Nov 7, 2012

September/October 1973: Wake of the Flood Promotion

A mock Grateful Dead Records press release:

For further information, call
Ron Rakow or Bob Siedeman:

Grateful Dead Records was conceived in a stoned flash by Ron Rakow (now President of GDR) as he was driving down Highway 1 near Bolinas in his pickup.
"Here I am," he said to himself, "friends with a big rock band, so where's the graft?" (A financial wizard besides having above average intelligence, he realized that if he was ever going to get rich, graft was the American way.) In a flash which almost caused him to run into a bus full of hippies, the answer appeared: "Why, we'll have to start a record company!" Zap-Bing-Far Out!
Thus Grateful Dead Records became a reality and its motto became, "Lay some graft on me, man."
Actually, it wasn't that simple. The band had to be convinced that their mellowed out friends, bozos, freaks and weirdos could function logically, compute figures in the hundreds of thousands, and not freak out the people who buy records. Many a long evening was spent chewing the fat or passing the joint. They spaced out on the possibilities of such a venture--like what they would do when they were all rich, would they get into politics and run Jerry Garcia for President, have the band committed and take over, buy Warner Brothers--the typical flashes of people thinking of starting a new business.
The problem was everybody wanted to be president, then nobody did; it was decided that a consensus would decide, then no consensus could be reached; ideas flew up and blew away, like the idea of calling the company Dufo Discs (a dufo is the m.r. who squishes his ice cream cone into his forehead) which didn't work because nobody, nobody knew what dufo meant and it was hard to explain.
One night when everybody was too stoned to get off the floor, Rakow proclaimed: "We'll call it Grateful Dead Records and we'll do business in a down-home way; we may even tell the truth. All those opposed rise." Nobody moved, though a few "right on, man"s were barely audible.
And that is the truth or one possible truth or part of the truth or none of the truth about how Grateful Dead Records was formed.
The record company executives, working out of a disreputable-looking old house in San Rafael, California, will answer and and all questions on any subject. If the question is good enough, they may even study it.

"Lay some graft on me, man." -- Grateful Dead Records

* * * * *

A Dead Anecdote: Related by Ron Rakow, President of Grateful Dead Records - publication unknown:

This is the true story: I ran a finance company in San Francisco. I was a straight guy, 28 years old, and I mean a straight guy - really fashion conscious, with a beautiful business office front, and I lent money, that was my scene.
And one day my secretary ushered two guys into my office and I looked up and I had never seen creatures that looked like that before. One guy had curly black hair below his shoulders and as wide as his shoulders on both sides. And the other guy had real straight hair real long. It was Rock Scully and Danny Rifkin (the Dead's managers) and they were wearing Indian feathers and beads and all kinds of weird shit.
And I looked up and I said, "Sit down, what's the story?" And they said they got this rock 'n' roll band and they needed $12,000 for equipment. So I said, "Well, I don't know nothing about it." And they said, "You'll hear all about it - you listen to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones?" And I said, "No, I listen to Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett."
And they told me to come to a concert the next Saturday. So I went to the concert and they gave me this Coca-Cola and after about an hour I got this twitch in my face and my eyes started to tear and I had this incredible need for tissues and shit like that.
And I really got off on the music - really got off on it. I solved a lot of my own personal problems, just right there at the end of some of Garcia's guitar licks. So I just started to come around and I gave them the money - I didn't lend it to them, I gave it to them, 'cause it was obvious that they were never going to be able to pay it back.
And, sure enough, seven months later, my business went into the shit house and the Grateful Dead said, "Come live with us, be somebody else, what do you know how to do?" And I said, "I'm a photographer," and they said okay, you're our family photographer. And I took so many pictures that I eventually got a few good ones and I became, like really a good photographer.
And I went through a lot of other changes. I was always a business guy and I eventually came to the Dead with a some ideas for a record company and we did it.
And that's the true story.

* * * * *

A promo letter to Dead Heads:

September 4, 1973

Fellow Dead Head,

There are two reasons for writing to you now; first to give you the earliest specific information on our new record distribution program; secondly to ask you to join us as part of our eyes, ears and feet on the ground to keep the scene straight locally.
We've decided to produce, manufacture and distribute our records ourselves. The band today finished the recording of an all new studio album (been a long time) called "Wake of the Flood". The album will be made from the highest quality vinyl available, which has the best technical properties. In addition, it will be heavier (weigh more, that is) than most albums available in this country. It will be handled locally through independent record distributors and should be available everywhere.
This adventure is a jumping off point to get us in a position of greater contact with our people, to put us in more command of our own ship, and for unspoken potentials for the "far out".
If you're interested in getting involved, drop us a line here. In any case you'll enjoy the record--it's dynamite!

