Like, you can see all kinds of Grateful Dead stuff, man
March 21, 2010
By Jeffrey Burke
Turn left at the giant bust of Abraham Lincoln the first dead head
you'll encounter at the New-York Historical Society and slip into
the small exhibition area where relics of the Grateful Dead are
The show offers the first public peek at a fraction of the thousands
of bits of memorabilia the original jam band archived for more than
30 years and then donated to the University of California Santa Cruz
in April 2008.
The band's first recording contract, with Warner Bros. Records in
1966, hangs on a column. Opposite is the platinum record for 1
million sales of "American Beauty." A diorama features life-size
skeletal marionettes of lead guitarist Jerry Garcia, drummer Billy
Kreutzmann and keyboardist Brent Mydland. Most drool-worthy for some
will be the last electric guitar that Doug Irwin custom-made for
Garcia, dubbed Rosebud.
The group disbanded after Garcia died in 1995. By then, the Grateful
Dead was a thriving corporation comprising players and associates who
controlled every aspect of their music and marketing. Forbes
estimated the annual income of Grateful Dead Enterprises from music
and merchandise at $30 million in 2001, well after their touring days
when the group out-earned big acts like the Rolling Stones were over.
While the exhibition makes a tenuous connection to New York through
the San Francisco band's frequent concert appearances in Manhattan,
there's no denying the Historical Society's claim for the Dead as one
of the most influential music groups of the 20th century.
The band redefined the rock concert, redesigned the big sound system,
rethought the value of bootleg recordings and rewrote the rules for
dealing with consumers by treating their fans, their devoted
Deadheads, as an intrinsically valuable part of the corporation's success.
The exhibition leans heavily on the fan element many Deadheads
lived on the road, attending every show of the constantly touring
group. The band responded with exclusive deals on tickets, inside
dope on appearances and band news.
Displays include a hotel room list, elaborately decorated envelopes
sent to order tickets, fan club letters, tour itineraries and posters
evoking the band's happily morbid, drug-inflected take on
psychedelia. A white vomit bag features the "Steal Your Face" album's
skull design and the imperative "Boogie 'Till You Barf."
Dead T-shirts, crèche figures, stuffed dolls, necklaces, doormats,
playing cards: It's a heap of commercialism for one of the ultimate
hippie bands, but you can't live on brownies alone. Many items are so
ephemeral or dated that you need a fan's infatuation to appreciate
the historical value of them.
What there's strangely little of is music. In one corner a big screen
shows the 1977 "Grateful Dead Movie," directed by Garcia and Leon
Gast. It emits tinny versions of "Truckin' " and a few other songs,
almost as an aural afterthought.
Back outside, swing past oversize Abe again the main exhibition is
"Lincoln and New York" and head to the gift shop for such essential
souvenirs as Dead socks, Dead throw pillows ($45), a cardboard wreath
of skulls, a lime-green water bottle ($19), books, drinking glasses,
some two-disc music CDs ($22) from the Road Trips series.
Deadheads who find the consumerism kind of a bummer will get a giggle
from the set of eight white birthday candles for only $8 and totally
shaped like doobies so you could, like, stick them in your brownies, man.
"Grateful Dead: Now Playing at the New-York Historical Society" runs
through July 4 at 2 W. 77th St. Information: (212) 873-3400; nyhistory.org.
How grateful can taxpayers be for the Dead?
By Al Lewis
Here's a job opening in a dead job market: Grateful Dead Archive
Salary: $5,000 to $9,000 a month. Plus, the generous benefits that
come from working in the University of California system.
Spend your days on a beachside campus, loading Dead memorabilia, Dead
tapes, Dead photos, and Dead videos onto a state- and
federally-funded Dead website called the Virtual Terrapin Station.
An old friend, who now works as a librarian in Fargo, N.D., sent me a
link to this job posting from the website of the University of
California, Santa Cruz.
She remembers me from college when I drove a 1972 Olds Cutlass with
Grateful Dead stickers over some of the rust spots and a cheap,
after-market car stereo that was often cranking "Sugar Magnolia."
I called it the Dead Sled and drove it to Dead shows in the summers.
This was all I had to do back then to maintain my status as a non-conformist.
I was not as fanatical as other Dead Heads, who dropped out of
college to follow the band. But maybe this is where my life went
wrong. Because now, if you really want to follow the Grateful Dead,
you apparently have to go to college.
