans to move back to the mainland and go work for the Dead. To be honest, I never believed Dick could pull it off… He started by passing out bags of green stuff to various roadies and security folk at gigs, and slowly worked his way up the chain until he had all this backstage access… We would bug him to take our decks in the back door, and he carefully explained his new stature and how he couldn’t afford to get caught smuggling tape decks…”
Kidd Candelario: “Dick was destined to be in our scene. Most of these kind of people that persevere – and that’s the same way I came onto the scene, by just hanging around all the time – will succumb to the process of elimination and eventually slip through. ‘Take this broom, help with this equipment’, etc. He did all of the errand running for Club Front in the later years, along with helping John Cutler. Dick was also connecting with other people besides me… So there was a whole progression that was going on, based on trust and time put in.”
As one newspaper put it, “He became friendly with some of the infamously unfriendly Dead roadies, who were amused by the depth of his knowledge. Eventually he was asked to perform odd jobs – sweeping up, hauling trash, etc.” McNally summarized, “He’d bribed the crew with enough fine Hawaiian Green to gain access, and eventually he’d become the studio gofer. He came to impress band members with his knowledge and diligent meticulousness…”
Latvala later said, “I'm going to write a book, ‘How I Buffaloed the Dead Into Believing I Know Anything About Them.’ My nature melded well enough with everyone so that I was trusted enough over time to do things -- being a runner, gopher, peon, whatever. It was pretty humiliating. I paid some heavy dues to get where I am.”
Eddie Claridge also noted that after joining the Dead, Latvala “got a certain amount of abuse, especially early on… The new guy on the block has to go through trial by fire.”
Rob Bertrando: “Most of the time he worked for the Dead he was the gofer…until the Dead went into retirement… Because he was the lowest man on the totem pole, the newcomer, he was always the gofer.”
Latvala: “I came in here with a lot of naïve assumptions. I can’t imagine how anyone tolerated me… I loved the Grateful Dead, and I was a fan, and I wore Dead shirts all the time. I was a flaming deadhead. Working here was a process of grooming myself into a part of the Grateful Dead machine – I contribute to its day-to-day functionality. They may want me here because I love the music, but they don’t want me here saying, ‘Wow, what a great show!’ …So I am of two heads. Half of me has to be immersed in that deadhead perspective, of witnessing the magic; and half of me has to work here. Which is two opposite things.”
On the In The Dark album credits (1987) Latvala is listed as one of the Club Front studio crew. (He mentioned he did a lot of work for that album, though I’m not sure what tasks he had.) By Built to Last (1989) he’d stepped up to get his own credit: “Catering”. His official task was to get the band’s food and drinks.
Steve Silberman: “Dick was the band’s coffee-and-sandwich gofer. I recall Dick rattling off Phil Lesh’s lunch of choice…”
“I do whatever is necessary,” Latvala said at the time. “Part of my job aside from being the archivist is to serve as a go-fer and do whatever is needed for the band when they are rehearsing or working in the studio. [During the Dylan rehearsals] I was getting lunches and dinner for the guys.”
Before the Dylan collaboration, though, Latvala was given an extra responsibility: “The band had me go out and buy as many Dylan CDs as I could, so they could familiarize themselves with his material.”
Kidd Candelario said, “At first the band thought he was kind of spacey. He was always making these compilation tapes of different shows and songs – giving one to Eileen helped him land his job.”
Latvala tells the story:
“One day I was up in Eileen's office - Eileen Law, who is the head secretary of the Deadheads organization - and I was telling her I had these tapes. I called it "primal Dead." I was telling Eileen, "Now you sit down, I want you to hear this," and I was explaining what primal Dead is, you know, and that's where it's as good as it gets. This is some great stuff.
I didn't know that Phil was standing behind me in the doorway listening to me tell Eileen this, and he popped in and I had the nerve - I don't know how I summoned it up, but I said, "Hey, Phil, sit down here, I want you to listen to this stuff." I put on something like 10/12/68 Avalon Ballroom, just an incredible Anthem jam. He ended up taking me up on it and was so enthralled with it, he ended up listening to over three hours of the primal Dead tapes I had put together for someone else. Even Eileen had to close the office and Phil sat there, and I kept telling Phil, "Is someone taking care of these tapes? You know, I mean, this is really important stuff. I just really hope someone's taking care of these tapes." I wasn't saying it as though I wanted a job doing it. I was just really hoping -concerned - that someone was, you know.
And the next day I found out I had a job. So I have always interpreted it that he felt that I really cared about the tapes, and they needed someone that really cared about them to make sure that they stayed in their proper places and were retrieved and organized and all that. So that's how I got hired, and that was in 1985.”
Carol Latvala also remembers: “As you know, he always had some tapes in his pockets so he was ready to play them for anybody. He was in Eileen Law’s office, getting ready to play her some hot stuff, when Phil walked by. Dick said, ‘You really oughta listen to this, man. I hope somebody’s doing something to take good care of these tapes.’ So he gave Phil a copy of a tape… Dick probably brought his notebooks out, where he had each show annotated with the stars… He wasn’t asking for the job – he had no idea they would actually ask him to do that.”
Dick was in shock:
“I’m lucky, man. I don’t know how I deserve this. Who in life can get the only possible job he could do? There's nothing else I know how to do. I can chew Doublemint and sit on a couch longer than anyone, but no one's going to pay money for that.”
“I’ve had this kind of sentiment or fantasy since I first discovered live tapes in 1974. And now it’s a reality…it seems like the pinnacle. You know, I can’t go any higher. I finally got to do what I’ve been wanting to do for so long.”
Kidd Candelario: “That’s what Dick’s dream always was… Oh, he was overjoyed. Kid in a candy shop. Can you imagine being able to go in there and look at all that music and be able to pull down a tape and bake it and listen to it?”
Years of work organizing and cataloging the Vault tapes followed. The Dead’s tape collection was in a lamentable state in 1985.
Kidd Candelario: “We knew we had the tapes and that we needed them archived at this time. People were just tossin’ them in the Vault recklessly. So we knew we needed someone to organize them… After a while, it became quite apparent that Dick had promise and really, really knew the music well.”
Eddie Claridge: “When Dick came there, nobody could ever find anything, nothing was organized, nobody had listened to any tapes in forever… Bear’s stuff was in more disarray than the band’s stuff. When Bear finally brought his stuff in, there were just big cardboard boxes filled with shit…as if they were just dumped out of the sky. Stuff in boxes, out of boxes, labeled, not labeled – I’m not sure that Dick ever got through all of it.”
Eventually Latvala was able to organize the Vault into categories, label the tapes, and enter most of the shows into a computer database. Many tapes were deteriorating and needed to be baked and re-copied. And of course, many shows simply weren’t in the Vault – for instance the Betty Boards (since the band decided not to pay for Betty’s storage or claim her reels, her recordings were auctioned to the public), and also many of the shows from ’79-’82 (where cassettes were made, but the 2-track reels have mostly vanished).
Latvala: “I don’t know what happened to those tapes, if they were recorded or not, or were lost, or what’s happened to them. That period is missing.”
Jeffrey Norman speculated that many early-‘80s tapes may have been lost, never returned to the Vault, or ‘casually misplaced’: “A lot of this missing stuff was definitely recorded. It wasn’t as if it wasn’t recorded and you could say, ‘Damn, I wish we had recorded it…’ There are tapes that have simply vanished.”
Starting in ’82, Healy started recording digitally, and most of the shows from then on survived intact, though many were lesser-quality PA mixes.
Going through the tapes, Latvala said, “There are many periods missing… It’s kind of amazing that we have anything at all. I can hardly believe that most things haven’t been lost or thrown away. …If it wasn’t for Bear, there wouldn’t be any tapes.”
He talked about his initial duties:
“My first chore, or goal, or job was to go through the tapes and write in logbooks what was actually on the tapes. A lot of the boxes weren't labeled properly, and in many cases even the years were wrong.
[My job was] not to listen to every tape, but to go through and see which ones had anything on the box and then also check the ones that didn't and find out what was on the boxes and label the boxes and put them in logbooks. So it was in a sense to start going through them all, but, you know, that's a never-ending job, so it was just something I was doing for many years at my leisure, besides doing other things at the studio.”
“There’s only a few of us around, and everyone shares in the responsibilities. I’ll take the garbage out if no one’s around. Doing whatever’s needed seems to be the attitude, and there’s a lot of things that need to be done. So I’m not sitting at home listening all the time as I would like.”
“I assumed that the powers that be - the band members - knew that I was a hardcore tape collector. I had like 900 reels at home…that are probably just erased [now] because they're all old audience tapes and hard to listen to. I took it as, I was to listen to the tapes and see what was on them. And I was told, I remember, not to listen to the whole tape, because you'd be spending all your life in there, but just see what songs are on them. But of course, I being a freak about it, certainly perused shows as I had the inclination. It's like a kid in a candy store.”
Kidd Candelario recalled: “I spent a lot of time with him listening… Dick would pick my brain as to what was going on in the music. Sometimes we’d listen to unlabeled half-reels, trying to figure out what was on them and where it was from….
Dick and I always had this ritual where we’d sit at my house and he would play me his favorite GD music and try to job my memory as to what was going on or what I was doing, why there might have been a missing reel. I had to try to explain to him that 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’s keys 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…
“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… It’s a wonder that we even have what we have recorded… It’s a wonder that we all had time to even go home, grab clean clothes and then hit the road again.We’d drop the tapes off at the warehouse because back then we really didn’t have a vault or anything like that. For a long while I kept tapes at my house…”
Later on, Kidd pointed out, “Lots of people had access to the Vault…anybody from our scene could actually go in. We were constantly in and out of there, putting tapes in, taking tapes out… It’s hard to say what happened to a lot of that music. Most of my tapes are in the Vault now; most of them are intact.”
