Interview with Dick Latvala, 3/5/95

by Steve Silberman

Greetings, Deadheads online!

I bring great good news. Dick's Picks 2 - the latest addition to the Dead's series of official releases of the best rare live tapes from the Vault - is now available, and it's amazing: flashing with psychedelic energy and exuberant creativity ("Dark Star"), telepathic ensemble improvisation, good ol' mojo ("St. Stephen"), and volcanic jams (wait 'til you hear this "Not Fade Away"!)

To celebrate the release of Dick's Picks 2, I interviewed Dick last week, and offer the text of this interview freely to the online Deadhead community.



      Steve Silberman

Dick's Picks 2 is available now, on CD only. It's a single disc, containing the second set from Halloween, 10/31/71, at the Ohio Theater in Columbus, Ohio. The setlist is as follows: Dark Star > Sugar Magnolia > St. Stephen > Not Fade Away > Goin' Down the Road > Not Fade Away. (There's a very long and joyful untitled melodic jam between Dark Star and Sugar Magnolia.)

Dick's Picks 2 is available by phone by calling the Dick's Picks hotline: (800) 323-2300. It can also be mailordered by sending a check or money order for $13.50, including shipping and handling (California residents must add sales tax - send $ 14.48 total), to:

 Dick's Picks 2
 P.O. Box 2139
 Dept. 16
 Novato, CA 94948

SS: A lot of Deadheads are curious about who Dick of "Dick's Picks" is.

DL: I'm Dick Latvala. My job has changed over the years. I was hired 10 years ago to keep the tapes organized in the Vault, though I ended up getting involved in a lot of other projects. I wanted to help participate in getting the music out to the people, because I'm a tape collector myself. I had hundreds and hundreds of tapes, and I thought I knew what was a good show and what wasn't. I got hired because I cared, and still, when I go in the Vault, I'm like a kid in Candyland. It takes my breath away.

SS: When did you start collecting tapes?

DL: In 1974. I'd taped a couple of New Year's shows from Winterland that were on the radio, but I didn't know there were tapes of other shows. Once I found that out, I spent 12 hours a day finding the people who were making the best tapes, communicating with them, and trading. I used to walk four or five miles to the post office in Hawaii when I thought tapes were coming.

It's been a long trip, but I'm still just as thrilled by the music as I was in the beginning.

SS: Do you remember what your first favorite tapes were?

DL: Like everyone's: Harpur College 5/2/70, Fillmore East 2/13/70, 2/14/68, and 4/6/69. The reason I got so into it was that I wanted to hear tapes of shows that had so devastated me in '68 and '69. Believe me, it was the most incredible thing in the universe, and that's why I'm so compulsive - things happened that were in your bones. I got into tapes hoping to find those shows. And I did. What a thrill, when you find them.

Some people have an attitude. I remember people in '72 - "'Stella Blue?' Gimme a break! That ain't the Grateful Dead." But I still like them every year, and there are good shows in every year. I love tapes, and I can't think of anything more important than to sit and listen. That's all I want to do, and now, that's all I'm supposed to do, so I'm happy.

My parents told me that when they couldn't find me when I was one-and-a-half, I'd be sitting by the old Victrola, an old cranker. I'd put on one record and play it over and over - the boogie-woogie. Then when Fats Domino came around, I was off and running. About 1955, when I started high school, I met Phil Elwood, the music critic for the San Francisco Examiner. He gave me a 45 and said, "Listen to this." It was Jimmy Reed. I started going to gospel concerts at Oakland Auditorium, which became Henry J. Kaiser. Every year, they would have all the best gospel groups in the country: the Mighty Clouds of Joy, the Swan Silvertones, the Soul Stirrers, the James Cleveland Choir.

You'd go into the auditorium, and there would be all black people in their Sunday finest, bright colors, and hundreds of ushers in white gloves. You'd wonder what that was about - and then you'd see people get the spirit, and go into epileptic seizures. These ushers would pick them up, carry them out into the hall, fan them, and carry them back in, when they came back to their bodies. I saw this one guy run from the back of the auditorium straight down the center aisle, and dive headfirst into the stage. I said, "That's what music is supposed to do - move you." Gospel music did it.

Music became my life. Then when I was in my fifth year of college, about to graduate, wondering what I was doing, I went to my first Dead show, the Trips Festival in January of '66, and I knew that that's where I was supposed to be. Thereafter, more music started happening, and I thought, "Finally, white people can play!"

That's what the Grateful Dead experience is for me: music that moves people as powerfully as they can be moved. Each person expresses it in a different fashion - some twirl around, some sit still as a rock. I'm the still-as-a-rock type. But everyone's way of expressing it is just dandy, and that's what it's all about. I thought I was as hardcore as it gets - that no one could be as hardcore as me. But now there are thousands. Everyone in the building! This is energy in its highest form, in a group format.

It's better than sex, man. You can quote me on that.

SS: Let's talk about the next Dick's Picks.

DL: I'm absolutely thrilled. I can't believe that anyone who hears this is not going to go to outer space, intensely, over and over.

I didn't know the October '71 shows that well. None of us had tapes of them. It was like diving for treasure, investigating an era that I wasn't sure about, and I started listening to that stuff in October - Keith's first tour. They were all radio shows. We should have had good tapes of them, but nobody had them.

I started hearing some really incredible stuff, and then that Halloween show at the Ohio Theater in Columbus. After hearing about five or six shows - they were playing a lot of the same songs, night after night, and it can get boring - this show was like getting hit with a brick in the face, I couldn't believe it. I put it on again, and said, "Man!" I must have played it ten times before I could talk.

SS: There's a very interesting jam out of "Dark Star."

