Talking Dick’s Picks with Steven Hyden and Rob Mitchum

Last week, Steven Hyden and Rob Mitchum launched 36 From The Vault, a new podcast exploring the Grateful Dead’s celebrated Dick’s Picks live series. The show takes a deep dive into the 36 Dick’s Picks entries, the history of the Dead organization, and popular culture around each show. We caught up with Steven and Rob to find out more about the new series.

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nugs: What makes Dick’s Picks unique amongst other official releases from the Grateful Dead? 

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Rob Mitchum: One of the joys of doing the podcast so far is doing a deep dive into who Dick was and how he came to be associated with the Dead organization. His background and the whole process in selecting the shows is really sort of fascinating early on. The key thing about Dick, I think, is that he came to the Grateful Dead organization already a huge tape trader and fan. He had that fan’s perspective and brought it to the organization. Everybody who was working for the Dead from the band to the crew to the people running the business had been inside for so long that they kind of lost perspective about what the outside world wanted from them. And that’s especially important for this kind of archival release series.

Dick was giving the fans what they want. He had his own sort of peculiar pov on what needed to be put out there. He talked a lot in early interviews about the fact that the band, by ‘93 certainly, never listened to the tapes. The only one who was interested in even participating in choosing or rejecting shows was Phil and he was doing all rejecting and no choosing basically, so he really slowed down the release in the early days. But Dick was super enthusiastic about all this music and would come across something like the “Here Comes Sunshine” that’s on Volume One and say, “We have to get this out there! Deadheads have got to hear this.” He would just argue and argue that it needed to be put out there and finally ended up winning some of these arguments with Phil. We’re all very lucky to have had his perspective on the inside at that point. Certainly, they wouldn’t have put out as much without Dick advocating for it and what they would have put out maybe wouldn’t have been as satisfying. 

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Steven Hyden: I think what makes the Dead unique in a lot of ways in terms of how their archive is handled is that they are probably the biggest example of fans stepping into the place of the band as stewards of the band’s history. The fans of the Grateful Dead have had such a big role in ultimately shaping the perception of how this band is perceived and I think mostly for the better. I think Dick is an example of this and there are lots of other people, lots of the Deadheads, who have much better taste in Dead music than the members themselves. If not for them there’d be a lot of great music that wouldn’t have been put out there for whatever reason. I think it’s a really interesting aspect of their history, the role that fans have played in writing and maybe correcting it in a lot of ways. 

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nugs: You guys mention in the podcast that the Dick’s Picks shows are a sort-of medium between the studio sound of early official releases and the DIY sound of bootleg tapes. What is it that distinguishes the sound of a Dick’s Picks show? 

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SH: It was kind of like the best of both worlds in a way where you could get something that sounded pretty good but it wasn’t overly professional or it didn’t have a ton of overdubs on it. It is interesting doing this show and realizing how much actually was done to these tapes in terms of just cutting songs out or like resequencing songs. The first Dick’s Picks record I ever got was Volume One and I wasn’t aware of how much had been taken out of there until I did this podcast. I heard you could stream the shows that they took that from and pretty much the whole first set is gone from Dick’s Picks Volume One. So it wasn’t quite as unedited as I assumed it was but still much less polished than a regular studio record would be.

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nugs: On the note of live albums missing sections or being re-sequenced, what makes the six-song uninterrupted section in the second set of Dick’s Picks Volume One so special?  

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RM: One of the cool things that I think Dick’s Picks allowed the Dead to do is put out some of these hour-long song suites that they used to do regularly live. For a lot of reasons, they hadn’t really represented that on their official “live” albums. I think Live Dead probably gets the closest to it but even that one is spliced between I think two or three shows. A lot of their other live albums were sort of grab bags of best versions from a particular tour or run. If they’re edited together it was done in the studio later on by combining versions from different shows and things like that. What was sort of revolutionary at time was finally having a pretty solid unabridged hour of music and segues from the show on an easy compact-disc format. Usually, that was the domain of tapes and not something you could get your hands on in official quality.

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SH: It really is amazing how spoiled people are now with this kind of stuff. I was just thinking about myself with Phish for instance. I only started listening to Phish in the 2010s. I’m used to an era where the show ends and within a couple of minutes there’s an instant show to stream online that’s a master and sounds great. At your fingertips, there’s an entire show. We’re so used to that now. Revisiting the series is a reminder that even getting part of a show that sounded this good was kind of a unique thing. it was a much harder thing to attain than it is now.

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RM: That’s going back to before a time nugs.net spoiled music fans. But yeah, I think one of the interesting things I’ve learned from the start of the series is how the Dead organization was very nervous about whether this would actually work, which is crazy in retrospect. Now the Dead put out like eight to ten live releases a year or something like that between Dave’s Picks and the other box sets they do. 

Dick, Kidd Candelario and a couple of other people that were involved in the start of the series really had to argue with the band, the organization, and the record label to do this. Even the permission they got was only to sell it through mail order and do a very low run for the time of only 25,000 copies each volume. Dick wanted to do complete shows but they wouldn’t commit at the time because they only wanted to do, at most, 2 discs. Of course, you can’t get a complete show on two discs. There were all these handicaps put on the project from the start just because they were worried that it might be a commercial bust. 

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SH: I guess maybe the Dead’s defense back in the early ‘90s was that putting out something that’s pretty unvarnished risks being picked apart. Especially by a fan base as critical as the Dead’s. So I understand their trepidation from that perspective, they didn’t want to put out something that was maybe less than perfect. And in the show that we just did, there’s this whole thing about editing out this terrible Phil Lesh bass solo. When you listen to the show it’s actually kind of good that it’s not there because that part of the album flows so well, it’s like really the best part of the whole release. But there is a part of you as a purist that’s like “oh I wish that was in there because that’s actually what happened.” The fact that they were willing to release Dick’s Picks as they did is a little bit of a leap of faith, to expose yourself in that way. 