Latvala mused, “I’ve been trying to figure out why [all the] tapes don’t exist in the Vault. I don’t know what happened. There hasn’t been any resolution in my mind about it. I’m bummed out that there are all these tapes missing.”
Talking about all the missing shows, Latvala suggested, “Things surface all the time – it’s amazing… I’m sure there were plenty of times when someone said, ‘Hey, put these in the truck,’ and the guy puts them on the back of the truck, and the truck takes off, and the tapes flew off onto the highway. Someone picks them up, puts them in storage, dies, and the tapes resurface.”
IV. VAULT SHOWS
“Getting anything out is a miracle.”
Latvala was asked in 1990 if the band would release any classic shows:
“In my heart I would love to. Other people in the organization would like to see it happen also. It would be great to merchandise some of the classic shows on cassette or CD… I hope that will definitely happen at some point.”
It’s important to remember that Latvala worked for the Dead for YEARS before they released any live shows. Readers today might not remember, with the flood of live Dead releases over the last 15 years, but until 1991 the Dead had NEVER released a ‘classic’ show, or even a show more than 3 years old. Their sporadic live albums so far had mostly been carefully edited ‘where-we-are-now’ selections, the most recent one being “Dylan & the Dead”. “Steal Your Face” from ’76 had gone out of its way NOT to represent the Winterland ’74 shows very well, and had been released under duress since the band had no other album to deliver that year. “Bear’s Choice” from ’73 was meant to get the band out of their Warner Bros contract - it was taken from the famed Fillmore East ’70 shows, but in highlighting Pigpen and acoustic songs, managed to avoid most of the music that had made those shows famous. (Perhaps that was meant for “volume 2”?)
Latvala later said, “I asked Bear, ‘How come you chose tunes that were the least exciting parts of these shows?’ And he said, ‘I submitted over a hundred different ideas, and every one was rejected, and this was the one that got through.’”
Actually, the Dead had kicked around the idea of releasing shows ‘as they happened’ since the 1970s, but it never got off the ground.
When Les Kippel was starting up the Dead Relix magazine for tape traders, he also corresponded with the Dead: “They told me they were interested in somehow creating an official tape exchange. They expressed that they were having problems with the record company – Warner Brothers controlled a lot of the material that they produced, and the Dead couldn’t release the material without permission from the record company, [who] owned the rights… Warner Brothers saw this entire advent of tape machines, taping, and reproducing of music as being against their interest and possibly cutting into record sales.”
Of course in ’73, the Dead then left Warners and founded their own record company; and Kippel made them a new offer:
“At one time [in the mid-‘70s], we had a meeting with the Grateful Dead and made a proposal to them for a ‘Connoisseurs Club’ of tape collectors, [where] they would open up their vaults and make copies of all their shows available to their fans at a reasonable fee. Ron Rakow, then their record company president, reviewed our proposal and turned it down.”
The idea was that the Dead would “send the tape out within two weeks after the show happened. This way you didn’t have to bring your tape machine, your poles, etc, and knock yourself out. For ten dollars you were going to get the two cassettes of the entire concert.”
But the band had various issues with this plan. “The Dead were concerned about how many people were going to get it, and they wanted to control that.” They were also concerned about the quality, feeling that their live tapes (or performances) would not be good enough quality to send out. And there were probably other reasons as well, lost to time.
Relix readers were more excited by the idea, though. Dick’s Pick 20 includes a letter written to them by a fan in 1976: “I recently read in Dead Relix that the Dead were ‘toying with the idea of a budget line of records made from tapes of their concerts.’ …I have always felt it to be unfair to force Dead Heads to turn to illegitimate & poor quality bootlegs, basically because of the economic viability of flooding the record market with recordings that would probably not appeal to a large audience. The people who would like these recordings have always been victims of this economic problem, just as the Grateful Dead are victims of the illegal bootleg. Because of this dilemma, I think it would be to the advantage of both sides if you would put out a line of recordings of your concerts. To keep its cost down, you ought to offer it on a mail-order basis, in much the same manner as your tickets were offered for the recent east-coast tour. If you were to do this, you could keep the whole process on a much smaller scale & run less risk of financial problems. Gearing this program to Dead Heads alone would allow you to deal with a much more predictable market. I hope you will consider such an idea & get it underway. I think Dead Heads would support it wholeheartedly.”
But the idea lay dormant for many long years.
In the late ‘80s, Kidd Candelario started Grateful Dead Merchandising, in an effort to fight the bootleggers selling t-shirts and memorabilia at shows. Initially, GDM didn’t sell live records or CDs, but it was an obvious next step, and the Grateful Dead Records concept was revived. Kidd had the idea that Deadheads on the mailing list should be able to buy shows from the Vault, but as he says, “Then the powers that be decided, ‘Why should that happen?’”
Some resistance came from Arista, the Dead’s record company. When Grateful Dead Merchandising did start issuing records, it was seen as competition: “Originally, Arista didn’t want us to print any more than 25,000 copies.” (Latvala also mentioned in ’93, “In terms of the contract with Arista Records, we can’t release anything after our contract started with them which was in ’77.” But this didn’t stay in effect – either he was mistaken, or Arista changed their minds.)
At any rate, in 1990 a sea-change started in Dead releases – first Phil Lesh put together the Without a Net compilation for Arista, but Dan Healy also had his own plans going on. As Healy said:
“There’s been requests for years from our audience, from fans wanting us to pull out favorite old shows and release them. We know that this has been coming for a long time, but it’s also true that the technology up until recently was such that it would have been diminishing returns to try and master some of this older material. We’re now on a monumental project… Because the older tapes are starting to get flaky, we decided that it was time to go through our entire collection of tapes and convert them to digital tapes and restore them… The digital format provides us with the means of retrieving the old tapes and restoring them in a much longer lasting format…
As long as we’re going through the tapes…we figured while we’re there doing it, we can also select various shows from the past and make them available to our audience through our own merchandising at a lower price [than regular store releases]… I try to receive input from fans and friends – one of the things I discovered is that for everybody you talk to, there’s a different opinion. I listen to and keep track of what everyone says [but] I obviously have to figure out some way of making a decision, because that’s a situation that would have wound up going nowhere… I wound up with a choice of maybe 20 different shows to consider for the first release and so, after carefully listening to them all…I arrived at that show. [8/13/75]
…Most bands, including ourselves, whenever they prepare live tapes for release, there’s a lot of cosmetic stuff that goes on, replacing guitar parts, drum parts, vocal parts, and so on. There was a large controversy in our scene about whether or not we should doctor the tapes before we release them. There’s a whole contingency of us that think we should be doctoring them. My own personal opinion is that part of the definition of the ‘vault tapes’ is to present them in the original fashion, the way they really were, and not do all of that stuff. It took me a year to convince everybody that that would maybe be the best approach… I didn’t manipulate it, I didn’t doctor it, and I intentionally set about to do it that way.”
Healy was placed in charge of the vault release project, and One From The Vault was released in 1991, through Grateful Dead Merchandising. Healy pointed out, “This is something that we all…have been considering for years. This is no spur-of-the-moment thing.”
When asked that year whether the Dead would make the vault available to fans, he replied, “That idea has been kicked around a lot, and I’ll tell you where that idea is right now… One of the considerations is to maybe have a mail-order basis or something, whereby if you have a specific show in mind, you can write in and then we’ll make you a CD or tape of it. It’ll be along those kinds of lines. We’ve thought about it, it’s definitely in the dialogue, [and] there’s a good chance that could happen in the future.”
Two From The Vault followed the next year (’92), but then there was a halt to the proceedings. Three From The Vault was intended to be 2/19/71, but Lesh rejected that show, and for whatever reason, no other choices were forthcoming. (I’m not sure if it had to do with any band disagreements with Healy, as he wasn’t fired until ‘94.)
But the clamor for more live Dead releases didn’t die, and another element forced Lesh’s hand – the thriving bootleg market. As Latvala said:
“The fact that bootlegs were around and so popular…is what allowed the Dick’s Picks series to come about. That was a joyful moment for me, because I didn’t have much to submit to Phil for him to listen to. And when the bootlegs were thrown out on the table, that was a sign that it was time to let go, and let me do my thing.”
V. DICK’S PICKS
“Each musician can make decisions about this at any point, which is another one of the obstacles I faced in getting this one [DP1] out. To me, this is a real coup to get this material out of the Vault.”
Kevin Shapiro: “Dick tried every trick to get archival releases going after he had a few years to get the collection in some form of order, and he apparently ran into a lot of resistance – or at least a lack of agreement about what to release.”
Latvala told the story in 1993:
“The way this Dick's Picks thing started was in the beginning of this year. Kidd asked me to come up with the best three shows on two-track, in case he can float this idea by the band at a board meeting, which was to have Dick pick three shows off two-track and we'll call them "Dick's Picks" and start releasing two-track-material albums. And so that's how this started. It was Kidd's idea, and I put together some shows, and then there was a long period of waiting. You can't be too impatient.
As a Deadhead and a tape freak, it would seem like that would be no problem, you know, being asked to come up with the top three shows. I mean, I know hundreds of great shows. But when it came to really having to pick them for the band to listen to and judge, boy oh boy, did I become extra special and critical then. (You start re-listening and realize, God, I can’t use that.) Then it knocked out a whole bunch of choices. So it was under what I felt like was extreme pressure that I chose three shows, and I did a lot of work listening and making sure they were okay before I made the tapes to give to Kidd to give to the band to listen to. So the ones I chose were 12/19/73 and 2/13/70 and 10/11/77 Norman, Oklahoma.
It wasn't ever like we were going to release all three at once or anything. It was just to get some rough idea of some good shows. And then as it became closer to a reality, we settled on 12/19/73… I could have easily [picked] five other shows right from that late '73 period that were great. But 12/19 had this version of Here Comes Sunshine that just kills me. So I was really swayed for that show just to have that in there.”
