Hi everyone! Kevin and I hope that you enjoy this interview. Thanks especially to Kevin, the Mockingbird Foundation and, of course, Phish and Dionysian Productions, for making this interview a reality.
If you have any additional questions, please let firstname.lastname@example.org know. We are interested in doing some follow-up questions. The first follow-up material is below!
PHISH holds the copyright on this interview. They have given permission for it to be exclusively published on Rec.Music.Phish (incl. the Phish.Net Digest) and on the Mockingbird Foundation’s web page. This interview may not be republished anywhere in any form — online or offline — without the express written consent of Phish. Kevin and I certainly encourage you, however, to link to this Interview from your Phish page.
Charlie Dirksen: When did you begin working for Dionysian Productions, and what is your job title and responsibilities?
I work for Phish not Dionysian Productions, though the distinction is pretty insignificant, since Dionysian only currently manages one artist, Phish. My job title is Phish Archivist and main responsibility is to manage the band’s history, information and creations. I basically keep track of what they do and all their output, track its flow in from the band and organization out to its users and then back.
CD: Is being the Phish Archivist itself a full-time job for you?
Yes and no. I work full-time for Phish but my responsibilities for the band are broader than my work in the archives. I also represent the band as In-House Counsel to the degree I am needed in that capacity. I don’t take on outside legal or archival work, except to volunteer my time for some local causes.
CD: When was your first Phish show?
September 29, 1991 at the Agora Ballroom in Cleveland, OH. It’s funny, I just finished reviewing it before writing This Month in Phish History (for September, 1991).
CD: What was your first Phish tape?
February 6, 1989 from Nectar’s. I’ll never forget hearing the fast version of Sanity on that tape. It’s like a 4th or 5th generation cassette that’s worn nearly to pieces by now.
CD: Do you have any personal favorite shows? A pesonal favorite Era of Phish?
There are too many greats to list and a lot of nights have been personally significant for so many reasons. A good example is December 31, 1991. That was my first Phish new year’s show and my first really long road trip to a show. They played tremendously, I went with people I love and met new folks who have grown to be counted among my closest friends in the world. It’s even tougher for me to choose a favorite era. I think every era of the band’s history reveals something about them, their music and music in general, and the audience. Every point in Phish history has some sort of real value to me and it’s impossible to appraise that value relative to similar thoughts or feelings I had at a different time. Some shows seem like perfect showcases of the group’s sound at a certain place or time and some periods seem dull at the moment compared to some show from “the old days” but in retrospect are very exciting. New favorite shows, songs and eras arise all the time depending on what I’m listening to and why.
CD: Are you yourself a taper? How long have you been taping?
Yes, my name is Kevin and I am a Taper. It’s a strange question since I haven’t taped Phish consistently since a couple years before I began my job (my taping fell off during law school), but I have taped the band as recently as this summer. I still tape other shows too, mostly jazz shows and mostly if I think others won’t be capturing it. I think I taped my first concert in 1989 or so. I began my taping career by making recordings of bands I played drums in and quickly branched out from there.
CD: I played drums for about 8 years or so. The places I’ve lived for the last ten years of my life haven’t been suitable for serious drum practice. Do you play anymore?
I still have my kit and stay in touch with the local music scene. Occasionally I’ll get together with friends and jam but my apartment is too small and thinly-walled to effectively practice. I sit in with local bands once in a while. A day or two after Dick passed away, I sat in with Blues For Breakfast during their yearly tribute for Garcia. We played Tangled Up in Blue and I’m told it sounded allright. I’ve never developed my drumming skills to a high level. I can play along with most grooves.
CD: Do you tape other bands? What other bands/music do you enjoy?
I enjoy all kinds of bands and music. Phish is my favorite existing musical group and they have been since I first saw them…maybe even before. That said, I catch a lot of jazz, reggae, funk, straight rock and roll and even some of what would be defined as heavy metal. I love bands like Iron Maiden, Metallica, Led Zeppelin. The psychedelic music scene had a massive impact on me too in terms of Grateful Dead, Hot Tuna and stuff from the San Francisco and English psychedelic scenes. Later I discovered the Detroit music scene which included a lot of rock, jazz and blues. I love just about anything with James Carter or Dennis Chambers. I am definitely a self-professed music fanatic.
CD: What, generally speaking, does the Archives contain? For example, does it have all of the shows from 1992 onward on digital SBD?
The Phish Archives generally contain the band and organization’s entire physical history. It’s a very broad project encompassing written materials, photographs, audio, video, art, merchandise, stage props and costumes, all kinds of memorabilia from tickets and passes to fan mail and anything saved and donated by the band, family or crew through the past sixteen years.
