Mar 30, 2015

July 1971: Joe Smith Interview


RS: You signed the Grateful Dead. What's the history of that?
SMITH: At the time I was in any number of jobs. I think I was a singles A&R man, national promotion man. I came up and saw the Grateful Dead one night at an unforgettable evening at the Avalon. I'd never seen anything like that, never seen a light show, people sitting around on the floor and immediately...
RS: Who took you by to see the Dead?
SMITH: Tom Donahue arranged it. I was having dinner with somebody at Ernie's in San Francisco, and I was wearing my blue Bank of America suit. My wife looks pretty nice in her basic black with pearls. Tom told me, "No one will notice over at the Avalon." When I got there I realized it was so - I looked like I was in costume, I guess, like everybody else. Heard the Dead, was really excited, because they were a rock and roll band like those I remembered in my years as a disc jockey, the period that everybody turns to now, Chuck Berry and Fats and Richard, those are the years, I was there when they brought around Elvis Presley and tried to explain that name to me. The Grateful Dead to me was that kind of band, one of the real rock and roll bands, and I loved it.
RS: When was this?
SMITH: It was 1966 - early '66. That night, that was my first meeting with Danny Rifkin and Rock Scully, who were the first of many management teams that have been with the Dead, and I met Jerry and Bob and Phil... After that, I didn't see very much of the band because it was Danny and Rock that I would see, and they were telling me what they could do in San Francisco alone with their records. The band was not known outside San Francisco; they had not played anywhere else.
RS: What did you think of Rock and Danny when you first met - this was your first sort of contact with the new culture?
SMITH: Yeah, it was really my first. I can't tell you what I owe the Grateful Dead personally - professionally and personally - I never tell them what I owe them - and I've said it before: I grew up a lot with them, I grew up learning there was another way to live, there was another way to make records, there was another way to sell records, there was another kind of music, and my real first exposure, after my proper, middle class background in Boston. It was rather a jolt, but never unpleasant - difficult sometimes because Rock and Danny and the guys really were different than anything I'd ever known, and I spent time at the house on Ashbury Street and we discussed producers and so on...they came down and they made their first album, and I never really had that much to do for the band themselves. They were, I think, highly suspicious of me.
RS: You told me once that Rock and Danny always - on negotiating sessions - would say, "You got to come take some LSD with us."
SMITH: They always felt that I should turn on to acid and they always told Tom Donahue that they were gonna get me, in the best way possible. I don't think there was any animosity about them getting me, but they felt I should really turn on with them, and I didn't see the necessity for it myself. I dug their music. Maybe I would've dug it more with acid. I never did do it, anyhow. I don't know if that colored the relationship or not, I think that's incidental.
It was extremely difficult because they made their judgments based on emotion without any sense of pragmatism. There was very little reality and much fantasy involved with the Dead during that period. I kinda get a little disturbed and so does Jerry Garcia at the point an interviewer starts, "How are you getting along with your record company?" They got along pretty fine with their record company; really, there was no trouble until after we did that first album, which was not a good album. Then there was a beef and we recorded all over the United States and mixed and mastered all over the United States, and put out an album that was...and then junked it all and started again.
RS: At a cost of what?
SMITH: At that point around $50-60,000. And then we finally got an album which was again not a good was always my own feeling - I'm not an A&R man and I don't involve myself creatively, certainly with guys like the Dead who are so musical and know what they're doing - but I always felt that they squeezed all the vitality out of those performances by involving themselves with mixing and trying to fill up 16 tracks or 24 tracks or whatever, rather than playing their music and letting people hear it.