“The quality wasn’t as good on the ’77 show, and I didn’t like the idea of 2/13 because the whole show wasn’t that good, and there were a lot of problems with the tapes. Also at the time, I was just discovering and listening to a lot of great ’73 shows.”
The initial Dick’s Picks were released by mail-order through Grateful Dead Merchandising, not in stores. The Dead seem to have been uncertain about how well it would do!
“This is really an experiment, this first one, to see how it does, because no one has a clue as to how much interest there is out there to get at this material. This is only mail-order, you see. It’s not going to be in record stores. So this will be like a little private club that’s willing to go that extra mile for the really good stuff.”
After the first Dick’s Pick, though, fans had to wait a long time for the second one, which didn’t come out until ’95. The main delay came from Phil Lesh, who was being his picky self about the live releases. (He had asked, for instance, that his bass solo be omitted from 12/19/73.) Latvala said after DP1, “I’m focusing on a ’72 show,” and submitted 9/21/72 as DP2 – but Lesh nixed it.
Kidd Candelario: “For a long time we had Phil in there helping us decide what went out – having Phil in there was such a hindrance… One day at a meeting I stood up and told Phil (he was complaining about why things were taking so long) that he was the problem. And that was when he threw up his hands and said, ‘Okay.’ And everybody agreed that Phil would stay out of it, and me, John Cutler, and Dick would go ahead and do this project. And at that point things got a lot easier, in part because we’re not as critical as they are. They never liked to hear their music played again, they never liked to listen to it.”
Latvala said: “That’s the problem I face, not having any of the people who created the music being able to determine what’s releasable, because they don’t see it the same way.”
Once Latvala tried mentioning to Garcia how good the old tapes were; Garcia replied, “Someone might do that job, but I certainly won’t participate. I don’t ever want to hear any of that – all it does it remind me of what I was trying to do!”
From an interview with Lesh and John Cutler:
Lesh: “For a while, I was the final arbiter, and I made the decision what we were gonna put out. And we never put anything out, because I didn’t like anything. So these guys decided that I shouldn’t be involved in this, and I agreed, because we needed to put something out! And I didn’t like anything, so I decided I’d let them make the decision.”
Gans: “But John isn’t exactly the most enthusiastic…”
Cutler: “Well no, that’s true, but there’s still a balance there. I’m not as severe as Phil.”
Lesh: “There’s Dick Latvala, who’s very enthusiastic.”
Cutler: “And Jeff Norman, who’s more neutral, and hasn’t been into the Grateful Dead as long, and isn’t as opinionated as Dick or myself.”
Lesh: “And then there’s John, who’s the black cloud. So they balance each other out beautifully.”
After Lesh signed off, the band was no longer involved with Dick’s Picks – though they paid attention to the regular “Vault” live releases after Garcia died, they may not even have bothered listening to Dick’s Picks anymore, trusting in the judgment of their team.
Lemieux later said, “With Dick’s Picks they pretty much trust us, they don’t want to hear it. But with the vault releases, they do want to hear that, so we make them reference copies before we finalize the decision and let them listen, and then they give us the call with the approval – or not.”
And Lesh said a few years later, “Dick’s Picks is pretty independent; I don’t pass judgment on what he puts out. Anything else that comes out, I’m pretty much just quality control… I was the one [in the band] who was most interested in preserving the quality of what we put out… I just didn’t want to start putting it out haphazardly.”
Latvala said, “I seriously doubt that any of the band members have listened to February 13, 1970. I don’t think they like to hear themselves.”
“Garcia told me once he’d never want to go through these tapes; they embarrassed him. Every time he heard one, it reminded him of what he was trying to do… We’ll never know what he was trying to do, but what came out was pretty cool for us to hear.”
Latvala was often struck by how different the band’s mentality about the music was from their listeners.
“The bandmembers themselves – when it’s happening, there is no particular ego in control, everyone’s mind-melding in the music. Then after the fact, the musicians go, ‘oh gee, I missed a riff there, I blew the lyrics there.’”
Latvala told Rob Bertrando that he felt mostly unappreciated in his role - shows would be rejected “two or three times before one came out” for vague reasons like, “‘oh, that doesn’t do it for me,’ or ‘oh, we were sloppy.’”
Latvala said that when Phil Lesh was still judging releases, “for us out here in Deadland, it meant we’ll never hear anything… Band members cannot judge themselves, that’s all. They have to entrust it to deadheads – I’ll play that role. There aren’t a lot of deadheads working for the Grateful Dead! The people that put on a show don’t have the same perspective…”
He concluded: “These guys in the band do not have a clue about what we want.”
Latvala was relieved not to have Phil Lesh on his back now. But even with the bandmembers out of the way, he had many other things to contend with when making his Picks. As Carol Latvala said: “People didn’t understand at all the things that he had to do to try to get a release out.”
Rich Latvala: “It wasn’t hard for him to come up with a list of ten shows that he thought would be super for release. The hard part for him was championing those shows through the production levels. And it hurt, obviously… It was always a very big struggle. He made progress, but he felt like he was pushing boulders a lot.”
Latvala always claimed: “I’m not in charge.”
In fact, he explained vociferously and numerous times that “Dick’s Picks” were not really his picks…
"Dick's Picks": it's a misnomer. I'm the front guy, you know, for a lot of other energies that come into play, and that doesn't mean just people I work with, by the way; it means people like you… I'm a front guy just like "Bear's Choice," as you say, wasn't really Bear's choice. Well, it's not really "Dick's Picks," it's just *called* that. I don't have the final say. I have some say, I suggest things, and then we see how far they go. But it takes a lot of other people's agreements to get things off the ground. And I take information from many, many different sources (including everyone that writes on the Well, and everyone I know, and anyone that *tells* me things - so it's really the Universe's choices, you know.) But there is some of me; I am the one who makes the decision to edit the three CDs like they were, and I take the blame for that, but it isn't like I decided, "this is going to be," and wouldn't take no for an answer. It's a group effort, these are group efforts. Everyone has to understand this, it is not just as simple, like one person slapping it down on a CD. It's a lot of people are involved.”
“Ever since I got into the position of influence at all, which was when Dan Healy started the Vault release program in 1990, I’ve been trying the whole time to get Feb 13 & 14, 1970 released, or some part of that, and also Harpur College 1970. I’ve run those up the flagpole many times and gotten beat up over it… There’s politics, there’s something behind the scenes that influences the release. It’s important to mention that although it’s called Dick’s Picks, I really don’t have any final say. I’m a gathering point of information that I try to pass on to others… It’s not just one person determining it; a lot of things come into play.”
“I've always wanted to use those [Feb ‘70] shows, and Harpur College, for example. For *years* I was pushin' 'em, but they never went through. There are a *lot* of forces at work than just me picking a show. There's a lot of other factors that come into play to have a show actually come out as a release.”
“I kept wanting it, and others didn't wanna go back that far in time; other people have viewpoints, have a decisionmaking capacity on this, or can veto what I decide, of course. So, you know, it's not like I can just automatically say, "this is gonna be it!," you know, and furthermore, I need input from a lot of people and have it be right by everybody involved.”
Christie Vogel: “They wanted him to choose things for Dick’s Picks – and always, someone would decide, for one reason or another, ‘No, we can’t put this out.’ So the first Dick’s Picks were all ones that were way down on his list. ‘This one’s not OK? Let’s try this one.’ He’d have a long list, and somewhere down on the list would be one where no one would say, ‘No, we can’t do that.’ That was frustrating for him.”
Latvala admitted, “My teammates at work, sometimes it’s hard to get things by their sensibilities, they have strict rules about sound quality and so forth.” Cutler in particular was very picky about shows.
9/27/72 for instance, was one show Latvala wanted to be released some time before it actually made it onto a DP, but it was turned down as being ‘too laid-back.’ Latvala lamented, “Jeffrey Norman & John Cutler are the ones holding this up. And if they reject it once more, then we’re gonna go somewhere else.”
“I have two guys I have to go through, Jeffrey Norman & John Cutler. They are basically more your engineer or producer-type mentalities. They don’t like to hear music like I like to hear it. So we have this fight every time, and it’s always an issue what comes out. Like Harpur College – anyone with any common sense knows Harpur College is a show that should have come out centuries ago. It was ten years of trying to get that one up the flagpole. Healy would say, ‘That Latvala, he can’t tell the difference between stereo and mono!’ And that’s why he would reject Harpur College, cause the electric sets are in mono. So fucking what? Does anyone say that ain’t a great example of a show? I’ll tell you, it wasn’t like I snapped my fingers to have it occur, it was like embarrassing myself forever to get it out.”
“I’m the fall guy. I’m a gathering point. I don’t determine and say, this has to be this. I submit things, and I’ve been rejected so whimsically over the years. If anyone wants to thank me for anything, thank me that I didn’t dive under that truck, that I didn’t jump off the bridge 30,000 times…”
After all the protests, though, it must be admitted that a lot of the Dick’s Picks shows really were his picks. (Even if they were perhaps not always the highest picks on his list, but the survivors from the rejection process.)
Rich Latvala: “When interviewed he’d say, ‘It’s not me, it’s really the team.’ He was always so good about that. Of course, it’s the PC thing to say; but it came from the heart, he never slipped up about it.”
Often Latvala would even attribute his picks to the universe… When DP4 came out, he announced, “The universe picked it, it was time.” And after DP7 he claimed that it was time for a 1974 show because “the universe was calling for it.” Many show picks were made not from a prearranged plan, but because they felt right at the time.
Latvala was particularly proud of the release of the February ’70 shows on DP4 – he had asked for their release repeatedly over the years, but not until 1996 were the stars aligned right. “It was a good time to bring up the issue again, see if I could get away with it… I didn’t have any resistance. It was actually sort of a miraculous occasion that everything worked right… It was my endless desire to see this out.” (Latvala’s hand was also strengthened since fans were sending in cards and surveys demanding this release: “2/13/70 – IT’S TIME!”)
