This week on the Rhino Podcast, hosts Dennis "the Menace" Scheyer and Rich Mahan chat with Grateful Dead archivist David Lemieux on the new massive boxset June 1976, a five-show, 15-CD affair chronicling the band's pivotal return to touring after their hiatus.
INTRODUCING DAVID LEMIEUX:
MAHAN: "He's held that position for over 20 years now. Started in September, 1999 after Dick Latvala, the long time archivist for the Grateful Dead passed away. In August of that same year, David has produced the long running Dave's Picks series, which are very popular. He's also produced several CD releases by Jerry Garcia, and he hosts a daily radio show on Sirius XM on the Grateful Dead channel called 'Today in Grateful Dead History.'
ON HOW THE MASSIVE BOXSET CAME TOGETHER:
LEMIEUX: "We are doing a June 1976 Grateful Dead boxset. It's five complete shows on 15 CDs, and it is a really unique era in Grateful Dead history. So it's a really terrific package. These five shows, these are barn burners. Every single one of them. The band sounds fantastic on these shows. These are the first shows is the first tour after their hiatus that started at the end of 1974 and they sound so excited to be back."
"It's a very fresh sounding Grateful Dead. And there are few eras in the Grateful Dead, and it's usually predicated on something where they come back very fresh. And that happened on this tour, and it happened on the spring tour of 1987 after Jerry had had his coma in '86 so there are certain eras in Grateful Dead history where they come back with a certain freshness."
"And this is, to me, this is one of the most unique, distinct eras in Grateful Dead history. And frankly, one of the very best, and I think these recordings are special, not only for that reason, but these are referred to as 'Betty Boards.' Betty Cantor Jackson was the engineer that recorded these live to two-track tape."
ON BETTY JACKSON'S INCREDIBLE APPROACH TO MIXING THE COLLECTION:
MAHAN: "I don't know that I've heard recordings from Betty that sound this good. From note one at the beginning of the show where everything is so perfectly balanced and well, you cute.
LEMIEUX: "I feel the same way, and this is the, the first show on our box is really the second show of the tour. They open while they, they started in Portland, Oregon with a couple of shows before heading to Boston for the four nights of which we've included the middle two nights. We've previously released the first night and chunks of the fourth night. So it's the second. But it is remarkable how in perfect balance and what terrific mixes that Betty has from the very, very beginning."
"Like you say, of the very first show, and you know, it's a pretty big misnomer to call these soundboard recordings because they most certainly are not soundboard recordings, which refers to the same mix that would've gone out through the PA that would've gone through the soundboard out to the PA left and right channel. Betty was taking a full array of inputs, which is to say every single instrument and every drum and every vocal and doing a live mix directly to tape. So she was doing a completely separate mix than what came through the PA."
"Her mixes were specifically for the listening purpose, and so her mixes sound incredible and. As much as I love her 1977 mixes. The Spring '77 shows like Cornell when she was using DBX, no, a noise reduction. Um, she was using no noise reduction on these. No Dolby, no DBX. And there's a clarity to each instrument and to the whole that is, I think it's unmatched in the Grateful Dead's recorded history for two track tapes."
"There's nothing like these, and you'll listen to '77, '78, the other tours that she was recording quite heavily, quite prominently. And they don't sound like this. They sound phenomenal, but they sound different. And these ones are, to me, some of the most pleasurable recordings. I think in one of our promotional things, we talked about them being almost studio quality. It's remarkable how good they sound."
MAHAN: "There's detail in these recordings that I'm hearing that I don't normally hear in in live Dead recordings, professionally released live Dead recordings, like subtle tings on the bells of symbols that the cow bells sits so perfectly in the mix. You can hear everything without straining to hear anything."
LEMIEUX: "Well, that's it. And that's what I just find so remarkable that in the live setting, it's one thing to do it in the studio. I've been in enough studios and watched mixes go down where you get unlimited opportunities to fix that. And so, like you say, if the cow bell is not sitting in the right place, you just bring it up or down and go back a minute and, and re mix that little portion and it all works out in the end. And you've got flying faders and you've got, you know, the ability to do that."
"She was doing it live on the fly and there's literally not a thing I would change in these mixes. I would never say, 'Wow, we need more guitar or Jerry's guitar on this, or more bass.' Everything is perfect on these. I think it's, it's a testament to Betty's skill and talent and the band playing so well, I think made her job very enjoyable because, you know, she's mixing this band at the height of a new power because so much had changed in the previous 18 months, since they'd last more than 18 months since they'd last toured. It's really quite remarkable what the band was doing at this time."
Listen to the rest of the podcast here.