In 2008, the band gave to UCSC its enormous collection of fan
letters, ticket stubs, posters, videos, tapes, sound-system specs and
business documents (yes, even the Grateful Dead incorporated).
Who knew that while performing roughly 2,300 concerts, these guys had
enough room on the bus to become pack rats: "If you ever wrote the
Grateful Dead a letter, you'll probably find it there," band member
Bob Weir said in passing off the collection.
The school has received $1.4 million in state and federal funds to
organize all this stuff the band collected between 1965 and 1995,
when guitarist Jerry Garcia died.
It's even renovating its library to create "Dead Central," a room
that will provide public access to the archive.
Last week, I posted a link to the Dead job listing on my blog, tellittoal.com.
I soon learned the school previously listed another Dead position, a
full-time archivist who will make up to $68,892 a year.
I thought these job listings represented a ripple of hope in a
stagnant job market until a trusty reader hit me with a purple
microdot-sized dose of economic reality.
"While I think the Grateful Dead is an American icon, how is it that
anyone can justify spending $1.4 million of government money that
does not exist to build a shrine to rock band?" wrote Denver real
estate broker Larry McGee. "The total funds are coming from a state
that is bankrupt and a federal government that is trillions of
dollars in debt."
California, facing the worst budget crisis in state history, last
year cut about $600 million in funding from its universities. Gov.
Arnold Schwarzenegger recently proposed restoring $370 million of it.
But even if that happens, funding will still be well below what it
was two years ago. And who know what happens after federal stimulus
funds run dry?.
Meantime, regents and trustees have been raising tuition, slashing
programs, furloughing workers and planning to put prospective
freshman on waitlists.
But at least the Golden State can still pay homage to the Dead.
"We have many scholars who are interested in it," said Christine
Bunting, head of special collections at the UCSC library. "There are
sociologists studying the fandom There are musicologists studying the
influence of the band and their importance in rock and roll history.
There are people who come to it from the business sides of things,
studying counter-cultural, alternative ways for approaching business."
Some of the Dead Archive is now on display at the New-York Historical
Society through July 4. Traffic has been strong, with people of all
ages and walks of life passing through, said Laura Washington, a
spokeswoman for the society.
Much like the band, a lot of its fans are good at business.
Apparently when free love and LSD got to be a drag, some bedraggled
hippies got hair cuts and jobs.
"There are a lot of Dead Heads on Wall Street," Washington said.
"There are a lot of real estate investors who are Dead Heads. 'Dead
Heads With Ties' is a group on LinkedIn."
Bunting hopes more of these prosperous Dead Heads will kick in to
support the archive. It shouldn't be run on government support
forever. And, reportedly, Dead Heads can afford to ante up.
"Management Secrets of the Grateful Dead" is the title of an article
in the most recent edition of Atlantic Monthly.
The magazine describes the Dead Archive as "a mecca for academics of
all stripes: from ethno-musicologists to philosophers, sociologists
But the biggest beneficiaries may prove to be business scholars and
management theorists, who are discovering that the Dead were
visionary geniuses in the way they created 'customer value,' promoted
social networking, and did strategic business planning."
It's hard to imagine all these scholars and academics and management
theorists so seriously focused on a bunch of Dead Heads.
When I went to Dead shows in the early 1980s, all you really needed
to know was that the Dead wailed.
And most of the freaks in the dancing throngs were doing acid.
I wasn't doing acid. I loved the music, but I could only laugh at the
thousands of lost and deranged souls who thought they were
experiencing some great epiphany, some higher spiritual plane, some
cosmically sublime insight, when in fact, they were only tripping.
Today, this long, strange trip is only getting longer and stranger.
Al Lewis: 212-416-2617, firstname.lastname@example.org
Bring out your Dead
Jackie Greene pays homage to the Dead, and a visit to Tahoe
By Tim Parsons
Bob Dylan shook up the 1965 Newport Folk Festival when he performed
with an electric guitar.
An artist who's been compared to Dylan expects a strong reaction to
his new album, "The Grateful EP," on which he plays a distinctly new
"I think people will either be blown away or just not like it at all.
