The Dead = original Long Tail band?

There is an interesting post on the Long Tail blog that discusses the current trend of bands giving away their recorded works for free on MySpace pages, etc while banking on gigs to earn money.

Anderson's argument is that recording and distribution costs have fallen to virtually nothing so bands feel justified charging nothing for their recorded works while charging for the experience of seeing them live.

The somewhat amusing thing is that he suggests that this is something new in the industry while any Deadhead worth their salt would recognize the business model to share important features with the Dead's very own -- if one could go so far as to call the Dead's incessant touring and taping policy as a 'business model.' One astute commenter named Elvis pointed out the similarities.

But there are differences, in the Dead's heyday recording and distribution costs were not next-to-nothing. Nor was there an internet where the Dead could facilitate the trading of concert recordings. It all arose seemingly spontaneously from the Dead's, or at least Jerry's, insistence that once the music left their fingertips/mouths it no longer belonged to them. It's hard to call that a business model but it worked. Surprisingly well.

There's nothing like the Grateful Dead. And, it seems there won't be anytime soon. MySpace or no MySpace...



One of our contributors, Murph, may find this new webtool handy:


It's a listmaking tool and repository.


One More Saturday Night

Thanks for the b-day wishes, and the excellent 'promo' copy of Live at the Cow Palace, NYE, 1976! I was indeed listening to this fine release at 4:08am... GMT; which means I shut the listening party down a little after 11pm CST. I can assure you that the reason was not due to any defiency with this recording but, rather, a pressing need to sleep.

Since this show is the real opener of 1977 it is only fitting that my thoughts on it serve as some sort of prequel to our series.

The Dead stuck close to home to close out what was a fantastic year of touring after their year-long retirement and played a very solid gig at the Cow Palace just on the other side of the bay from Marin County on the south side of San Fran. The show was broadcast live on KSAN and this release is remastered from the board's recording of the show and presented in HDCD. One notable factor of the remix is that Jerry's guitar seems noticeably lower overall than the raw-ish Betty Boards that document '77.

The opener is a suitably vibed Promised Land and Jerry is on top of things as far as his guitar is concerned. Unfortunately he manages to botch every verse of the Bertha that follows. The first disc closes with an adequately spacey Playin' which clocks in at over 23' and is a bit of an omen for what follows.

There was a celebration to mark the turning of the calendar but the real kick-off to New Years was the positively energetic Sugar Magnolia that kicks off:

Sugar Mag > Eyes > Wharf Rat > Good Lovin' > Samson

The second set is , in fact, two extended jams surrounding a little chestnut called Scarlet Begonias (which would soon -- on 3/18 -- be paired with Fire on the Mountain). After the first and somewhat more rolicking grouping of songs the setlist proceeds:

Around and Around > Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Drums > Not Fade Away > Morning Dew

Just think about that for a while. Then listen to it. There are some real treats on this release. Even Jerry is excited and the band sounds positively thrilled to be playing. The Eyes of the World is quite nice as is the Not Fade Away > Morning Dew.

This is one of the better 'From the Vault' releases that I have heard in a little while. Too many of the more recent shows have some serious issues -- songs, flubs, what-have-you that can detract from the release. While it may be nice to have these from a completist perspective it also means that the pool of shows that can be traded freely is rapidly shrinking. So it is nice to hear a show that I hadn't heard in its entirety before that has so few low points and some truly sparkling versions of old favorites.

I'd love to hear anyone else's comments on this here show and I'd hope that some aspects of this resemble a discussion more than strict essaying. If you wanna join the panel just let me know as we some pretty esteemed readers judging from the comments, etc. Happy listenin'

Happy Birthday Bob!

Today we celebrate the birthday of our fearless co-contributor, Bob! Happy birthday Bob! We know he's already celebrating because if you glance down and to the right you'll see he was listening to "One More Saturday Night" at 4:08 a.m.! Way to rock, Bobby! He tells me he will spend a portion of his birthday putting the finishing touches on our first substantive show review of the year...but I told him to take the day off. Stay tuned.