Your question is more specific to audio. We have many formats of audio through the years. In general, we have all of the shows from Fall 1992 to present on a digital format, which is typically DAT. The digital soundboard (SBD) distinction is somewhat inaccurate, as most of the reference tapes Paul makes contain some mix of audience from the stage, the mix position, or both. The band has kept so-called digital SBD tapes of every show since November 19, 1992, and of quite a few before then, too. It was November 1992 when Paul permanently added a DAT recorder to the front-of-house equipment.
CD: Is there anything the Archives needs that fans might be able to provide, or help to locate?
We’re not seeking submissions, technically, but the answer is a resounding “yes”! We have audio recordings of around sixty to seventy percent of the shows Phish has played and video of far less. We only have those photographs we have shot or commissioned on an “official” basis and there are obviously lots of unofficial images that would be great to add to the Archives. Anything from any of the categories I’ve listed that is original — or of very high quality or significance — is welcomed. I’m sure someday we may seek out specific additions to the collections. So far it’s been all I can do to organize, document and preserve what’s already been put away.
CD: When was the Archives first established or started? Did anyone manage it before you?
The Archives were set up as an entity or department when I began my job in January of 1996. I have rough notes about the band’s archives and how to separate, store and use the collection that the band’s manager, John Paluska wrote in around 1990 or so I’d say. Mike (Gordon) and the other band members began keeping notes in journals, photos, articles and tapes very early in the band’s history… certainly before they were called “Phish.” Mike was the first custodian of all the business records and then Paul Languedoc eventually kind of took that over. Various family members, crew members and friends kept bits and pieces of things the whole time.
After he started managing Phish in 1988-89, John kept things in pretty good order in terms of trying to get shows documented, though it must have been hard to look forward (as a manager) and backward (as an archivist) at the same time. I think it was when Shelly Culbertson started working for Dionysian in 1992 that the archive project got its first real supervisor. Shelly continued until I arrived, when she was able to turn her attention to ticketing and running our web site. Jason Colton, who also works for Dionysian, and the former head or Phish Mail Order Cynthia Brown, both helped manage a lot of the band’s images when they began work, soon after Shelly. Paul recorded shows and tried to keep them labeled and accounted for but I get the impression it was pretty loose in the early days, especially early touring days. The mixes, equipment and his duties varied a lot from day to day from what I can tell. Phish can thank a huge number of dedicated fans who documented the early experience and who were incredibly generous and helpful with piecing together the holes from the early days for the Archives. I turn to those folks more often than not to answer questions about early shows.
CD: How is the Archives organized, in general? What media? Did you seek any outside help in getting it started or organized?
It’s set up chronologically by category and tied to relevant events. It is designed with the goal that users can most easily locate the item(s) or information they need, and use/return it with a minimum of difficulty or wear on the collection. I think I already gave a short list of media previously. It’s very broad… from giant foam and metal hot dogs to every type of magnetic media to the Zero Man jumpsuit. We have the chessboard, old mini-tramps, lots of posters and flyers from shows and events and everything in between.
I sought a great deal of help setting up the Archives. All the items and information are assessed for value (i.e., keep it or not?), described in a database (which is constantly being updated), and stored in what are hopefully ideal storage conditions. As I began the interview process for the Archivist position, I contacted every “rock and roll” Archivist I could think of and followed all the leads they provided. People like Dick Latvala and Dennis McNally (GD), James Olness (originally with BGP and now his own company, J.O.E.), Rebecca Nichols and Jerry Pompili (also from BGP), Kirk West (Allman Brothers Band), John Scott, David Gans, Joey Helguera (Atlantic Records), Mary Ide (WGBH TV), Jim Henke (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum), Danny Clinch, Taylor Crothers, Marj Minkin, Jim Pollock and David Wexler (Hollywood Vaults) all were incredibly helpful. The list is too long to thank everyone, but I went after all the information I could get on how to set up an archive of the sort the band wanted. By the time I began serious meetings with the band and management about my vision for the project, I knew a lot more than when I’d started making calls. I also contacted every manufacturer of archival software I could find to see how to go about tracking all the data we had and were about to create.
Since I began, I constantly seek out information about Archival Science, especially as it relates to the entertainment industry and business archives. I attend conferences, read on newsgroups and publications and stay in touch with as many colleagues as possible. I also have been lucky to have the help of a number of excellent interns and assistants, who have been great in physically digging through and figuring out the collection. I believe the project is worthy of total dedication to preserving and using the material. Without the information contained in our Archives, the ability to communicate what is and was Phish would be very difficult. Phish to me defies accurate description… the experience, the music, the culture surrounding all of it can only be understood through its history. I guess that’s true of most phenomena.