It's quite a bit different," said Jackie Greene, a gifted songwriter
who at the age of 28 already has five critically acclaimed
Nearly two years ago, Greene was recruited by the Grateful Dead's
bassist to join Phil Lesh and Friends, a band that performs tunes
from the Dead's vast library, inspiring a musical metamorphosis.
Greene, who sings and plays piano and guitar, released "Giving Up the
Ghost" in April 2008. When he's not playing with his band which
performs at 9 p.m. Saturday, March 20 at the Crystal Bay Casino or
with Friends or with Tim Bluhm with the Skinny Singers, he's been
recording in a studio.
"I came up with a bunch of tunes and we sort of give them all a
chance, and then some get cut," Greene said. "It's kind of like
baseball tryouts. Some get cut in the first round, some don't."
Bluhm, best known for his band Mother Hips, is serving as producer.
"For the last couple of years I've played with Phil Lesh and Friends
doing a bunch of Grateful Dead stuff, so a lot of the songs sort of
got into my memory bank and a lot of the writing style influenced
several of these songs," Greene said. "I really like it. Some of the
fans who are used to the simple folk structure might not like it.
It's interesting to me. It keeps me going."
Greene's songwriting has captured the attention of some of the best
in the business. Greene has recorded with David Hilgado and Steve
Berlin of Los Lobos, and fellow keyboardist-songwriter Marcia Ball
praised Greene during a recent stop at Tahoe.
"I've been following Jackie's career since the outset," Ball said.
"He's an amazing, creative songwriter. He's got a lot of pop
sensibility, and I mean that in the nicest possible way."
Greene wants to retain the pop sensibility with his new direction.
"Well, I hope I have some of that," he said. "To me it means you can
make a song that a lot of people will like. It will be popular.
(Ball) has that too. It's definitely not a bad thing."
Greene has heard the comparisons to Dylan.
"I take it with a grain of salt," he said. "Definitely in the past it
was sort of what I was going for but now it's moved away a little bit
from that. But it's humbling and sort of intimidating."
Greene toured earlier this winter with Gov't Mule. During the final
show Greene and Gov't Mule played an entire set of Rolling Stones songs.
Greene grew up down the road at Cameron Park and some of his earliest
performances were at the Cozmic Cafe in Placerville. When he began to
play at larger venues, the Crystal Bay Casino became a regular haunt.
"We play the Crown Room a lot," he said. "It sounds really good in
that room. It's actually one of my favorite places to play. We always
have a good time and I always end up losing my per diem at the
blackjack table, so it's great."
Diehard fans are Grateful for Dead memorabilia
10 December 2009
34 years after the Grateful Dead's first-ever gig, we look at how
they've peformed in the memorabilia market
Today in history, December 10, 1965, the Grateful Dead - or the
'Dead, as their fans knew them - played their first ever concert at
the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco.
Over the next three decades, the Dead gained a fan following regarded
as one of the most fervent in music - nicknamed "the Deadheads" - and
became regarded as the psychedelic era's best-loved ambassadors.
Although the death of Jerry Garcia, founding member and guitarist, in
1995 signaled the end of the Grateful Dead, their legacy continued to grow.
The Dead's music - an unprecedented mix of rock, folk, bluegrass,
blues, reggae, country, jazz, psychedelia, and space rock - remained
in an orbit firmly outside the mainstream.
However, their long history and ardent following has seen Grateful
Dead memorabilia make a big impact on the collectors' markets over the years.
In May 2007, a San Francisco auction of items owned by the group's
long-time tour manager, Laurence "Ram Rod" Shurtliff, saw many Dead
memorabilia items sell for six figures.
Highlights included a 1975 cream coloured Travis Bean guitar played
by Jerry Garcia, which left the auction block at an impressive $312,000.
And, incredibly, a leather guitar strap worn by Garcia onstage around
1973 brought $20,400 - four times its estimate.
Meanwhile, a flight case containing Garcia's picks, unopened guitar
strings and other accessories sold for $16,800.
Spurred on by the San Francisco sale's success, Bonhams went so far
as to stage its own Grateful Dead-dedicated auction, More Skeletons
from the Closet, in October 2008.
While a vast collection of new Grateful Dead live recordings flooded
record shops after their disbandment in 1995, a collection of 840
cassette tapes featuring the group's live recordings between 1990-95
- recorded by their sound engineer - sold for an impressive $12,000 at Bonhams.