DL: This happens in '69 "Dark Stars," about 16-18 minutes into it. The only thing it reminds me of is Donovan's song, "First there is a mountain..."

It's the most thrilling jam, on the level of "Spanish Jam" or what DeadBase calls the "Mind Left Body Jam." Please, somebody in the world, name that jam better! I've heard it in many forms. It's similar to the transitions they used to do in "China Cat > Rider" they used to do in late '73 and '74, and some "Dancing in the Streets" in '70 had this theme. On this Halloween show, they do it, but it's a little bit different - it's a little jazzier. I don't know what to call it, but it's definitely a theme.

It's my favorite theme of them all, and it's as high as you can get when they get to that place. You're just floating in Heaven. It's all over the Europe '72 tapes - just wait until we get to Wembley, 4/8/72. That "Dark Star," oh boy. They take that theme, and nail you to the wall with it. That will come out, at some point.

This was Keith's first tour, and they took the music to another level. 11/12/71 San Antonio "That's It For the Other One > Big Railroad Blues" is an example most people have of the great playing that occurred then, or 12/1/71 Boston Music Hall - that "Other One" that goes into "Me & My Uncle" and back into "The Other One." That is stupendous, and there are a lot more.

But this Halloween one is one of the top of all time. This is as good as it's ever been. I've never heard anything like it, and I'm shocked. And those I play it for feel the same way, so I must not be crazy.

SS: I think Jerry's leads on this version of "Not Fade Away" are the best leads I've ever heard him play on that tune.

DL: I have to put myself in a seat belt. I start shaking, it's so exciting.

SS: It's almost sounds like Jerry is playing with Allman Brothers-ish ideas when he reaches the climax in that jam.

DL: When he's trying to gather 'em back in for "Goin' Down the Road" is interesting too. This is a thrill a minute. I was just listening to it.

When you listen to something over and over, you can get bored. It can be like water torture, making a record. But this one hasn't been.

Me and Jeffrey Norman are going to be working together a lot, trying to streamline things so we can get more releases out. This is my goal: to get it out. I can't stand sitting on this music. It's terrible that everyone can't hear this stuff, so my mission is to get it out.

SS: How many releases are you planning? In your dreams, would there be a release every six months?

DL: I'm not in charge. I'm just a washer on one lug nut on the rear axle of a 16-wheel semi, and there are a lot of considerations. But what I'm envisioning is three or four a year.

SS: What could Deadheads do to ensure that there are as many releases as possible?

DL: BUY 'em! What other indication is there that people care? Talking to friends is a good indication that people care, but we're talking about 50,000 or 100,000 people here. I think everyone on the planet should think this is the greatest thing, and I'm amazed that there's only a small group of us [laughing].

SS: What's being released from this Halloween '71 show is not the whole show, but the one jam from "Dark Star" through "Not Fade Away."

DL: Yeah. There was a first set that there wasn't much happening in. But we went with this jam because it was 59 minutes of no-frills, bare, naked, straight-up - how can I say this? I wanted to put out something that would shock me.

SS: Are you going to try as often as possible to release complete shows?

DL: Well, the first two "From the Vault" releases were complete. Some shows warrant it. I really am going to be pulling my best to get 2/28/69 out - that show is completely worthwhile.

The concept of putting out only whole shows - I came into this job as a proponent of that, thinking that way. I was really adamant about it. I've learned that that's unrealistic. That's what tape collecting is for, tape trading. We're lucky we're getting what we're getting.

SS: How do you feel about David Gans' Grateful Dead Hour?

DL: I think it's the greatest thing! I don't know why any Deadhead who cares isn't taping every broadcast. That's the greatest stuff you can get. I know, because he comes to me, and me and him deal with it. He chooses it, but I give him input, and he chooses great. He does the best job imaginable. I'm proud of him. I wish something like that was around when I started tape collecting!

SS: What was the source tape for the Halloween '71 show?

DL: A quarter-track, 7 1/2 inches per second, seven-inch reel, made on a Sony 770. This is one of the only quarter-track tapes in the Vault.

SS: What process did you use to transfer it to CD?

DL: The same as the first "Dick's Picks" - flat, no EQ's, straight into the Sonic Solutions digital editing system, which is a miracle-making machine.

SS: Was the tape edited at all?

DL: There was one reel flip that was worrisome to me, but Jeffrey Norman did a job on this that I defy anyone to be able to pick up. I can tell you the instant that it happens, and I defy you to hear it.

SS: Where does it happen?

DL: In the start of "Not Fade Away," after it gets going. A couple of minutes into it. Jeffrey just hit it perfectly. I'm really proud. This is going to thrill everyone.

SS: Do you see releasing any '80s shows someday?

DL: Yes, but I've been focusing on '79 back to the old days, mainly because that's the period I know best. In the '80s, I got hired by the Dead, so I couldn't keep up. But there are others who have opinions about this, and we're going to skip around a bit. There are a lot of great shows from the '80s.

I could also stay in the winter of '73 forever [laughing]. I just heard one yesterday that blew me away. Does anybody even know about October 29th at the Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis in '73? Everybody knows about the "Dark Star" from the following night, but this "Other One" is incredible. '73 might be their best year.

SS: If you were on a desert island, what ten tapes would you want to have?

DL: Oh God, what a terrible question. If I could think for awhile, maybe I could do it. Could I have a hundred?

SS: [laughing] Is there any message you'd like to give to Deadheads?

DL: I love you all. I think you're the most beautiful people in the history of the planet.

Steve Silberman ( wrote Skeleton Key: A Dictionary for Deadheads with David Shenk.

* skeleton key:  a dictionary for deadheads *
by david shenk and steve silberman :  a doubleday book
is available in most bookstores, or by mailorder, call 1-800-321-9578.
signed copies available by mail.     "light the song with sense and color"