CD: What did you do this past week, just to put your job in greater perspective?
As always, last week was a busy one. I’m dealing with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum about the display of some items, shipped a couple DAT machines out for repair, made all the arrangements with Michael Grace (who engineered 10/31/90), made umpteen different compilations — by track — by set, etc. for the 10/31/90 release, assembled and shipped all the visual content for 10/31/90, made a few changes to some Hampton Comes Alive source tapes, had a number of meetings about humidity in our tape vault, purchased some new duplication equipment, ordered and delivered some equipment and media to the band in the studio and did some work tracking down some older tape collections… oh and I answered a few questions for the Mockingbird Project. Simultaneously, I followed through on international trademark registrations for Phish Stick and Phish Food, dealt with a number of bootleg-selling stores, wrote multiple requests for removal of illegal sales from online auction sites, worked on a licensing agreement for our mail order company, approved some legal bills, and drafted a couple other agreements. Oh, and like any other week, I spent a lot of time answering mail from people with legal and/or archival questions, and supervising my staff. Staying in touch with people in the scene is rewarding and valuable so I try to personally respond to any well-intentioned question. It’s daunting to look at in retrospect, but my average week is varied and extremely busy.
CD: What’s an example of a Gem that you have on tape that no one else has? Do you have any periods with many shows missing from the Archives?
It’s hard to mention a specific Gem. It’s like defining the best show or best period, and it’s also a loaded question, because I’m not sure what else other people might have. The complete tape of the band’s first performance together on October 30, 1983, or their entire first performance with Page, are both Gems that no one else has in any complete sense. The album masters contain myriad Gems of varying degrees and certainly no one else has those. There are so many Gems on tape and the band has traditionally shared a lot of their output with their fans, so it’s hard to say. My favorite Gem changes as often as what I’m checking out at the moment. Some of my favorite pieces in the Archives are photographs or posters that are not even anticipated by your question since it focuses on tapes. I really like the HORDE sword given to the bands who participated in the July, 1992 HORDE Tour.
There are lots of periods with many shows missing from the Archives. In general, Mike kept great audio records of shows — and even some practices — from the band’s first couple years. Around 1986 and 1987 things get pretty sketchy in terms of the number of master recordings we have in the vault. In the few years from mid-1988 to mid-1991 friends and fans really picked up the slack. That’s probably the period from which the most questions arise, since there’s been a lot of trading, mislabeling and embellishing within the Phish community, so it’s hard to judge the legitimacy of a purported “master”. A number of people have donated large collections of definite masters and there are many more claiming to have certain shows we lack in Archives.
By fall of 1991, Paul was pretty much recording every show on cassette, so we may lack some recordings from that point through Fall of 1992, but not too many. We have never made an attempt to collect or catalog audience recordings of shows that we already have soundboard tapes or mixed tapes of, but I could see it someday happening. Our collection lacks consistently good photographs of the band until the mid-1990’s, though those have begun filtering in. There’s such a large body of material out there that even considering “filling in the holes” is a daunting task. As people realize we have an archive, original materials seem to sort of find me and we adopt them with open arms.
CD: Who has access to the Archives? Do you often make tapes for VIP’s on CD, DAT and/or analog?
In a physical sense, no one has access except me and my staff. In a larger sense, the Archives exist for the use of the band and organization. The four band members, and anybody who works for Phish or its related companies are able to “check out” items as they are needed. We ship materials to and from studios, production facilities, design companies and the road constantly.
As for tape requests, occasionally I get requests from the band to make copies of certain things, depending on what projects are underway. It’s basically all for purposes of reviewing their work for public use or some sort. Any project that involves content from any type of media involves the Archives, so album production, movie production, book production, festival production and merchandise production all require materials for business purposes. Requests for tapes for family members or VIP’s occur sometimes, and I try to keep everyone listening to good stuff, but the Archives are really used to support broader projects. We have the ability to make copies on any of the mediums you mentioned.
CD: How are shows being backed up at the present time? Anything on Reel?
Some shows exist on reel-to-reel, which is the only real “archival” medium, short of glass masters or something of that sort. Most shows before 1990 or so were on cassettes, which tend to hold up pretty well if not played and if stored properly. We are (slowly) transfering the cassettes to digital formats, like DAT and CDR. From 1990 or so, much of the collection is digital (DAT, DA-88 and DA-38, a couple A-DAT’s and some VHS PCM audio. That stuff is slowly being backed onto digital mediums, mostly CDR. The latest research seems to indicate that CDR may not be the archival savior we had all hoped for, so we’re constantly reviewing what to back up and to what mediums it is best migrated.
