Master of the Vaults Opens Up the Tape Gate
By Toni A. Brown
Dick Latvala finds himself in a humbling position.† A self-proclaimed tape freak, he is the Grateful Deadís tape archivist.† His career is steeped in the intensity of having to listen to endless hours of Grateful Dead shows.† To many, this may sound like the pot of gold at the rainbowís end.† To Latvala, itís a job thatís been handed to him on lifeís cosmic plate.† He refuses to acknowledge it as the grand thing that is it, opting for the less assuming attitude that if he dwells on it too long, it could be overwhelming.
Latvala:† If I was a Deadhead, when I was a Deadhead, well letís seeÖ I have always been a Deadhead, and I still am, but itís been cut to shreds in the context of working on the inside.† ĎCause Deadheadedness is not what they [the Dead] are working, Deadheads are the people that receive this effort.† The people that put on the show put a lot of work into putting on the show, and they put out something and the people out there get a different picture than the people putting on the show.† Probably up to, and including, all band members.† So that distinction can never be emphasized enough.
Many Deadheads hold a deep belief that the Grateful Dead are a non-commercial entity, and that no one should make any money on the Grateful Dead, nor should the Grateful Dead make money on Deadheads.
Latvala:† That everything should be free you mean?† Well, thatís realistic in terms of tape trading.† I mean, all you have to do is have a modem and know how to press keys and operate a computer and get on the WELL or the Internet.† They talk about stuff like this endlessly.† I donít do it; I just get my roommate to print out topics that interest me, like Dickís Picks, what people say about each oneóof course, Iím interested in that.† We are soliciting information on all levels, like down to sending out the hard copy green cards that people use to list the favorite ten things they most want to see released.
So, Deadhead requests have an impact on what you listen to for potential Dickís Picks releases?
Latvala:† Absolutely, thatís why itís so important for everyone to know that.† With every Dickís Picks order sent out, there is a little card sent, and I get Ďem back and I type the data in the program.† Itís really fun.† I remember almost every date instantly, the more I do it.† And then thereís the Internet level of it, where the people can e-mail me the ten shows they want.† I have a private conference with people on the WELL who give me information.† I know that any one manís opinion isóďone man gathers what another man spillsĒóand Iíve been to shows that I thought were great and then heard them on tape and they werenít, and vice versa. So itís a very elusive subject, judging shows, and itís not as easy as I used to think it would be.† Everyone has an opinion, and everyoneís right.
Itís all subjective.
Latvala:† And itís really hard, even among so-called hard core addict tapers, to agree on something.† You could have a total disagreement with someone that you know, and gone to a lot of shows with, so itís elusive.† Maybe you didnít burp before the set started or whatever.† It seems that this experience is not something that you can nail down and say, ďthis is it.Ē† And so if anything, I want to say to people that this Dickís Picks thing is a vehicle to get at stuff that formerly wasnít being approached.† I didnít come up with that idea and I donít like the attention, but my goal is just to get at the music that I know Iíve already heard.
When did you get into the Grateful Dead?
Latvala: The Trips Festival would be the first show I can remember absolutely.† I went to Longshoremanís Hall January 21, 22, 23, 1966, which was right after I took LSD legally in a research project in Menlo Park.† It turned me around.† I barely graduated from college and found out finally what I was supposed to do.† In that era, it was an inner revolution to me, not a political one.† So I was wondering who I was, what am I doing here, and I didnít know why I was in college.† I was a good student, but I didnít know it.† [I graduated with a degree in] psychology.† Who are you and what are you doing?† That was the question, and LSD and the music became the answer for me.
††††††††††† I was born and raised in Berkeley, but I lived in New York actually, when I was a kid, from ages six, seven, and eight in the Ď50s.
Were you an early tape trader?
Latvala:† Not as early as some of my heroes.† I became aware of live tapes in 1974.† I had already taped some New Yearís shows out here.
††††††††††† I wanted to hear this new music.† It wasnít just the Dead.† It was the Airplane and Big Brother and Quicksilver, but soon became only the Dead to me.† Before the í68 era, thatís the heaviest it was for me, and when I discovered live tapes, man, that was the whole motivation to get back and find some tapes of those shows, to see if it confirmed my memory of these events being so monumental.† And, of course, I eventually got to find some of these things, and I knew they were right because I remember ďHey JudeĒ as an encore at the Fillmore West on 3/1/69.† That show killed me when I heard it.† Thereís so many of Ďem, and now Iím like a kid in a candy store.