So then we got into the next album, and that was really a flash point, because by this time you must understand there had come Ron Racow into the picture, Danny Rifkin had moved out, and then Lenny Hart was involved, and before Lenny Hart, Bill Graham and Brian Rohan were in and out of the picture in management; so that seeing all these managers come about, and the boys themselves getting so screwed up with their own finances and always this SOS call to the record company, "The instruments are gonna be repossessed, we need tax money, we gotta have money," and so forth. We came through with the money every time because I really believed in this group. And then they proceeded to make an album everywhere in the United States of America. And then came the historic day that Brian Rohan and Bill Graham came to my office - they were managing the group at the time, that was before Lenny Hart - and we had spent over $93,000 and did not have an album yet.
I had just received a bill for $22,000 or more from a recording studio here. I really blew at that point and offered to sell them back their tapes and let them go anywhere they wanted to. Let's get out. And Bill Graham - it was the first dealing I had with Bill Graham in business - said, "What will satisfy you to pay this $22,000 bill at the studio?" I said I got to have - 'cause that's now about $120,000 and we're not through yet - I've got to have three albums out of all these tapes. My God, they had 20 miles of tape! They had recorded live, studio, everywhere!
I said if I can get the tapes for three finished LPs, it'll cost me $50,000 apiece but at least I have a chance, and I don't have a chance with one album to earn back $120,000. He went and talked to the boys, he talked to the band, and they did it, by god they did it, they gave me Live Dead, and they gave me one just before that too. Anthem of the Sun, Aoxomoxoa.
From the point of Live Dead we really took off because that was somewhat indicative of the kind of music they played and it was by far the most successful album. Then Lenny Hart got on the scene, Mickey's dad, and he represented the group. Now in the interim you've got to understand all the things that went down: we had kept our plan that the boys - Danny, Rock, Ron, the band - were doing to do a promotion tour with an album, it was gonna cost us $35,000, they were gonna do free concerts across the United States, they were gonna map out the cities, we were gonna provide the funds, the promotional help and so forth, loud speaker systems in parks, all set up, I had allocated that money, I had bought my company on it, I had taken $35,000 on it, and then they never did it. It all fell apart.
Then subsequently with the next album, the plan was the band, the family, everybody involved with the family was going out to promote this themselves. I think there were 12 people supposed to leave. The first day eight did not show. We were waiting at the plane, promotion people were waiting, and that kinda petered out and fizzled. Well, then there was the difficulty with Lenny Hart in which there is some claim that some money disappeared. And in the interim we had to face the decision whether to re-sign the Dead or not re-sign the Dead.
RS: What did the balance sheet on the Dead look like?
SMITH: The Dead - we had made money on the Dead, we had in fact come out, not very much, not very much, the Dead themselves were in a terrible hole, because of recording costs, and those indulgences over a period of time, they were in a negative position. We had not lost money because the Live Dead bailed it all out, the Live Dead was the last album in that first contract.
I had lived through these three years through these changes, I had watched what had happened with this band, I had seen a new certain maturity about their careers, about their lives and things they wanted out of life and about their music - which was always mature, it seemed to me - I'd seen that happen and I knew the Dead may never ever be super sellers, but they represent something in this rock music world and they have from me respect, really that...they have stayed together under circumstances that some of these other groups would have pulled the plug and run for the hills immediately. Always up tight for money, and even now we're in a hassle about renegotiating. They're with us for two more years, but last year we had to re-sign or not re-sign and come up with a good deal of money, and I forced that contract through.
