Dick Latvala Interview 2/26/97

by David Gans

From Grateful Dead Hour #444


David Gans: Dick Latvala, nice to see you, sir.

Dick Latvala: Yes, it's a new time of the year, isn't it. Boy oh boy, this is exciting. I'm real excited.

DG: It's the end of February. . .

DL: Yeah, spring's coming.

DG: . . . We should be heading down to the Coliseum for a show tonight.

DL: Yes, indeed. But we can't do that anymore, so, um - well, got an alternative. We can play tapes! <laugh>

DG: That's what we're gonna be doin.'

DL: Play CDs, how about that.

DG: Dick's Picks number seven is from three shows in September 1974, one of my favorite years.

DL: One of a lot of people's favorite years, I believe. I am thrilled by it, for so many reasons. A lot of people don't know all the things that go into picking things, but at times there's different requirements. Like, you don't want to repeat songs from other releases that just happened, or conflict with multi-track releases in terms of years or songs. Just little tiny things like that. But I had been bein' blocked, and finally, one of my cohorts said, just do whatever you want. And I just knew it had to be '74.

The universe was calling for a show from '74.


Dick Latvala: And at that point it was obvious to many people what show that should be, but I just happened to, for some very accidental reason - it seems specific, but it seems synchronicitous - my attention was pointed to the run in Alexandra Palace in London, and I hadn't listened to the 9/11 show yet. And I had heard 9/9, 9/10, and 9/10 was just killer, so I was really wanting to release that, years ago. So, 9/11 - turns out they had some really good stuff in there, and not many people talk about this run, and I had heard some great music just then. It just seemed really cool to break out this other concept that inevitably will happen, and that is, the best of a run at a venue, like [a] two- or three-night run at a venue.

David Gans: It worked out really well for "Dozin' At the Knick," I thought.

DL: Yeah, I thought so, too, you know, even with the confusion of putting two second sets on one disk. I mean, that was just like an added bonus or treat, to my ears.

DG: Yeah.

DL: I think it's fantastic, and man oh man, you know, what's to complain [about] - okay, well, it isn't the same as it actually happened, that's true. But I didn't overdub Jerry's parts, folks. <laugh>


David Gans: Again, the "Dick's Picks" series is from the stereo two-track masters that were made at the concert, so this stuff was mixed by Kidd Candelario -

Dick Latvala: Yes.

DG: - who was a roadie for many, many years with the Grateful Dead.

DL: Yes -

DG: And - go ahead.

DL: And he - as was the case for "Dick's Picks" One, which was 12/19/73 in Tampa, Kidd recorded that also. He recorded in those years, '72, '73, and '74. But his main job was, of course, taking care of Keith's piano. So, we have a lot of - tapes run out, and the songs don't get on 'em, you know, and it's amazing when you find one this good. This is good quality. I mean, even John Cutler, who's a very picky person, says this is very good.


David Gans: You and I are in accord about this thing, of creating a composite show rather than dogmatically sticking to nothing but unedited, complete shows. But there are a lot of listeners out there who are demanding to know why you're not putting out just unedited, complete programs.

Dick Latvala: I understand, empathize with the question, and, uh, I can answer a million ways. How long do we have? Not long now, but I thought I've talked about it before. It's just that some shows - the experience one has at a concert is unto itself. No one can tell anyone what they experienced at the show. It's a personal thing, and it's flabbergasting, unbelievable, the most incredible thing on earth, in my opinion, and everyone else that listens to this kind of thing. I came into this thing basically with the idea that the whole show was of paramount importance, because that's the way you can get a sense of how it grows, develops, goes up and down, and the flow of it. And all of it's necessary for context.

And that's true when you're at the show, but this stuff we're doing, one has to realize, is gonna be played and surveyed and absorbed at home, and there isn't much going on at home but your speakers, and whatever posters you've got up. I mean, you know, we're creating a product that's designed to somewhat reflect what happened at a specific period of time, but I have learned that there's so much great stuff in the Vault that, if we are confined to just releasing whole shows, a lot of stuff would never get out.

A lot of three-night runs, on the other hand, could be combined into three CDs, or four maybe, even. And have nothing but sterling, inspirational stuff on it. And, furthermore, it isn't necessary to recreate the whole show on CD for home listening. It's necessary to have a piece of music that has a life of its own that is real stuff, and is actually not manufactured or artificially created or anything, is real stuff that happened. But in a specific time frame, and I'm not willing to go past the best of a run. That's just one idea, and a whole show's another idea, and an edited show's another idea. We will do all of the above, whenever it seems appropriate. But I don't think we should be stuck with any rules about how to do it, absolutely. We're discovering how to do it each time; each one's a discovery.


David Gans: You and I are also absolutely in accord about 1974 being a terrific year. How did you settle on the September '74 run in London, out of all the good stuff?

