“Dick’s Stash” and the Mystery of the “Brown-Eyed Women” Lyrics

Dean Budnick on February 21, 2020
“Dick’s Stash” and the Mystery of the “Brown-Eyed Women” Lyrics

Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter passed away on Sept. 23. The very next day, while flipping through a book once owned by the late Dead archivist Dick Latvala, two longtime fans discovered what could be a true Dead relic: Hunter’s handwritten lyrics to his song “Brown-Eyed Women.” Jason Scheuner, the co-owner of the Latvala archives, is the artist liaison for Telefunken Elektroakustik, which creates high-end microphones and gear for musicians. In the following interview, Scheuner—who originally purchased the material with Toni Fishman, the owner of Telefunken— publicly comments on this fortuitous series of events for the first time.

When did you acquire the collection?

Back around 2010, Toni Fishman and I acquired what remained of Dick Latvala’s archive from his widow Carol Latvala. She had already donated all of the reel-to-reel tapes labeled “Grateful Dead” back to the band. Our dear friend, the late Rudson Shurtliff [son of the legendary crew chief for the Grateful Dead, Lawrence “Ramrod” Shurtliff] introduced Carol to me. He hoped we could help Carol find a good home for all of the gems and treasures buried within. The bulk of his remaining archives consisted of reel-to-reel tapes. There were Grateful Dead interviews, some Jerry Garcia-related stuff, and music from other bands, like The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and Quicksilver Messenger Service. In addition to that, there were CD-Rs that held his working material, stuff that he brought home to listen or to compare with a different format. There were also a number of video tapes, including some Mardi Gras parade rehearsals and videos of dragons running around empty venues, trying to figure out the path for the Chinese New Year’s shows. There were also Grateful Dead band meeting minutes, as well as other documents, and a small library of Grateful Dead and rock-and-roll books. We call it “Dick’s Stash.”

You made the purchase in 2010. Why didn’t the lyrics turn up until September 2019?

What happened was that the archive, which was in incredible condition, was picked up in Petaluma, Calif., professionally crated in San Diego, then shipped to the Telefunken headquarters in South Windsor, Conn., where it was stored in a controlled environment for the next nine years. You can picture the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, where they put the crate in a warehouse. Finally, after sitting there for nearly a decade, in 2019, we hired Scott Medeiros to examine the archive, evaluate the condition of the tapes and make some transfers of material.

It was the day after Hunter died when Scott and Toni made the discovery. While they were making a transfer of a Kingfish reel-to-reel, Scott was flipping through the pages of the Album Cover Album coffee table book, which was also from Dick’s archive/library. That’s when the handwritten lyrics slipped out.

You believe that the lyrics were written by Robert Hunter, himself. How did you reach that conclusion?

We did an extensive handwriting analysis of all the known samples we could find of handwritten Hunter lyrics. I located them all: “Jack Straw,” “Ripple,” “Friend of the Devil,” “Wharf Rat,” “Help on the Way” and “He’s Gone.” There are some very specific things that I looked at that I can tell are giveaways of Hunter’s handwriting. For instance, every time he writes the word “the,” he starts out with a small “t” that goes into a cursive “h” and “e.” There are other little things. The way he does double “l’s” are always the same, regardless of the word. I also matched the word “down,” which seems to appear more than any other word in samples that I was able to analyze. It always looks almost like “dowr” when he writes the word “down.” So I went through and did a lot of handwriting analysis. I was able to compare the Jack in “Jack Straw” to Jack Jones [from “Brown-Eyed Women”] and the way he writes Jack is identical.

I’m 100 percent convinced. If I’m going to attach my name to something, I’m going to be confident because my reputation is worth a lot. The age of the paper was evident right away to Toni and Scott. You get a sense of that by just looking at the photo. If you think about it, for someone to do this they would need to be a master forger, who created this document and then snuck it into Dick Latvala’s archives long ago. The chances of that happening are ridiculous. Why would anybody do that and how would anybody do that?

At what point in the songwriting process do you think Hunter jotted down what’s on that sheet?

If you look at it, it looks like he was writing in a hurry. It looks like he had a flow and sometimes his stuff is written that way—judging by the examples that are out there. In some stuff there’s a lot of corrections but, in this one, it looks like there was a lot of flowing. Again, what’s interesting is that he didn’t even take the time to write “Brown-Eyed Women,” he writes “BEW.” In fact, if you look at the top, it’s “BHW” and then he switches to the “BEW.”
That’s really interesting, because it suggests that the song might have started out as “Brown-Haired Women” and then he changed it to “Brown-Eyed Women.” Of course, “Brown-Eyed Women” has a better ring to it.

What are your plans for the lyrics? Do you intend to put them up for auction?

The idea is to find that perfect home for the whole archive so that it can be shared with the community. It’s not a matter of “Let’s try and maximize the amount of cash that can come out of this.” That wasn’t why we bought the archive; we bought the archive because we are Deadhead music-collector nerds. Toni was a taper. I was just a music nerd and a general collector. And the idea of having Dick Latvala’s freaking tapes in hand—for any kid who sat in
his college dorm room flipping tapes until 4 a.m.—was just a wet dream.

My dad was a collector and he taught me how to handle things a certain way, which is why Rudson tapped me. I was raised to do this stuff, it’s how I was brought up. Some people grow up going to baseball games and playing ball with their dad; I was brought to museums and taught how to deal with artifacts. The way I always look at things is: You don’t really own anything. You purchase the right to possess something for a period of time and you’re just a custodian. Toni Fishman feels the same way, and so does Scott Medeiros, who we hired to go through those reel-to-reels. We all feel the same way, that we are custodians of this material. And I’ll tell you, this is super cool because of what happened, the way it happened and when it happened.