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What’s Become of the Bettys? The Fate of the Long-Lost Grateful Dead Soundboards

by Dean Budnick on March 11, 2014

The Barton Hall boards

The majority of the 1,000-plus reels that have come to be known as the Betty Boards were acquired by three principals, none of whom were fervid Deadheads at the time. The first of these individuals set his tapes aside in a storage locker where they remain to this day. A second, who was more interested in the road cases that held the tapes, left them to rot in his barn for a decade. The final party was a couple with a particular interest in progressive rock, who nonetheless held an appreciation for the performances captured on tape.

Looking back on that day, the couple, who prefer to remain anonymous, set the scene: “The contents of several storage lockers were being auctioned off at the same time, not just Betty’s. So there were a few dozen people—the usual gang that frequents these sorts of things—milling around and bidding on lots that weren’t exclusive to Betty’s locker. There were probably three main players bidding for Betty’s stuff, plus a lot of other people occasionally bidding on Betty’s stuff and all the other stuff on display. Tapes were just a small part of what was being auctioned. There was a lot of clothing and household items set up in piles that sometimes also included some tapes. People bidding on clothing often got a couple of tapes thrown into the mix with their purchase.”

So while some tapes unquestionably were scattered to the wind, following the four- hour event and a second auction for a final lot of tapes held a few weeks later, the three prime bidders each held hundreds of reels. While two of the winning bidders had no plans for the tapes, within a few months the couple decided that they would place the music in circulation.

“Being avid collectors of bootleg recordings by numerous groups, it only seemed natural to share in the wealth,” they explain via email. “Our Grateful Dead collection consisted of many of the common shows that were out there at the time. These new tapes dramatically expanded that collection and it wouldn’t have been right not to share them. This was our way of getting new material into circulation and also breaking the hierarchy of those collectors who held on to prime shows for themselves. Initially, we started transferring the tapes to VHS Hi-Fi on our own, but soon realized what a daunting task this was going to be. So we reached out to one of our trading buddies who we knew had connections in the Dead trading community. From there, he gathered together what was later to become known as the ‘Unindicted Co-conspirators,’ who put in a massive archiving effort to back up the tapes and distribute them.”

The individual they selected as their point person was Ken Genetti, a friend and longtime Deadhead. “I went into their house, and I opened up this closet and they had all the stuff arranged on a shelf in order,” Genetti reflects. “For me, it was like King Tut’s tomb. I knew immediately what they had when I looked in there. The first thing I saw was Port Chester, N.Y., Feb. 18, 1971, an incredible show which was Mickey [Hart]’s last concert for many years and I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’ Then I saw Kezar Stadium, San Francisco, Calif., ‘73, my favorite concert I ever went to. I pulled it out and I went, ‘Holy shit!’”

Genetti shared the couple’s intention to spread the musical wealth, although initially he advocated for an aggressive, populist twist. “I told them: ‘You know what? It would be really great if you look in Relix and Golden Road, where there are these ads for people saying, ‘Just starting my collection; please help.’’ I was thinking: If only we could send out these to those people. Then, all of a sudden, those people, the newbies, would have all these tapes that nobody had. It would flip the whole scales upside down because I was so sick of these hoarders who had a whole closet of stuff that nobody could find and they would never show you what it was.”

While this didn’t quite happen, with the couple’s support, Genetti took the lead on distribution with the intent of bringing the music to the masses. So he enlisted three fellow tapers who lent him their decks. Then Genetti borrowed a new batch of shows from the couple (starting with the Kezar and the Port Chester reels), dubbed them and handed them off in a brief weekly tape exchange that took place in the parking lot of San Rafael’s Whole Earth Access store.

At the time, Genetti had just moved onto a 120-acre plot of land north of Marin with his wife and two young children and started building a house, which added its own series of complications. “I would get up in the morning, gas up the generator because we didn’t have enough electricity to run all these things, fire it up and start recording,” he recalls. “We did three shows a day. It was pretty overwhelming. Then at the end of the week, we would meet and I’d say, ‘OK, this is what I’ve got for you,’ and they would go from there and do whatever they wanted to with them.”

The exchange had the feel of a covert operation because the couple did not want their identities breached, and Genetti had his reservations as well.

