About The AlbumEdit
That the Grateful Dead would commence a series of archival releases in 1991, quickly follow up with a second volume a year later, and then wait another 15 years before putting out the third planned installment in the series should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the band's longstanding policy of gleefully monkeywrenching the space-time continuum whenever and wherever possible. And so, with characteristically charming perversity, the Grateful Dead proudly present Three From The Vault.
Mind you, this is not to say that Dead Heads have been cruelly deprived of treasures from the band's revered tape vault for all that time. Far from it. In the interval since 1992's Two From The Vault, the Dead have released an astonishing 53 live albums (36 in the Dick's Picks series) ranging in content from complete individual concerts to compilations from specific tours to career-spanning boxed sets. There was no shortage of great music to be had from the Vault...just not Three From The Vault. Until now.
To make some sense of all this, a little history might be useful:
By the time they got around to celebrating their 25th anniversary as a band in 1990, the Grateful Dead had amassed a huge and immeasurably valuable archive of live concert recordings, as well as an audience hungry to hear every note. The Dead had long endeavored to document their performances on tape--mostly simple two-track affairs, taken directly from the soundboard mix. There were also occasional forays into multitracking, usually when a live album was being contemplated. But those live releases were almost invariably contemporaneous to the period in which they were recorded, while the Dead's audience was clamoring for rare gems from the past. Of course, the Dead Heads could content themselves with those audience-made recordings that circulated freely with the band's blessing, or the occasional soundboard tape that leaked out into the traders' network. But they craved more and wanted it to sound as good as it possibly could. They suspected that the very best-sounding stuff was in the Vault. And they were right.
By the dawn of the '90s, with their in-house record company and merchandising operation getting up to speed, the Dead were at long last ready to deliver--and deliver they did with One From The Vault. The first release in the long-anticipated series was a recording of a legendary show the band played for a private party celebrating the release of Blues For Allah in 1975. The show had been broadcast, and so had already been widely bootlegged, but no one had ever heard it sound as great as on the version released in April of 1991, newly mixed by Dan Healy and mastered by Joe Gastwirt using his very latest digital technology. The album was an enormous critical and popular success, and Healy and Co. quickly readied its successor, the logically titled Two From The Vault, which brilliantly captured a show the Dead played at Los Angeles' Shrine Auditorium in the peak period around the release of Anthem Of The Sun. That too was rapturously received, so plans were made for the third installment. A fondly remembered show from 1971 at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York, was chosen. The tapes were mixed, mastered...and then, for reasons somewhat obscured in the smoky haze of time, Three From The Vault got put on the back burner for a while--just how long a while was not anticipated.
One big reason for the change in direction was Dick's Picks, a series of no-frills, warts-and-all recordings taken directly from the original soundboard tapes. It was the brainchild/labor or love of the Dead's devoted tape archivist, Dick Latvala (1943-1999), who had made a life's work of his obsessive perusal of the Vault's contents in search of the finest performances. The first Dick's Picks, released in 1993, was an answered prayer for all those seekers of the rarest and best from the Vault, and there was a huge demand for more. The Dick's Picks releases were easier and less expensive to put out than the more labor-intensive multitrack projects, and so could be offered at a bargain price. This helped make them even more popular, and they were soon coming out at a rapid clip.
When the Dead got around to the next archival multitrack release, the designated Three From The Vault remained on the shelf, as there had been a shift in preference toward a recording of a great German show from the Europe '72 tour. It was also decided that the numbered "... From The Vault" titles would get tedious after a while, so the next release was named after its venue in Frankfurt: Hundred Year Hall. Subsequent multitrack recordings continued that policy of titles over numbers--Dozin' At The Knick, Nightfall of Diamonds, Steppin' Out, etc.--with the title-by-number designations reserved for the Dick's Picks series.
And so it went until a recent discussion of potential new Vault releases when Joe remembered that terrific 1971 Capitol Theatre show that he had first mastered a decade-and-a-half ago: Three From The Vault.