††††††††††† Because of my indulgence in Hedonism, which Iím really good at by the way, I can go a long time doing one thing.† Chewing Doublemint even.† Taping, listening, and taping is just something Iím compulsive about.
What led to your becoming the Grateful Dead tape archivist?
Latvala:† I just went to shows as a consumer from the beginningóuntil Red Rocks 8/12/79, when I came from Hawaii with a friend that knew Nicky Scully.† I got dropped off at a hotel, and my buddy Robert Emory went upstairs and saw some things he didnít like and took off and went back to Hawaii and left me sitting there.† I asked for a ride to backstage at Red Rocks, and I had my mind blown by this place.† It is the most magical place on earth.† And I was just in shock.† I went backstage and the first person I saw was Kidd [Candelario], and we started a relationship that forever affected my life from then on.† That started everything.† In fact, heís the one that came up with Dickís Picks.
There are a lot of tapers out there who would love to be in your position.† Like you said, ďA kid in a candy store.Ē† Why do you think it fell on you?
Latvala:† There were a lot of factors, but to try and simplify it, it would be my own natural, already well-established collectionóI already had 900 reels by the time I got to the inside, so I was all ready, and Iím very anal and organized.† I have a compulsion for it and can do it, like I say, for a long time, make tapes.† I donít think anyone on earth has made more cassettes than me.† That was my motivation.† Now Iím being hired, and in that capacity itís a little more professional, so I am subject to a lot more than I thought, as far as whatís good and what isnít.† Everyone should know that thereís a lot of factors at work that go into play in making a decision on what to release, and Dickís Picks is sort of a misnomer.† I take responsibility for setting the table, but thereís a lot of people eating.† I never know how itís gonna work out.† I could say what I think I want to do right now, but believe me, it wouldnít be that by the time it became real.† Iím not holding on to any preconceived ideas about whatís good and whatís bad.† Thatís why all the survey input I get, I assimilate this information, and it is very, very, very useful.† So Iím the person whoís in the position to interpret all the information.† I take that responsibility, and Iím doing the best I can.† Itís just a lot, so how can anyone expect me to know everything about every year?† I donít think thereís any human that can know everything about one tour, I mean, one year at least, comprehensively.† ĎCause no oneís heard every show, for one thing, thereís new discoveries to be made all the time.
Are there many shows of such poor quality that you canít even consider them?
Latvala:† Absolutely.† At the present time, I have to learn a whole lot of things about that because I never paid attention to the technical aspects of sound.† I was more into the information being communicated.† I could adjust to the form it came in, like the hiss or whatever.† I could see through that and get to where the goods were.† Once I was hired, it became more in the capacity of helping to make decisions of whatís good and what isnít or what should be listened to and decided upon.† I had to start paying attention to a lot more than I ever thought Iíd pay attention to beforeólike is it stereo or mono? (laughs)
††††††††††† Who cares, actually?† Harpur College, for example, itís disgusting, but one of the reasons Iíve been pushing for this one as long as I have for 2/13 Ė 14/70, and being rejected for a long, long time is because of the fact that the electric sets are in mono.† There is a big problem with that. (laughs)
Does modern technology lend itself to making a tape more listenable?
Latvala:† Absolutely, as Dickís Picks is concerned with the two-track final tape as opposed to multi-tracks.† Thereís still a lot that can be done in the digital realm, with the sonic solution system, and I am not the one that you would talk to.† Jeffrey Norman, my other half who is the most important person to me there is, he is the one that makes whatever I pick sound good.† He knows how to push the buttons and is a technical wizard.† And John Cutler, of course, is overseeing all this.† His name is never on any of the Dickís Picks, but heís definitely in there giving his input.† So, all this is summing up to say I take input.† I am not coming at this with a pre-determined agenda of releases like I used to think I knew everything about a long time ago.
(Editorís note:† There are two series of releases being worked onóDickís Picks and The Vault series.† Dickís Picks material was recorded two-track only, and you canít mix them very much, just clean them up a bit.† These are only available through mail-order, although Phil Lesh recently experimented by letting Dickís Picks #1 go out to record stores through Arista distribution.† The Vault series consists of material recorded multi-track, and Lesh and Cutler mix them and they get released commercially through Arista distribution.)