Dick Latvala: First there's 8/6/74, I know -

DG: Or 7/19/74 -

DL: - or 3/23, or 6/23, or 6/26, 6/28, I know, I know. Well, um, I don't know, I guess I'm just a motherfuckin' picky Deadhead. <laugh> No, it hits the spot in every way. I can't think of it being any more perfect. I mean, I expect to get criticized for dissecting shows, but that's gonna be the way it's gonna be, if you're gonna get this music from the Vault. I mean, it's gonna be done that way sometimes.


David Gans: Well, let's talk about the band here. We have - this is a one-drummer version; this is Billy Kreutzmann only on the drums. We have Keith Godchaux playing a lot of grand piano on this tour. Donna Godchaux is in the band singing harmony. Um, it's a lot - this is the big sound system.

Dick Latvala: Mm-hm. And you know, they did take the whole huge thing over to England, uh, London, on that tour.

DG: Mm-hm.

DL: I thought they might have taken an abbreviated, watered-down version, but noooo. Those fans sure got their treats in London, though. I mean, wait 'till you folks see this layout of the architect's drawing of the original concept of this building. It's called the Alexandra Palace. Unreal.

DG: Oh, that's right. It's a beautiful thing, isn't it.

DL: It is huge! I don't know if it was built according to the picture [of the] architect's drawing, but it is really, really amazing. The Grateful Dead actually played in this thing?

DG: Amazing.

DL: Jesus, it's like playing in Egypt or something.

DG: So the band played seven shows in Europe and then came home, and played five shows at Winterland, that were filmed for "The Grateful Dead Movie," and then they went and took a buncha time off.

DL: Right on. That's it.

DG: Listening to the music, you'd wonder what it is that made them wanna quit; they were playing so well -

DL: Because they seemed to be on a ride -

DG: Yeah -

DL: - since they started, right. Almost - we could trace this since '65 or '66 on, every year was a step ahead. I don't know; I think it's great, though, they did stop, because then they worked up something really strange <laugh>: Blues For Allah. Who would ever have thought that?

DG: This is true. Let's talk about the song selection for this. You had a bunch of great stuff to work from, and you came up with something that approximates the contour of a large-scale Grateful Dead set of that time, a nice first set, that begins with "Scarlet Begonias," runs through a buncha first set stuff and ends with nice, fine "Playing in the Band." Then the second CD has "Weather Report," "Stella Blue," "Jack Straw," "Brown-Eyed Women" - it's kinda like the way sets were structured in those days -

DL: In that time frame, yeah.

DG: - things weren't quite as -

DL: In a way, yeah, but it's also gonna - sometime when we do these things, it'll look a little artificial, but this flows alright, this feels good, each one feels good. These long pieces - "Playing in the Band" is 24 minutes, you know. The "Weather Report" > "Stella Blue" is 27, or maybe something like that.

DG: Mm-hm.

DL: And "Truckin' " through "Wharf Rat" is another 20-plus minutes. And the "Dark Star" - Jesus Christ, we got 44 1/2 minutes or something, through "Morning Dew." So we have some long pieces, and then there's an assortment of shorter songs that are fairly standard songs, folks, but I think you'll find these renditions are uniquely well-played, I would say.


David Gans: How do you decide what to include and what not to include when you're boiling three shows down into one composite three-CD set?

Dick Latvala: Well, it's almost derivative-type thinking. First off, you have a reason for choosing this run of shows, some substantial reason. For me, I heard a lot of material that was good, and it has just a definitive jam of "Dark Star" > "Morning Dew" that's gorgeous, I mean, unreal. So, if you - and then you have these other long pieces - you listen to all three nights, and you get your feelings, then you make sure you listen to it again, after you've taken a shower, and then when you've brushed your teeth, a third time do it, and make sure you got your feelings right in this time frame, and then - well, some tunes stand out as well-played and some aren't as inspiring, and then you have to make a call, like "Scarlet Begonias" is played on the 9th and the 11th; so is "Playing in the Band," and "Tennessee Jed" I think is played all three nights.

So, you know, it's a call, and it's a combination of me, Jeffrey [Norman], and John [Cutler]'s call about those things, somewhat. For the technical part, definitely; they have input there. But, um, it became pretty obvious how to do it on this one. "Scarlet" seemed to be right song to open it, and you know you want to end it on something that's pretty dramatic. Doesn't have to be actually at the end of a second set that actually happened, you know; we're artificially creating this, so it's almost open-ended what you can do.

DG: Mm-hm.

DL: It's just a matter of, are these versions good? If you don't think so, tell me. You know, I'm learning, too.


David Gans: One of the features of Grateful Dead performances during this particular time was the between-sets action with Phil Lesh and Ned Lagin, doing their "Seastones" music.

Dick Latvala: Wasn't that something. Boy, was those crowds flabbergasted on those tapes, when you hear 'em. <laugh> Man, that's strange stuff. I really like it, myself, but -

DG: Phil told me once about being on tour, on this tour in Europe, and how the German fans, I think it was, were whistling -

DL: Yeah, that's like booing.

DG: - as a form of objection.

DL: Yes.

DG: And he and Ned wound up kinda jamming along with the whistling.

DL: <laugh>

DG: But none of that stuff is on these disks.

