Dick Latvala and The Story of the Grateful Dead Vault
Do Deadhead requests have an impact on what you listen to for potential Dick’s Picks?
Absolutely. With every Dick’s Picks order sent out, there is a little card sent, and I get ‘em back and I type the data in the program. It’s really fun. I remember almost every date instantly, the more I do it. And then there’s the Internet level of it, where the people can email me the ten shows they want. I have a private conference with people on the WELL who give me information. I know that any one man’s opinion is — “one man gathers what another man spills,” — and I’ve been to shows that I thought were great and then heard them on tape and they weren’t, and vice versa. So it’s a very elusive subject, judging shows, and it’s not as easy I used to think it would be. Everyone has an opinion and everyone’s right.
It’s all subjective.
And it’s really hard, even among so-called hard core addict tapers, to agree on something. You could have a total disagreement with someone that you know, and gone to a lot of shows with, so it’s elusive. Maybe you didn’t burp before the set started or whatever. It seems that this experience is not something that you can nail down and say, “This is it.” And so if anything, I want to say to people that this Dick’s Picks thing is a vehicle to get at stuff that formerly wasn’t being approached. I didn’t come up with that idea and I don’t like the attention, but my goal is just to get at the music that I know I’ve already heard.
Are there many shows that can’t be made because of poor quality, ones that you can’t even consider.
Absolutely. At the present time, I have to learn a whole lot of things about that because I never paid attention to the technical aspects of sound. I was more into the information being communicated. I could adjust to the form it came in, like the hiss or whatever. I could see through that and get to where the goods were. Once I was hired, it became more in the capacity of helping to make decisions of what’s good and what isn’t or what should be listened to and decided upon. I had to start paying attention to a lot more than I ever thought I’d pay attention to before—like is it stereo or mono. (laughs)
Who cares, actually? Harpur College, for example, it’s disgusting, but one of the reasons I’ve been pushing for this one as long as I have for 2/13-14/70, and being rejected for a long, long time is because of the fact that the electric sets are in mono. There is a big problem with that. (laughs)
Does modern technology lend itself to making a tape more listenable?
Absolutely, as Dick’s Picks is concerned with the two-track final tape as opposed to multi-tracks. There’s still a lot that can be done in the digital realm, with the sonic solution system, and I am not the one that you would talk to. Jeffrey Norman, my other half who is the most important person to me there is, he is the one that makes whatever I pick sound good. He knows how to push the buttons and is a technical wizard. And John Cutler, of course, is overseeing all this. His name is never on any of the Dick’s Picks, but he’s definitely in there giving his input. So all this is summing up to say I take input. I am not coming at this with a pre-determined agenda of releases like I used to think I knew everything about a long time ago.
Who makes the final decisions with you about what will be released?
It depends on what stage of the final decisions. (laughs) It could be flexible at all times. This is a slippery area and nothing is really final. There is no absolute. For example, if some band member heard what was being released, he could probably say, “I don’t want that released.” I think we have it together now where the band members are staying out of involvement of Dick’s Picks.
I don’t have to submit things for Phil’s approval anymore, but there are other people. John Cutler and Jeffrey Norman — their feedback is crucial for the first level of a successful product. They are coming at it mainly from a technical point of view, and Jeffrey is also coming at it from — if it doesn’t sound good to him, he’s not a Grateful Dead head. He’s more into Steely Dan for example, so he’s much more objective about this. So if it escapes past him and me, then it’s gotta be pretty damn good, because I’m learning a lot as to what’s more acceptable. At least initially you gotta try and do the best product you can technically but also have some substantial product that’s being fed, and not just have it be technically nice.
That’s a lot of [the] reasons why I was going for esoteric shows at the beginning, instead of the obvious choices of 2/13-14/70 or Harpur College, and on and on and on. If I’m gonna have some influence, I’d wanna hear something I haven’t heard that’s pretty good. Part of the thrill for me is finding stuff, and I still find stuff. You know, it’s fun to discover stuff, and there’s so much, everyone should just relax. It’s all gonna happen at the right time. I want input all the time, give me input and I will make decisions. This is my work, and there’s no one who’s ever gonna get as close as I did to these tapes. Nobody, no taper mentality will ever get this close. It’s pretty shocking that they let someone with my compulsion this close to the treasure.
What was the condition of the tape archive when you stepped in?
People have done their best to try to keep some order over the years. It’s a very complex subject that takes me back to when Bear left [Owsley “Bear” Stanley who recorded the Fillmore 7/13-14/70 shows represented on Dick’s Picks Volume 4 ]. The story is long but I don’t think much overall high priority was given to the tapes after Bear left. I mean, they really took care of them pretty much for a long period when the vaults were first built. Then I was hired in 1985 to expressly go through the tapes and listen and see what’s on the boxes and see what’s in there. And to me it’s like, talk about getting tapes. (laughs) I have had my hands full and continue [to] more than I ever dreamed possible. I am a tape addict and I’m probably the best person to do what I’m doing. I am not saying this as an egotist, I’m just saying it as a fact. I’m trusted to do it by all parties so far. I’m embracing this as this is destiny here. I’m doing the best job I can, and taking in all suggestions and they all affect me. A lot of things come into play to affect what is the next release. You want to skip around man. Every show is an event unto itself, from sacred to unique experience.
All the individual shows are of value, in my opinion. Everyone’s desire to hear the whole show is valid, but it’s not practical in our vault release program, as yet. There’s a heavy emphasis placed on the quality being as perfect as possible. When it gets to be trying to control content, like what is a good show, they [the Dead] can’t judge themselves properly. Only Deadheads can know what that is.
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