CD: Are all Phish performances over the past few years now archived in multitrack format? If so, when did Paul start recording shows in multitrack format?
Most are. There are a few that escape multitrack because of space limitations. For example, the recent Japan shows are not on multitrack due to the difficulty of getting all of the machines over there. Paul began doing 32 track DA-88 recording in Summer/Fall 1994, and has done every show since then on 32 track, with only a few exceptions. Now we’re running 40 tracks, which include some backup tracks of the basic 2 track mix that gets run to DAT each night.
CD: Do you foresee releases from the Phish Vault/Archives in the future, similar to what Dick Latvala has done with Grateful Dead vault tapes?
I sincerely hope so. The “White Tape” was the first, being number PA1001 so I guess that leaves a lot of possible releases to come. I don’t know if it would ever be a program similar to what Dick has done with the Grateful Dead tapes. Dick tried every trick to get archival releases going after he had a few years to get the collection in some form of order, and he apparently ran into a lot of resistance — or at least a lack of agreement about what to release, and when and how. Eventually, the band decided to forego the decision-making process, and entrusted it to Dick and their studio engineer, John Cutler. That was when a steady flow of releases began. The members of Phish are very hands-on in just about every sense of the organization, so it’s really their decision what, when and if. It’s a tough decision, since their current material is so vital and exciting that the thought of archival releases tends to be more of a future vision. I see light at the end of the tunnel, and hope the possibilities are someday realized. The level of investment put into the Archives by the band and organization leads me to be confident that they will be.
CD: Are audience tapes made at same time as SBD tapes at shows, analog and digital? What mics are used for the AUD tapes?
Yes, separately and as part of the “SBD” mix DAT’s that Paul makes as reference tapes. Shows are generally recorded at least three ways. First, there is the 40 track multitrack, which is accomplished using 5 DA-88 machines, 8 tracks each. They are locked together digitally and can be striped with time code to synch up with video or film.
Second, Paul runs a mix through a simple Mackie mixer of a soundboard feed blended with a small amount of signal from audience mics placed on the stage (AT4033’s). He uses a simple delay to match the feeds for a good reference of the show.
Finally, he generally makes audience 2 track cassettes run solely from the mix position microphones, which are AKG414’s. Basically what you might make from the taper section. He occasionally will use that to isolate the room sound from one show or another to check out how his mix actually sounded in the house. There are audience feeds to the multitracks from both the on-stage Audio Technicas and the front-of-house mics. There’s often BetaCam video run from either a switched feed if a venue has cameras and a film crew for screens or from our camera mounted at the mix position if not. The BetaCam tape receives the same feed as the reference DAT’s.
CD: As you know, there have been many shows/sets released on SBD>cass>DAT by folks close to the band. Some have been tree’d heavily on the net. There are few SBDs that circulate from 1995 through the present day, however. What is the reasoning behind this change in policy? Is it true that Page no longer receives an analog master of a show right after it gets played, as he once regularly did?
I don’t know if it’s really a change in policy. I guess the change correlates in part with me starting to manage the collection, though I don’t know if it’s a cause and effect situation. The policy as to reference tapes as I said before is that they are for the band’s use only. Basically, copies are not run for anyone of any shows no matter how “close to the band” they are, unless the band specifically requests copies be made. There was a period around 1992-1993 when Paul was running DAT masters without an audience mix and running cassette backups of that soundboard mix, as it happened. Those cassette masters were often given to Page, and I suppose he did what he wanted with them. He’s recently returned all those cassettes to the Archives and the collection was quite intact, so whatever Page did, he kept them in excellent order and condition. Things find their way into circulation in the most bizarre ways that it’s hard to properly answer this question. There is no policy forbidding tape leaks exactly. I think things have just grown to be handled more formally now that the whole collection is under consistent management.
CD: Is there an official policy with respect to the taping of Phish shows from DAT to CD for personal use? A lot of people are backing up their own personal collections on CDR nowadays, and many more are making CD’s of *live* Phish for their friends.
No. Our posted taping and duplication policy says it all. It’s not media-specific. I will say that DAT to CDR transfers seem to become “bootlegs” for sale or otherwise violating our policy more often than other media, but I don’t think people trading music on CDR for personal use is any more harmful than DAT or online transfer, or any other means of trading.
CD: I’m sure some fans would like to know why live video is forbidden (e.g., at shows and on the Internet), while audio taping is allowed. I know what I’d say, but what do you have to say about this?