Unsurprisingly, vintage guitars also proved popular at the sale. A
sunburst Fender Precision bass guitar played by band member John
Kahn, used both live and on record from the 1960s-90s, brought $18,000.
Sold for an incredible amount, however, was a concert poster by
founding band member Ron "Pig Pen" McKernan, entitled 'Can You Pass
the Acid Test' from January 22, 1966.
It sold for $30,000 - a staggering amount for a band poster.
This was no doubt due to the importance of the gig (which also
featured Allen Ginsberg) and its provenance: rooted firmly in the
1960s hippy culture that the Dead helped to define.
In another testament to how ardent fan worship can translate into
ardent bidding, band manager Rock Scully's metal attaché tour case,
used from the 1960s-80s, brought an amazing $33,000.
The success of Grateful Dead memorabilia is an important reminder to
collectors: that it is a band's lasting impact and legacy, rather
than commercial success, which determines the future value of their
Phil Lesh Gets Help From Chris Robinson, Others for 70th Birthday
Mar 16th 2010
by Benjy Eise
Founding Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh turned 70 on Monday but he
celebrated it over the weekend with a little help from his friends.
At the sold-out Bill Graham Civic Arena in San Francisco -- site of
many historic Grateful Dead related shows -- Lesh anchored a three
set, six hour spectacle which included a Mardi Gras style parade and
balloon drop. The evening was billed "Furthur and Friends" with
proceeds benefiting Lesh's Unbroken Chain Foundation to help funnel
relief funds to Haiti.
As was hinted at in advance, a number of Lesh's musical friends came
out for the party. Chris Robinson from the Black Crowes may have been
the biggest surprise; a near-constant on stage, Robinson took lead on
many tunes, singing his way through material from not only the
Grateful Dead's catalog, but also Bob Dylan's. One of the evening's
highlights came when Robinson led the band through 'Hard to Handle,'
the Otis Redding cover that both the Black Crowes and Grateful Dead
adopted into their respective repertoires early on in both of their careers.
Other special guests included singer-songwriter Jackie Greene and
Particle keyboardist Steve Molitz. The rest of Lesh's band for the
evening was the current incarnation of Furthur, a group featuring
founding Dead members Lesh and Bob Weir, joined by Joe Russo
(Benevento/Russo Duo) and Jay Lane (Ratdog) on drums as well as
keyboardist Jeff Cimenti and "Jerry Garcia fill-in" John Kadlecik.
Ironically, the latter two were plucked from Grateful Dead tribute bands.
Next stop for Furthur? A just-announced festival that will take place
during Memorial Day weekend. The location, near Angels Camp, Calif.,
is sacred ground for Deadheads. But instead of looking back at
history, Lesh and co. are still bending their heads into the moment.
As the motto of the festival reads, "Little bit 'furthur' than you've
gone before." No additional or, um, further details available at this
time. Happy birthday, Phil.
Furthur & Friends | 03.12 | San Francisco
by: Garrin Benfield
Furthur & Friends :: 03.12.10 :: Bill Graham Civic Auditorium :: San
It's safe to say I wouldn't have been anywhere on March 12 other than
with the guys ushering in the last Golden Age of the Grateful Dead.
Furthur, the latest (and possibly greatest) reincarnation of The
Boys, gathered for a tour-closing three set show at Bill Graham Civic
to celebrate Phil Lesh's 70th Birthday and to raise money for Haitian
Earthquake relief. And though this was a benefit for the Unbroken
Chain Foundation, the preeminent concern was throwing a party with
and for one of the most important musicians in rock 'n' roll, and
certainly one of the Bay Area's most celebrated exports.
Ironically, Lesh has become more of a household name in the outside
world since Jerry Garcia died, as various groups under the name "Phil
Lesh and Friends" have relentlessly toured the country and become a
staple at summer festivals. But Lesh's contribution to popular (and
weird!) music was felt early. Soon after he taught himself to play
electric bass in The Warlocks, he quickly established a singular,
linear approach to what was traditionally an instrument strictly
reserved for a support role.