Who makes the final decisions with you about what will be released?
Latvala:† It depends on what stage of the final decisions.† (laughs)† It could be flexible at all times.† This is a slippery area, and nothing is really final.† There is no absolute.† For example, if some band member heard what was being released, he could probably say, ďI donít want that released.Ē† I think we have it together now where the band members are staying out of involvement of Dickís Picks.† I donít have to submit things for Philís approval anymore, but there are other people.† John Cutler and Jeffery Normanótheir feedback is crucial for the first level of a successful product.† They are coming at it mainly from a technical point of view, and Jeffery is only coming at it fromóif it doesnít sound good to himÖ heís not a Grateful Dead Head.† Heís more into Steely Dan for example, so heís much more objective about this.† So if it escapes past him and me, then itís gotta be pretty damn good, because Iím learning a lot as to whatís more acceptable.† At least initially you gotta try and do the best product you can technically, but also have some substantial product thatís being fed and not just have it be technically nice.† Thatís a lot of (the) reasons why I was going for esoteric shows at the beginning, instead of the obvious choices of 2/13-14/70 or Harpur College, and on and on and on.† If Iím gonna have some influence, Iíd wanna hear something I havenít heard thatís pretty good.† Part of the thrill for me is finding stuff, and thereís so much, everyone should just relax.† Itís all gonna happen at the right time.† I want input all the time; give me input, and I will make decisions.† This is my work, and thereís no one whoís ever gonna get as close as I did to these tapes.† Nobody, no taper mentality will ever get this close.† Itís pretty shocking that they let someone with my compulsion this close to the treasure.
What was the condition of the tape archive when you stepped in?
Latvala:† People have done their best to try to keep some order over the years.† Itís a very complex subject that takes me back to when Bear (Owsley ďBearĒ Stanley recorded the Fillmore 2/13-14/70 shows that are now Dickís Picks, Volume #4) left, but the story is long.† I donít think much overall high priority was given to the tapes after Bear left.† I mean, they really took care of them as best they could for a long period when the vaults were first built.† Then I was hired in 1985 to expressly go through the tapes and listen and see whatís on the boxes and see whatís in there.† And to me itís like, talk about getting tapes.† (laughs)† I have had my hands full and continue [to] more than I ever dreamed possible.† I am a tape addict, and Iím probably the best person to do what Iím doing.† I am not saying this as an egotist; Iím just saying it as a fact.† Iím trusted to do it by all parties so far.† Iím embracing this as this is destiny here.† Iím doing the best job I can and taking in all suggestions, and they all affect me.† A lot of things come into play to affect what is the next release.† You want to skip around, man.† Every show is an event unto itself, from sacred to unique experience.
††††††††††† All the individual shows are of value, in my opinion.† Everyoneís desire to hear the whole show is valid, but itís not practical in our vault release program, as yet.† Thereís a heavy emphasis placed on the quality being as perfect as possible.† When it gets to be trying to control content, like what is a good show, they [the Dead] canít judge themselves properly.† Only Deadheads can know what that is.
What was your favorite era musically?
Latvala:† Every year has been unique and has different characteristics.† It has good and bad shows, and great moments on different levels.† Everyone else says they like the era they first heard the band, and if they first went to a show in í77, they want to hear that kind of stuff.† Or the Brent era peopleóa lot of pressure Iím getting is to come up with something from the Ď80s.† I resist it terribly because I think it should sit on itself for 15 years, and letís get to the goods in the Ď60s and early Ď70s.
††††††††††† As for my favorite era?† Without a question, the fall and winter of í68 and the spring of í69 up to near the end of í69óthat was the most powerful time on earth to experience a Grateful Dead concert.† On the other hand, there are a few exceptions: 9/19/70 at the Fillmore East being one of them and 2/13-14/70.
Even through a tape is widely circulated, it seems the market will still buy the Dickís Picks version.
Latvala:† Well, itís also their knowing that itís gonna be the best quality possible because itís being produced by the people that are best at itóthatís Jeffery Norman and John Cutler.† They know how to make it sound as good as possible, and Iím good at absorbing where the energy is in the show.† Iím into that part, and the combination makes an effective product.† I donít know exactly how Dickís Picks seems to people, but I think theyíre great.† I still can listen to them and get turned on by them, so I think itís successful and everyone else seems to think it is.† I really expected more than a million of Dickís Picks #2 to sell as soon as it came out.† I thought it was the most unbelievable thing.