I was not at that point one of the two principals of the company, I still worked for somebody, and I got a great deal of static about re-signing them, 'cause the deal was stiff, I gave them a fair deal, but I knew that our record company, if we do represent something in today's music, could not afford to let the Grateful Dead go, they are too much a part of the...and too much a fact of it, regardless of whether they meant a lot of profit for our company or a minor profit, they're too important for us to let them go somewhere else.
RS: You say you broke even on the Dead. What is the financial structure of making a record?
SMITH: I figure, a record company signs a new group, that they're on the hook $50,000 for openers. The group usually needs some money, you give them $20,000 advance or $25,000, whatever they need for equipment, to live, to get it together, to pay old bills, to be able to allow themselves the luxury of rehearsing without pressures on them and playing gigs...anywhere, new bands you can pay anywhere up to $50,000 if their reputation is sound. And then you've got to make records with them, and nobody makes records for less than $25-30,000. An album by the time you're into it, you've got a cover, you've mastered and mixed it, it's very difficult to count on doing it for less. Occasionally you can but...
RS: A modern five, six piece band...
SMITH: The studio time is so expensive, 16-track, over $100 an hour for the time in the studio, and then you must promote them, you must do some kind of job in presenting them, properly merchandising them and offering them to the public. If you're going to sign a new act, you're in $50,000, and consider that low.
RS: Let's say the retail price of a record is...
SMITH: The listed retail price is $4.98 for a record. We sell it to our distributors - that's the only part we're involved in - the landed price comes down when it's all over to about $2.10 an album. That's what we get, what we sell it to distributors for.
He then sells it to his retail stores, his racks for $2.47, $2.74, the different price structures, whatever the market takes.
[ . . . ]
RS: How much do the royalties account for?
SMITH: Well, the way it breaks down - it's kind of a complicated system. We base the royalties on a retail price, the $4.98 minus what is called a "packaging deduction" in the record business, for the raw record, the pressing of it and the cover, so we pay a royalty percentage on the basis of $4.44.
RS: $4.98 less what is actually costs to manufacture?
SMITH: 50 cents is more than it costs. It doesn't cost 50 cents to manufacture, it costs maybe 30 to 38 cents, but then again $4.98 is not a realistic price...but there had to be some kind of ground rules. I had hoped that we would all get together and make some more realistic appraisal of what royalties we pay...each percentage from our company is 4.4 cents, so if you have a 5 percent royalty deal, you'd be getting about 22 cents per record as an artist. For publishing royalties, you usually pay anywhere from 18 to 24 cents a record, an album, usually 2 cents a selection. That's got to change now too, because you're getting 8 minute selections instead of 12, 6 on a side, so that you're really cheating somebody to pay them 2 cents for an 8 minute selection and 2 cents for a 3. So we are paying royalties, and then we have to pay the manufacturer of the record, and we have to pay American Federation of Musicians 1 1/2 percent. They get 6.6 cents for every record produced in the country . . . On top of that we have to amortize all of our costs. That's not bullshit, we really have to do that, and our profit margin, the profit margin on a record, depending on royalties, is anywhere from 75 cents to $1.00. Well, you don't make profit until such point that you cover that money you put up in the first place.
RS: If you gave an act $25,000 in advance and $25,000 to record the album, how many albums do you have to sell before you start making money?
SMITH: We start making money after we've sold 75-80,000 albums. That gets us off the hook because we're recovering - at 75-80,000 albums we've made, at 75 or 80 cents an album, we've made our $50 or $60,000. Now we're off the hook, but promotional costs are not recoverable, they are out of pocket expenses, the tour, ads in Rolling Stone and Billboard are non-recoverable, non-chargeable, they are the cost of doing business. You would have to sell on an act about 75,000 albums to be even. That's pretty staggering.