New York City and vicinity was a very happy place to be in 1970 if you were a Grateful Dead freak (the term "Dead Head" was still awaiting coinage). In that historic twelvemonth the Dead played some four dozen shows either in the Big Apple proper or within easy driving/hitchhiking/public transportation range of the city (18 more than they did on their own home turf in the San Francisco Bay Area). A Dead show or multishow engagement was an almost monthly occurrence in the New York metropolitan area that year, to the great joy of the band's rapidly growing and fiercely loyal legion of fans in those parts.
One of the very best places to see the Dead in the region was at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York, a village about a half-hour northeast of the city. The Capitol, a little masterpiece designed in 1926 by the great theatrical architect Thomas W. Lamb, was appropriated at the dawn of the 70's by promoter Howard Stein as an attractive alternative to the Manhattan outpost of Bill Graham's empire, Fillmore East. More intimate (by about a thousand seats) than the Fillmore and with superb acoustics, the Capitol proved an ideal venue for rock and an especially dependable locale for great, memorable Dead shows. The band played ten shows in three visits to the Capitol in 1970, and had a fourth run scheduled there for December of that year. But once back home on the West Coast after that intense, exhausting year of touring, the band decided to sit down and patch the proverbial bones, rescheduling the return trip for a couple of months down the road.
And so it was that the Grateful Dead came to the Capitol Theatre again in February of 1971, for what would be their longest (and last) trip to the venue--six shows over the course of seven nights. It turned out to be a momentous engagement for all sorts of reasons.
For one thing, there was the experiment that caused this run to be nicknamed "the ESP shows": At the behest of Dr. Stanley Krippner, director of the Dream Laboratory at Maimonides Hopital in Brooklyn, the audience at each show was asked to focus on images projected on a screen at the rear of the stage and attempt to transmit them telepathically to a sleeping "receiver" at the Dream Lab, some 39 miles away, to see if any of those images turned up in the subject's accounts of his dreams. (The results were deemed successful enough to merit mention in some heavy-duty psychological journals.) As if that wasn't enough fun, there was a bomb threat phoned in to the venue that disrupted one of the shows, causing a temporary evacuation. A search turned up nothing, and it was concluded that the culprit was probably a ticketless knucklehead outside the threater, seeking entry to the show and betting that security wouldn't check the patrons' stubs upon readmission. (Apparently the joker had it right, as there were a few hundred audience members in the house after the scare who hadn't been there before.)
One a more serious note for the Dead and their fans, it was after the first of the six Capitol shows that Mickey Hart began a hiatus from the band that would last until mid-decade.
But personal upheavel, nasty pranks, and paranormal phenomena notwithstanding, the most notable thing by far about the February '71 Capitol stand was the music, as is evident on this recording of the performance of February 19, the second of the shows. Sustaining the creative momentum that had attended the creation of their breakthrough albums Workingman's Dead and American Beauty the previous year, the Dead debuted no fewer than seven brand-new songs in the first two nights of the run alone. They would all become beloved staples of the live repertoire for the rest of the band's touring life. Heard here are the second-ever performances of "Loser," "Bertha," "Playing In The Band," "Greatest Story Ever Told," and "Wharf Rat," and the world premieres of "Bird Song" and "Deal." Some of the new tunes had an intriguing work-in-progress feel to them. For example, "Greatest Story" (still known at the time by its working title, "Pump Song") had not yet received its "Abraham and Isaac" bridge. And "Playing" and "Bird Song" only hint at the magnificent vessels of sonic exploration they would soon become.
Of equal significance to the set list additions was the quality of the band's playing. Suddenly finding themselves with four fewer limbs in the percussion department, the Dead adapted rapidly, fashioning a leaner, more spacious sound. Bill Kreutzmann, now the sole drummer, rose to the daunting challenge magnificently, as did his bandmates. This was Grateful Dead music stripped to its bare essense--dawning of what has been called the band's "turn on a dime" period.