DP4 was an advance in several ways. Not only was it the first release where they used an outside tape source (from the Fillmore crew) to patch the gaps in the vault tapes, it was also the first where two shows were combined on a 3-CD release.
“Three CDs in a single package; that was the first time we did that… That was a huge jump. That means the next time a DP is ready, I can do a whole show. Three CDs is enough room on which to fit a whole show. New doors have been opened. It’s taken some time, but I think we’re making some definite progress.”
There were other complicated politics that also went into the Dick’s Picks choices:
“A lot of people don’t know all the things that go into picking shows, but at times there’s different requirements. Like you don’t want to repeat songs from other releases that just happened, or conflict with multi-track releases in terms of years.”
Cutler: “If a Dick’s Picks comes out, and there’s five songs on there that are also gonna be on the Vault release….it gets very difficult. We try to orchestrate it so we’re not putting out the same stuff at the same time, from various eras.”
Lesh: “At the same time, if it does turn out that we do that, it’s okay, because they’re usually vastly different.”
Gans: “Yeah, that’s part of the deal with Grateful Dead music…”
Lesh: “*Hopefully.* That was the point of playing all those songs all those many years!”
The official Dick’s Picks policy in terms of selecting years was: “The more skipping around, the better, and all years are relevant. Personally, I was more inspired by the music of ’68 and ’69 than that of ‘95…but all years have good shows.”
When Dick’s Picks started, Latvala originally wanted to release shows that were not in circulation. “I would like to try to find something that surprises even me.”
He said after DP1: “My goal is to find stuff that’s not obvious choices. We all have many of the great shows that occurred in that period, so it seems superfluous to [choose those]…the goal would be to try to find something that’s a little unknown.”
“The first three Dick’s Picks were my ego trying to come up with things that people didn’t readily know so well, and that’s part of my motivation in choosing things, is to find things that people don’t know, or especially that I don’t know and happen to discover. You know, it’s like diving for pearls…once in a while you come up with a diamond, like that Halloween ’71 one.”
His ultimate desire: “The goal is to find shows that can stand up under repeated listenings and still give you the goods.”
Latvala said selecting shows was “torture central” – as one reporter called it, ‘a tussle between his own tastes and the avalanche of requests from deadheads.’
And there were plenty of requests. Cards were sent out with DP3 in ‘95 for people to list their 10 favorite shows they wanted to be released, and the replies were carefully polled when they came back; there was also an internet survey. “The people on our insight team were paying attention. But I was asking somewhat apprehensively, ‘What the hell am I around for if we have these surveys?’”
With the internet becoming more widespread in the early ‘90s, online Dead forums like the Well also sprang up, and Latvala started frequenting these.
“I read the internet surveys. I pay attention to those who have listened for many years – they help me research. The surveys do not determine what will come out, they just give me more feedback.”
Surveying fans to see what shows they wanted released was something new in the Dead world. As Steve Silberman says, “The idea that deadheads might actually assist in shaping the direction of Grateful Dead projects was unheard of at the time… Deadheads were basically the people the roadies were paid to throw off the stage.” (Latvala also admitted, “There aren’t a lot of deadheads working for the Grateful Dead!”)
Latvala went online on the Well to ask deadheads questions about shows and invite suggestions for release, helping with his research. Conference rooms like ‘Latvala’s Corner’ were used by ‘private’ Dead scholars to send Latvala the information and insights they’d gathered. He said, “I can’t tell you how valuable it is to have 20 to 30 compulsive addicts who are as ridiculous as I am to help out like this.”
Of course, he also got lots of feedback about the Dick’s Picks releases. Most prominent were the steady complaints that they weren’t complete shows. Latvala responded to this many times:
“I came into this thing with the whole-show concept and then realized it’s impossible… With the censors I had at the time, I thought we’d never be able to release anything. Now, we’re at least moving closer.”
“The concept of putting out only whole shows - I came into this job as a proponent of that, thinking that way. I was really adamant about it. I've learned that that's unrealistic. That's what tape collecting is for, tape trading. We're lucky we're getting what we're getting.”
“Presenting the whole show, I realized soon was not a possibility – we’d never have released anything if we stuck to that.”
“I came into this thing basically with the idea that the whole show was of paramount importance, because that’s the way you can get a sense of how it flows…all of it’s necessary for context… But I have learned that there’s so much great stuff in the Vault that, if we are confined to just releasing whole shows, a lot of stuff would never get out… A lot of three-night runs could be combined into 3 CDs, or 4 maybe, and have nothing but sterling, inspirational stuff on it.”
Latvala explained at the outset:
“These shows are going to always be edited. This is something we probably should talk about here, because I was of the feeling [that we should] always try to release the whole show. I'm a tape collector, too. But when it came to these two-track tapes…when it became a reality to do them, actually sit down and listen, there are so many inherent problems dealing with two-tracks that you have to edit it.
For example, when these shows were recorded, they weren't recorded for the purpose of someday releasing them as live shows. They were recorded so the band could hear them afterward and hear how they performed; and Kidd's job was to not only mix that, the recording, but take care of Keith's equipment, so we have lots of responsibility on him to do both jobs… You know, he'd be busy with Keith, a reel would run out, and you'd miss ten minutes of something or a couple songs - or there's millions of technical problems in that era - and it's important just to understand that these tapes weren't made with the purpose of releasing them. So editing them becomes a necessity, even - well, I became aware that it had to be done. And it's - sorry, folks, but that's the way it's going to be. They're not going to release material that has got glitches in it or doesn't have one of the mics turned up high enough or something. So we're going to have some shows that have a lot of really good things in them, but the recording might have been screwed up so we can't release them.”
His account was somewhat disingenuous – collectors know well how complete most of these soundboard tapes are; and gaps due to reel-flips were generally covered on Dick’s Picks by unobtrusive edits or occasional patches; and the songs omitted on the ‘highlights’ releases tended to be left out by whim (or lack of room) rather than any technical considerations. (That said, it’s apparent that more material could be released through compilations than if the Dead limited themselves to complete shows; and many of the complete ‘first sets’ that did get released were less than inspirational.)
But Latvala also recognized that whole-show releases were less likely because the band members would want to edit out anything that was ‘embarrassing’ or less than perfect, just as they had always done on live albums. Latvala talked about how listening to a CD at home with no distractions was different from being at a live show, so he felt he needed to ‘recreate’ a show or a run, so that the CD had a life of its own and every track was good. But he also wanted to approach each release differently: “I don’t think we should be stuck with any rules about how to do it. We’re discovering how to do it each time; each one’s a discovery.”
Over time, as Dick’s Picks were expanded to three CDs, they were able to include more complete shows; and eventually about half of the DPs were complete shows.
(David Lemieux later said, “With so much music being available through tape trading…everything is out there. And we’re very aware of that. So why shouldn’t certain releases be the highlights? Because we know that you could…go and find the complete show.”)
Rob Bertrando said of the 10/19/73 release: “I don’t think I’ll ever listen to disc one again… I don’t understand why people have this thing about Dick’s Picks being complete shows. If you ask me, that’s kind of a waste. The complete shows are out there for the collectors if you want them… You’d get a lot more high-quality music out there that’s more enjoyable to listen to if you didn’t do it that way.”
Dick’s Picks was meant from the start to release only the 2-track reels – the band’s multitracks were treated differently. “Dick’s Picks isn’t concerned at all with the multitracks. That’s at Dan Healy’s discretion.”
Healy dealt with the multitracks ‘at his whim’ when it was time for a Vault release, but he had a much smaller selection of shows to choose from than Latvala did. “There’s only a limited amount of multitracks. So that’s why I think the 2-tracks are very exciting. It’s just that you have to wade through [them]. Every show isn’t a killer.”
The Vault releases, being higher-quality and more ‘prestigious’, were more closely supervised by the band. After Healy left in ‘94, John Cutler was the producer in charge of the multitrack releases.
Cutler said: “We talk about lots of things, and lots of things become ideas, but how many of those ideas actually reach fruition is another story. One concept has been to have a series of three box sets – ten-year periods at a time. And then, of course, Dick comes up with the question, ‘What do you mean, a box set? A box set would be 50 CDs for ten years!’”
Latvala said, “I don’t have control over the multi-tracks. They ask me for my input sometimes, and I don’t know if anyone listens. And sometimes I have to really shake my head about some things…”
“I try to influence those guys as much as I can. Very unsuccessfully sometimes!”
“Years ago, I led the attack for releasing the Europe '72 stuff, because it's all 16-track. But Phil said, "We already released that." I said, "Yeah, but not the JAMS." And he agreed, so he’s aware of that.” (Latvala said that in ’94 - the next year, Hundred Year Hall was released.)
There was at least one multitrack release Latvala worked on, Dozin’ at the Knick in ’96.
Latvala: “It was John Cutler’s project – they have a difficult time seeing the light… I went through their notes on each show … and picked the best tunes myself, from reading their reviews... (Sorry about Loser. I agree, it should have been there, but we didn’t get it.)”
Cutler: “Dick looked at the notes that Phil and I had taken when we were doing our mass listening…and came up with the stuff we thought was the best of the first sets of all those shows, and that’s what we ended up using as a composite. I mean, to have done three whole shows as a release, it would have ended up being nine CDs. We can’t do that.”
David Lemieux has mentioned that Latvala also had a “huge role” in Fallout from the Phil Zone – my guess is he helped Phil Lesh go through all the old tapes finding good stuff to pick, and perhaps pointed out things to listen to. (After all, we don’t know if Lesh was at all familiar with the older shows he selected from; Latvala had the advantage in that regard.)
Latvala was often asked what the next Pick would be. He tended to be secretive:
“If you said, ‘What’s the next pick?’ I have no clue. I won’t know until my bell is rung, and I start researching and thinking and feeling it out.”