RS: And that pays the group back all their advance money?
SMITH: No, the group does not have their advance money back because they are recovering it at a much lesser rate than we are. You see, they are only recovering at 5 or 7 or 8 percent, but they are also recovering in terms of publishing, so a normal act is making no less than 5 percent. Figure they are making 7 percent, which is about 30 cents, 50 cents an album - at 100,000 albums they've paid back all their advance and their recording costs, and from then on they're earning, they're ahead of the game. They're making it at that point.
It used to be, in the old days, making record albums in four days, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Andy Williams, that you didn't charge the artist studio time because the studio time was four days, and now studio time is so prohibitive and you're subject to such indulgences of artists, in addition to those who sincerely need all that time, that the record company would have to be able to recover that or we couldn't exist. When I say at 75,000 you get even, you know how few albums sell 75,000 - 10-15 percent of the albums. 
[ . . . ]
RS: The standard royalty these days with a rock group starts somewhere around 7 percent.
SMITH: 5-7 percent and they go up to 10 percent. You see, you have to pay a producer who shares a couple of percent too, depending on who the producer is. Those are standard deals. And artists now are asking less for advances than for good royalties. I think the tolerable limit for any new act is around 10 percent. If you're dealing with the renewal of a contract like for Simon & Garfunkel at this point you may be talking 12 or 13 percent, but what does that matter? You're taking a little bit less profit but there's no risk any more. 
[ . . . ]
We're going to have to protect those artists we have in terms of their own investments and future because they are going to drop out by the wayside, they are not going to be as popular. I told Jerry Garcia that he and Delaney Bramlett had worked on every album last year except The Humpbacked Whale.
RS: Do you see a process whereby the talents of an artist are just mined beyond where they can go?
SMITH: It's possible that Delaney and Bonnie spread themselves out over so many projects - God, producing records for people, playing on dates, making their own albums, getting together a road show, playing at benefits, popping up on other people's concerts to play - they became the yentas of the rock world, they were everywhere. Maybe they just didn't take care of enough business to make something for themselves.
[ . . . ]
RS: One can see how the record business has changed with the Grateful Dead coming along, with this sophisticated rock and roll audience. That accounts for sales of the Grateful Dead or the Rolling Stones, say, between 300-600,000, and that's been dominant for the last three years, but now it seems to be slipping. Sales seem to have peaked, unless you can get an AM hit. . . .
SMITH: Yes and no. [ . . . ] That sophisticated audience - we have another artist who's in that bag of the Dead, that I wish would explode more, he's even had AM hits; I'm talking about Van Morrison, a particular favorite of this paper.
RS: What are his sales?
SMITH: Van's in the 250,000 class, 275-300,000 at best. This album is around 280,000, something like that, it continues to sell but there have been two major hit records from it, two AM single records. We're still searching around, that's a big problem.
RS: Would you say it comes down to the fact that he is without sex appeal?
SMITH: It could be. Van doesn't throw off star quality, he's a silent, very private little guy who is an absolute musical masterpiece. I think the sheer weight of his brilliance as a writer - I don't use that word loosely - I'm talking to so many major artists who are looking for Van's songs, and looking to his next album to find things. I think he has an influence, that will do it, he'll go in the back door. He himself will not a star. What he'll represent will be a star, the fact that he is a silent, brooding genius, sitting there throwing off great hits and making great music. He'll explode, he'll explode before the Dead will explode, unless the Dead catch a single record.
But this super-sophisticate audience is growing in numbers, I think it is growing in numbers, I think they will continue to be a very important influence. . . .

