Grateful Dead Bans Sharing, Commits Musical Suicide

A Tuesday Tunes post: How astonishing is this:  A band that built its entire reputation and fan base on freely recorded and shared live shows has now pulled the plug:

"Grateful Dead fans, perhaps rock’s most dedicated bunch, are taking
a stand against the band they love. Until recently, Deadheads could
download countless live recordings of the band for free from
third-party sites, including the popular Live Music Archive
(, which once hosted nearly 3,000 Grateful Dead shows.
All of the downloads were pulled last week at the request of
Grateful Dead Merchandising (GDM), the group that handles official
products for the band and is overseen by its surviving members.

Deadheads have answered in protest. In an online petition, fans
have pledged to boycott GDM — including CDs and concert tickets —
until the decision is reversed. (The band itself broke up in the
wake of leader Jerry Garcia’s 1995 death, but in recent years
guitarist Bob Weir, bassist Phil Lesh and drummers Mickey Hart and
Bill Kreutzmann have toured simply as "the Dead.")

GDM recently began selling live music downloads through its
online store. The sudden lockdown could be a simple non-compete
strike, or it could foreshadow a long-rumored deal with iTunes that
will make the entire Grateful Dead live vault available for

Fans were incensed that the policy change applies not only to
official soundboards but audience recordings as well. Throughout
their four-decade career, the Grateful Dead actively encouraged
fans to trade live recordings and even designated a special
"taper’s section" at the concerts. In return, Deadheads largely
respected the band’s wishes that the concert recordings weren’t
sold for profit.

An official statement from the Grateful Dead camp is expected in
the next few days. In the meantime, longtime band publicist and
spokesperson, Dennis McNally, told Rolling Stone that he
thinks "David Gans’ comments were dead — you’ll pardon the
expression — on."

Perhaps now that 1) Jerry is Dead; b) the free swapping of live recordings have ended; iii) most of the drugs have worn off — we can all now admit that, excepting a few good songs, the Grateful Dead pretty much sucked . . .


UPDATE:  November 30, 2005  8:46am

The NYT reports:

Dissent has been building rapidly, however, as the band’s fans – known as
Deadheads – have discovered the recordings are, at least for the time being, not
available. Already, fans have started an online petition, at, threatening to boycott
the band’s recordings and merchandise if the decision is not reversed. In
particular, fans have expressed outrage that the shift covers not only the
semiofficial "soundboard" recordings made by technicians at the band’s
performances, but also recordings made by audience members.

Talk about your boneheaded marketing moves . . .

UPDATE December 1, 2005, 6:54am

The NYT observes that

Downloads of the Dead are Not Dead Yet


Deadheads Boycott Dead
Fans object to band’s live recordings being pulled from Web


Rolling Stone, Nov 29, 2005

Deadheads Outraged Over Web Crackdown
NYT, November 30, 2005

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. Brendon commented on Nov 29

    oh Barry, why did you have to got there?

    Listen to American Beauty and then tell me that the Dead sucked.

  2. Brendon commented on Nov 29

    oh Barry, why did you have to go there?

    Listen to American Beauty and then tell me that the Dead sucked.

  3. Luke commented on Nov 29

    Your telling me that the eagles are the greatest american rock band but that the dead sucked? Umm… Who’s on the drugs?

  4. Barry Ritholtz commented on Nov 29

    Actually, I say the Eagles also suck;

    My list is futher down the page:

    Creedence Clearwater Revival:
    The Doors
    Steely Dan
    Talking Heads
    Van Halen
    Beach Boys

    These were the Maybes:

    Grateful Dead
    Red Hot Chili Peppers

    p.s. An emailer asks: “Were you purposefully being provocative?”

  5. RAY commented on Nov 29

    Barry-very disappointed that you made that last statement about a great band-and I’m not a Deadhead.

  6. Brendon commented on Nov 29

    Since I was 12 when Nevermind came out, and 14 when In Utero was released, my love of Nirvana may be biased by sentimentality…..maybe, but more likely that they were just a really great band.

    The Eagles really, really, really suck.

    Nice call on Talking Heads.

  7. fatbear commented on Nov 29

    barry – a few maybe before your time

    Mothers of Invention
    The Band
    Jefferson Airplane
    Velvet Underground

    any of ’em beat the Dead (except the Dead did a great live gig)

    and that’s not listing Motown, Do-Wop, girl groups, or any of the “manufactured” groups of the 50’s/60’s

  8. Karmakin commented on Nov 30

    Nirvana were good..they just didn’t show it. Their Unplugged album was brilliant, and showed promise, but I think that, like a lot of bands at the time, they were wrapped in the punk-wannabe movement, and didn’t want to be seen as being arrogant and being sell-outs.

    They had great producers, Steve Albini and Butch Vig, but I think that something held them back. I’m not sure what it was..but that has to be it.

    But of course, that may only be because of my entry path into music..Achtung Baby/Zooropa/Pop and Mellon Colloie and the Infinite Sadness/Adore.

  9. hans Suter commented on Nov 30

    reminds me when I asked a the ticket counter at of the Algonquin if they had tickets for Frank Zappa at the Palladium. Frank what ? where ?

  10. DG commented on Nov 30

    I really do love this site, but saying the Dead sucked? This is one of the greatest American bands of all time, featuring one of the most powerful and inspiring musical forces of all time.