Well, itís available only through mail-order.
Latvala:† Yeah, itís good the way itís being done, too.† This is sort of a club, in a sense, itís a big family of people and weíre all in it, and itís for all of us that these are being released.
††††††††††† You were asking about my favorite period, but thereís so many.† I can live in the winter of í73 for Dickís Picks for the next ten releases for example.† Thereís so many great things that happened in that period.† And the í72 stuff is phenomenal, but we gotta move around, so [right now] Iím learning a lot about the Ď80s.† I didnít keep such good records as the Ď80s came on.† I started doing different things.† And then I got hired, and I didnít do the analysis I used to do about tapes. I had a different function.† Anyway, I missed out on a lot of probably really great shows that Iím now discovering through the feedback others have given me.† A lot of people donít think 1980 was such a great year, but there are some phenomenal things in there that people have missed and I have missed.† There are discoveries to be made in each year, all the way up to the current time.
††††††††††† Thereís a lot that goes into what a good show is, and that includes all the mistakes, too.† Thatís the tough part.† Where do you draw the line?† You know the band.† The people that performed it certainly want to make ti sound perfect so they tend to sanitize things.† So if you keep them out of the picture, us Deadheads can just grab the stuff thatís really good, and thatís what weíre trying to do.
There are times that people walk away from shows thinking they were incredible.† They seek out the tape and the reality seeps inÖ
Latvala:† That happens in a lot of cases on tapes.† What is represented didnít seem to capture what you remember from being there, but sometimes they do.† Thereís examples that do for me and they keep hitting me, and they have lasting power.† Thatís the essence of it.† All shows have their aspects of greatness in them, and itís an elusive thing to judge which one to choose.
Have you been listening to the 1972 tour?
Latvala:† Oh boy, yeah, especially October and November.
Have you considered doing excerpts from all the New Yearís shows?
Latvala:† My ego resists concept releases, other than bits and pieces, or jams unto themselves.
The ďWall of SoundĒ shows in 1974ódid they come out well on tape?† The live technology was huge.
Latvala:† Yeah, but the tapes just reflected the same board feed as before.† I wasnít on the tour, I was in Hawaii, so I didnít experience one of the shows, except in the formative stages at the end of í73.† It made a premiere at the Cow Palace, basically, which is a great show (3/23/74).† I canít wait to release that someday.
What material are you looking to release now?
Latvala:† Like I said, taking public pressure to heart (laughs), I am reluctantly clawing and crying into the Ď80s, listening to a lot of the í83óí84 period stuff, seeing whatís most appealing.
Is there a Jerry Garcia Band archive?
Latvala:† Yes.† In the vault, each band member has an area.
Will any of that see the light of day?
Latvala:† Well, itís already seen the light of day in taperís circles.† I certainly have a lot of feeling behind releasing old stuff from Merl [Saunders] and Jerry in the í73óí74 periodósome great, unique stuff.† But thatís not the emphasis at the moment.† Itís not my province even.† Itís John Cutlerís and Steve Parishís (Garciaís road manager) province.
How far back in time does the archive date?
Latvala:† You can get as esoteric as you wanna go, back to trombones tuff by Phil in 1959.† A lot of bluegrass stuff in the í60óí63 era.† Not a lot of individual shows maybe, but thereís examples of stuff thatshould be gone through at some point.
Latvala:† Not really.† Warlock eraóthe earliest example I think of is that Tom Donahue thing from 11/3/65.† It has those renditions of ďCautionĒ and ďMind Bender,Ē ďThe Only Time Is Now,Ē ďEarly Morning Rain,Ē and some others.† Thereís not a lot of stuff in the vault.† Thereís a lot of parts missing.† Itís amazing anything was recorded at all in the beginning, in the heaviest of days.† Iím amazed anything survived in good shape.
Do you see a time frame for the future?† I like to think this is never going to end.
Latvala:† Rest assured it wonít.† There is no end.† Itís unlimited.† Thereís trillions upon trillions of discoveries to be made.† I have listened to a lot of things in different eras, and I am always finding things that I canít believe no one told me about, or that no one knew.† Thereís an endless pit to be mined, if everything is just approached in a reasonable fashionóinstead of going for the top hits of a tour or any concept albums or anything to icky.
