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Grateful Dead Archivist David Lemieux Talks Massive ‘Europe ’72′ Box Set, Possible Future Releases

David Lemieux
Grateful Dead Productions

For 12 years, Grateful Dead archivist David Lemieux has had the dream job of overseeing the massive audio and video archives for the Grateful Dead. Although there have been many archival releases over the past couple of decades from the band, the upcoming ‘Europe ’72′ box set release marks the largest collection of live recordings that has been released to date.

With 72 CDs of music representing 22 complete concerts, the exhaustive expansion of the original ‘Europe ’72′ release is a treasure trove of riches for Deadheads, who snapped up all 7200 copies of the box set within four days of the pre-order announcement for the release.

Due to the unexpected demand and quick sellout, the band decided to sell additional “music only” copies of the set, so that all fans would have the chance to get a copy of the music from this historic release. Ultimate Classic Rock recently spoke with Lemieux to dissect the contents of the set, plus we also wanted to find out what future releases might be on the horizon after this set is released in the fall.

Where did the idea for this ‘Europe ’72′ set come from and how long has it been in process?

Well, it’s certainly still in process. We’ll be working on it through July, I think. We’re trying to get it off to the pressing plant. I think certain package elements will go sooner but certainly the final music would end up going at the latest, the end of July I think, middle of July, something like that.

The process started with me four years ago when I started pitching it pretty hard. And in telling the record company that it was really the kind of thing that we needed a good 14 to 16 months to do and to do it properly and that’s a very tough thing to plan on, especially the way the record industry is now, it’s a tough thing to plan 12 to 14 to 16 months ahead. So no matter how much I suggested it was a great idea and a lot of people agreed with it, it’s just a very tough thing to plan those types of coordinations that a 72 CD box set … you know, I used the word the other day, “unprecedented,” and I really realized, you know what, this truly is an unprecedented box set. There’s nothing like it. I’ve looked and I’ve talked to a lot of people – there’s nothing even close to this kind of thing of this quality by any band of any genre really, this is unprecedented.

So it was really, I got a call from one of the heads at Rhino in October of 2009 saying that after two years of these very heavy pushes that I’d been giving this project as really a solid, solid foundation and legacy, it was finally [time], he called and said, ‘yeah, we really want to do this now.’ That then became the discussion of just needing 14 months to do it properly and that again then became the situation where it’s just tough to plan that.

So another few months went by, which meant that we’d really lost our window to get it out by early 2011, which is what we hoped when when we talked in October of 2009. So we kind of lost that opportunity, but in July of 2010, a new person took over at Rhino named Mark Pinkus. He took over the Grateful Dead side of things at Rhino with the Grateful Dead/Rhino partnership and he’d been hearing about this project. He’s been at Rhino for a long time, a terrific guy, a Deadhead and a guy who can see a project like this [through]. And there’s others at Rhino who do too obviously – this isn’t two people going forward, this is the whole team there.

But Mark really saw that this was the right time to do something like this but he also knew that in order to get it out for the fall of 2011, we really needed to pull the trigger on it. And right then, in July/August of 2010, he pushed it through. We got him the budget numbers and we got him the timeline numbers and the types of things we wanted to see. He got it to his team and before you knew it, we got the official green light in I guess around the end of July/August 2010.

We immediately started transferring the tapes – there’s a lot of tapes, there’s about 2000 pounds of tapes. We had to ship them on two pallets – it was quite a sight. And so we shipped those tapes to a transfer facility in New Jersey and got them not only transferred but restored properly. They sound phenomenal! A company called Plangent Processes, they did all of the transfers and then got the audio by September/October to an engineer in the Bay Area who then assembled everything.

Which is to say often times a show would be on four or five different reels with certain songs actually pulled out of the master reel and put to a sub-reel when they were producing the original ‘Europe ’72′ album. So this engineer, a guy named Robert Gatley, who we’ve worked with a little bit off and on over the years, he assembled the concerts into the correct running order and made sure that all of the audience bridges were intact and then he got the music to Jeffrey Norman, the Dead’s longtime mixing and mastering engineer, who then block booked a studio in the Bay Area for eight months.