Live video is forbidden for a few reasons. First, the band and Elektra are the sole copyright holders of the band’s performances, and neither wishes to allow video taping at shows. That has always been the policy as far as I know, with very few exceptions. Another reason has to do with commercial bootlegging, which seems to favor video over audio, kind of like the preference for CDR over cassettes. I would hazard a guess that video taping also would require a different level of access (i.e., good sight lines, lighting, etc.) than does audio taping. Can you imagine a huge throbbing section of video techies in front of the front row of each show? Providing live video on the internet or elsewhere is discouraged because the taping is prohibited and illegal. We don’t want to allow people to provide content that they aren’t allowed to make. It’s inconsistent. That’s why we have had to take a stance against unauthorized video distributors online and elsewhere.
CD: I know as an attorney (with some copyright law experience) that it is imperative that copyright holders protect their rights, in order to avoid waiving them. I’m glad that Phish understands the importance of this. Are there 2 track copies of shows from recent years in the vault? Would releasing a SBD for tree’ing on the net, for example, require a mix-down from multitrack to two-track before it could be released?
I basically answer this above, but there are 2 track copies of essentially every show from the past seven years and of many shows before that. Releasing a reference copy of a show for any reason could theoretically be done without any mix-down, if the band was satisfied with the 2 track mix. For example, all of the music played on the From The Archives radio shows has come direct from 2 track of some form or another. For radio, I try to get out any source noise, “master” the levels to some degree, and make the segues in and out of songs, as painless as I can.
CD: How did you go about coming up with all the great music for the Clifford Ball, Great Went, and Lemonwheel Archives shows? Did the band members have any input?
When the idea to do the show came up (thanks to my colleague Jason Colton for the general idea), I approached the band for input of any sort and they basically said “run with it.” They have given tidbits of feedback at times, while the shows were on, or after they heard them (“oh god, did we do that tune!?”), but they have given no substantive suggestions of things to include or exclude. It’s a realm in which I enjoy almost total freedom, within FCC limits that is. There’s an interesting story from Lemonwheel about me trying to showcase the opening song from “The White Tape,” which apparently does not fit generally accepted government guidelines for a number of reasons.
CD: I can see the FCC having a problem with “Fuck Your Face.”
The story of coming up with the music for the shows is a bit more complicated, but I guess this is my chance to elaborate. I pretty much scan my memory banks, Archive database, friends’ suggestions, notes that I get from fans, input from anyone in the organization who’s willing to provide it, etc. I come up with initial lists, do a lot of listening, change the lists, refine them, listen some more, try to decide whether there are better or more representative offerings and eventually pace the Archives for untold hours trying to decide on a good lineup. I try to mix it up a lot, combining soundchecks, outtakes, really old stuff, really new stuff (you mentioned the lack of recent “SBD” releases) and anything that evokes extreme emotion from me. I have been given total freedom with the shows and it is a very cathartic moment for me when I step up to the mic and decks and start to roll a show.
Perhaps I build it larger than it really is, but it means more to me than I can describe here to “bring the music to the people,” and I try to really deliver the goods. I’ve seen plenty of sunrises from the Archives while trying to piece together the shows, and I’ve never left one of the broadcasts without thinking “was that version good enough?” or similar thoughts. The feedback has been great overall, and I understand that the tapes of some of the shows are still making the rounds, and I look forward to continuing the tradition. It’s funny… when I’m on the air I try to speak about the music as I would to my girlfriend Kirsten or my buddies, but I inevitably fail, and end up sounding a bit NPR-ish. She has said to me, “just speak about it like you would to me or to Dick. Tell them it’s the royal unbelievable bomb and the best example of a _____________ ever done,” or words to that effect. I hope everything that I’ve played has been the royal unbelievable bomb or incredibly hilarious or amazingly instructive about the band’s development. That’s what I’m after… oh and to try not to sound too NPR. Apparently my great excitement and enthusiasm for the music doesn’t always travel well via FM.
CD: Well, I was not fortunate enough to have been able to attend the Ball, Went, or Wheel in the flesh, but I have really enjoyed hearing the radio shows, especially the Wheel radio show, which is being circulated rather well from what I’ve gathered. It’s got some incredible Phish on it. Thank you! Will there be a show in Florida, or can you say? Will you play anything from 10/6/89 Paradise, or any other shows that don’t circulate at all?
I too really liked the show I put together for Lemonwheel, and the privilege of changing the station’s moniker to “The Love Badger” for a couple hours each day was great. I liked the concept of trying to integrate various others from our organization — who have a strong effect on Phish history — into the program. I am always taking requests and I realize that your first show “does not circulate,” but I can’t play anything from it, as I have not yet located the master tapes — if there are any. Anyone out there? In the meantime, there was no radio station at Oswego this year, but I understand there will be at the Florida event for New Year’s Eve 1999, so I’m getting a solid roster together.