3/18/77 Anyone??

We're busily listening to the first two shows of the year, 2/26 and 2/27 and will hopefully post our thoughts on those within the next few days. But looking down the road a little bit...I'd love to give 3/18/77 (Winterland) a listen, but it's not available at archive.org. So if anyone could point us to copies of that show (in mp3, streaming, or lossless formats, we're not too picky) we'd be most appreciative. I mean, how could we critique 1977 without hearing the first-ever "Fire on the Mountain"?

While we're at it, feel free to let us know what your favorite '77 shows are. We certainly aren't going to try and listen to all 60 shows from the year (what kind of nerds do you take us for??) but we'll try to listen to as many as we can, and could use suggestions.


Murph's Introduction

Before we dive in to sample and critique a little of the '77 vintage, I'll offer some of my thoughts on what makes the year special, as well as what its detractors cite when they claim it's vastly overrated.

First, the good.... tight playing and shimmering vocals.

After taking a near-complete rest from touring in 1975, the band returned in 1976 and spent most of the year playing competent but somewhat uninspiring shows. They obviously had some significant rust to shake off, and the task was complicated by a personnel addition: in '76 Mickey Hart rejoined Bill Kreutzmann back behind the drum kit(s). If '76 was a band regaining its footing as an ensemble, by 1977 they were cooking with gas. The Dead's playing in 1977 was remarkably tight and energetic, and seemed to grow more muscular as the year progressed.

And not to be dismissed in evaluations of the keys to the '77 sound are the band's vocals. This is an area that is something of an Achilles heel for the band's recorded history, as great playing is often marred by singing that is off-key or otherwise ragged. But in '77, these problems are thankfully not in evidence. Donna Jean's monitors must have been working superbly in '77, as her vocals are almost always on key. (One only need listen to a few '78 shows to hear how awful she can sound when she's not in tune). Bobby's singing is as rich and enthusiastic as ever, and he hadn't quite devolved into the parody of himself that he would become in the mid-80's and beyond with his idiosyncratic phrasing. And Jerry's vocals never sounded better. He sounds commanding and wise beyond his years.

In short, the band was, in many ways, hitting on all strides in 1977. They were playing with seemingly telepathic precision and with a remarkable consistency that they would never again sustain for an entire year. There would certainly be runs of brilliance in later years ('79, '85, '89-'90 in particular), but not like '77.

The bad.... inside the box jamming and predictable setlists.

As great as the playing was in '77, the jamming rarely exhibited the type of adventurousness that characterized their playing during their previous peaks in '69-70, and '73-'74. There are great jams in '77 to be sure, but they generally are jams that find the band staying within the confines of song structure and ratcheting up the intensity with Jerry's solos fanning the flames. The addition of Mickey to the lineup after six years away surely had something to do with this. In his wonderful book, Dead to the Core, which is devoted to critiques of live Dead, Eric Wybenga observes that the Dead with Hart back in the lineup wasn't able to "turn corners as quickly" as in their jazzy '73-'74 heyday. That certainly seems to be the case. Whatever the reasons, there is very little in the way of spacey, exploratory excursions. As a result, the band's sound was more predictable than in years past. And speaking of predictable -- the setlists of 1977 are far less varied than at any other time in their history. The band didn't actually play Estimated Prophet and Samson & Delilah at every show in 1977, it only seems that way. They played 60 shows that year, Estimated was played 51 times, and Samson was played 41. This was not a great year for variety in Bobby's song selection, as Minglewood Blues (35 times) and Good Lovin' (30) were also played to death. He clearly had hit something of a songwriting drought, as Estimated Prophet was his only original contribution to the Terrapin Station album.