It would not be an exaggeration to include Lesh in a list that
includes towering figures of the low-end like Charles Mingus, James
Jamerson, and Jaco Pastorius, in terms of the indelible imprint he
has left on the possibilities of his instrument. Phil's approach and
tone are unmistakable once you are familiar with them: a chunky,
flat-picked attack that relentlessly propels, cloaked in an EQ wave
that somehow allows for both the richest low end "bombs" conjurable
and the treble necessary to cut through dense aggregations like the
one we witnessed on this night.
Like the other members of the Grateful Dead, Phil has a deserved
reputation as possibly one of the coolest geeks in rock, a reputation
aided by his interest in modern 20th century symphonic and
experimental music, and involvement with such out-there projects as
Seastones with composer Ned Lagin. But Phil always had deep groove
and soul, and though some stories suggest the contrary, he was a
great ally and supporter of Pigpen and has always gone out of his way
to keep the R&B roots of the Dead alive. On this night alone, Phil
chose to play three songs associated with Pig: the rare "Two Souls in
Communion," "Easy Wind" and "Hard to Handle," a clear nod to the
formative days of this band that began stretching out their limited
repertoire at long, four-set shows in the mid-sixties and
accidentally birthed a new genre of music.
As the Grateful Dead stretched its wings in the hugely inspired
period that spilled over into the early-70s, however, it became clear
that Jerry was Phil's true musical brother. Together, on a nightly
basis, they wove the single note improvisations that seared the
band's identity into our cultural consciousness. At my second Dead
show in the mid-80s, I recall hearing a passing Head say, "When
Phil's on, the band's on," a phrase that intrigued me but I did not
fully compute then. The rumbling, sometimes sub-sonic importance of
Phil's playing might be the last musical element to filter into a new
listener's head - especially at a questionably mixed stadium show -
but once it's in there, there is really no substitute (even Alfonso
Johnson, who subbed for Phil in The Other Ones, comes to mind). Phil
literally had to conceive and build the bass that could accomplish
what he heard in his head, and for that he should also always be
acknowledged as a progenitor of the modern, active pickup electric
bass. And though never particularly celebrated for his singing (maybe
an understatement), he still managed to compose one of the enduring
classics of the country/folk rock period, the lilting, gorgeous "Box
of Rain," a song that elicits rich memories and emotions from people
who were alive to hear it drifting from dorm room windows in 1970 and
those who first encountered it on hissy third-generation bootleg cassettes.
How fitting then that Phil chose to open his birthday show with a
gentle acoustic set that included three of the towering pieces of the
Hunter/Garcia catalog that he has long publicly admired: "Ripple,"
"Brokedown Palace" and the stunning "Attics of My Life." Bobby
sang/whispered "Ripple" with genuine, time-worn sensitivity, Jackie
Greene paid perfect respect to "Brokedown," and all the vocalists,
including Chris Robinson (The Black Crowes), "the girls" (Zoe Ellis
and Sunshine Garcia Becker) and John Kadlecik seemed to breathe with
"Attics" until the room had truly unified. Phil's beautiful take on
"Mountains of the Moon" was also a highlight - it seems years of
attempts at getting this song right have finally paid off, with Phil
not forcing the vocal but rather very calmly allowing it to happen.
With the new arrangement of "Mountains," Phil has accomplished quite
a feat, as the slow psychedelic dirge feels ancient in its roots and
quite contemporary in its delivery. The forethought that went into
this acoustic set clearly portended very good things for the night
and also immediately thrust us into a contemplative state usually
reserved for late in a second set. It was almost as if we were
experiencing the normal emotional arc of a show in reverse.
Disorienting and wonderful.
The electric segment of the evening began with a stand-alone "Scarlet
Begonias," sung by Jackie and driven by drummer Joe Russo in his
first appearance of the evening. During the jam, Kadlecik revealed
that over the past few months with Furthur he has been allowed,
possibly for the first time in his professional career, to truly
search for his own voice on lead guitar. The results were
refreshingly un-Garcia like, including some microtonal bends that I
associate more with Indian classical music than psychedelic rock.
Weir followed with a surprise "New Minglewood Blues," from which he
has extracted the normal blues turnaround that we are so used to
hearing. It's so unexpected that the band still seems to struggle
with it a bit. It was akin to the strange effect of Weir adding extra
bars between verses of a song that you are used to hearing straight.
