Sunday, December 13, 2015

My Life With The Grateful Dead, Part Two: Trading Them Tasty Tapes

The Grateful Dead have consumed me on and off over the years. I can honestly say when I'm not listening to the Dead, all is well. If you've listened to my weekly radio show, Monday's on Radio Valencia, then you know I have a diverse interest in many genres of music. But when I'm deep in it with the Dead then all is BEST.

I had a few LPs under my belt, including some live one's by the time I purchased (yes purchased. I was too green to understand that one does not purchase a bootleg of the Grateful Dead, EVER!) my first Dead bootleg, while walking Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley some sunny weekend afternoon. I'll never forget it. I had heard enough about bootlegs, but had no clue where to locate any. I was about 12-13 at this time, and was just now starting to figure out the world of the lumpenproletariat. Maybe it's the Dead that got me so interested in the excitement of the goings on in the underworld? Hmm...

The tape (which I no longer have (that story comes later), was an audience recording of their October 8, 1981 show from Copenhagen, Denmark. It wasn't the entire show, and the audience quality is distant, but that didn't matter at all to me. What mattered was that I finally had in my 12 year old possession was a real Grateful Dead bootleg. This was way better than baseball cards.

Living in San Mateo, starting in 1985, I became keenly aware of the Bootleg Bible that was under the counter at The Record Man in Burlingame, one town to the north. I recall walking in there really nervous, not wanting to get into trouble, to ask the owner to see the binder, which had hundreds of typed pages, each with a different band and a different show, set list included. I was wide-eyed! I remember purchasing Pink Floyd, Boston Garden, June 18, 1975. Audience again, but the sound quality was really listenable. I'm a stickler for a quality soundboard, but if the audience recording is just right (which has a lot to do with where in the venue they recorded from, which mics they used, the recording deck, etc.), then I'm happy to oblige. I visited The Record Man often, but I don't think I ever purchased a Dead boot from him. I did buy a few on vinyl from Tommy at Vinyl Solution in San Mateo. I bought some classic Trademark Of Quality boots from him, including a rare Bob Dylan "John Birch Society Blues", which in bootlegger lore, is a serious collectors item. I have lots of Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Dylan, Doors, and Led Zeppelin boots on vinyl. At the time I was purchasing them, between 1985-1987, it was geekdom paradise. This was before I got deeper into the cassette trading. Clinton Heylin published a book in 1996: "Bootleg: The History of the Other Recording Industry", which I highly recommend for more information about labels like TMQ. Great stuff there.

In the fall of 1985, KZSU out of Stanford had a Wednesday afternoon show, where the hosts would play live Grateful Dead from their summer 1985 east coast tour. I took whichever cassette I could find, blank or otherwise, and recorded those shows. This is what set me off on growing my Dead tape collection.

I even taped over a tape I had recorded from my childhood, around the age of five, from a Saturday morning family time, watching cartoons. I really wish I hadn't taped over that one. Dang.

I then discovered David Gans' weekly radio show on KFOG radio "The KFOG Deadhead Hour", in 1986. I taped that religiously. Gans went on to host "Dead to the World" on KPFA, and hosts an annual fundraiser, where he plays live Dead and does interviews for over twelve hours, every February. Living in the Bay Area was the best thing for this Deadhead. There was so much Grateful Dead all around me. I attended my first Dead show on December 30, 1985, which I wrote some about in part one. The next night, New Years Eve, was live on KFOG, and the 2nd set was broadcast live on KQED-TV. Thus began my video taping of the band as well.

Now I was armed with trading material. Relix Magazine offered space in their classified section for traders to offer their wares. I wrote to a couple of people, included my very meager collection list and requested theirs. After about 10-15 days I would receive a reply, which often had their list included and which of my shows they wanted to trade for. I would buy a brick of Maxell XLIIs and dub 10 cassettes-worth of shows and send them on their way, eagerly awaiting my package in the mail, filled with my request. Can you imaging the joy on my face when a delivery of a brick of tapes hit my front door. There is nothing like that feeling. I miss it. I always dubbed at real-time. I never sped it up. I was a stickler for that, as I knew that was the expectation in the trader community. I also am very OCD about source information. I want to know the generation of the recording, and if it's audience then you have to offer all the information that you know. If it's a soundboard, are their any audience patches, etc?

That's how things went for a while until I ended up in a band with a serious Deadhead. He was almost a bit too serious and uptight to be honest. Nice guy, and a stellar guitarist. He hired me to work for him and his roommate, to be there gofer. They had hundreds of tapes, and to be honest, that's the only reason I wanted to work for them. They let me take a box of ten tapes home at a time to tape them. Kid in a candy store, indeed. That is, until the internet. They used to also record audio-only shows on hi-fi VHS tapes. That way you could hear the entire show without the need to flip a tape over. This is even better than CDs. It reminds me of the days of reel-to-reel.