CD: Excellent! Glad to hear it! Let me therefore respectfully request the 12/1/95 Mike’s Groove, which is *INSANE*, and which doesn’t circulate on what I’d consider high quality DAUD. One last question, Kevin, since I gather he meant a lot to you. What did your friendship with Dick Latvala, the Grateful Dead’s archivist, mean to you?
When I started my job as Archivist, I contacted everyone I could and got input from as many professionals in the field as possible. They came from all walks of life and worked in every field of music and media restoration, conservation, preservation, storage and appreciation. I must say that amongst them all, Dick stood out like a sore thumb. I write this with tears in my eyes, as I still can’t believe Dick is not with us. I mean, the phone is ringing and I know it won’t be him and that hurts.
Our relationship began when I called him before I started my job, sometime around the end of 1995 or January 1996. Dennis McNally put us in touch. Dick was totally humble and was glad to meet me at my earliest convenience. Apparently he had met with Shelly at some point a couple years before that and had given her a few tips, but I don’t think they stayed in close touch. Anyway, we really clicked on the phone and we made plans for me to visit him in San Francisco during the upcoming fall Phish tour.
I remember him picking me up at my hotel in San Francisco distinctly. He woke up really early as was typical (for him, not me), and drove down from Petaluma to pick me up. I offered to drive up in a rental, but he wouldn’t hear of it. When he called from the lobby, he was really funny, saying something like “you’ll recognize me immediately… I’m the old smelly guy with a GD sweatshirt on.” We met and he drove me out to the Club Front studio/rehearsal space, where the GD vault is located. It was a Saturday, the day after the Cow Palace show [November 1996]. I recall he wouldn’t go to the Cow Palace show, because it was too late at night and too much driving, but he promised we’d go together someday. We got to the vault and, before entering the building, Dick fed the homeless cats who lived there. It was something he did every day and it was consistent with his sensibilities. Dick had cats at home, too. He really loved cats.
We toured the Club Front facilities (I remember the GD’s gear being fully set up in the practice space) and the vault, which was pretty impressive. I believe Dick and his son Richie built it mostly themselves. He ran through some of the design details, as I was looking into moving our magnetic media in-house to a vault, and needed to know what a “vault” for archives consisted of. He blew past the studio material and the video, but when we hit the audio reels (my eyes locked on the Acid Test shows from 1965-66) his eyes lit up. Dick felt the weight of his job more than anyone that I’ve ever met, except maybe my dad. The stuff was like gold to him. He walked me up and down each aisle, giving various archival hints and pontificating about eras of GD music. I asked a lot of questions, and took a lot of notes, but we really connected on a personal level, too. He insisted on taking me to his house to “do some real listening,” and proceeded to spin some of the sickest material I’ve ever heard from any band. His house was packed with GD memorabilia and music. Dick showed me his house and personal collection, took me to dinner at his favorite mexican resturant and dropped me off with friends, who took me to the Sacramento Phish show that night. I recall wishing that he had joined me during the Taste with Peter Apfelbaum.
He and I stayed in close touch since that first meeting. He imparted bits of knowledge to me and he slowly warmed up to Phish’s music. We corresponded by regular mail and email and spoke pretty regularly by phone. When spring of 1997 came along, I think he was Slip Stitch and Pass’s biggest advocate. “That Mike’s Song thingy kills me!” he’d say. I remember him claiming to have listened to that track 20 times in a single sitting. I never claimed Dick was not obsessive. Sometime around then I started attending Dick’s DP Release Parties on the East Coast. I went to one in Revere, MA and was amazed at Dick’s patience with autograph seekers and the like. He had tons of friends around, but kept to the task at hand, which was explaining his picks, basically. He absolutely loved his subject and approached it like a scholar more than anything else.
His wife Carol and I went to The Gorge Phish shows together in 1998, and then we flew together back to their little compound, in order to catch the Shoreline Phish show in 1998. With Carol converted by The Gorge and Dick highly excited by Slip Stich’s material and some other stuff that I’d primed him with, we hit Shoreline together. I felt honored to sort of “escort” him to the show, and he raved about it from its outset. It was a really smoking show. I recall him posting to a GD internet forum something to the effect of “it was the best live music I’ve seen since Derek and the Dominoes and Jimi Hendrix.” I think I irritated him during the show by trying too hard to explain it to him. Obviously he got it, and didn’t need an interpreter. Our relationship flourished and he and [my girlfriend] Kirsten became phone buddies. The Picks kept pouring in and I have to credit Dick with re-awakening me to the GD’s music through his picks. He had copious notes on every tape he had, every tape there was, and a few he thought might exist but he hadn’t found them yet. I visited him again in Philadelphia for a Dick’s Picks release party, and I took Brad [Sands] and Big Phil with me to meet Dick. We had a great dinner and watched him “perform” in prime fashion at The Electric Factory, giving autographs and analyzing questions.