“I wasn’t trying to keep myself anonymous, but I did tell those guys, ‘Look, once you have these, I want you to put them out.’ I didn’t want all these people calling me up saying, ‘Hey, I just flew in from New York and I’ve got a six-pack and some pot and I’m coming over.’”

As the project neared completion, the couple’s anonymity was broken, at least at the highest levels of Grateful Dead management.

They explain: “We had sought to keep the operation as low key as possible because of the potential for a backlash. It wasn’t until someone contacted the Grateful Dead office and offered them a copy of the tapes that we knew it was only a matter of time before we would be hearing from their lawyers. When we did hear from them, there was a bit of back and forth between their lawyers and our lawyer, but the bottom line was we had purchased the tapes legally and owned them but didn’t own the rights to the music contained on them. Therefore, we could not sell the music on them, which was never our intent anyway. That pretty much left us at a stalemate and, not wanting to stir up any more issues with the Grateful Dead office, is also why we avoided re-digitizing the tapes.”

So the reels that Genetti and his team copied were the lone public clones from the masters. However, these tapes made it far and wide. The Bettys were tangible, compelling artifacts of eras in which the Grateful Dead were at improvisational apogees, including the Capitol Theatre run in 1971, the Academy of Music dates a year later and the group’s fabled May 1977 tour. Beyond the performances themselves, the quality of the tapes held sway, as crisp Grateful Dead soundboard mixes were not easy to come by before 1986. Indeed there are some Deadheads who contend that the reputation of certain shows, such as the Dead’s performance on May 8, 1977 at Cornell University’s Barton Hall, have been augmented by the sheer number of high quality copies in circulation (culminating in the Library of Congress’ selection of 5/8/77 for the National Recording Registry in 2012, even if the masters were unavailable). A case also can be made that the launch of the Grateful Dead’s Dick’s Picks series in 1993 was a product of Deadheads manifesting an insatiable yen for the high-quality archival recordings after they had acquired copies of the Bettys.

And here, the story might have ended, with quality tapes all around—all the more so in the age of the Internet—if not for the efforts of Rob Eaton.

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Comments

No, it was never officially released.

By Relix - 03/11/14

Rob Eaton: “Another thing that’s important is if these tapes do get back to the vault, Betty should get her production royalty on anything that gets released, which is completely reasonable. Those were her tapes; those weren’t the Dead’s tapes. I’d love to see Betty get her due.”

Amen to that.

I’m just a fan & have no idea what actually went on behind the scenes, but if I & all my former band mates were each worth upwards of 20 or 30 million plus dollars, I hope I’d do the decent & fair thing & settle up my past debts.

By D - 03/11/14

Cheers to all that are working to bring these tapes back to the light of day. Would love to know exact dates? June 76’ is great stuff. Would love it all

By Rory - 03/11/14

...fantastic article. was amazed & fascinated reading this history that affected my music-listening-enjoying-experience that blossomed in my 1st couple of yrs in college.

....read like a modern music noir detective novel wink

thanks to all involved who are working towards a positive resolution with the collection for all parties. amazing example of the skilled intuition, art and expertise of the restorer.

...and it would be great to see Betty get her due. i started collecting in ‘85 and within 2 yrs was spoiled by Betty’s Barton. it was a revelation.

cheers & all the very best with this…

By Lou - 03/11/14

Outstanding!  There’s no other place for the reels to be except in the vault.  “All of them!”  Agree with Rob 100%.  There’d be no reels if it wasn’t for Betty. 

By Dozin.com - 03/12/14

God Bless Betty! Can’t believe the Dead would let her fall into such dire financial straits without a little support but I don’t know the whole story. I do know that on top of her incredible recording abilities, Betty was a stone cold fox back in the day. SEXY. AS. HELL! Thank you Betty, hope you’re well….!

By JoeyDVt - 03/12/14

The Dead were assholes to do Betty like that, not paying her for her work, and letting her go broke because Brent (!) broke up with her?

By September East - 03/12/14

This story is weak. Why raise all those questions in paragraph three and then answer almost none of them, especially when the answers are well known to many?