Gratefully yours,
Grateful Dead Records

* * * * *

The followup letter:


The response from you folks knocked us over. It was so great to hear from so many of you that we figured you'd like to see some of each other's lines which are separately enclosed.
[ . . . ]
We sell records to only 18 distributors, who in turn sell to stores, rack jobbers (who just stock record departments and racks in stores like Penney's and Supermarkets etc.), and one stops which are places where small stores get small quantities of records. They are all listed in the yellow pages under Record Dealers - Wholesale and Retail.
Radio stations exist to play what you want to hear. If you want to hear the Dead over the air waves, repeated calls to the stations should be made.
You've probably noticed that we sent you some boss art work (we call it our guerrilla kit), enough for your own stash and to put up elsewhere. The end of this road is the people, and wouldn't it be a gas if stickers, postcards, and posters were everywhere?


1. Nothing unless it's fun.
2. Call on the stores and one stops mentioned above, say hello and see that our stuff is neatly arranged. We've found that sometimes we've had to neaten up everybody's stuff because many of the people that work there don't understand that these things are our art.
3. Call the local distributor if a record store doesn't have our record (you can find out who our local distributor is by asking any large record store).
4. Put up posters, stickers, and handbills.
5. Call the radio stations and ask to hear your favorite album cuts.
6. Whatever you can think up that's fun for you and fun for other folks, too.

This should give you an inside look into the record industry which will at least give you some interesting pieces of information; have fun.

Grateful Dead Records

* * * * *

The enclosed replies:


We received almost 3000 replies (12% of Dead Heads) to our letter of which this is a compendium.

Fellow Dead,

Aiding the cause of hypnocracy is high on our list of priorities so don't hesitate to call on us. It would be a welcome opportunity to do something in a positive manner. I mean, I'm writing this letter, right? To join you as part of our lives seems perfect. Eyes, ears, nose, and throat. To free the ship of artistic freedom from the moorings of the corporate hydra. If you need a local sales person, I have a fine street corner. I read your letter very carefully and could not understand what you would want me to do. Although many consider the Dead to be a living anachronism, the letter serves a further proof to all perceptive Dead Heads that the trip has only just recently arrived at a point where it has the capacity to realize its potential. THERE is your destination: I refuse to believe this is happening to me. You can count me in. There are no limits. It's like a new door opening. I am jumping right with you. Heinzelmannchenstaat. I also can't help thinking your concerts should be run the same way. What do you have on your minds? When do you begin to permit the entrance into your chosen field of those of equal calibre; to ignite a spark of actual movement of your musical themes. Gather up the fragments. The sensual abounds: play to our higher selves. We will drown our friends with it. We have physical plane powers under THE LAW. We certainly will act. Eliminate the drag energy. Just got back from a trip to Mo-Leuka. Spent much time looking for a Suggested Cro-Magnon (suggested mass) Remover. No luck. It's getting harder I imagine. I am open to just about all of it. If you want, I could probably sell at least 20-30 records up here. If that's not what you want, let me know what else I might do to help us get in command of the ship. While my feet are on the ground, my eyes and ears are firmly embedded in the clouds along with the rest of my head, but if this complication proves surmountable, I'll be glad to help. All might help to get the job nicely done. Wahopaky. Apres le deluge, tout le monde rie. Waiting for the sky to turn, then my rest will find me. If I had to duke it with someone to defend your excellent image I might not win, but if that's OK with you it's also aces with me. Clapsnee ap ret lountree. There are people who will respond to a resourceful idea. If you would be so kind as to allay my paranoia. That flood? I travel light, juggle and perform occasionally magical rituals. I've been wondering if anyone else has been seeing strange high-velocity lights in the sky? I would like to add some fuel to the Dead ship. Only joyful noise can follow the water (and smoke). I got your letter today which really flashed me because for the last few weeks I've been meaning to write to you about the subject of your letter. It's no accident. This is what's happening. We're starting to realize why. Source is vital. We're involved. I am extremely excited about the prospects for the future. Call me Poindexter. This is me deep inside the cornfields of the midwest reporting that all is well. I can't describe it: it's not just the music - it's the idea. I believe this is the way it should be done. Dead United. I operate a small radio station. I'm a DJ. I work in a record store. I'm feature editor of my school's newspaper. I own a bookstore. We'll keep in touch. I'm glad your (our) project is finally off the ground. A group of us are interested in contributing to the wave mechanisms of the flood. While most of us here are involved in trying to stave off the final cosmological singularity with non-Rheimanian physics, some of us are interested in non-spherical music. What do you want me to do? Conspiring to rise the level of bossness has captured the essence of life. For one reason or another I have a lot of energy coursing through me. I feel I must get involved. Who else is involved? We're a community of artists, farmers and mad inventors; potters, methane generator builders, windmill crazies, biodynamic gardeners, painters and computer technicians. Personally I'm a mime. Being Dead is a way of life. The magic flute. It's a place to meet. After all, reality is what we make of it. I lay down the life of the leather of my soles and the vibrations of my inner ear. We're interested in getting ever more involved. Providing it won't be too bizarre. I am young, clear-eyed and healthy. There is more, much more.