And I guess he started getting set up in November, started mixing in December and then he’ll be mixing until early July. And what he’s doing, he’s mixing complete shows at a time and then once he’s done a show, I’ll listen to it and get a little bit of input. But by now, Jeffrey really knows what he’s doing with Dead music, so there aren’t many times that I’m saying, ‘Oh, I’d like a little bit more piano here.’ Jeffrey really has got the Dead’s sound down really nicely.

But anyhow, I’ll listen to it, approve what he’s done based on the mix and then he’ll send it to Dave Glasser at Airshow Mastering in Colorado and Dave Glasser will send the mastered music back to Jeffrey and me and then we will proof it and approve it and once that’s done, he sends it to Rhino and then it gets into their pressing plant schedule.

So it’s not like the pressing plant on Aug. 1 is going to receive 72 discs to make 7200 copies of the 520,000 discs. So, they’re going to be getting things as we go and I think we’ve already approved four complete concerts and we anticipate being completely on schedule. I won’t say ahead of schedule, because we plan to use the time allotted. So, if it did turn out to be a little bit ahead of schedule, I’m sure Jeffrey would listen back to something and say, ‘Oh, there’s this little snap here that I can fix,’ or whatever and then he’ll have a couple of extra weeks towards the end of the project to really tweak everything to make sure everything is literally 100 percent perfect.

Seriously, when we started this, we were very adamant that we really needed the 12 to 16 month window — 12 would be the minimum if we got a big team involved, 16 if we wanted to be a little more leisurely. We got about 13 months or so from green light to release and that’s certainly enough time that the thing is sounding great.

Pearl Jam has released an entire tour of shows before, but I think there’s a difference, because they’re releasing shows that are mixed somewhat on the fly. Generally, when they get to the end of the tour, they might pick a show or two to polish a bit more for in store release. Meanwhile, you’re really giving special attention to a large number of shows that are coming off tapes that are 40 years old.

Yeah, and that has been a challenge. As much as we’d like to think that it was 22 shows, two reels per show, 44 reels and just pull them off the shelf, transfer them and mix them, it was a heck of a lot more than that. Because a lot of the shows were certainly more than two reels and a lot of them ended up being four reels with overflow. Fortunately, they were running two track of virtually all of the shows to cover any cuts on the multi-track.

They were only running one multi-track machine, so if the multi-track did cut in the middle of the song, there was about 20-30 seconds of music missing of that song, but we do have the two track recordings that were made simultaneously of the same show that we can fix it. We’ve had to do that a couple of times, not too often.

Most shows, I’m thinking of recent ones that have come through, Luxembourg and Lille in France, both of those were completely intact, we didn’t have to fix with the two track, so, so far so good is the way we’re seeing it. We’re really not running into any glitches.

There was one show that was missing a final 35 seconds of ‘Big Boss Man’ and that was actually a recording problem. I can honestly pinpoint that this entire tour had one recording problem where something happened on the deck. It wasn’t the end of a reel, right in the middle of the reel during a song with about 35-40 seconds left in ‘Big Boss Man’ and the tape deck, we don’t know what happened, it just stopped. And there was no two track run at that show, so that’s really the only thing I can tell you of the 70 hours of music that we’re missing and that’s about 35 seconds, not 35 minutes, 35 seconds of music out of the 70 hours of music on the tour, it looks to be all that we’re missing, so that’s pretty exciting.

Well, it’s pretty exciting because out of the samples that I’ve heard so far, it certainly sounds like the sound quality is on par with the material that was released on the original condensed version of ‘Europe ’72.’ In your opinion, what are some of the highlights people can look forward to on this new set?

I will say that virtually every night’s big jam, which is to say either ‘Dark Star’ or ‘The Other One.’ That would be something to look forward, because they are completely different. Things that have really been blowing me away is the strength Pigpen brought to the shows.

This is Pigpen’s last tour – he only played one more show after Europe, a show at the Hollywood Bowl in June of ’72, just three weeks after the Europe tour and then he was gone from the band. I think that most nights Pig might not have looked great, but he certainly brought his A game in terms of his singing and his harmonica playing and some really good organ playing. So that’s been a big thrill to listen to every night in addition to those big second set jams.