    Saying they sucked reeks of ignorance, with all due respect.

  11. Barry Ritholtz commented on Nov 30

    1) There’s a bit of hyperbole in my statement ; )

    2) For the emailers who told me I’m too young to appreciate the Dead — I’ll bet we are closer in age thjan you think (I’m 44)

    3) I admit to liking many of the songs hardcore fans would call “more commercial” Dead — but let’be honest — the band itself could be overwrought, its musicianship was at times uneven, and if you were to answer the question honestly, you would admit that at times they were occasionally mediocre.

    4) As to the full band’s live shows — I like a good jam as much as the next guy (I’m a huge Jazz fan) but the Dead often fell asleep at the wheel and ran off the road (at least musically)

    Thats what happens with bands that take big risks — sometimes its a home run; sometimes a strikeout;

    5) I saw Jerry live in 1979 (or was it 82?) at Stony Brook University — Greatest version of “Tangled up in Blue” I ever heard.

    6) take my Dead criticism in the context of snarky sarcasm . . .

  12. Chad K commented on Nov 30

    Lucky you one of those “tapers” reads your blog. I actually despised the band because when Jerry died, their followers had nothing to do except ruin concerts of perfectly good bands… and occasionally get them permanently banned from some of the worlds greatest venues.

    I’m not sure the legal ramifications of this. Many of their recordings in their archive come from people whom they allowed to tape the shows… using this material on iTunes could offend many in the taping community.

    I’ve personally recorded close to 1200 shows (no Dead). A great percentage of the bands I listen to are directly related to their rules regarding taping. You meet other tapers at shows. They tell you of other bands they like and frequently share the recordings they have sitting in their backpacks… and are responsible for spreading high quality live recordings to the masses, which garners more interest in the bands, etc etc.. I don’t think bands like the Dead, Phish, My Morning Jacket and would be nearly as popular without their taping policy.

    So back to the legal side of it… according to their policies at the time the tapers were allowed by the band to do so (also allowing free redistribution)… can the band stop someone from freely sharing something they were allowed to by the original (unsigned) contract?

  13. Chad K commented on Nov 30

    Oh… and here’s a link to my favorite tapers site: Tons of live shows, all for free.

  14. daniel commented on Nov 30

    For someone that thinks Creedence is great and REM has a strong catalogue, I just don’t know what to say.

    I the interest of promoting a great band that you might be too *old* to know much about, check out Cracker – that’s with a C and not a K.

  15. Barry Ritholtz commented on Nov 30

    maybe I’m showing my age, but:

    Creedence /Fogarty’s collection of songs is outstanding — seminal, even. You either get CCR or you don’t (The same can be said about the Dead).

    Recent REM albums have been mediocre — but their first 5 albums (mostly in the 80s/early 90s) were just unbelievable.

    I was exaggerating about the Dead out of annoyance, but what I wrote wasn’t that far from my Dead experience . . .

  16. ray commented on Nov 30

    Barry-if you get the opportunity, check out a Dark Star Orchestra show-they are a Dead coverband-very good…seriously. They come to Philly at least 2-3 times a year, and I know they play in northern NJ and NY.

  17. Jason commented on Dec 1

    It seems that at this point, the Dead has waived any right to persue tapers and traders for copyright infringement – you can only let actions that you think infringe on your copyright go on for so long before you lose the right to stop it.

    That being said, I do have some sympathy for the band’s position. It allowed taping and trading at a time when there was no (or only a small) market for the recordings, and when tapes would trade in hand-to-hand transactions or through snail mail. Sure, you could build an archive of tapes, but it took years and a lot of effort. (And expense. Anybody remember how much quality blank cassette tapes used to cost?) Furthermore, there wasn’t a feasible way to sell commercial recordings for every concert you played; what store was going to devote shelf space for hundreds of live albums?

    Now, with filesharing, bittorent, etc., the barriers to acquisition have become almost non-existant, and there’s almost no expense since CDRs cost a dime a dozen. I’ve downloaded and burned almost 50 recordings from the most recent Springsteen tour alone. Would I have done this in the old days of sending tapes around the country? No way, and if I would have, it’d take me years to do so. And it’s all done anonymously over the internet.

    So when the Dead says that sharing recordings of live shows is no longer about creating a community, the band/its management kind of has a point. Not sure they have a legal leg to stand on, but it’s not just blowing smoke either.

  18. wnsrf commented on Dec 2

    Barry, I can provide an enjoyable way to atone for your snarkiness.

    For 3 nights, 12/8 – 12/10 Phil Lesh and Friends is playing the House of Blues in Atlantic City.

    I attended last night’s show in Boston and yes, Phil basically puts-on a cover show of half Grateful Dead, half eclectic covers but this tour is really phenomenal.

    Chris Robinson, lead for the Black Crowes: lead singer
    Larry Cambell- prior lead guitar for Dylan tours shares lead guitar with Barry Sless, “SanFran Guitar God”, very tight keyboards and drums finish it off.

    It is a knock-out live show, stealth tour of the year.

    Email me for an mp3 of a representitive sample from a November show…

  19. blah commented on Oct 19

    you said the grateful dead sucked…. that just shows how much shit you don’t know, but how much shit you have for brains

Read this next.

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