DL: No, uh, no, it isn't. And I understand much to the chagrin of a lot of people. But I have to say, I did listen to 9/11; that was the inspiration for starting me thinking of this run. And although there's some dramatic first-set songs played very well, the second set, that Ned and Phil thing, that I think is the only time it seamlessly joined - the rest of the band joined in, and it's a jam that eventually goes to "Eyes" and then back into a jam, then to "Wharf Rat" or something. And then into another little tasty thingie. It's 80 minutes, you know, it's a nice piece of music. But I didn't find it as good as the playing that is on the three CDs. So I say, I call that. I didn't - "Eyes of the World" is real good, and - but boy oh boy, I think we'll have plenty of examples of superb "Eyes of the World" before we're too far along here.


David Gans: Can you talk at all about what's coming up in the future?

Dick Latvala: Something as good as anyone can dream of. I don't know yet. <laugh> But I'm real excited about this, which will spring me into doin' something that feels real good, that feels exciting, and that will light everyone's fire and hopefully, maybe, no one will complain. <laugh>

DG: I don't think that's gonna happen.

DL: No, no, Jesus -

DG: Somebody is gonna complain.

DL: - did I go into a fantasy there, oh my. Sorry, folks. Please complain.


David Gans: I understand the Grateful Dead Vault is yielding up an Allman Brothers CD soon.

Dick Latvala: Isn't that thrilling?

DG: Yes.

DL: Oh, man oh man, I don't know if there's anything that's thrilled me this much, because I'm an Allman freak. And ever since they regrouped - or, I saw 'em in '92, actually; they had got Warren Haynes and Allen Woody and added Marc Quinones as a percussionist. Boy oh boy, I was blown away. I said, they're the hottest band on the planet. This is in '92.


Dick Latvala: '70 through '74, they [the Dead and the Allmans] were almost indistinguishable, at times, in their attack and their stylings. In fact, "Mountain Jam" almost might be said to be something they both collaborated together [on], and the Allmans ran with it and the Dead buried it - or, I don't know, you know. They were close, and now they weren't, for so long, and I couldn't understand that. And now, my friend Kirk West in the Allman Brothers Band, who does almost everything at shows - he's called the "Tour Mystic" on liner notes, and it means he handles all the things that can - one-of-a-kind deals, and the band trusts him, for his sense of proportions, what's good and what isn't. He's the archivist for them; he's my counterpart in that sense. And so, we formed a friendship that has grown and evolved, and it's - he didn't know we had tapes in our Vault of the Allman Brothers, of the opening act at the Fillmore East on February 11, 13 and 14 in 1970.

And so I made him cassettes of it, and he started running that idea up the flagpole on his team, and a year or so passes. I get him hooked up with our guys at merchandising, Peter McQuaid, and before I know it, we get this project rolling, and he comes, stays with me two weeks in January, and we do it, and it's one CD and we're gonna merchandise it.

David Gans: So this is recorded by Bear, the same as -

DL: Yes.

DG: The "Dick's Picks" 2/14/70 stuff and "Bear's Choice."

DL: Yes, correct.

DG: Should sound pretty good, then.

DL: I, you know - Bear hadn't heard the Allman Brothers, I gather, at this point. I mean, they were just forming, that previous summer, in August '69, I believe. And so, he wasn't familiar - I would guess he did the best he could under the circumstances. It must have been absolute insanity there. I would have loved to have been there those three nights, I mean, holy moly.


David Gans: DIck Latvala online -

Dick Latvala: Yeeess. . .

DG: I've noticed that you've started participating in the "Dick's Pick's" folder on DeadNet Central.

DL: Yes, it is a real breakthrough for Dick, because I've been afraid of that, of computers and the intelligence required to manipulate and use this tool. But I once had an ed- I'm a college graduate, I do have an IQ; I thought, well, I will tackle this, and not read these manuals, which always confuses me. So, after many crashes and burns - boy, were they glorious, David; I can't believe how good they were - I have figured out how to do e-mail and how to start posting, and decided that, since [at] DeadNet Central there's chat rooms there, and on "Dick's Picks", I'd like to be a presence there, you know, to comment, ask for ideas, see what happens. Just play around, get to know people. Nothing too serious. I mean, it's gonna be pretty loose, I think.

DG: I know people have been sending you e-mail. Have you been answering it yet?

DL: I'm starting now. I have an inch- or two-inch thick thing of hard copy from the last couple years my former roommate downloaded for me, because I didn't do that. Now that I'm doing it, I will always answer my e-mail. I just have to - if it's enormous amounts, I'll have to figure out ways to deal efficiently with it. But I want to be accessible, obviously. I'm trying my best. But I also don't wanna overload, too -

DG: Right.

DL: - I have to manage this input.

DG: Dick, it's always a pleasure to have your dulcet tones here at the Grateful Dead Hour.

DL: Well, it's an honor, man. I just can't wait for everyone to hear this. Just put it on, relax, just pretend like you just wanna hear somethin', and see what it does to ya. Don't think about anything. Just put it on. I guarantee you folks are gonna have a wonderful time with this. I can't get enough of it. It's great.


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