Beyond Cornell: David Lemieux on the Grateful Dead Archives and May 1977

Dean Budnick on May 7, 2013

Yesterday the Grateful Dead announced that the band’s May 1977 shows will be the focus of the group’s latest box set. May 1977 will collect five consecutive performances from May 11 through May 17, 1977. This run of shows picks up two gigs after the band’s celebrated night at Cornell University on May 8, 1977.

Last year the 5/8/77 show was selected for addition to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. Shortly after this announcement, we interviewed Dead archivist David Lemeiux. In this portion of the conversation which has yet to appear online, Lemieux confirms that the band has never released 5/8/77 because a master copy does not exist in the Dead archives. He goes on discuss the matter while also affirming the vitality of the group’s May 1977 run as a whole.

For more on archival Dead shows over the years, check out our recent relix 40 list.

In terms of 5/8/77, do you know where the source tape resides?

I do not know specifically but I have heard from many people that they know where it is and they know who has it and that’s fine. We’ve certainly made a note that we’d love to have it back as we would with any master Grateful Dead tape that we don’t have in the vault. But there’s really nothing we can do about it. We’re not going to pay for our own tape. That’s one thing I don’t think we’d ever do is to pay to buy them back and I don’t think they’ve been offered to the band in a long, long time. They know where we are, we’re easy to find and I think it has been made clear that we would love to have them back. Some people would just rather have the tapes in their closet than in the vault, but that’s fine. It is what it is. Again, there’s nothing we can do, we don’t lose sleep over it, but it is as it is.

In terms of that collection of tapes, how many are there that the archive does not possess?

It’s in the dozens, during the period from 1976-1978. I get a lot of emails from people suggesting shows for release and it kills me because I agree with what these people are suggesting, but we just don’t have the tapes. So for example, a lot of people will ask for the July 1978 Red Rocks shows [7/7 and 7/8] and I agree. I think there are great concerts, great sounding shows, we just don’t have them. We have the August 78 Red Rocks [8/30 and 8/31], but not the July shows. Other examples: April 6th through April 16th a ten day run of about 8 shows in April of 1978, a phenomenal run of shows and we don’t have any of them and they do exist. Those tapes are part of this batch that we’re talking about.

Another example would be January of 1978, also we don’t have any of those. We don’t have Eugene. We get asked for the MacArthur Court show, January 22nd in 78 [from Eugene, OR], we don’t have that. We don’t have the Pacific Northwest Tour, the fall of 1977, which is a couple of shows in Portland and a couple of shows in Seattle, very good shows, we don’t have those. We don’t Binghamton November 6th of 1977, great show, phenomenal, again, another one of these shows that we get requested a lot and then of course, May 5th, 7th, 8th, and 9th of 1977, we don’t have. Great shows that obviously include the May 8th 77 Cornell show.

June of 1976 is a terrific tour, we are missing most of it. We’ve got a couple of shows. We just released one from Boston on June 9th of 76, but the Beacon shows, the middle nights in Boston, the second and third shows, we don’t have any of that. There are gaps but you know, such is life. Luckily we do have a lot of stuff, plenty of stuff to work with and the hope is there that some day we will get them back, but if it doesn’t happen that’s okay too.

As far as you know they were in a storage facility and then they were auctioned off? Is that accurate?

I believe so. This is going back to the mid to late 80s and this is when I was certainly not working for the band. I was a tape trader and I remember when these things started circulating, I think it was around 88, 89 and I remember we all had our tapes that sounded good, and they were fine and we had these pretty good tape collections and then all of a sudden these tapes started circulating.

The ones I remember getting first were Cornell of course and then the next night in Buffalo and then the previous night to Cornell in Boston. I got those three shows and then I also got the Beacon shows in New York City June 14th and 15th of 1976 and I remember getting the bulk of those 5 shows, or maybe I might have been missing a set, but I remember they just surpassed the quality of anything I had in my personal tape collections. Just blew me away. This was in 88, 89 and then shortly after that the Pacific Northwest shows started showing up.

So yeah so I think there was a storage locker, there are all these TV shows now about storage lockers that go up for auction and you know, I’ve had a storage locker in the past and I remember asking the storage locker person what happens when somebody doesn’t pay their bill. And he said, “Well you know there’s this whole legal process where they have to wait three months and they have to make every single effort to contact the person and once all of those are exhausted, the storage unit company is able to just auction them off.” They can’t go in and really search through, but they can list contents and say, “Oh you know, there’s a motorcycle in this locker for auction” and people show up and hope to get a good deal on a motorcycle. I guess it got word out that there was a batch of Grateful Dead tapes going up for auction and that’s what happens.

Have any of those filtered in to the archives over the years?

No, none have ever been given back. We’ve got copies, but the same copies that anyone else has, just you know, the best copies that circulate. We have those, and I don’t even know if they are in the vault. I have copies that people sent me over the years and then from my tape trading days, I had lots of them, but there have been upgrades since then. But no, nothing has ever come back. You know the only really big amount of tapes that has come in since I’ve worked there were the Houseboat Tapes, the ones from the summer of 1971 that were found in Keith’s parents’ houseboat in California.

Beyond Cornell, I really love the Buffalo show from the next night. In fact what I’ve heard myself, the shows that follow are pretty stellar.

Yeah, there’s some great stuff, some really high energy shows. I felt that tour as whole, they really could do no wrong on that run of shows. Wow.