How many releases do you expect to release per year?
Latvala:† I thought we had established a rough picture of like three or four Dickís Picks type releases.† Then Phil and Cutler, who do the multi-track deal like Hundred Year Hall (Arista) from Frankfurt, to the next one they pick, I donít know.
Do you listen to any other music besides the Grateful Dead?
Latvala:† Tons.† In fact, Iíve always told my friends to turn me on to something I donít know about, Ďcause I donít listen to the radio at all.† I never did, except in theí60s when it was creative programming, and Iím not really up on modern stuffóthatís why I turned to live tapes.
††††††††††† I put on a lot of stuff like Henry Kaiser and David Lindley in Madagascar, Volumes 1 and 2.† Or the best album of all time percussion-wise, the most mind boggling LSD inspiring [album] is The Other Side of This by Airto Moreira.† Heís magic, and with that album he was given free reign to do whatever he wanted.
††††††††††† I listen to a lot of Henry Kaiserís influences Ďcause heís more adept at knowing the world music scene, and he turns me on to different things.† Iím from the R&B era of the Ď50s, and Fats Domino and Little Richard are my kings.† Iím into the blues and especially country blues.† Not Muddy Waters style, particularly, more Ledbelly, Robert Johnson stuff.† Then it was gospel and then I learned that white people played music in the Ď60s when LSD came inówhen it all happened.
The archive is a very important historical resource.† In the intense sense of it all, what do you think this all means?
Latvala:† If I took it all seriously, I would probably freeze of a heart attack.† (laughs)† So by necessity, obviously, you canít function from there.† I think itís very important.† Itís sort of like a Dead concert.† You can wish you were gonna go to the right one, and maybe all things point to it being the right one, but somehow it is or isnít.† I donít know how to answer that question, really.
I think that destiny leads the way, so whatever happens, happens.† Itís all for a reason.
Latvala:† Yeah, I think everything is happening as it should, but itís just a very unusual time, and I donít know how to predict things.† Iím not a manipulative type, so Iím not gonna maneuver things† for my self enhancement.† I have a role to play it appears, and Iím doing that with gusto, and I canít not do it.† Itís not even a question.† Iíd be doing this without ever being hired.† But a lot of what I do isnít just that.† A lot of other things go into my daily experience, so it sounds advantageous to all these people that want to hear all the tapes.† I could tell you some drawbacks that would boggle oneís mind.† So, thereís good and bad in everything.
††††††††††† Everyone has got to understand their lives are just perfect the way they are.† The Grateful Dead was just a great thing to experience, and we all have that experience in common.
What impact has Garciaís death had on you personally?
Latvala:† I was relieved, initially, because it seemed like that would clear up a whole lot of the difficulties I was experiencing over the last few years.† Difficulties meaning for me, personally, not enjoying the shows sometimes because of Garciaís not paying attentionóeasily noticeably not paying attention or blowing the lyrics.† So I was relieved that finally this was a clear change.† And then shock, and I think I, basically, am in denial.
It really affected you professionally as wellÖ
Latvala:† Yes, and I knew this day would come.† In í74-í75, when I first got into tapes, I said, ďIím gonna do this for the Dead.Ē† Look what I got into.† Now Iím wondering how long it will last, when will it become capitalizing, when will fan interest dissipateÖ
Because of the subculture that exists, which is now bigger than the Grateful Dead itself, it does still endure.† Itís critical that people like yourself are passing something on for us to pass onÖ
Latvala:† Yeah, thatís right, and not get too carried away, like when you asked that question about the importance of archiving, and Iíd go into shock thinking about it.† Weíve got to do our thing with ease and steadiness and not get all worked up and crazy about it.
What do you think the future holds for us Deadheads?
Latvala:† I donít know.† The way I see it is, when I discovered live tapes, I was compelled to go in this direction.† My future was this destiny.† If you werenít at the show, the next best way to receive what happened was hearing the tape.† Itís the next level, so tapes right away were inherently important.† As far as having the music become more accessible through our vault release program, I feel optimistic thatís gonna increase more than ever, not only because of demand, but because of our need to survive.[ Close Window ]