Other things are the freshness of a lot of the music that they were playing, ‘Black Throated Wind,’ ‘Mr. Charlie,’ all of the Garcia/Hunter tunes, ‘Tennessee Jed’ and ‘Ramble On Rose,’ really great stuff there. Every night had ‘Playing In the Band’ and this is the time when ‘Playing in the Band’ went from a nice eight minute jam to by the end of the tour, 17 minute jam.

Really from the end of this tour onward in the ’72 to ’74 era had really become that 17 to 25 minute jam and this is where that happened. So that, I find incredibly cool. And then there have been some individual songs that have really just blown me away. There was a ‘Black Throated Wind’ on the Tivoli show that it’s just perfect, absolutely perfect.

There’s a ‘Sugaree’ on the Newcastle show, same thing – just really professional. And these are little tunes, that’s why I’m pointing them out. There’s a version of ‘Hurts Me Too,’ a pretty straight forward Elmore James song sung by Pigpen, but there’s something about this one. Jerry does something just incredibly exceptional on the solo and this is a slide solo in a blues song and there’s really not much you can usually say about that, Grateful Dead world or otherwise, but in this one, he just makes it exceptional and that’s the Luxembourg show.

There’s a lot of little things like that that you’re listening and thinking ‘wow, that’s a great show’ and then boom, something happens that just puts it way over the hump and usually it’s these smaller things that are just blowing you away. The first ever version of ‘He’s Gone’ from the second night of Tivoli, April 17 – it’s the same thing, it’s not exactly the most complex tune, but the confidence with which they played it is just outstanding.

So things like that have really been eye opening to me. And as the tour went on, they did not seem to grow tired and I think that was largely on the fact that they had so many nights off during the tour. There’s a lot of times where they had three or four nights off, which is unprecedented on any tour that any band goes on.

The band plays five nights a week and in this case, they were playing closer to three nights a week, so they played seven weeks, 22 shows, one of which was a 90 minute TV taping, so it wasn’t exactly the most grueling thing. And remember, in the States when you’re traveling, even going from Seattle to Portland to San Francisco to L.A., you’re covering a heck of a lot of ground.

Whereas in Europe, to travel from Paris to Berlin or whatever, you’re really talking much smaller distances. They did a run of Bremen, Germany, followed by Dusseldorf, Frankfurt and Hamburg and that, you’re covering maybe 150 miles a day and you have three nights off between shows so it was really a relaxing thing.

Plus, they brought the entire scene with them – they brought 53 people. It wasn’t a band of seven a crew of eight or ten, it was literally everybody – every friend, wife, girlfriend and kid who wanted to come, came along. So you get off stage and you don’t have that lonely feeling that you’re in the middle of nowhere and you don’t know anybody around, you had your whole scene, everybody that you were used to seeing back home, was there with you. So you had that certain level of comfort, so it was certainly a good place for the band to be.

They must have been feeling pretty good about where the band was at because they were rolling out a lot of unreleased songs for the first time and also recording a lot more shows to multi-track than most bands do when they’re recording for a possible live album.

Well, that’s it. You think of most bands that do a live album and let’s think of something in the ’70s, say Peter Frampton’s ‘Frampton Comes Alive!’ or Little Feat’s ‘Waiting for Columbus,’ I know that Frampton recorded less than six shows to get that album; I know that Bowie did two big live albums in the ’70s, ‘David Live’ and ‘Stage,’ and for both of those, he recorded three concerts and got these great live albums.

The Dead knew that that’s not how the Grateful Dead works – historically you couldn’t count on recording three nights and hoping you get a full two or three LP set out of it. Fortunately on ‘Europe,’ there’s that much good music that they could have gotten away with it but this way you’re kind of hedging your bets in knowing that in typical Grateful Dead fashion in the past, it’s the one night that you didn’t record that would be the night.