“I’m going to listen to a bunch of things – you just can’t say in advance, it’s never going to be for sure one thing. You have to experiment and put new ears to the tapes and listen to a bunch of things… Anything can happen. That’s what I’ve learned, to be patient. There’s a whole bunch of possibilities, you know.”
“Whatever you think it’s going to be, it ain’t. You’ve got to work at it, and listen, and see what the right one’s going to be each time.”
Latvala, of course, had no control over the release schedule, which was set by the ‘higher-ups’. “I never know how long til the bell rings,” he said. But the release pace for Dick’s Picks stepped up after Garcia died – in ‘96, we started to get three Dick’s Picks per year; and after Latvala died, the pace increased to four per year.
“We haven’t released as much as I think we should. There’s a lot of thought given to not appearing to be capitalizing on Jerry’s death, so our pace is not commensurate with the demand.”
“As far as how many things get released, I don’t know who decides that. I just know when my bell is rung that I’m ready – I’m told it’s time and asked if I have anything. Of course I have something, day or night, any year!”
One challenge Latvala faced in choosing Picks was that he strongly preferred shows from the early years, but his picks had to represent the band’s whole history.
“The goal is to spread it out – give some samples from different eras… I have a hard time, myself - I’m biased, I admit… I have to learn to accept there were shows in 1980, 1990 even!”
Latvala’s area of expertise went up to about 1978, the years he’d collected on tape (though he was most enthusiastic about the prehiatus years). He was less familiar with shows from the ‘80s, especially after he started working for the band. “I’ve been focusing on ’79 back to the old days, mainly because that’s the period I know best. In the ‘80s I got hired by the Dead, so I couldn’t keep up… There are a lot of great shows from the ‘80s.”
Sometimes he was less complimentary, though: “I resisted getting into the ‘80s; public pressure has had its effect on me.” (He was reported to mutter, “Gotta keep the buying masses happy…”)
He admitted: “You wouldn’t want me in charge or there wouldn’t be anything else released but 1973, 1974.”
After 12/29/77 was released, Latvala confessed, “’77 is way late in the spectrum, and we need to get back to ‘68/69. If I had my way, we wouldn’t be leaving the era of ’68-’73, ever again.”
VI. DICK’S WORK
“I think everyone on the planet should think this is the greatest thing, and I'm amazed that there's only a small group of us.”
Jeff Norman recalled: “Dick used to start each new DP project with, ‘Jeffrey, this one is going to sell millions, it’s so thrilling.’ Now of course, they have never sold millions – a fact that Dick never could understand.”
Eddie Claridge: “He would like something and go, ‘God, you guys gotta hear this!’ And they’d go, ‘Well yeah, except that everybody’s playing out of tune and the sound is off and we can’t fix this and nobody should ever hear this.’ And he’d turn around and go, ‘No, everybody should hear this.’”
Latvala’s thoughts on DP2 (10/31/71) are a good example of how he’d enthusiasically promote a show:
“I’m absolutely thrilled. I can’t believe that anyone who hears this is not going to go to outer space, intensely, over and over… This show was like getting hit with a brick in the face, I couldn’t believe it. I put it on again and said ‘Man!’ I must have played it ten times before I could talk… This is as good as it’s ever been. I’ve never heard anything like it, and I’m shocked… I have to put myself in a seatbelt. I start shaking, it’s so exciting… This is a thrill a minute.”
But the music was one thing; the workplace was another. To the end, Latvala felt unappreciated by the band he worked for.
Eddie Claridge: “Dick spoke of how he didn’t feel he got paid enough, that he was having trouble paying his rent. He thought that for all the work he put into his job, he should be able to manage his rent, have health insurance, that kind of thing. Apparently, it got to him over the years…he wanted more money.” (He also chatted with Harvey Lubar about “not having any money. [He] wasn’t getting by real well.”)
“There were times when he would say, ‘I’m the luckiest guy in the world. I’m getting paid to do what I would do for free.’ And there were other times when he would turn around and say, ‘I’m not appreciated. I can’t believe I’m doing this. My life is miserable. It ain’t worth doing.’”
Nathan Wolfson talked with Latvala about his work stress and frustration with office politics: “It was long days of work that often left him feeling unappreciated and exhausted. And the tapes often felt like a burden…when things got unpleasant at the office.”
Christie Vogel: “When he was in a bad mood about what was going on at Front Street, he would just stay home that day…listen to some tapes and get stoned, and analyze the tapes and make notes. He started bringing tapes home from the Vault. They said, ‘You know, you can just work at home.’ They paid for him to get a good sound system, and he just started doing a lot of his work at home. I think he became a lot more productive that way, because he didn’t have to deal with some of the things that were unpleasant for him at work.”
Latvala seems to have been uncomfortable with the Dick’s Picks release parties, where he’d promote the latest release – according to Rich Latvala, “He was afraid of crowds… I’m sure he enjoyed them, but they were very taxing for him… I remember the first interviews that he was doing – he was a nervous wreck.”
And Eddie Claridge concurred: “I think he enjoyed them when he was there, but I don’t think he really looked forward to them. I don’t think the idea of being the focus sat very well with him.” (And he was sometimes known to have more than a few drinks ahead of time to fortify himself…)
Going to Dead (or post-Dead) shows also became an unpleasant experience for him.
Rich Latvala: “He always felt very uncomfortable trying to deal with other people’s needs and wants and desires at a Dead show. It became very stressful for him… Many times I can remember Dick coming back from a show very upset about how he had to deal with people getting in his face during the music, and absolutely ruining the experience.”
Steve Rolfe: “He didn’t like going to concerts because he’d be there to enjoy the music, but then people would be in his face, talking about this or that tape, or their agenda… He found it a lot easier to stay at home and listen to music. No one would bother him… He didn’t want to have to deal with people.”
Rich Latvala also had a different impression:
“There was no such thing as a day off… Making tapes for people, answering questions, making suggestions – this was what compelled him and drove him to do as much for people as he could. Never-ending requests would come in, and he would be very generous about them and never say ‘No.’”
Latvala would conscientiously try to answer the emails of everyone who wrote him (though of course this cut into his own time). Eddie Claridge remembered, “It got to a point where there were so many emails and so much stuff going on online, that it detracted from the amount of time he could spend in the rest of the world.”
One time Latvala posted a message saying he needed to take a break from the computer “and the responsibilities of responding to so many questions from so many people. I have felt as though I had lost perspective on what I should be doing – and that is listening to music.”
His Dead researches were never-ending: “Any help I can get from any other aficionado who has ideas, I appreciate, because it’s not like an egotistical thing. I’m in a treasured position, and I take it very seriously, and humbly.”
Contrary to the often cantankerous impression he gave, many of the people who knew him mentioned how humble he was, and how he respected others’ opinions. “Each of us knows special things, that the others may have missed,” he said. “It is somewhat possible, I believe, to find out things that you didn’t know about before, by sharing your opinions with other compelled lunatics like myself.”
He knew the unique responsibility he had, and took it seriously, often saying it was an honor and a privilege to be in his position.
“I got way more than I bargained for. I need so much help; no person can keep track of even one year, let alone all of it. I talk to everyone about what they think…cause I’ve missed a lot. I’ve been going through what people say is good from the ‘80s. There’s some great shit in there that I missed out on. Fortunately, people have been directing me toward it. Everyone’s right. That’s one of my assumptions: nobody’s wrong.”
Latvala would often say that ‘there are good shows from all eras, I’m still learning.’ “I’m also in a process of discovery, so it’s not like I know the best show of every year.”
Whether downplaying his expertise or acknowledging his ignorance, he often asked people for their opinions. “It’s not a problem for me to sit down and listen to other people’s ideas. I’m into the learning phase – I’ve gotten way past thinking I know everything.”
When asked what the most essential shows were, he replied, “Just look on the internet, anywhere, and deadheads will tell you. I am not some exclusive knowledge person.”
Sometimes he’d refuse to list his favorite tapes, saying there were too many. “The magnitude of it all is so staggering, my mind has been blasted apart over the years.”
Of course he would still invite his tape-trading friends over for listening sessions, or simply call them to exchange recommendations. Rob Bertrando said, “More than anything, we enjoyed turning each other on to little segments of the Dead that really did it for us.” They’d try to top each other in finding just the right unheard jam that would blow each other’s minds…
Many of his friends, though, made a point of not requesting any tapes from him. Bob Wagner and Eddie Claridge, for instance, decided not to ask him for tapes.
Steve Silberman: “I asked Dick for vault tapes only rarely, because I knew if I let that element creep into our friendship, it would poison it.” “I figured out a while ago that the only way Dick was ever going to be iron-clad sure that I wasn’t loving him for his tapes was to never ask for any.”
Harvey Lubar: “I never accepted a single tape from Dick, though he offered plenty of times. His friendship meant too much to me to risk putting it over the fire.”
Steve Rolfe: “I didn’t want to ask him for tapes because he used to complain to me about certain friends who always wanted more and more and Dick got sick of it.”
Eddie Claridge: “He’d wonder if they just wanted tapes from him or if they were really friends… Is somebody befriending you because they like you, or is somebody befriending you because of what you can do for them? … [One time] somebody called and was hassling him about making some tapes. And he just exploded and said, ‘You’ll get what I want to give you when I want to fucking give it to you, I have other responsibilities, and if you don’t like it, too fucking bad.’ And he slammed the phone down.”
VII. DICK’S TAPES
“This is my goal: to get it out. I can't stand sitting on this music. It's terrible that everyone can't hear this stuff, so my mission is to get it out.”
Dick’s Picks were not Latvala’s only means of getting shows out. Anyone who’s collected shows has probably noticed how often he’s listed as a tape source – numerous tapes were ‘released’ to the trading community through Latvala.
