TIAADWD “outtake”: Dick Latvala

Another “outtake” from This Is All a Dream We Dreamed: An Oral History of the Grateful Dead by Blair Jackson and David Gans, published November 10, 2015 by Flatiron Books. (You can order a signed copy here.)

Blair and I turned in a manuscript that was much, much longer than the publisher expected. Bob Miller, our editor, was very kind about it, and we didn’t have to cut too much out of the final text. Here is another of the “codas” that we had to drop.

How Dick Got His “Picks”

Dick Latvala became the Grateful Dead’s tape vault keeper in 1985, and in 1993 began shepherding the Dick’s Picks archival CD release program for the band. These remarks are from a 1993 interview, shortly after the release of Dick’s Picks Vol. One. Dick died in 1999, after putting out fourteen Dick’s Picks releases and laying the groundwork for the series to continue under the capable direction of current vaultmeister, David Lemieux.

I got my start in this [scene] at the Trips Festival, Longshoremen’s Hall [Jan. 21-23, 1966]. There were three nights, and I went to the first and third. 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.

Just before I discovered the Grateful Dead, I took LSD in a research project in 1965 in Menlo Park, for 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.

Actually it was mescaline by this time, but it was still a major dose 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. Then I knew where I was supposed to be. 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 fact.

I did manage to graduate, but barely, and my main focus became going to concerts. It wasn’t just the Grateful Dead. There was Quicksilver, Big Brother, the Airplane, and a slew of others, [but] by around ’68 the Dead became the sole focus. By late ’67, I was a Grateful Dead freak. There was no question. There was no other band doing this. It became more and more exciting and compelling. It was the experimental nature of the sound, the willingness to take chances instead of coming at the audience with an idea already pre-set in their minds. It was like jazz.

I didn’t realize that live tapes existed until around 1974, when I was living in Hawaii. I started writing people, collecting a few tapes and then writing someone else and getting to know a few more people, and just trying to get to the hardcore tapers that existed at the time. I wanted every show and saw a value in each, but the more I got into it, the more I became a little more discriminating and realized that some shows weren’t so good.

[My direct involvement with the Grateful Dead] started on August 12, 1979, at Red Rocks. I went out there with a friend from Hawaii who knew someone in the scene, and they got us tickets, so we flew from Hawaii to Denver, and I was in the lobby of the hotel, sitting there with my suitcase while he went upstairs and somehow freaked out and left me all alone there. I didn’t know anyone. I got a ride from Nicki Scully, who got me backstage, and I met [crew member] Kidd Candelario there. He offered me a backstage pass and I ended up on that rock behind [the stage] for my first time backstage. It was a powerful moment.

I started meeting people [in the Dead organization]. Every time I’d come back from Hawaii I would pass through and bring “treats” and see everyone in the office. Over the next five years I got to know a lot of people and I was always able to go backstage. One day I was up in Eileen Law’s office, and I was telling her I had these tapes I called “primal Dead.” I was explaining that this Dead music was as good as it gets. Phil was standing behind me in the doorway listening to me tell Eileen this, and he popped in. I don’t know how I summoned up the nerve, but I said, “Hey, Phil, I want you to listen to this stuff.” I think I put on 10/12/68 from the Avalon Ballroom, just an incredible Anthem of the Sun jam. He was so enthralled with it, he ended up listening to over three hours of the primal Dead tapes I had put together. I kept saying to Phil, “Is someone taking care of these tapes? This is really important stuff.” I wasn’t saying it because I wanted a job. The next day, I found out I had a job. So I have always interpreted it that he felt that they needed someone who really cared about the tapes to make sure that they were organized and all that. So that’s how I got hired; that was in 1985.

My first chore was to go through the tapes and write in log books what was actually on them. A lot of the boxes weren’t labeled properly, and in many cases even the years were wrong. That was like a never-ending job, so it was something I was doing for many years at my leisure, besides doing other things at the studio.

Now let’s move forward in time. In the last couple years [1991 and ’92], the Grateful Dead have released a couple of CDs from multitracks in the vault [under the direction of Dan Healy], but at long last they’ve decided to start looking at the material on the [stereo recordings].

The way that Dick’s Picks started was, in [1993] Kidd asked me to come up with the best three shows on two-track so he could float this idea by the band at a board meeting. As a Deadhead and a tape freak, it would seem like that would be no problem. 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 critical. That knocked out a whole bunch of choices. I chose three shows, making sure they were okay before I gave the tapes to Kidd to give to the band to listen to. The ones I chose were 12/19/73 [Dick’s Picks Vol. 1, from Tampa, Florida], 2/13/70 [Dick’s Picks Vol. 4, from Fillmore East] and 10/11/77, Norman, Oklahoma [Road Trips Vol. 1, No. 2]. 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 because it was right in the middle of the other two possibilities, and it was a real creative era — I’m discovering more and more that the late ’73 period had some just magnificent shows. I remember that being a really jazzy and spacey period where the jams were really long and rangy.

My goal [with the Dick’s Picks series] is to try to find [shows] that aren’t obvious choices. Let’s see what happens!

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