When the news came out that Trey and Page would join Phil as his Friends this past April, Dick was ecstatic. We made big plans and he intended to go to all three nights. We saw him first at The Warfield on April 15. He was there with Carol and friends and we watched much of the show together. He wouldn’t leave his seat in the balcony. Between us, we were beaming side-by-side like the sun. We were perhaps the two proudest people in the world at that moment. We both had tears in our eyes, and he explained that it was the best that he had felt musically since the closing of Winterland. I was wise enough that time not to interpret and I just nodded. He went on to post a glowing review, and to demand that the shows be released in their entirety asap.
Dick was on a life mission to share his love of the music and he was completely dedicated to it. He skipped the second Warfield show (I never let him live it down), in order to care for his mother who was ill. He gave his tickets to his son Richie, instead, so that he could check it out. His love for Richie was inspiring. He was so proud that his son was a genetic scientist… a real job sort of thing. We got together again for night three and watched most of the show together, once again absolutely glowing. We spoke few words those nights, but our emotions could not have been stronger. The day after the Phil and Friends shows, Kirsten and I joined Dick, Carol and Dick’s roommates for a barbecue at his house. We agreed about the epic nature of the shows, though I think I may have viewed them with a more critical eye than he. We had a great time hanging out, and I nearly forgot to leave his place to travel North for some vacation time.
More picks came out and Dick finally got to visit Vermont on Monday, July 12. He called to tell us not to make the huge drive to Brattleboro (it’s a couple hours), since he’d just be hanging with fans and wouldn’t be good company. We laughed and hopped into the car. I was so excited to have him visit our beautiful state. The release party was at a tiny little place and was poorly attended, but Dick was in prime form. We walked in only to interrupt an interview he was giving. He passed the interviewer deftly to me and bailed out back for a smoke. The night passed with music from Buddy Cage’s band and Dick’s new Pick. He was happy and optimistic. I recall him wearing a classic Santa Fe 1983 shirt underneath a very loud hawaiian GD print shirt with a GD hat. The photos are classic. He said DP15 was “in the can” and a better show had never been found, but he hoped to beat it with 16. He couldn’t wait for this summer’s Shoreline Phish shows, and was ready to take his Picks to the next step… a serious retrospective by-year that was announced last week by his collaborators. ["So Many Roads," the Grateful Dead boxed set to be released soon.]
I know this is long-winded, but only two weeks later I was at the Naeba Prince Hotel in Niigata, Japan, and Phish’s manager popped out of the elevator to sadly deliver the news to me that Dick had suffered a heart attack at home the night before, and was in a coma. It was 30 minutes before the band was to go on at The Green Stage, and here I was in paradise and no one could have understood how much it all meant to me… except maybe Dick. I broke into tears, somehow knowing it just couldn’t work out. I am not religious, but I immediately said a prayer for Dick and his family that their pain would pass swiftly and that he would emerge intact. I felt so helpless and so sad. He was in his absolute prime. He was one of the only people I’ve ever met doing EXACTLY what he wanted exactly as he wished it done.
I made a quick call to his family to offer any help that might be needed and proceeded to enjoy Phish in Japan. I stayed in touch while over there and found that he’d remained in a coma at the hospital until they discontinued life support and took Dick home, playing his favorite tapes at top volume. I returned from Tokyo jet-lagged on Saturday August 7 and was awoken by a call from Dick’s roommate Don giving me the news that he had passed away. I was crushed. I asked what I could do and his family requested that we come to a celebration of Dick’s life in Petaluma. Bad timing that it was, we shot to CA for what truly was a celebration of Dick’s life. What was left and available of the GD came out, spoke, played Dick’s favorite songs to his ashes in front of the Blues for Allah backdrop, which was unfurled for the first time since that tour.