The one fact is that Betty’s excellent ear for sound and mixing resulted in many of the best recordings of the Dead ever made. That she got so little from her efforts while others gained so much is a travesty. But then the reality of how many people in the GD camp acted and still act in regards to money is a sad truth that no one wants to address.

How much money is still being milked from old shows, sold at crazy high prices by GDP, from fans who’ve already paid and paid and paid for decades? Plus all the paraphernalia, shirts, etc….why isn’t more of that money going to truly worthy causes, instead of fattening the already obscenely fat bank accounts of men (and greedy exes) who already have way more than they could ever need?

Greed sucks, but greed from a band who espoused sharing as a lifestyle really really sucks.

There’s enough for everyone! Give Betty her share. And hey fellow longtime fans…stop supporting the greed of GDP, and keep trading and sharing, the way it was meant to be.

By Flying Hearts - 03/12/14

Gee, Flyng Hearts, I think all those questions in paragraph three were answered. Is it possible you didn’t read all three pages? You make some good points, though.

By Ted - 03/12/14

So, wait. They have the 5.8.77 boards? I thought they were long gone, even from these collections.

By mmINDY - 03/12/14

Bring on the new stuff! This is very exciting news. If they do it through Dave’s Picks as opposed to some ultra expensive release with fancy packaging done by someone that doesn’t even care about the band I don’t mind paying the $96/year (if you pre-order) Dave’s picks sub.
That being said Dave’s promo videos where he whores himself are super annoying and unnecessary.

By Joey - 03/12/14

Hey Joey, last time I checked those promo videos required you to actually click on them in order to watch. So….if you are annoyed, just ignore them. Pretty simple.

By Matt - 03/12/14

Great piece, nice to know we can anticipate some new tapes in the future (hopefully). And once again, without knowing the complete story: I have to agree that the Dead org doesn’t look good regarding the way they treated Betty. She deserves more.

But my favorite line from the article:

“So I modified a food dehydrator that I use to dehydrate mushrooms I collect here in the mountains of Colorado in the summer time.”

Collecting shrooms in the mountains in Colorado? ... of course you do, Rob. Of course you do! Love it.

By A - 03/12/14

A superb article.  Thank you Betty, Rob and everybody else involved - so many of us benefit from this great work!

By BarryW - 03/12/14

Very interesting read. 

So out of the original 1,000+ reels—which I’m assuming make-up about 250 - 300 shows—that were lost, auctioned-off and stored away for years, is there a guess or indication as to the number of Betty Boards or shows that were actually salvaged?  Has Rob Eaton commented on this?

Since none of the present tape owners have the right to sell their content, I think it only makes sense for the band to purchase them, professionally remaster them and commercially release them under a Betty Boards Series (... with some of the proceeds going to her, of course).  You would think the band would jump on this opportunity.  I wonder why this has not yet been made more transparent.  Let’s face it, we would much rather listen to this uncirculated live material.

By Manny - 03/12/14

I hate seeing “fans” putting down the Dead for earning a good living on their amazing legacy. Especially when so much of it is in free domains already.

By DannyBoy - 03/12/14

Rather than wait for the Dead to ‘do the right thing’ by Betty, how about starting a gofundme or kickstarter and anyone who has enjoyed her work can donate an amount directly to Betty? Fabulous story, thanks Relix!

By CrazyFingers - 03/12/14

Kicking members of the “family” when they were down is a pattern with them, Crazyfingers (ask Pigpen).
I like your idea. I’ll pony up for that kickstarter if Betty wants it.

By September East - 03/12/14

I have to agree with Dannyboy, GD have every right in the world to do what they want. If you are anti-capitalism, that is a separate story. For the joy and ecstacy that the Dead were responsible for in my life, they deserve every cent they ever got and get in the future. More power to the Dead. And thank you to them and Rob Eaton.

By WinemakerGreg - 03/12/14

Wonderful article- thanks! But maybe I’m missing something. In the spirit of Jerry’s saying, something like “once we’ve played it we are done with it,” why can’t the recordings be uploaded to the public domain free to use , perhaps accompanied by a donation link to a Betty fund? This would not conflict with the GD attorneys claiming no money can be made off the songs.

By -mountainjam - 03/12/14

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