Sunday, March 13, 2011

Dick Latvala: The Man Behind The Grateful Dead's "Dick's Picks"

Dick Latvala became the Grateful Dead's official tape archivist in 1985, and began releasing Dick's Picks, a series of live recordings, in 1993.

There is a long history of live recordings of The Grateful Dead. The Grateful Dead had always allowed fans to record their shows, and bootleg tapes (and then CDs) were always circulating. In 1984, the Grateful Dead introduced the Tapers Section, a special section of each venue where those who wished to record the concert would sit. This section was generally right behind the soundboard, where the sound was the best. The first Dead concert to have a Tapers Section was at the Berkeley Community Theatre on October 27, 1984.

Grateful Dead Live Albums

The Grateful Dead had released several live albums over the years, including Live/Dead (1969), Grateful Dead (also known as "Skull & Roses" and "Skullfuck," 1971), Europe 72 (1972), History Of The Grateful Dead Volume One (Bear's Choice), (1973), Steal Your Face (1976), Reckoning (1981), Dead Set (1981) and Without A Net (1990). But all of those albums took their material from various concerts, rather than providing a single set or show in its entirety.

The first album to provide a full show was One From The Vault (1991), which was the show the Dead performed on August 13, 1975 at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco.

Dick's Picks Began In 1993

The Dick's Picks series of live recordings began while the Grateful Dead were still active. That is, while Jerry Garcia was still alive. The first volume in the series was released in December 1993, and featured music from the concert the Grateful Dead performed on December 19, 1973.

Dick Latvala, Official Tape Archivist

Dick Latvala was the official Grateful Dead tape vault archivist. He was appointed to that position in 1985. He had done random jobs for the Grateful Dead in the years before that.
Dick started collecting Grateful Dead concert tapes in 1974. But even before that he had been into their music, having attended the Trips Festival back in 1966. He was also involved in early LSD tests. By late 1967, the Grateful Dead was Dick's favorite band because of their willingness to take chances, their sense of exploration, and their similarity to jazz.

In 1979, he went backstage at a Grateful Dead concert in Colorado. And then he started meeting folks who worked with the band. At one point he met Phil Lesh, the bass player for the Grateful Dead, and discussed the tapes. Dick expressed his hope that someone was taking care of all of those tapes. The next day he was hired as the tape archivist.

His first job as archivist was to go through the tapes and write in log books what was actually on each of them. A lot of them weren't labeled, and others had been mislabeled.

Dick's Picks was material from the two-track recordings. Before this, the band had released material only from multi-track source tapes. He chose 12-19-73 as the first show to release mainly for the version of "Here Comes Sunshine." That is why he chose that show over other shows from late 1973. He chose late 1973 because that was a time when the band was at its jazziest.

But "Dick's Picks Volume One" does not contain the entire show from December 19, 1973. It wasn't until "Dick's Picks Volume Five" that an entire show was included, rather than just selections.

Dick's Picks Continued After Dick Latvala's Death

Dick Latvala died in 1999, from a heart attack at the age of 56. The series continued, with David Lemieux becoming the Dead's tape archivist and taking over responsibility for the Dick's Picks releases. The first couple of releases following Dick's death were of shows that he had already planned on releasing. These were volumes 15 and 16.

In the liner notes for "Dick's Picks Volume Fifteen," there is this message: "People of Earth... Greetings from the great beyond. I am contacting you at this time to assure you that all is well and to let you know that Dick's Picks shall continue in my absence just 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." And it's signed, "The Archivist formerly known as Dick."

Thirty-six volumes were released in all. Many of those volumes focused on music from the peak years of 1973 and 1977. In fact, five volumes were of music from 1977 and four were of music from 1973. The Grateful Dead since then have begun a new series of live releases titled "Road Trips."

(Note: I originally posted this review on April 27, 2010.)

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