(by Jann Wenner, from Rolling Stone, 8 July 1971)


  1. Joe Smith was executive vice president & general manager at Warner Bros at the time of the interview. He'd started working for Warners as a promotion man in 1961, after being a DJ, and worked his way up the executive ladder - he was an A&R manager when he signed the Dead.
    This was a rather lengthy interview about the state of the record business - I included the parts that referred to the Dead, as well as a section on the financing of records. He also discussed other current acts (like Black Sabbath and James Taylor), but the story of his signing the Dead is the centerpiece of the interview - perhaps because they were one of Jann Wenner's favored bands, so Wenner wanted to draw out the details on them. (Around the same time as this interview, Wenner & Charles Reich were also interviewing Garcia.)

    Tom Donahue took Smith to see the Dead at the Avalon sometime around August 1966 - most likely when they played there on August 19-20. (Donahue, a friend of Smith's and belated fan of the Dead - he'd rejected them on Autumn Records ten months earlier - acted as a kind of middleman.) Curiously, Smith praises them as a "real rock and roll band" who reminded him of the '50s greats - the July '66 tapes we have of the Dead are probably very close to what he first heard live.
    Smith mentions that he didn't have much to do with the band themselves, but mostly interacted with their managers - at the start, Scully & Rifkin. As for the band, he admits they were "highly suspicious of me." (He was straight and wouldn't take acid!) While he says "they got along pretty fine with their record company," the Dead apparently started off pretty compliant, but over the years became more resentful of Warners' corporate oversight. When asked about Warners while he was still on the label, Garcia gave fairly benign (if negative) answers, but by '73 some real loathing for them shows up in his attitude.

    Smith blames the band's financial troubles partly on their ever-shifting managerial turmoil - but delicately states that with Lenny Hart, "there is some claim that some money disappeared." As it happens, Lenny had been in hiding since early '70, but turned up shortly after this interview - per McNally: "On July 26, Lenny Hart had been found by a private detective and arrested in San Diego... The Dead did not press charges, although they did sue for the return of their money, and recovered $55,000. The district attorney pursued criminal embezzlement charges, and Lenny was convicted and sentenced to six months in jail. Joe Smith attended the trial, and Lenny told him, 'The Lord has forgiven me, I hope the boys do.' Joe replied, 'Lenny, the Lord didn't lose 75 big ones.'" (McNally p.407)

  2. The Van Morrison album mentioned is His Band & the Street Choir (released in November '70), and his single 'Domino' had done very well. Tupelo Honey would be released in October '71, and would be his best-selling album so far.
    It's interesting that Smith hopes the Dead will "explode" with a successful single. Though this wouldn't happen for 16 more years, they actually came close in 1970, with mainstream albums getting radio airplay (Uncle John's Band & Truckin' made #69 and #64 on the Billboard singles chart) - oddly, Smith doesn't talk at all about the turn in the Dead's recording fortunes in 1970, instead dwelling on the chaos of the '60s. So that's kind of a gap in this interview.
    Here he talks about Live Dead as the album that bailed the Dead out, "by far the most successful album" - in his view, because it was an album where they finally just played, for once representing their live music well, without any production hassles. He feels they "squeezed all the vitality" out of their music on the earlier albums by over-recording & going track-happy in the mixes. Later this summer, the Dead would deliver a new live album to Warners, which would confirm his opinion by becoming their first gold album - little did he know, they would hold a meeting with him to insist it be called Skullfuck. (He managed to talk them out of it.)

    His account of the earlier albums is a little murky because he doesn't really distinguish Anthem & Aoxomoxoa, it was all just one big horrible blurry affair. He felt their first record was "not a good album" - Anthem was the one that was mixed all over the US over the course of eight months (several studios in California, New York & Florida), and it was "again not a good album." He wrote a well-known letter to Rifkin in December '67 pleading that the band finish the album as quickly as possible.
    Bill Graham became involved in the band's management briefly in late '68/early '69 while the band were recording Aoxomoxoa (booking their shows and assigning them a road manager). This is the first place I've seen where Smith says he was ready to drop the band at that point and Graham personally represented them in meeting him & negotiating for future albums. As it's presented here, Live Dead was part of a deal where the band could finish Aoxomoxoa if they delivered a double live album; so this meeting may have predated the Live Dead recordings.
    Tom Constanten recalled, "Warner Brothers was pointing out to us that they had sunk $100,000+ into [Aoxomoxoa] and hadn't seen a product yet. So someone had the idea that if we sent them a double live album, three discs for that price wouldn't be such a bad deal, and they went for it." Garcia also said, "Live Dead was not too expensive since it was recorded live. It ended up paying for the time on Aoxomoxoa, which was eight months...a hundred grand or even more..."