Once Dick’s Picks started, the release rate was a bit slower than he liked, and he was faced with the quandary that many shows would still be left unheard in the Vault since they didn’t qualify for release:
“Things of lesser quality, I’ve been thinking about that a lot, and I haven’t figured what to do besides making you a tape and telling you not to tell anyone where you got it from. And you have a girlfriend who wants a copy, and before you know it ten thousand deadheads have it. That’s the way that happens; I’ve been through it enough times to be familiar with the cycle.”
Latvala found out early on that tapes leaked from the Vault would not remain secret for long:
“9/28/72 is one I got from Kidd when I first met someone in the Dead in ’79 – I coaxed him out of that show, and I gave it to five friends who I thought would never give it out. And then of course, we know what happens when you give a tape out to a deadhead taper.”
In the ‘80s, with more access to the band and their tapes, Latvala started passing out a few more shows, still hoping for secrecy.
Pat Lee said: “Dick began scoring these great tapes of the early GD years. These tapes would always come with the admonition to ‘not tell anybody about this one’… He was always pissed at somebody for giving a tape to someone else; which we all did, all the time.”
In ‘85, Latvala gave Rob Bertrando several cassettes of classic ‘68/69 shows, including the famed Fillmore ’69 run, that went into circulation. But in general it seems Latvala’s policy was to share tapes just with his friends, asking them not to distribute copies.
Bertrando recalled: “In the summer of ’91, he sent me a bunch of tapes [many reels of ’69 shows from Bear’s cassettes], and I copied those, and I sent them to Menke… When Dick found out about it, he was pissed… The Dead didn’t know. Mostly we kept quiet about such things… Dick felt bad about it. He’d give me tapes, and he’d say, ‘Now remember, my job depends on these tapes not getting out, so be careful who you give them to.’”
Steve Silberman says: “Of course Dick gave tapes away to his friends out the back door. Of course a complicated hierarchy of Dick’s ‘friends’ developed out there in taperland.”
After a while Latvala made a compilation by request, ‘Dick’s Gift’ for his online friends on the Well, from several ‘70s Garcia shows. “There were no dates on the tape. He asked that the tape not be circulated.” But of course it soon started circulating and ‘Dick’s Gift’ was distributed far and wide. Silberman was upset that his trust had been betrayed, but: “When I told Dick, he didn’t even seem to be mad. He’d asked me to keep the tape secret, but now that it was showing up on lists, he seemed amused somehow, as if he’d known it would happen.”
By the ‘90s there were certainly a lot more classic old Dead shows circulating than there had been ten years before. Many were aired on David Gans’s show – Bertrando suggested, “If they were shows that Gans had already played large parts of on the air, then we’d complete the show for everyone.”
Dennis McNally concluded, “The band’s soundboards leaked out because Dick was a very sharing guy, although probably he shouldn’t have – a little too late to worry about that.”
Kidd Candelario: “I don’t know necessarily that it was him leaking the tapes because everyone had tapes – Bill Walton, Bobby’s friends, Phil’s friends, all the people in the office… Dick was just one of those people that would accommodate you. The band members didn’t think it was a big deal.”
Eddie Claridge: “I don’t think they expected it, [but] I don’t know that they particularly cared… You can’t make a generalization of ‘the band’ because I think some individuals probably cared a whole lot, and others didn’t give a shit at all.”
As Claridge says, the band members may have differed in their feelings – widespread copying for ‘friends’ had already been going on for years, and a number of tapes were said to have been given out by Garcia himself. (Owsley, on the other hand, was furious about the situation and called Latvala a thief.)
Kirk West said that for the Dead, Latvala’s giving out tapes was “not enough trouble to lose his job. Obviously, it happened. He denied it, though it was pretty obvious where it came from. He had a lot of trouble with Owsley that way…”
When Latvala died, suddenly many new shows appeared that he had shared with his friends – once he was gone, they were set free.
One trader said: “After Dick Latvala passed away – he had a bunch of DATs of future Dick’s Picks that he had sent to a bunch of people who were high up in the [trading] community, who had made a deal with Dick that they would never let it get in circulation. Once Dick died, the deal was off, but they didn’t want Grateful Dead management coming after them, because they knew basically who Dick had sent it to… So they would make a copy and slide it to someone like me, and I would become a proxy for them…”
Eddie Claridge: “I was a little surprised at how much was out there. It surprised me that a lot of people he had trusted stuff with – understanding that this was never supposed to go out – as soon as he died they went, ‘Okay, all bets are off.’ …I think the Dead were concerned enough about it that they went and asked [his son] for Dick’s tapes… They came in and took all of the tapes.”
Rob Bertrando: “After Dick died, Jeff Norman calls me up and talks to me and asks me not to distribute tapes Dick gave me. I said, ‘Why not?’ and he said, ‘Well you know, you shouldn’t do it.’… I said, ‘I can’t do that, Jeff. There’s no reason not to. Dick told me many times that he wanted these out if he ever died, and I have no good reason not to.’ … He told me, and Jim Wise too, that if he ever died he wanted the tapes he gave us to go into circulation.”
Jeffrey Norman: “After Dick died, a ton of stuff started circulating, because Dick had copies and sent copies to friends that were assisting him with his research. But these friends didn’t feel any kind of loyalty to Grateful Dead once he died, so a lot of that stuff got out there. In some ways, it’s a drag it’s out, because there’s really not that many surprises left here in the Vault. But at the same time, people do get to hear this great stuff. I would like to think they’d still buy it when it comes out as a Dick’s Picks…”
Norman felt that most of the best early shows in the Vault had already been ‘released’ via Latvala:
“If there’s a show in here that’s not out, it’s probably because it’s not a great performance. Dick knew the good shows from the bad ones. He didn’t invite his friends over to play them lousy shows. And he listened to most of the stuff in here… If you’re the archivist like Dick, you’re going to go for the shows that you’ve heard are the best; and these are the shows that ended up out there in circulation.”
David Lemieux agreed: “The material that’s been [unofficially] released from the vault over the years is, of course, the best stuff. The people who had access to the vault wouldn’t give their friends any weak shows… So everything that’s really good gets released in unofficial ways. It’s out there for traders…”
(Of course, as archivists it is to their advantage to claim, ‘there’s nothing left,’ while hiding surprises for future release. Interestingly, there are still a great many shows from 1969 that are still unheard and uncirculated in the Vault. Possibly Latvala never got around to the full year, or possibly the cassettes are in poor shape. One wonders if they’re all really that bad – or if perhaps we have a skewed view of the year, with only the ‘best’ shows available and hours of uninspired ’69 dreck in the Vault? That remains to be heard…)
Rich Latvala would be upset when Dick got in trouble for leaking tapes: “There were episodes – it was always touch and go. It initially pissed me off. He had a great job – why betray the trust the band has lain upon you? To me, from the outside, it made no sense at all. But then I grew up and gained some perspective, and that’s when it hit me like a ton of bricks. I suddenly totally understood what he did and why he did it.”
VIII. AND IN THE END
“He said he stumbled along his path, from one thing to the next. He never wanted to make a manipulative move toward anything. If it opened up in front of him, he would allow it to be his path.” (Carol Latvala)
In August 1999, while the So Many Roads box set was being compiled, Dick Latvala had a heart attack in his sleep, fell into a coma, and never returned.
Like Jerry Garcia, he paid no attention to his health – the floating life meant more to him than the physical world. He ate poorly, he was a heavy smoker, he drank copiously (the Dead even sent him to alcohol rehab in the early ‘90s), and he consumed drugs in heroic quantities. “He believed in acid,” his relatives said, and he took it regularly - and pot was his constant all-day companion, and a requirement for listening to the music.
Steve Rolfe: “It was amazing how he could function, even when taking large quantities of stuff. It was just like taking vitamins to him. I saw him in some of his absolutely most severe conditions, and he was still articulate and carried on a conversation… He did have a pretty good drinking problem for a while, though.”
Tributes soon started appearing, including these:
http://www.jambands.com/features/1999/08/15/dick-latvala-he-was-a-friend-of-mine (by John Dwork)
http://mbird.org/2000/01/kevin-shapiro/ (interview with Phish archivist, with a long reminiscence about Latvala at the end)
http://www.deadnetcentral.com/WebX?50@784.B7rDaeB6ceG.12@.ee6b300 (a few memories, amidst the drivel)
Bob Wagner: “I felt there was nobody in the world that knew Grateful Dead music the way he knew it, because nobody had listened as much as he had. That was true even before he worked for them. What did it become like after he worked for them, when his job was to listen to the tapes all day? That can’t be replaced.”
John Scott (Deadbase editor) said: “Dick has been like a godfather to Deadbase since its inception. He is one of the kindest, most humble people I have had the pleasure of working with. His advice, corrections, and reviews have been invaluable, and it is quite likely that Deadbase would have withered early on without his support.”
Rich Latvala: “Nothing ever went to his head. Sometimes I wished it would more. He was always over-generous, over-humble, over-giving, and in my opinion, over-self-deprecating. I think in a lot of ways that did cost him… He would give everything away all the time – ‘Here you go, have it.’ And I’d say, ‘What are you doing?’ …His philosophy was, ‘You give it away and it comes back to you in the end.’”
Many people talked about how he would listen to everyone with respect, and take the time for full discussions with anyone who wanted to talk about the Dead.
Rango Keshavan: “He had a deep understanding and feel for the music and what was hot…he was the ultimate fan of the music. I don’t think there is a single person left on the planet with the depth of understanding of what the Dead could do to your soul, along with the humility to listen to your take on it as well.”
Peter Lavezzoli: “He would take the time to fully absorb what you would say about the music, and he would tell you how honored he was to listen to you. All the while you knew that he was the true scholar. But he was very humble, and always wanted to learn from others. He never belittled anyone who wanted to talk to him about the music, or ask him questions. … Dick enjoyed bouncing his ideas off [us], and we would discuss things and make suggestions, knowing all the time that Dick never REALLY needed anyone else’s input…”
Steve Rolfe: “[One time] some kid came up to him and said, ‘Why don’t you release one of the Providence shows where they had the horns?’ He said to the guy, ‘But why?’ And the guy explained himself, and Dick listened to him, even though he hated the stuff with the horns in ’73. But he treated him with respect.”