Well in ‘Europe ’72,’ every night was the night, luckily, and that’s why we’re able to do a 22 show box set, because every night is that good. There were no duds on the tour. If there were, we probably wouldn’t have reevaluated it because we didn’t want to diminish the quality of the exceptional stuff had there been some mediocre stuff. It kind of doesn’t serve anything – at that point you’re better off maybe picking the best 10 shows and doing something.

But in this case, there truly are 22 exceptionally unique concerts and it was really the first tour that we felt was like that. There are others, but we figured if we’re going to try this complete tour 40 to 70 CD box set, we might as well start with the best one there is and we certainly feel that this is the one.

As you alluded to, the success of this package really opens the door for future possibilities. What are the chances that you might see something like ‘the complete Cleveland shows’ or ‘the complete New York shows’ or something like that?

Well, something like that becomes a little more problematic because then you’re dealing with tapes that might not exist, first of all. Going back to what I said about missing 35 seconds of one particular song, that’s why we very intentionally called this the “complete recordings,” because we didn’t want to call it the complete tour in case we ran into a problem during the mix that was missing 30 seconds and we did.

So we’d certainly call something like that the “complete recordings” to make sure we had them. But really if you did a complete Cleveland, for instance, you might be dealing with such inconsistent tape quality where one night might be a mediocre cassette tape from the PA mix which don’t always sound good at some of these indoor halls. One night in Cleveland might be this tremendous multi-track recording and that again doesn’t do much of a service.

And also, if you were really going to do something like the ‘complete Cleveland,’ they might have done a couple of dud shows in Cleveland, but you’re promising the ‘complete Cleveland’ so now you got pigeon holed into releasing something that might be sub-par [in comparison] to the exceptional stuff.

I’m not saying that maybe that show doesn’t merit a release on its own, but when something is so good and then there’s a show that’s clearly not as good, it might become a little more problematic. I do think that there are a couple of tours that might lend themselves to this kind of treatment in the future.

It’s the kind of thing when we did the Fillmore West ’69 box set, we figured if we’re ever going to do this complete run 10 CD box set, we might as well start with the best one there is. And to all of our opinion, that was the Fillmore West box, not only the performance quality but the recording quality, we had the multi-tracks.

So that’s why we started with that and that then led to the ‘Winterland ’73′ box, the ‘Winterland 77′ box, the Warlocks box that has then led to this complete tour box, starting with the very best tour we had both in terms of performance and recording quality, it was ‘Europe ’72.’ But there certainly are candidates that are just as compelling. I think compelling is the word – it’s got to be great music on a consistent basis, great recording quality and it’s got to kind of tell a compelling story of the band at a certain time.

I think the spring tour of 1990 has a heck of a lot going for it. I think obviously the fall tour of ’73 and the spring tour of ’77, a lot has been released from that tour but that certainly doesn’t discount something substantial being done from that.

The reason I say that is that a lot of ‘Europe ’72′ has been released, too, certainly less than 15 percent of ‘Europe’ has been released, but some of it has been. We’ve done the Frankfurt show, the Dusseldorf show, four CDs of England, the original ‘Europe ’72′ album.

So I certainly think that there are a couple of tours that are screaming out for this kind of treatment and I think that there are a couple of others that if we dig a little bit deeper, we might find things [worthy of release]. I don’t think we’ll ever get to the 70 CD area [again] only because not many tours were that long.

A lot of tours ended up being 16-19 shows, some of them fit on two CDs, whereas a lot of these Europe shows are going to be on four CDs. So I think we’ll hopefully see some 30-40 CD sets. I know we won’t ever do this on a yearly basis, but I do think there are other tours and ideas like this that can be done.

Like you say, the Cleveland box or the New York box, I think there are concepts that do lend themselves to this. There are things that are clearly gimmicks – let’s say that we did a New Year’s box set, I don’t think that would really serve it very well, because a lot of New Year’s shows weren’t great and second of all, the recording quality is so inconsistent of New Year’s shows – some are multi-track, a lot are not.