This muscular version proved itself worthy of this important second
set slot, though, and the rest of this long set got raunchy, bluesy
and occasionally sloppy, and included so many twists and turns as to
be pretty disorienting at times. "Viola Lee Blues," the signature
Furthur jam vehicle so far, was broken up into three separate
appearances. Chris Robinson screamed mightily during "Hard to
Handle," and the set came to a joyous, if severely mid-tempo
conclusion with "Like A Rolling Stone" and "Sugaree." I tend to like
my Dead humble and fragile, but if you lean towards the dark, heavy
blues that emerges with this many people onstage, this set was for you.
At just after midnight, the band casually reassembled onstage and
broke into a very groovy "Not Fade Away" jam, led by Phil and the
drummers (John Molo was now onstage) and decorated by the guitarists.
As three floats festooned with Mardi Gras-like decorations slowly
made their way across the floor, the band jammed on, but did not sing
"Not Fade Away." Instead, where the vocals would have begun, everyone
broke into "Happy Birthday" for Phil and hundreds of balloons dropped
onto the floor. The band resumed the Bo Diddley jam for another four
minutes or so then just sort of stopped. I'm really not sure what
happened at this point, but Bobby said, "Well, we're going to take
another short break, but this one's going to be truly short." The
packed hall was vocal in its confusion, as some momentum had
definitely been established, but then just laughed it off and chalked
it up to one more strange Dead moment.
"Playin' In The Band" was a good way to launch into new territory,
establish a whole new direction, and erase any confusion from the
last segment. The jam out of "Playin'" was dense, with three lead
guitarists in Weir, Greene and Kadlecik trying to accommodate one
another, and doing so quite well. Weir, in particular, demonstrated
such a welcome hospitality all night to his fellow players, not
indulging in any of the confusing hand signals or last minute cues
we've come to expect from him at some of these high profile shows.
"St. Stephen" began a show ending sequence of classic tunes that
culminated in an inspired, unexpected choice for the ballad slot,
"Comes a Time," sung with real heart by Chris Robinson. It felt a bit
off-kilter to have Kadlecik play a tearful, flanged-out solo, but
then not resume the lead vocal. It occurred to me at this point in
the show how little he had sung at all, in fact. ("Lazy River Road,"
which he handled with grace, seemed like eons ago, being the second
song of the night.) The last true surprise of the show came next, a
breakneck "Cream Puff War," played with all its mid-60s impatience
and bluster intact, and accompanied by two female go-go dancers on
either side of the stage. I actually heard some grousing from some
Heads about this clearly ironic, showbiz move. I thought it was
perfectly good-natured, especially since the song lasted all of two
minutes. That's gotta be a record for brevity for these guys!
"Franklin's Tower" literally jumped out of "Cream Puff War" and
signaled the end of an inspired night. And though the band frequently
tests audience stamina these days, the huge, show ending ovations
these guys have been getting attest to the feeling that few are
anxious to see them go anywhere. It's as if we are taking this
opportunity to really express how lucky we feel to have been a part
of this music, and how surreal it is that it's still rumbling
forward, and right here in the center of San Francisco no less, the
place of its inception. Phil seemed genuinely humbled before the
encore, saying, "Thank you for making this, I would have to say, THE
most special birthday of my life." The response? Another thunderous
round of applause. Thank you, Phil!
Phil's 70th Birthday :: 03.12.10 :: Bill Graham Civic Auditorium ::
San Francisco, CA
Set I Acoustic without Russo and with Jackie Greene, Steve Molitz &
Ripple, Lazy River Road, Fennario, Two Souls in Communion, Brokedown
Palace, A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, They Love Each Other, Mountains
of the Moon, Attics of My Life
Set II without Lane and with Jackie Greene & Chris Robinson:
Scarlet Begonias, Minglewood Blues, Easy Wind > New Speedway Boogie,
Viola Lee Blues > High Time > Caution Jam > Viola Lee Blues > Hard To
Handle, Viola Lee Blues > Like A Rolling Stone > Sugaree
Set III without Lane and with Jackie Greene, Steve Molitz & John Molo:
Not Fade Away Jam* Float Parade, Happy Birthday Phil!*, Balloon Drop,
Not Fade Away Jam > Playing in the Band > Jam > St. Stephen > The
Other One > Elevator > Unbroken Chain, Comes a Time > Cream Puff War*
with dancers > Franklin's Tower
Encore: Johnny B. Goode