  3. As it was, Warners was quite generous in giving the Dead continual loans and letting them record for months, when their albums were basically predestined to be flops. Smith recalls their constant SOS calls, "we gotta have more money," but says he always came through "because I really believed in this group." How he convinced his bosses at Warners, I'm not sure.
    McNally writes that "early in 1969 Rock and Rohan went to Los Angeles to hit Joe up for more money, and this time he literally chased them down the stairs, out the front door, and down the street, screaming that they were making him look bad." (Perhaps that's when they called Bill Graham in to meet him?)
    Bill Graham's management of the Dead came to an end around March '69 when he got in a fight with Bear; and in April, Lenny Hart stepped in as manager.
    Smith mentions that Live Dead was the last album on the band's original contract. Other labels were sniffing around the band, and quite possibly they could have then signed with Columbia or some other label, and the rest of the Dead's studio history could have been quite different. But, says McNally, in the fall of 1969, "what the band did not know was that Lenny had just negotiated an extension on their contract with Warner Bros, since their original three-album deal had run its course. The new deal included an advance of $75,000, and Lenny flew to Los Angeles, met Joe Smith at an airline counter, got the check, and returned home. Not only was the band ignorant of the deal and the money, they did not know about a counteroffer from Clive Davis at Columbia Records." (McNally p.338)
    Smith says here that he had some trouble convincing Warners to re-sign the Dead - "we had to re-sign or not re-sign and come up with a good deal of money, and I forced that contract through...I got a great deal of static about re-signing them, 'cause the deal was stiff." But he argued that even though the Dead didn't make much profit, "they're too important for us to let them go somewhere else." Luck was on his side, for just then the Dead started making profitable albums. The new contract was another three-year deal - he mentions that it'll end in '73 - and I believe there were further negotiations. (For instance, Garcia said that the band had to deliver an extra album to Warners in order to get the Europe '72 triple album approved - so the last Warners album ended up being the tossed-together Bear's Choice.)

  4. Smith also talks about a couple aborted promotional efforts, as Warners paid for the band to do some promotional touring, but the band didn't bother participating. McNally, p.410, says the incident where nobody showed up for the radio-promotion plane flights happened for the '71 live album, but here it's clear Smith is referring to an earlier album - I don't know which one, but apparently the label just kept trying. In late '71 they'd hit on the very effective technique of paying for radio broadcasts of the live shows, which happily didn't involve any extra cooperation from the band.

    It's also notable that Smith feels Garcia's spreading himself too thin by appearing as a session musician on so many people's records at the time. Smith doesn't mention that he'd just given Garcia a $20,000 advance that spring to make a solo album, which Garcia would record in August - to Smith, encouraging the Dead to make solo albums for Warners was 'protecting his investment' before their popularity waned. (His joke about Garcia appearing on every album except the Humpback Whale was repeated by an interviewer that fall.)

    The financial figures in making an album may not interest everyone, but it shows the kind of situation the Dead wanted to escape by starting their own independent label. Smith points out that by 1970, because of the way the records were financed, "we had made money on the Dead [but] the Dead themselves were in a terrible hole."
    (See also: )
    Garcia said in '71 that Warner Bros was "incompetent," and the band suspected that the label was doing a lousy job on their records, wasn't distributing them well, etc, and that they could sell more from their own label - or even if not, they could at least make a lot more per album than Smith's 30 cents or so. Rakow insisted in '73, "We were making about 33 cents an album - now we make about $1.22 an album."