Kevin Shapiro: “I was amazed how much time he made for each and every fan who wanted to meet him and ask questions.”
Michael Smith: “I met Dick once – I had a big legal pad full of questions to ask Dick… I was really just hoping to get to ask him one or two, but much to my surprise, he sat and answered all of my questions – a project that took him almost an hour.”
Gary Fischman: “I feel a little bad that I only ragged and nagged at Dick, without really appreciating what he was doing… The man knew the music, he felt it in his bones and in his soul, he understood what was truly inspired jamming, and he made it available in a form that anyone with a CD player could appreciate.”
Peter Lavezzoli: “He understood the importance of documenting this music, getting it out there so that people can always access it for themselves. He knew that people will need to hear this music long into the future. He was the vehicle for that.”
Tom Melvin: “Dick taught me to always listen closely because no matter how many times you might have heard a piece, there was probably something else in there for you to find if you listened to it right. ‘Go back and listen to something you think you have a good handle on again,’ he’d say to those who always needed a constant fix of new music – knowing that there was always something else there that you hadn’t found; that this mine was so deep, there was no way you were going to tap out that vein… He knew the good stuff lasts forever.”
Peter Lavezzoli: “Dick taught me to go back and listen to shows that I had previously written off, and I ended up revising my opinion several times… He taught me how to be a careful listener of these shows…what to look for when you want to find the diamonds in the rough.”
David Lemieux: “In the short time that I worked with him, he taught me how to objectively listen to Grateful Dead music. I say that because he listened to it academically – and of course, he was the biggest deadhead you’d ever meet, so he certainly did it for pleasure – but he really knew how to listen to Grateful Dead music objectively… What Dick taught me is that you have to step back from your personal preferences and recognize that even if you don’t like 1985, you can step back and…see that this is good music… Dick is the kind of guy who, you’d think he probably doesn’t listen to anything outside of ’69, he can listen to something like the Hartford ’83 show…and flat out say, ‘This is really good.’ …When you get into a position where you have some modicum of influence…you really have to check your subjectivity at the door, because it’s not about what you like. If it was, every Dick’s Pick under Dick’s tenure would have been ’68 to ’74. And there is a certain faction that would not have complained about that, but that certainly would not have represented the Grateful Dead.”
The last Dick’s Pick Latvala worked on was #14, the two shows from fall ’73. (It was also the first four-disc DP.) Lemieux said: “I remember when Dick was working on that. That was right when I met him, and he was so proud that what he was getting on there was everything that was very important to him in ’73.”
As Latvala had said: “I could stay in the winter of ’73 forever.”
After Latvala’s passing, David Lemieux became the new tape archivist. Lemieux was originally a film archivist; he visited the Vault, then wrote them a letter asking if he could help with the video archiving. They took him up on his offer, and he started work in ’99, cataloging the video collection; once Latvala died, his role expanded. (As an aside - Lemieux was born on 11/8/70.)
Though Lemieux only spent a few months with Latvala, Dick left a strong impression on him: “No one can fill Dick’s shoes… It was a joy to walk through the Vault with him and have him grab a tape off the shelf and say, ‘This will one day be a Dick’s Pick.’ …One thing Dick taught me was to always have open ears. If a show is recommended, it will be listened to.”
“Every day I worked with him was memorable. Every morning he’d say, ‘Well David, what do you want to hear today?’ He would pull something good off the shelf, put it on and leave the room. Then he’d come back and ask me what I thought.”
Jeffrey Norman continued mastering the releases. Originally he was an independent freelance engineer, who first worked with the Dead when editing Dead Set in ’81, and helped on several other Dead albums through the ‘80s. “Then in 1994, a position opened up to be on staff, and having done so much independent work, I was definitely up for it. John Cutler needed an assistant and we worked together pretty well…so I ended up being one of the last people hired, besides David Lemieux.”
Latvala had said of Jeff Norman, “He’s not even a deadhead, but he’s turning on to the music through the live stuff over time.” Norman admitted he was not a deadhead before working in the vault: “I had worked on a number of projects with Betty, Healy & Cutler before I met Dick, and although the projects were enjoyable, I never really ‘got it’. Dick’s enthusiasm and love of the music was contagious, and soon I was listening to all sorts of stuff that Dick would turn me on to.”
Many people wondered if Dick’s Picks would continue, but Lemieux reassured them: “Dick left many notes & suggestions as to what he wanted to come out… His notebooks do guide us, and he did tell us several shows he wanted to be Dick’s Picks someday… We’re putting out what Dick wanted.”
This may have been lip-service to some extent, although DP15 included a note from ‘the great beyond’: “Dick’s Picks shall continue in my absence as before. My plans for future releases are well known to my teammates and they have sworn with their blood to remain true to the cause. I hope this release will alleviate any doubts concerning my posthumous powers.”
With Latvala in the great beyond, they released 9/3/77 and 11/8/69 as a kind of tribute to him, as those were two of his favorite shows he’d tried hardest to get released.
Latvala had said, “Englishtown was an amazing show. I’ve been yelling this in Cutler and Phil’s ears for centuries, and they are not willing to go with it yet.”
9/3/77 “was one of Dick’s most-loved shows,” Lemieux recalled. “After his passing, John Cutler wanted to release something Dick REALLY wanted more than anything, and this show was at the top of the list.” (Curiously, Latvala also said a couple times that this show was a multi-track, but Lemieux confirmed it was a 2-track.)
Latvala said of the Nov 7-8 ’69 shows, “Those were unreal shows, but can’t be used because of tape clicks, noise throughout the tapes.” Lemieux concurred about 11/8: “That was Dick’s favorite show. Dick wanted that show for a long time, but the audio problems prevented its release.”
“The intention after Dick’s passing was to release 11/8/69, but it required too much work due to technical gremlins on the tape.” Fortunately, they were able to digitally remove all the clicks on the tape, and it went out as DP16. (John Cutler was listed in the credits as “the Great Obstacle”…)
Norman: “We really struggled with the funkiness of Cumberland Blues. In the end, it seemed the entire show should be released. And the early sound problems caused much debate – Dick figured that I would never let the first set out because of the sound quality…but now, I really love the whole-show concept, warts & all.”
“We feel that we’re paying tribute to Dick every day that these tapes are taken care of,” Lemieux said years later. “Dick truly believed it was an important historic collection. He was the first person to recognize its importance. That was eight years before the first Dick’s Pick.”
Every so often, little “LATVALA!” signs would be placed in the pictures of later Dick’s Picks – it could be found on a poster, a billboard, a speaker, a tapedeck, a mike stand… It’s been surmised that these signified the shows that Dick had actually picked.
Since then, Grateful Dead releases have boomed – save for a halt when they shifted to Rhino, live Dead albums have come pouring out in various formats, with ever-more extravagant box sets being issued all the time. The brief-lived Download Series, and the currently-running Taper’s Section hint at a possible future of streams and downloads from the Vault.
Latvala said in ’96 they had not started any digital archiving: “We haven’t done any…because archiving means finding a medium that everyone deems acceptable, and no one’s agreed on one yet. That includes DATs, CDs, maybe optical discs. Everything is changing so fast in the digital realm. And there are so many thousands of tapes to transfer, and some of them aren’t worth shit. I mean, no one on the inside will use them for a marketable product. So if you’re going into archiving, you have to know what is good, because time is of the essence. You start with what’s important – but who knows what’s important? Me, supposedly. But we haven’t done that yet.”
Surprisingly, as the band-member who had put the brakes on Vault releases back in the early ‘90s, later on Phil Lesh was most enthusiastic about making the shows in the Vault available to everyone. When asked if the Vault could be opened for people to download, Lesh said, “I think that’s a great idea.”
Latvala said: “I don’t know how it will happen or how quickly, but I certainly think that Phil is interested in having every tape accessible to anyone…it would be more like something stored on a big mainframe and you can download music at your house. But it’s a fantasy concept because it will take forever to transfer everything. I don’t foresee that happening for a while.”
By 2000, according to Jeffrey Norman the situation hadn’t advanced much: “The band members are still looking at the feasibility of digitizing the vault to make it accessible on the internet, maybe on a streaming basis. But they would still own and have total control over the contents. The details are still quite vague… If we do digitize the vault and make things available for people to listen to on demand, or to stream, then that would mean that it would be as-is…warts ‘n’ all. I’m told that it would all be for free, and that would be the only way I’d support it.”
Lemieux: “Shows on demand? Maybe someday, but not until the audio quality of such an undertaking would be satisfactory to GDP.”
Mickey Hart was also in favor of digitizing the vault and providing full access; Bob Weir spoke in ‘99 as if plans were going full-speed-ahead:
“There’s not much of any way to rush it. We’ll get it done as quickly as possible. We’ll probably start by going on dead.net and doing a quick-and-dirty survey on which shows we should get to first. We’ll do those and they’ll be available, but it’s going to take a year or so, I would guess, to digitize the whole thing. The plan is to give fans all access, via both internet and traditional hard-disc sales. Fans will be able to get entire shows, or pick and choose favorite songs. At that point, you’ll be able to get every Uncle John’s Band from 1978 to 1984, or whatever you want.”
(Though he admitted, “I’m not our archivist by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t have time to listen to that old stuff…”)
The next year he was still optimistic: “We’re still getting that deal together but it’s nearing solution now… When that happens then we…start digitizing the Vault. Stuff will come out, but it’s going to take six months or a year to digitize the thing at full race. But stuff will start being available. What we’ll do is do a poll as to which are the most in-demand shows and we’ll start there. And then we’ll get the whole deal digitized…as soon as we can actually. My guess is that within a couple of months you’ll start being able to get stuff online or more mail-order discs.”
