Writing about The Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia, Kingfish, RatDog or any other related spinoffs is a daunting task. With a ‘Dead’ career spanning 30 years, and another 15 for the surviving members, the momentum of the Grateful Dead and their devoted ‘Deadhead’ fan base have continued to release and catalogue almost a half decade of live material. The Grateful Dead were notorious for allowing bootleggers to tap right into the soundboard to create next to perfect recordings. They were always on tour. Though this leaves an endless supply of material for the obsessed fan to collect, many piss-poor recordings have surfaced throughout the years. Hopefully this will act as a ‘primer’ for the fans of live Dead material.
There are 3 rules to collecting live Grateful Dead:
1. CHOOSE YOUR TOUR WISELY: Like any band with a long career, The Grateful Dead underwent some musical changes despite their commitment to the classic ‘Psych’ sound. I would stay away from most of their shows from the late 70’s if you are just getting into the band. Don’t get me wrong, they definitely produced fantastic performances then, but their disco sound didn’t live up to the free acid jams that were present in the early 70’s.
I would suggest: 1969 in Central Park, 1970 at the ‘Action House’, and May 1970 at the Fillmore East. Fantastic shows with UNREAL sound. Shows from 64-66 were under the name ‘Warlock’, and definitely possess a more ‘Psychedelic’ sound to their later jam-based set.
2. CHOOSE THE RECORD LABEL WISELY: Many Grateful Dead bootlegs were pressed under nameless labels. Encouraging fans to bootleg dropped the value of many bootlegs, so beware of poor quality recordings. If possible, give them a listen. Many of the covers possess a two-tone photocopied cover, often referred to as a ‘insert cover’. Beware of the run-off groove! Some poorly made bootlegs have run-off grooves spilling onto the label- which would DESTROY your stilus.
Bootleg labels I recommend (not just for Dead shows): Takrl, TMOQ (Trade Mark of Quality), Smilin Ears Records, K&S Records, Edgard Kuabande…
3. USE YOUR EARS: Listen to a few shows from different years and make up your mind. When I was getting into the dead a friend made me a cassette with a few clips from a few different shows. It gave the a wide spread of Dead to choose from and I’m thankful for it.
Happy Digging, Deadheads!