Fellow Dead

* * * * *

A more official press release:

the Grateful Dead's independent release
on October 15, 1973

WAKE OF THE FLOOD is the Grateful Dead's new studio album and the first release of Grateful Dead Records, their 'in-house' record producing and marketing company. The last studio album was released in 1970. Three live albums, ten sides of music, have intervened.
WAKE OF THE FLOOD has 45 minutes of previously unrecorded songs, many of them heard in concert over the past year.


Visions of "our own record" and the organization to market it gestated for a year, from Independence Day 1972. WAKE OF THE FLOOD and Grateful Dead Records are the joint outcome. This originated from the base of establishing control and developing relationships in all phases of the record business. In its operational methods the company follows the direction pointed to by the musical source.
The idea was to let the feeling that goes into the music flow into every step of making the record and getting it distributed. Positive response to this simple motion for a new way came from music business people throughout the industry, and from Dead Heads everywhere.
Grateful Dead Records is an arm of the Grateful Dead, existing so as to get their music to the audience according to their own standards. WAKE OF THE FLOOD was recorded, mixed and mastered in Sausalito, Marin County. It is being pressed to weight 128 grams at three locations, where quality control will be supervised by a member of the studio production team.
Higher per unit profit is an advantage of independence. The band wants to recycle this money back into further creative possibilities.
Grateful Dead Records is run by a staff of eight, getting extra energy from the band and their management located close by in San Rafael, California. The record will be shipped to the 18 independent distributors who constitute the company's primary distribution system.
Foreign distribution is licensed to Atlantic Records for release on the same date.

* * * * *

A postcard to Dead Heads:

Our record is being counterfeited, and the authorities move too slowly not realizing our survival is at stake. We need your diligent efforts. The counterfeit has square (not round) corners on the stickers and a white (not orange) 0598 on the spine. Check all stores and immediately report phonies to us.
Grateful Dead Records

* * * * *

From the October 1973 newsletter, a compendium of replies to the May '73 "State of the Changes" letter:


Moliere, "Man needs nothing so much as the dance... All human unhappiness, all blows of fortune which history reports to us, all mistakes of politics...result from...that the dance is misunderstood."

Is it sad to be one's own enemy?...all that super-star hype. Don't get lost in the shuffle. It sounded like a stock report. If I don't hear the Grateful Dead at least once a day I go into withdrawals. Will you come play our softball team? Have you sold out? Whoever wants to be born must first destroy a world. The egg is the world. Is it a non-profit organization? Concerts are way too big. Their music is hair. We know each other. Remember, the truth hurts! if you got any feelings to begin with. Music to remember innumerable lifetimes. The showboat lifted into a brightening atmosphere - orange sun across numerous heads regathering from muddy drizzle fallen for 2-3 days. In case you are planning to rip-off a starship, I do simple veterinary medicine. What is hypnocracy? Who is St. Dilbert? Cut albums on astrologically auspicious days. Run twice as fast as you can run. I'm doing my best not to be a fan. Am I writing to a computer or real people? Record lots more studio material, and undersell; the more you play the better you'll get. Develop wrap-around concert sound. Get a banjo or fiddle player. Form a symphony orchestra from Dead Heads to do to classical what the Dead do to rock and roll. Make coke commercials or an underarm thing. Gibran, "Yet unless the exchange be in love and kindly justice it will but lead some to greed and others to hunger." The physical newcomers can go - cool, cool - but they don't dig the head. Is this bad? I don't know, do you think so? It's impossible to ask any more of any musicians than what you've given us. Release more singles. I love you.
Spiritual forces control events today; the state of conflict in the spirit world parallels conflict on earth. Satan is a liar. You are the only band who still plays for the people, not money. Whatever happened to the music for the common people? Don't call it a revolution, we still have birth and death; keep it clean and honest, we have to try just a little bit more. Annual Dead Heads reunion. The whole must shift. I want to know what's going on. Coupons in albums for concert ticket discount or annual freebie tour. You still do parties or small clubs? I dig chamber music. If the AM and FM DJs won't promote you, who can you turn to? The police band? Astral project yourselves to everywhere at once. Call it all an Opportunity to Experiment With On-Stage Sound. TV should display Dead form and style so people won't fear what it really represents. Simulcast. Do a screenplay for Dead music. Cuckoo's nest. Play a small hall five days running. Play two small halls a day or two apart. I've some ideas about concert sound. Concert sound has a long way to go. Low-budget 16mm, 35mm feature film; videotapes; independent distribution channels, campus screenings, network TV, film-to-cassette. Mobile TV w/ XCU individuals, concerts, lots of tight short tunes; blow-up to 35mm for theatres...tight pilot for TV variety series, group talk, films you already have...syndicated prime-access markets...cinema-verite concert/studio/Dead lifestyle footage for art houses, campus... Define yourselves to yourselves. Jam baroque works from Bach, Handel energetic dazzling to mellow moods of Mozart and Ludwig van, new experience in as yet nonsyncretist forms w/ symphonic format and much practice, as country-classical/spacey-acid-jazz-classical/blues-jazz-pop etc. w/ref a multitude's life-style. Literally five minutes before you came onstage the sun broke through the clouds, remained the entire show.