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nugs: You guys have hinted that the show could explore some other artists along the way, what can we expect down the line from the podcast? 

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RM: Steven and I are both fans of the live album format in general and the Dick’s Picks series is such a revelation in how live albums can work for a band, doing more archival releases than polished live album releases. So I think we’re interested in those types of archival releases from other bands. Like Steve was talking about earlier, telling the story of the band through this very particular kind of release is a concept that fits the Dead perfectly and they were the ones that set the template for that. But there are other bands that do that as well and that’s the kind of thing we’d like to explore down the line or in special episodes

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nugs: In the first episode, you guys go deep into the context around the show. You even dive into how the venue was named after a corrupt Tampa mayor. Is that something we can expect more of in future episodes? 

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SH: Part of the appeal for us doing this show was that it’s a chance to talk about the Grateful Dead, but it’s also an excuse to explore music history and pop culture history in a fun way. You could time travel back to December of 1973 and look at what’s happening in the world at that time and get a sense of what it would have been like to be at that show. Rob and I were both born several years after this show and I never got to see the Grateful Dead live at all. I’ve only ever experienced them through recordings. The time travel aspect of listening to live tapes is enhanced when you can look at the rest of the world at that time and see how that influenced what was going on. 

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RM: Yeah, I think a lot of times people tend to consider the history of the Dead in sort of a vacuum. They were always an oddball in the music industry so people tend to consider the Dead and their different eras in a silo without thinking about the cultural context of the time. What was going on in the music industry? What was going on in film? What was going on in the news? 

Each show kind of gives us an opportunity to do that which is really fun. Looking at the different venues they played and seeing who else was playing that venue around the same time, It’s fun to be like “You know they played this show in Tampa not long after David Bowie was there on the Diamond Dogs tour.” A bunch of the shows in the ‘70s were within a month or two of like an Elvis appearance at the same venue. The other things that were sort of bobbing around in the culture at the time, of course, were going to have an influence on the Dead. They might have been doing their own thing but there’s certainly some bleed over you can hear from the bands, arts, and society that was around them. 

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SH: Another thing for Rob and I with this show was to approach it as huge fans of the Grateful Dead without being too clinical or scholarly about it. I think that we both want to have a sense of humor about the band. They’re a brilliant band, but they’re also kind of a goofy band. Craziness and brillance always co-mingled with this band and it’s part of what makes them so much fun to talk about.

I think that spirit of fun and reverence that’s inside the Grateful Dead is something that we wanted to have on this show and I think that’s a pretty big part of what we’re doing. I always feel like the best kind of music criticism should feel like listening to music and I hope that we have a little bit of that element of the Dead in our show.

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Check out the first episode exploring Dick’s Picks Volume One: Tampa Florida 12/19/73 today.

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New Episodes of 36 From The Vault are available every other week wherever you listen to podcasts.


nugs.net archive: Panic Halloween ’10

Widespread Panic –New Orleans, 10/30/10

We are kicking off our new blog by diving into the archives to surface some of our favorite high-quality downloads available on nug.net.  With 895 downloads in the archives, it’s hard to choose just one show that encapsulates what Widespread Panic does. Widespread Panic has been a heavy hitter in the Jam community for 30 years and are the heart of southern improvisational music. After narrowing down the many choices of killer shows, we found one that has all the right goods to bring to you. Holiday shows are always a special time with Widespread Panic but nothing comes close to their Halloween runs , which seem to be filled with a never ending supply of sit-ins, covers and rockin’ setlists.

New Orleans, 10/30/10 and the days surrounding it, exemplify what Widespread Panic does best. With great song selections from their own catalog and even a sit-in from Dr. John, the Night Tripper himself; only in New Orleans. This show has it all, with covers of Talking Heads “Papa Legba,” JJ Cale’s, “Ride Me High” and a blazing “Spanish Moon” originally by Little Feat, that is jammed out to extensive proportions.

The show also features Jimmy Herring on lead guitar. While Jimmy was still fairly new to the band after the passing of original guitarist, Michael Houser, Herring took to Panic like a fish in water and he shows his masterful guitar work throughout this entire performance and so does each member of the band, making this show a classic on nugs.net.

Stand out original songs include: a first set, “Dirty Side Down,” a newer song from that performance that has since become a classic. It’s very interesting to hear the development of these songs throughout the years and we can hear these changes within the hundreds of shows in the archives. “Henry Parsons Died” shows jazz flavored solos and incredible bass playing from Dave Schools. The second set opens with an always welcome, “Climb To Safety” as the band says, “climb aboard!” Into “Chilly Water.”

Dr. John enters the stage and plays a great rendition of “Right Place, Wrong Time” that has raw energy and those voodoo vibes that only he can bring. They continue with, “Dream Warrior.” Here Widespread shows what they do best while playing with the jazz/blues legend. The 12 minute “Arlene” is relentless and anytime Panic plays this song watch out, you’re going somewhere! The spectacular show closes with a Grateful Dead staple, “Creampuff War.”

It really doesn’t get much better than this and I am positive there will be many more shows from Widespread Panic in the upcoming posts.

Be sure to check out this recording of Halloween 2010 and so many more on nugs.net.  This soundboard recorded professionally mixed show is available for purchase as downloadable mp3, lossless, and CD shipped to your door.  It’s also available on demand.    Rock ON!

-Jam Band Purist