  5. From Gene Sculatti's excellent 1985 book San Francisco Nights:

    Joe Smith: "They were playing this weekend at the Avalon and I was supposed to meet them late, after the gig. So my wife and I were having dinner at Ernie's and I was all dressed up in what I called my Bank of America suit, and she had on basic black with pearls. [Tom Donahue called them during dinner.] He said the band was getting off in a half hour and I should come right down. I remember he told me not to worry about how I was dressed. So there we were, walking up the steps of this startling place, and there were these kids, lying around painting each other's bodies and all these lights and smells everywhere. Somebody wanted to dance with my wife. I told her, 'Don't come with me to meet the band. You must understand.' The Grateful Dead. Even the name was intimidating. What did it mean? No one knew...
    [Donahue took Smith backstage.] "He was telling them that I was okay. I was talking to all of them. They always moved in a phalanx, and the ones I really remember were their managers, Rock Scully and Danny Rifkin. Those two were scammers from eight miles back. I could figure them out...the others were in space somewhere. Garcia was the most visible, but he refused to speak for the group. Pigpen never said ten words and Lesh was very nasty, constantly negative, because I was a record company guy and he was a serious musician. We had this conversation about the right kind of equipment to record with, and I later found out that the stuff they wanted hadn't been invented yet. Lesh felt they were selling out by not getting it...
    "I was pumped up by what I'd seen. I felt it was really going to be something. Music had been in a holding pattern up until then. I told them I wanted them, that we were a good record company. That was before I found out that to them, every record company was square. They lived in terror of being ripped off."

    Tom Donahue: "Joe told me that night, 'Tom, I don't think Jack Warner will ever understand this. I don't know if I understand it myself, but I really feel like they're good.' I told him, 'You've got to sign them, because this is where it's going.'"
    Smith: "[Donahue] told me he could deliver every other band up there for $25,000 apiece. Country Joe, Quicksilver, maybe five or six bands. If I could come up with it, I could have the town. So I went back to LA and told Mike Maitland, the president of Warner Bros. He said, 'Gee, I don't know. Let's see how we do with the Dead.' In retrospect, I don't blame him."

  6. San Francisco Nights, continued -

    Smith worked out a deal through Donahue, and went to sign the papers with Rifkin & Scully a few weeks later.
    Donahue: "We had this meeting at my house on Telegraph Hill. Joe walks out on the porch and Rock and Danny say to me, 'Listen, man, we gotta take acid with this cat, then he'll really understand what it is we're doing.'"
    Smith: "They told me I couldn't really understand their music unless I dropped some acid. I informed them that under no circumstances would I do that."
    Later on, "I pretty much left them alone. I didn't like to be around them much. They seemed so weird, there were so many drugs..."

    National sales weren't good. "We started selling records in New York, which I never understood because we couldn't get radio play."
    But Smith persisted: "I was up in San Francisco twice a month trying to sign other stuff. I'd hang out at the Dead's house in the Haight with a cast of thousands. It was a wonderful scene. Everybody was trying to get Quicksilver and couldn't. I ended up signing The Only Alternative and His Other Possibilities, but they could never get it together to make a whole LP..."
    He wasn't alone, as record company scouts flocked to the city. "There were A&R men everywhere. It was getting out of hand. Warner Bros had plans to open up an A&R office in the city."

    He recalled the Dead getting especially zany during the Anthem sessions. "They wanted a budget for fruits and nuts to hand out at concerts. Then they got into animal sounds. They were going to bring recording equipment to the San Diego zoo, wait until it closed and then come out and, like, communicate with the animals. You know, get the monkeys and lions to sing with them. I mean one minute you'd be talking rationally about radio promotion, and the next they'd be wanting to record air." (Illustrating his comment to Rolling Stone, "There was very little reality and much fantasy involved with the Dead during that period.")

    Aoxomoxoa & Live Dead: "They wanted to learn how to record themselves. It was costing a tremendous amount of money. We were $100,000 into this album and we finally came to the agreement that we'd release a double LP package so we could make more money and recoup the costs. The Dead had been stiffing on record, the music was always overintellectualized or something, but this stuff sounded good, more like their live sound."

    The 1971 live album: "They wanted to call it Skullfuck. We called a meeting at the Continental Hyatt on Sunset Strip. There was about a hundred of them: family, friends, hangers-on, in this enormous conference room. It went on forever and I got nowhere. Every time I made a point some baby would start crying or something. Finally I told them, 'Look... If you call it Skullfuck you'll sell 15,000 copies out of headshops. Sears and Wards aren't going to touch it. If you change the name you might have a gold record.' Finally they agreed." (And gold it went.)