  1. The fan-reply compilations were done by Willy Legate. Garcia talked a bit about him in a '76 interview.

    Q: "You have one of the strangest record company bios I have ever read. It was credited to Hunter."
    GARCIA: "I actually think that bio was written by Willy Legate."
    Q: "Who is he?"
    GARCIA: "Willy Legate is this guy who's an old, old friend of me and Hunter's and Phil's and our whole scene, and he's a lot of things. And one of those things he is, is sort of a Bible scholar. And he's a madman. We were exposed to him really a lot during a formative period of our intellectual life. And he's still around in our scene. He's the guy who wrote, 'There's nothing like a Grateful Dead concert,' and he wrote the little blurb inside the Europe '72 album about the Bolos and the Bozos. We also call on him to do various things.
    One time we asked the Deadheads to send us their thoughts, just to get some feedback from them. And they sent us lots and lots of letters, and we gave 'em all to Willy. And he ended up with a two-page condensation of all the letters, with every viewpoint, that was just tremendously amazing to read. It was just so packed with information...
    Willy also even wrote some lyrics to some of our early songs before we started recording, but we've subsequently stopped doing the tunes. But he's another creative head in our scene that operates way back from the public."

    McNally writes a bit about Legate's relationship with Garcia & Hunter back in '61 - Garcia said, "We all learned how to think a certain kind of way from Willy....things that come out of sequence - nonlinear, Zen, synchronistic thinking."
    Hunter wrote that he "never said a great deal, or if he did, it was mainly incomprehensible."
    Later on, he became the Dead's vault archivist (until Latvala took the job) - apparently under Legate's charge, nobody could actually find any tapes!...

    For more details on Rakow & the origin of Grateful Dead Records, see McNally p.451-53 or Jackson's Garcia bio p. 232-33 & 245-46.

  2. The next post is an article discussing Grateful Dead Records, with some comments from Garcia in '71 complaining about Warner Bros, problems in their record pressings & using quality vinyl.

    Note the mentions in these letters about using "the highest quality vinyl available" and making sure "quality control will be supervised."
    Rakow in a Nov '73 Rolling Stone article talked about this: "We've sent engineers, people who've worked in recording studios, from this office to each of the three pressing plants we're using, just to maintain quality see that the mother is pressing true, that the vinyl is mixed right. Just their presence has made a difference in standards, because the plant workers are not used to having people from record companies take an interest. The original reason we did this was to get top quality, but it turns out that's impossible. The petroleum shortage is resulting in lower-quality vinyl...and the best we can do is minimize defective pressing."

    Joe Smith of Warner Bros did not express high hopes for the Dead's new label. "Originally they felt there was a problem in our distribution system...[but] they ended up going through independent distribution, which reaches the exact same places Warner Bros distribution does. So there's nothing unique about the operation except that it's artist-owned. When they start having to pay for advertising themselves, they may wonder why they did it. If I were starting a label today, I wouldn't try to go it alone as an independent company." And quality control? "You can't do it. There's no way. I think they're kidding themselves if they're trying to get out thousands of records at the same time. They were always overconcerned about complaints about surface noise and clicks - when there were a hundred complaints in hundreds of thousands of records, that was a big thing." (Rolling Stone's Garcia book, p. 108-09)