The Dead were divided, though, about how this would be funded – there was some opposition to corporate-sponsored backing and “selling out to Microsoft”, so the deal fell through. So the day of digital Vault downloads was not to arrive so soon after all…
In ’02 Lemieux was skeptical that such a program would affect their usual CD release schedule: “I cannot see a day that will come when everybody who wants music gets it from their computer… I don’t think I know anyone where the computer is the only source for their music. People for the most part really like their CDs, so I can’t see it impacting the releases – if it does, I don’t know how comfortable we’d be doing that.”
Time passed, and when Lemieux was asked in ’04 about digitizing the Vault, they’d gotten no further:
“This is something that we’ve been looking into for a number of years. It seems the technology is just about there, which means it’s time we start looking at it seriously. I’d love to see it happen.”
And in ’05 Lemieux admitted that the Vault was still not being digitized: “No, because that’s somebody’s full-time job and nobody here has that job. It’s not an active process…but we back up everything we listen to… So if we’re listening to [a tour for a Dick’s Pick], we do a proper digital backup of that while we’re going through… It’s pretty much the best way we can do it.”
When Weir was asked about it later on, he’d sigh that maybe someday it would happen…
’06: “It’s always been too expensive, too labor-intensive, to digitize our vaults, and maybe that’s possible now.”
’07: “That’s our hope. It’s going to be time-consuming and costly to digitize all that stuff to make it readily available. Now we’re doing the shows one by one. At some point, a massive effort, I think, should be made to digitize the whole Vault. That way, you can hear every Uncle John’s Band from 1978 to 1988, or whatever you want, a song at a time, but that’s still a long ways off.”
In 2009, the USCS received a (somewhat controversial) federal grant to digitize at least some of the Vault and make it available on a “Virtual Terrapin Station” website. The project is said to take until 2012…
In the meantime we have the Archive and various download sites, where the shows in circulation are all free. But Dick did foresee one of the downsides of downloading shows.
Rich Latvala: “He felt that online trading and exchanging digital files really removed the personal element in tape trading. That was the most appalling thing he could imagine happening. One of the major elements in tape trading for him was sharing the music personally, discussing it one on one, discovering new things together, and just talking to other people about it… He abhorred the idea that you would just download the music and never talk about anyone with it.”
IX. DICK’S FAVORITES
“Though in my soul I’m an Anthem-era man…I think ’73 was the best year the Dead ever had. There were so many unique vehicles for jamming that year.”
Eddie Claridge: “Dick liked ’73 better than ’72. I think Dick’s true heart lay somewhere in between ’68 and ’69. That’s what he always went back to listen to when he had time to listen to whatever he felt like.”
Some of Latvala's notebook pages are available online:
Aside from the notebook excerpts, Latvala would also often write little mini-reviews on his tape j-cards, putting stars by the best songs and adding little comments like “great!”, “killer!”, “thrilling!”, “brain-fry!”...
There’s also a page collecting Latvala’s various web postings, of the best shows of late ’72, ’73-’74, and ’77; and also some song recommendations through the years:
(posts also duplicated at http://home1.gte.net/cmp1163x/vaultDNC.htm )
Here is a compilation of some of his other comments about different shows – some from conversations, some from friends’ memories, some from tapecards…
7/29-30/66: “Dick loved this tape and played it often and always wished for it to be a Dick’s Pick.”
2/28/69: “The best and most exciting GD show ever - without a doubt!!!”
8/29/69: “He thought this show sucked so much that he refused to play it ever again.”
8/30/69: “Performance is similar to last night’s. Things just don’t jell. Jam: very introverted, non-musical. The Killing Jam doesn’t jell as well as 11/7/69.”
11/1/69 Alligator Jam: “unique and very rare!”
11/7/69 Jam in Dark Star: “The single greatest statement! Equal in uniqueness & intensity to 11/8/69.”
11/8/69: “One of the best and most unique shows ever!”
12/26/69 Dark Star: “One good example of a type of riff that would occasionally appear during Dark Star. Fantastic.”
4/12/70: “Show is an excellent example of a super show.”
5/2/70: “As good as it will ever get for one show.”
9/19/70: the best Dark Star ever. (Although Dick frequently changed his mind on this point, once even naming 10/26/89 the best Dark Star…)
4/29/71: “He never thought this was a particularly hot show.”
10/24/71 Dark Star: Killer. “He loved this Dark Star and thought it was out of place for 1971, feeling more like 1969.”
11/6/71 NFA>GDTR>NFA: “One of the most exciting versions.” (He was also thrilled by the 8/22/72 version.)
11/14/71 Other One: “Great bass playing – nice transition – very unique and intense!”
4/8/72: the best Caution ever.
5/7/72 Other One: “Best of the best kind of playing.”
8/27/72: “Way overrated. He could think of at least ten shows from Sept & Oct ’72 that were superior in every aspect.”
9/24/72 Dark Star: “Unique and lots of treats and styles.”
10/24/72 Other One: “A very special treat with oodles of unique jamming.”
12/15/72 Truckin’ Jam: “Very unique and exciting!”
2/19/73: Possibly the best music the Dead played in 1973. He said, “You’d never know just by looking at such an ordinary setlist.”
3/24/73 Jam: “includes some superb bass playing, with a solo!”
4/2/73: Jam out of Sunshine “has nice, jazzy brain-fry feeling to it” - Eyes is “the best playing of the show.”
9/11/73 “is a good show but we won’t see it in our lifetime because 9/8/73 kills it.”
September ’73 horn shows: “The worst bullshit excuse for music I’ve ever heard in my LIFE, man!”
10/19/73: “Excellent show; both sets are exciting! This show may be the best of the period!”
10/29-30/73: Dick said these shows blew him away, and the Other One was incredible. “We talked about doing a Pick from those. He thought that neither of the shows was probably strong enough to stand on its own.”
11/11/73: “Performance is spunky, but there were lots of wrong chords/notes and no outstanding moments (other than the Mind Left Body jam, which was only a couple of minutes long) – not close to my memory of it.”
11/20/73: “Excellent show. Best 2nd set yet.”
11/21/73: “The night before was ten times better.”
12/8/73 Other One: “Meltdown material! Quite long, but nothing close in intensity to 12/2/73.”
7/31/74 Jam: “unusual but not great.”
8/6/74: “9/74 London is a better Playing in the Band than 8/6/74. A few other ‘74s should come out, but there’s thousands from ‘73 more worthy.”
5/22/77: “It tears apart Ithaca. It rips it to shreds.”
11/6/77: “Not the show you want released – you want 11/4/77 Colgate.”
4/8/78: “One of the finest shows of the year, I want to release it.”
9/2/78: “the greatest Scarlet>Fire ever.”
12/31/78: “That is the greatest night in the history of the planet… You should have been there – there were tremendous thrills…”
5/6/81: “One of Dick’s favorite shows from the ‘80s. The second-set jam always blew him away, and to him it was not only one of the best jams of the ‘80s, it was one of the best jams ever. He also really dug the first set.”
The two most requested shows for Dick’s Picks were, of course, Veneta ’72 and Ithaca ’77, both of which Latvala pooh-poohed.
8/27/72: “No. There are about 4-5 other shows about that time that were better. There weren’t that many exciting points in that show. It was a hot day, the guitars were out of tune… I don’t see doing that right away.”
He was also very dismissive of 5/8/77 – when it was requested, he’d say, “Don’t you all have that in perfect quality?” and boast about never releasing it: “There is one tape I won’t release. Everyone wants it, no one will get it.” (Funnily enough, Lemieux later said it wasn’t even in the Vault.)
X. LINKS & SOURCES
“I feel like I’m just the luckiest person on earth. I know there could be any number of you out there doing this just as well, but I happen to be here, the one doing it, so that’s my goal, to get the great stuff out.”
http://home1.gte.net/cmp1163x/vault.htm - Words from the Vault (links to interviews with Latvala & Lemieux)
http://www.trufun.com/latvala.931005.html - 10/5/93 Gans interview 10/5/93 (DP1)
ftp://gdead.berkeley.edu/pub/gdead/interviews/latvala.interview - excerpts from Dupree’s ’94 interview
http://www-2.cs.cmu.edu/~mleone/gdead/latvala.html - 3/5/95 Silberman interview (DP2)
ftp://gdead.berkeley.edu/pub/gdead/interviews/Latvala-on-Dicks-Pick-4 - 2/26/96 Gans interview (DP4)
http://www.gdforum.com/chats/961010DL.html - 10/10/96 GD forum interview (DP6)
http://www.well.com/conf/gdhour/latvala.970226.html - 2/26/97 Gans interview (DP7)
http://groups.google.com/group/rec.music.gdead/browse_thread/thread/f4034fe822c2e94e - 3/25/98 newspaper article
ftp://gdead.berkeley.edu/pub/gdead/interviews/Latvala.08.09.98 - Q&A
http://www.gdforum.com/chats/dl981030.html - 10/30/98 GD forum chat
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=InlVU_LbOqU - DP10 Youtube interview in 3 parts (Latvala is rather wasted)
ftp://gdead.berkeley.edu/pub/gdead/interviews/Lesh-Cutler-10.17.96 - not Latvala, but Lesh & Cutler talking about Dozin’ at the Knick and how future releases will go.
ftp://gdead.berkeley.edu/pub/gdead/miscellaneous/DICKS-PICKS - the original ’93 Dick’s Picks press release.
There’s also a good Latvala interview in the first Taping Compendium. The ‘Tribute to Dick Latvala’ section in the Taping Addendum has many interviews with family & friends, on which much of this post is based. (Many thanks to Michael Getz for the interviews). Sandy Troy’s One More Saturday Night book has a brief pre-Dick’s Picks interview; and Latvala was also interviewed for the Dupree’s Diamond News, Relix and Spiral Light magazines (which I haven’t seen).