  7. Incidentally, Wenner also asked Joe Smith, "What is bootlegging doing to the industry?"
    Smith warns, "It could very easily wipe it out."
    However, it turns out his main concern is copies & counterfeits of regular albums sold by shady crooks; and he mentions working with the FBI to arrest people who sell them. (The Dead would also call on the FBI to help them stop the counterfeits of Wake of the Flood.)
    What's more commonly known today as bootlegs, he's less concerned about: "there's another kind of bootlegger who goes to the concert and arranges to tape record it illegally (and I say illegally because he was never authorized by anybody), and he proceeds to make a totally new album...and then markets those to head shops, to smaller record stores whose clientele likes those offbeat things, collectors and so forth. But these represent small sales and are mostly damaging to the reputation and craft of the artist who has been ripped-off."
    That's all he says about that, whereas he goes on and on about the dangers of counterfeits - understandably, since he says hundreds of thousands of illicit copies of the most successful records are being sold, without a penny going to the artists or Warners.
    The Dead were very anti-bootleg in 1971, busting many (but not all) tapers & bootleggers at their shows. They still felt audience tapes & records were rip-offs, but would discover in later years that the live shows being spread around by collectors actually weren't "damaging to their reputation and craft" - quite the opposite.

  8. The Tennessee Roc (an underground Memphis paper) interviewed Garcia during the Dead's June 1970 visit to Memphis, and asked him how he felt about Warner Brothers. He replied: "Shitty. They have terrible distribution and they don't sell records. That's the only thing a record company is good for... They like to think they're far out, but they're not... A record company is a vampire. It's really no fucking good. It's an evil trip. It's like bleeding musicians... I'm not really that far down on Warner Bros. because they've been OK to us. We've been a pretty weird band of fellows as far as relationships with artists and record companies. Warner Bros. has got some good people, but I really don't think that they know how to do it." (McNally p.495, from the August '70 Tennessee Roc)
    McNally suggests that Garcia was in a bad mood for this interview - I haven't seen such a negative statement from him about Warners until 1973. Usually he expressed his disappointment more benignly - as in the Rolling Stone '71 interview, where he says, "I don't think that they're that bad; I just think that they're incompetent. That's probably the worst thing about them. I don't object to the idea of record companies at all; in fact, record companies are good." (Signpost p.78)

  9. As hinted in this interview, Joe Smith wasn't happy about Garcia appearing on other people's albums. He was especially not thrilled when Garcia's albums with Wales & Saunders came out in the year after this interview. He wrote a stern letter to the head of Fantasy Records (which Saunders' albums were on) - "I'd certainly like to hear your side of the story as to how your album is called a 'Garcia Jam' and Jerry's picture is used in conjunction with it... I'd like to avoid any legalities in this matter."
    He also wrote a letter to Garcia: "I've been reading your philosophies and attitudes about record companies and their lack of concern about ethics, quality, and responsibility to the customers. If your association with Howard Wales and Merl Saunders and the allowing of your name to be so used in the marketing represents your own honesty in our understandings, something got lost in the translation." He felt that when Garcia complained about Warners to the press, "the press coverage of our alleged folly" wasn't too harmful for the label, but Garcia's reputation "as an artist and as a straight ahead guy" was being hurt by his working for other labels.
    (Richardson, No Simple Highway, p.198-199)

  10. The aborted tour of free concerts was probably in the summer of 1970 to promote Workingman's Dead. Crazy Horse and Sal Valentino were to support the Dead. Here is the poster

    1. Good find! I wonder how many shows were intended, and what the dates/locations were supposed to be. Having advertising & promotion for a free show almost seems to defeat the purpose...which may be one reason it didn't happen. By 1970 the Dead were only occasionally playing free shows in any case, mostly last-minute arrangements and certainly not with a lot of advance notice. Also, the traditional Warners notion of playing a show to promote an album must have seemed backwards to the Dead.