Fortunately for all of us, the Dead brought multitrack recording gear to the Capitol, as they were beginning to gather material for the self-titled live album--widely knows as Skull And Roses to avoid confusion with the band's also-eponymous studio debut--that they would release the following fall. None of the performances captured here made it onto that record--a wise choice on the Dead's part, as those new songs only got better with subsequent performances--so all the material in this set is being officially released for the first time, in all its digitally mastered, hi-def glory.
And so here it is: Three From The Vault. Right on time.
Recollections From the Vault
In the beginning, it was Healy's trip: go into the past--start looking at historic gigs as represented in the massive archive of the Grateful Dead's tape vault--specifically in the form of good-quality multitrack masters. As it says in the liner notes to One From The Vault, "This represents the beginning of the release of the vault tapes." Prior to this, the Dead focused on current and relatively recent recordings.
I worked with Dan Healy and Don Pearson on the first two Vault releases. When neither of them showed up for the mastering of Three...as they had for both One and Two, I found myself thinking something was strange. Instead, they sent Dick Latvala to bring me the digital mix tapes and to observe the mastering process. Healy had always been so hands-on that he wouldn't allow a change in his recording unless he was present. Obviously, whatever I was sensing must have been somewhat real, because the intended release, February 19, 1971, Port Chester, never saw the light of day (until now).
Dick was such a great hang that we just got into it. Did the work, had a great time, got to be friends. Not hard to do with a guy like Dick Latvala. We found immediate common ground in our love for the music and our desire to share it with other Dead Heads. Dick, uniquely, was one of us--from the audience. He worked for the band and had the trust of the organization, but he was a Dead Head first. (We remembered meeting briefly at the pre-hiatus 1974 Winterland shows.)
During the course of a day's spirited conversation, I asked Dick what had happened to all the two-track tapes that documented so many great shows. He said that a lot were in the vault, and quite a few were at his house that he used for his own listening. Dick got really excited that a professional, in-the-trenches guy like me would actually be interested in what were really intended only for the band's use--the raw and less-than-perfect audio history. But our freak flags were flying: we started discussing specific shows and found our interests were similar; that we both enjoyed all those magic moments we know so well, aside from what some might regard as technical and musical mistakes. The idea arose of Dick choosing one of his favorite tapes and presenting it as a possibility for release. Dick had some misgivings--that they might not be of high enough audio quality for the Dead's resident technical staff. On the other hand, if it really was a worthwile idea, then taking it directly to the band and management was something that needed to be done.
The rest is history. Dick's idea eventually got saluted, the technicians got on board--and the Dead Heads got a lot more of what we wanted, in the form of officially released two-track recordings. And now, 36 volumes later, we can finally enjoy Three From The Vault. Dick's Picks, Volume 1 originally came out in its place, for reasons lost to the mysteries and vagaries of whatever moment that was.
At the time when Three From The Vault was originally planned for release, CDs could hold a maximum of 74 minutes. As conceptually sequenced to accommodate that maximum running time, Healy took "Deal" out of Set 2 and added it to Set 1. "Deal" was placed between "Playing In The Band" and "Dark Hollow." (He did something similar with the set break in One From The Vault--moving the end of Set 1 back one tune, to get the tracks comfortably split between the two discs while giving you a sense of completing a set as the first disc ended.) The technology has changed a little since then, and because it's now possible to get 80 minutes onto one of those ephemeral little suckers, the original running order has been restored.
This recollection is dedicated to Dick Latvala and Don Pearson. And let's recognize this release as marking the first time that Dick was given an active role in dealing with a Grateful Dead record. With a little help on the way, he ran with that opportunity, to all of our benefit. So raise your favorite consumable and echo a toast first made by Bob Bralove and John Cutler in a hotel room (after a 120-degree Vegas show): "Latvala!"
--Joe Gastwirt, 2007
- Two Ditties: The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down & Spring Song
- Cumberland Blues [4:59]
- Hurts Me Too
- Playin' In the Band
- Dark Hollow
- Smokestack Lightnin'
- China Cat SunflowerI Know You Rider
Greatest Story Ever Told
- Johnny B. Goode
- Bird Song
- Easy Wind
- That's It for the Other One
- Wharf Rat
- Good Lovin'
- Casey Jones