My plans to attend Shoreline with Dick were cancelled, our time together was over, and I am still beside myself with grief. Nonetheless, Dick remains and always will remain a great inspiration to me. His love for the material set him apart from most archivists and his rapport with the fans was incredible. After all, they were the ultimate users of the collection of which he was in charge. He was never too busy, never anything but polite and loving. I will always remember the words of wisdom Dick left me with, his attitude, his smile, his cough. I miss him and wish him the best and it may sound selfish, but I wish that we had enjoyed more time together. Dick was my friend and mentor. He was my brother and I hope he has found his peace. Sorry the answer to this one is so rambling, but if I can leave the world with a fraction of the love and admiration he did, I will have been a success.
CD: I think you already have, Kevin. Thank you. You have assisted with the band’s releases. What did you have to do with respect to the “Hampton Comes Alive” release?
Like any release, it is entirely a team effort, and my part is no greater or less than anyone on the team. The shows weren’t chosen by me, though I constantly (maybe ad nauseum) advocate live releases, and have always suggested release of complete shows whenever possible. In this case, the band suggested a release of the November 1998 Hampton shows soon after the Fall 1998 tour ended. My part in the beginning process was to make copies for the band, as I would any material that they are considering working with. I think they kicked around various ideas among themselves and with management and considered the possibilities. When they decided they liked the Hampton material enough to release it live on CD, planning and production began.
My role at that point was to make safeties of everything, get the master DAT’s to the mastering facility, and make a few reclones later in the process to fix a glitch or two that arose in the process. The resulting set is excellent, in my opinion. I also oversaw — with a lot of help from my assistant, Rob — getting the various photos and images to the design team who was creating the packaging. The designers chose the images and integrated them to create the final packaging and inserts, which are impressive. The decision to break the two shows into their distinct pieces using 6 CD’s (as opposed to trying to make it fit another way), the packaging and presentation and the sheer fact that a live unedited release of any Phish show is coming out are all absolutely mind-blowing to me. I could not be more excited about “Hampton Comes Alive.” To me, it is an encouraging signal that the band is able to live with — and even enjoy — their concerts being released as they happened. It has to be hard as an artist to think any canvas is “The One” … and Phish paint a lot of canvases. People will always debate the fine points, but Phish concerts live and as they happen are, to me, the essence of Phish. With complete live releases being added to everything else that is happening with the band right now, the future seems unlimited.
CD: That’s all I’ve got for now. Thank you, Kevin!
Thank you, Charlie!
COPYRIGHT 1999 PHISH. Phish has given permission for this interview to be exclusively published on Rec.Music.Phish (incl. the Phish.Net Digest) and on the Mockingbird web page. This interview may not be republished anywhere in any form — online or offline — without the express written consent of Phish.
Final Note: I would like to thank Dan Hantman, Benjy Eisen, Rob Boyle and especially Chris Glushko for helping me come up with questions for this interview. Also, if you have anything you think would be good for the Archives, particularly copies of extremely rare master or very low gen AUD tapes (or good pictures of the band from the late 1980’s), please don’t hesitate to drop me or Kevin an email. -Charlie
(email to email@example.com)
Caleb Epstein (firstname.lastname@example.org) asked about CDR as an archival medium, writing:
I’m a big Phish fan, and have tons of shows on CD-R now. I find myself wondering what research Kevin is talking about, and whether I can expect my recordings to stand the test of time. I’d appreciate any more info you or Kevin could provide on this.
Very briefly, what I was saying is that archivists and others in the world of conservation and archival science do not consider CDR (or any other digital medium) to be “archival” in the sense that it can be reliably used to hold information for the long-term. The main reason why is that unlike a piece of film that you can hold up to a light and see the image, digital signals can only be read with proper hardware and software–all of which is variable and prone to becoming outmoded. Therefore, there is no digital archival medium. In the more direct sense, CDR is susceptible to a number of problems, especially if it’s not stored in a super-cold, super-dry, dark environment and not played (exactly what Phish and most collectors do not do with their collections). CDR delaminates, scratches very easily and can be ruined by writing too. Life estimates vary from 100 years (from the marketing depts. of some mfgr’s, which depts. are obviously assuming perfect storage conditions and likely exaggerating a bit) down to a couple years. A commonly-accepted number of years is around 8 or 10 under pretty careful conditions. There’s a lot of research to cite on this or you can just watch “the news” where you’ll see NASA has already lost data stored on optical disc during the Mars mission, etc. The archival community is struggling to find another medium that lacks the inherent problems of tape and that is more durable than current optical mediums. In addition to all I’ve said, digital has another big problem (but once you’re with DAT you’ve got it anyway) which is the amount of processing / compression / correction that occurs in the AD/DA conversion(s). A decent place to start that shouldn’t put you immediately to sleep is: http://www.cd-info.com/CDIC/Technology/CD-R/Media/Longevity.html. Enjoy! –ks