I was working at Tower Records in San Mateo at this time, and they had a penchant for promoting from within. I have no memory of how this happened, but they made me the blank-tape buyer for the store. How apropos. The venders used to come in and schmooze me into putting their tapes in a better display. In return they would give me a brick of tapes. HA! Can you imagine how many blanks I had in my possession? So many. Too many crappy Memorex to mention. Blech. At least the TDK and Maxell guys came through too.  I was growing my collection leaps and bounds by this time. I found a nice local trading group, and even went to some fun listening nights in Palo Alto and SF. And soon CD recording was becoming affordable and not so time-consuming.

Once I began trading CDs and downloading shows from FTP sites and other sites like dimeadozen, etree, and Born Cross-Eyed (an invite only site), I had access to every Grateful Dead show that anyone could ever need. And with making it possible to stream excellent soundboard and audience shows, the entire culture has changed. Sure, I still love "discovering" a show that's new to me, but it's not like it used to be, when the mailman would deliver that package to my front door, which I had been anxiously anticipating for a few weeks. Now I have the show in a matter of minutes. And I have so damn much of it! When am I ever going to listen to it all?

The CD shelves in my office are overflowing with bootleg CDs. Now I have external hard-drives that carry much of my collection. Perhaps one day I'll get to transferring over all of my CDs to a hard-drive. I highly doubt that will happen.

I divorced in 2006, and left my tape collection behind. Being in the digital world meant that I had no more need for all those cassettes. I wish I still had that first one from Copenhagen though. Dang.

I swear, if I didn't host a weekly radio show, I would never have time to listen to much of what I own.

I have made it a rule NEVER to purchase a bootleg, or download a show that is commercially released by the band. I like supporting bands by purchasing their music. The bootleg sites I use will take down any show from a band that does not approve of it being on there. I'm cool with that. Being in a band, I want my fans (read: my mother) to be able to download my shows as often as they wish. I go by the Jerry Garcia book: "once we're down with it, they can have it".

I don't trade anymore. I don't have a reason to. It's all available via download. I do sometimes give shows as gifts to friends. That's still a treat. My most recent downloads are Rocket From the Tombs, Eric McFadden, Can, and three Grateful Dead shows: 6-18-89 (which I attended), and two from a year that I haven't given much credence to, 1971: 4-21-71 and 7-31-71. Both are really great, high energy shows. Give them a listen.

As for some favorite Dead boots, I think it's easy to call out the popular one's: February 13/14, 1970 (I remember when the "secret" 2/12/70 show was finally making the rounds, and I was among a rare few who got an early copy. That made me popular in the trading circle for a while), Europe 1972 tour, Winterland in October 1974, the Great American Music Hall show from 1975, May 8, 1977 December 31, 1978, the SF and NYC October run from 1980. Those are all excellent shows. I think they got to be so popular because these were the shows that became available so early. I prefer the May 7, 1977 show over the May 8th. I love the October 1972 run! I also love anything from 1968, especially the August run from Los Angeles. What a great and very raw year for the young band. The Boston run from December 1969 is epic! 1969 is epic! I mean really, you want primal, brilliant Grateful Dead, then you listen to all of 1969. My dream is that somewhere there is a crisp soundboard of the June 24, 1970 Port Chester show. Every Deadhead worth their weight in knowledge of the band wants this. Can you even imagine? August 27, 1972, Oregon, which was preserved in the film "Sunshine Daydream" is a must see. The film doesn't have the entire show, and is missing key tunes, but I'm so happy it's out there. That show deserves the hype it's given. I absolutely LOVE 1973 and 1974. The Dead entered into a more jazzy-jammed out direction with the addition of Keith Godchaux on keys and his wife, Donna Jean on vocals. Pigpen had passed away, and would be sorely missed, but the band hit some crazy highs during these two years. There are too many great show to mention, but I will mention a couple. June 10, 1973 RFK Stadium. This is a four hour show, filled with everything you need: rock and roll, psychedelic jams, countrified Dead. Perfection on tape. The July 27, 1973 soundcheck jam is historic and brilliant. Look it up. The Playin-Uncle John's-Morning Dew-Uncle John's-Playin' on November 10, 1973 is a marathon of great playing. They only played this combination four times. Each one is excellent. Get them all. May 25, 1974 is an all-time brilliant show. There's a great matrix (soundboard/audience combo recording engineered by a fan).

I have all of what is available of the Blues for Allah recording and rehearsal sessions. There is some prime jamming going on in there. I also have all of the Dylan and the Dead rehearsal sessions. That makes for some hit-or-miss moments. I prefer pre-1975 for all of the obvious reasons, but there were some shining moments between 1987-1991, a time when I must have seen the band at least 100 times on the west coast. I love that there are some many live videos of the band available online now.

If you've read this far, (and why wouldn't you have?) then you might want to check out the online database where I post all of my shows. If you have some live shows, this is a great place to organize your collection. Go here to see my list. It's has a drop-down menu, with the artists alphabetized, and the number of shows I own next to their name. I have about 500+ shows from various artists that I still need to get up there. I don't put in the effort like I used to.

Coming up in my next chapter of My Life With The Grateful Dead, I'll share what it was like to run around the Henry J Kaiser at the tender age of 18, and being on the road with the Good ol' Grateful Dead.

To read Part One: My Life With The Grateful Dead, go here.

Here's some fun live Dead on German TV on April 21, 1972.

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