So, I don’t know if that would be the one, it might have some great marketing value, but I don’t think that musically something like that would really fly. I do think there are concepts along those lines that would work. Obviously with the success of this one, we’ve been thinking a lot more about it than we ever have. There are some that might fly a little bit under even our own radar that in talking about it, we’ve said ‘wow, that would actually work.”

And that’s what it comes down to – is the music good, is it a compelling story and do we have the recording quality to make it something that is worth this level of hype. Let’s face it, it’s an expensive product, so we want to make sure that it’s truly an exceptional representation of the Grateful Dead so that people are completely thrilled and satisfied with what they get. The last thing that we ever want to do is disappoint anyone.

I think anybody in any line of work, especially for public consumption, the last thing anybody wants to do is disappoint. I think that as a journalist, you certainly don’t want your writing or your interviews to disappoint people and it’s for the public record. Once it’s out there, it has your name on it. In my role, I certainly have a responsibility to make sure that the band’s legacy is represented well. So, I take that very seriously.

Absolutely. I think that was my point about this release opening doors because I don’t think that you necessarily put the details on this out there expecting an immediate sellout, which was the result that you got back on the pre-orders for the initial run of box sets.

I don’t think we did either. I think that a few of us might have very quietly hoped for it and certainly didn’t expect it. This was certainly something that I’ve been pitching for so long that if it had failed, it would have been on me and I was prepared to take that responsibility. I wouldn’t have hidden from it. I had faith in the project obviously and I think a huge round of applause from all of the Deadheads needs to go to Rhino.

For them to commit the resources, and I don’t just mean the financial resources, but the time — they have a team of a dozen people working round the clock on this thing and that’s in front of the engineers and people that I work with most closely. For them to have done this, it really shows that they had faith in it. Early on, we needed to sell 3000 units or the project would have been canceled.

We made that announcement and the reason was is because if it hadn’t [happened] we would have actually lost money. And the bottom line is that it is a business, so it’s not a benevolent organization, as much as we wish it was, it isn’t and that’s just the reality, we all obviously accept that. So, we needed to sell that and I think a lot of us were scared that it wouldn’t even hit that because again, it’s unprecedented, it’s 450 dollars, you really need to make sure that it is that compelling story and has the exceptional quality of music.

Thankfully, 7200 people recognized that. And as you’ll hopefully point out in this piece, it is still available as the music-only edition, which is 22 individual albums, each individually packaged with its own really beautiful hand done cover art, its own liner notes, so you’re getting for 6 dollars a CD. I think it works out to essentially the box set without the box.

And the box is spectacular – it’s a suitcase with a book in it and a lot of other things – it’s spectacular, but even without that, if you like Grateful Dead music, this is really the one shot to get all of them and get 22 shows, 22 live albums.

If you’re a ‘Dick’s Picks’ fan, you already have 36 of them, so 22 more of some of the best music the Dead ever played, we’re seeing that there is interest in that and that’s been exciting. Obviously, people are very interested in the limited edition box set, partly because it’s limited, partly because it’s so cool. I don’t think we’ve put out images of how it’s going to look, only because we don’t have final images – we’re still working up the concepts and the team in L.A. is really working hard on making this thing an exceptional collector’s item.

But when it comes down to it, it comes down to the music. And that’s why when we sold out, we really wanted to make sure that we didn’t deprive anyone. That was something that was very important to us. When we did the Fillmore West box set, we cut it off at 10,000 and we never did anything beyond that and it’s a bit of a bummer that people were deprived of that music.

We didn’t want to do that with this one – it was too much of an important story in the Grateful Dead’s history to shut it off there. So, we kept it going and there will be some sort of cut off date for orders, only because we have to get the order into the pressing plant – that’s just the reality. It’s not a gun-to-your-head situation; it’s we need to know how many we’ll be ordering of this. So people can keep an eye on Dead.net, but I’d say the sooner they get it, the better.

It’s exciting. I was with Jeffrey in the studio for a few days last week and it really is exciting watching these go from multi-track raw tapes to what it sounds like now, which as you said, we’re already putting out all of those teasers and it’s sounding truly exceptional.

Watch the Grateful Dead Perform ‘Jack Straw’ During the 1972 Europe Tour

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