As for that album, I must say I disagree with the view offered by Bob, namely that it represents something of a high point for the band's studio efforts. While it does contain three songs (Estimated, Terrapin and Samson & Delilah) that would become warhorses of the band's live repertoire, the album as a whole is characterized by the type of slick overproduction that marred each of their studio albums (to varying degrees) following 1973's underrated Wake of the Flood. The title track earned a spot as showstopper over the years in its live incarnation, and deservedly so. On the album, it's transformed into a ridiculous multi-part suite that is so over-the-top with its heavy-handed orchestral and choral parts that it wouldn't sound out of place in an Andrew Llloyd Webber musical (think Starlight Express). Obviously it's not a show of strength that the album is so slight. It contains only four original compositions (including Donna's "Sunrise") and a grand total of six tracks which clock in at a mere 35 minutes. Among the covers is a very unfortunate disco version of the Motown classic "Dancing in the Streets." This tune was actually a vehicle for some wonderfully funky jamming onstage, but the studio cut is downright embarrassing. The album versions of Estimated, Samson & Delilah and the Lesh-penned but Weir-sung rocker Passenger fare better, but considering how well the band was playing onstage at the time, the album has to be considered a big disappointment.

All that being said, clearly the Grateful Dead had something special going on in 1977, as no performing year provokes stronger feelings. Hopefully this blog will afford us an opportunity to take a closer look and decide for ourselves whether it's worthy of the hype or perhaps a bit overrated.

Up next.... a look at the first show of the year: February 26, Swing Auditorium, San Bernadino, CA.


An introduction - Bob

2007 marks the 30th anniversary of what many consider to be the Grateful Dead's Annus Mirabilis, 1977. This blog was created to both honor and critique that year.

The idea is simple, we're both going to do our best to listen to as much material from this magical year and offer commentary where appropriate. This is my intro. Murph's will follow. Most likely this blog will take a dialogue approach though we'd hope that people will feel free to comment and if anyone wants to join our exploration and post just contact us.

Some background on '77:

While the Dead refuse to be defined by their studio efforts, 1977 saw the release of one of their finest efforts, Terrapin Station which included the title track as well as "Estimated Prophet" which would quickly become concert staples. These songs are noteworthy because of their quality. They also serve as benchmarks and cornerstones of future performances. Benchmarks because a seasoned listener can tell a lot about an individual show by a few seconds listen to an "Estimated" (should it appear). Cornerstones because they efficiently reflect the lineup of the band as well as the show's mood. Further, you'd be hard-pressed to find a truly great post-77 show where either "Estimated Prophet" or "Terrapin" were not played.

The real story of 1977 is told via the quality of the concerts. There are many reasons for this:

·The quality of the performances are top-notch

·The song catalog is incredibly rich; the Dead are able to cull from vibrant and complex new material as well as reinvent staples that they have been performing for nearly 10 years.

·The lineup:
Jerry Garcia (guitar/vocals)
Bob Weir(guitar/vocals)
Mickey Hart(drums/percussion)
Billy Kreutzman(drums/percussion)
Phil Lesh(bass)
Keith Godchaux(keys)
Donna Godchaux(vocals)

There is an important caveat here. This is, perhaps, the strongest lineup for the Dead but it only works when Keith and Donna are on. Too often one or the other is not but 1977 represents a year when they are on a lot. The contribution that an in-tune Donna brings to the band cannot be overstated. The same can be said for a more-or-less sober Keith.

·Finally, thanks to Betty Cantor there exists an enormous quantity of sparkling soundboard recordings of many 1977 shows.

These are so-called Betty Boards. Their presence in the trading community turned many people on to the Dead -- particularly the 'gateway drug' of choice for many Dead prophets: 5/8/77. Now that Deadheads are a few keystrokes away from listening to a high-quality stream of nearly any show it is hard to imagine how important these Betty Boards were. Not much longer than ten years ago 'generation' was still an important quality of any recording. As any seasoned analog trader knew, the number of generations you were from the source recording the worse your duplicate sounded. This was more crucial for source recordings that were less-than-perfect to begin with. Any time there is a heirarchy like this, human nature seems to dictate that we organize likewise. Thus, newbies had a hard time getting low-gen recordings of many primal shows. But Betty Boards sounded great right out of the box so it was relatively easy for even a new trader to get their hands on crispy recordings from 1977.