As a continuation of the new series on Thirsty Vinyl, this installment covers the complete list of Grateful Dead bootlegs released on vinyl in the 1980s. The 80s were a daedal decade for the Dead in many ways. They officially released six albums, three of which were live Dead recordings (Dead Set in 1980, Reckoning in 1981 and Dylan and the Dead in 1989) and three studio albums (Go to Heaven in 1980, In the Dark in 1987 and Built to Last in 1989). 1980 also marked the first year since 1972 that the Dead were without bandmates, Keith and Donna Godchaux, but with their keyboardist of the 80s, Brent Mydland.
The 1980s were also the decade when the Grateful Dead cemented themselves into the hearts and homes of America’s youth largely through the onslaught of radio shows by various national broadcasters. Bootleggers disguised as radio networks capitalized on this opportunity and repackaged radio shows throughout the decade from behemoths like NBC, Westwood One and DIR Broadcasting, and from lesser-known stations and shows too like Lew Irwin’s, Earth News Radio.
As a result, all but one unofficial Grateful Dead release in the 1980s is checkered with interviews and commercials fading in and out. On the surface, that may not sound super enticing, but I can attest that hearing the voice of Jerry, Mickey and the boys commentate in your living room as the needle digs into the record’s grooves is an incredibly intimate experience.
“Too much of a good thing is just about right.”
– Jerry Garcia –
The first bootlegged Dead vinyl release in the 1980s was none other than a radio show from DIR Broadcasting via the King Biscuit Flower Hour, which aired on Sunday nights from 1973 to 2005. The program was carried by more than 300 radio stations throughout the United States, which no doubt influenced the popularity of the musicians it covered – the Dead were no exception. Jerry said it best, “If you’re sitting at home next to your radio, you’re hearing the music faster than you are if you’re in the hall.” This 1980 release includes 3 LPs and 5 sides of audio that capture the 15th anniversary of the Grateful Dead and was broadcasted on June 22nd, 1980. As with many unofficial Dead releases from the same decade, inserts were included with the album, which was a step up and a welcome change from bootlegs in the 1960s and 70s.
Next up was another radio broadcast called Earth News for November 10th, 1980. The album has two sides and is nothing but interviews with the Dead that aired on Lew Irwin’s Earth News Radio show on November 10th and 11th, 1980. The interviews cover quite a few topics, including Jerry and Bobby talking about their first incarnation as “Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Band Champions”, how the Grateful Dead got their first real experience as professional musicians, and a comparison of the Dead to Dolly Parton.
Next up was yet another radio broadcast called, The Grateful Dead Special. This unofficial release was produced by NBC Radio in 1981 and included studio recordings that aired in the same year on February 6-8th via NBC’s young adult network. It’s nice to know the youth of America were now being targeted with Dead music far and wide. It’s also interesting to see a trend start to surface on this vinyl where Grateful Dead radio broadcasts from this era are coupled with commercials from the U.S. Armed Services and in this case, the U.S. Army. Promoting the Dead and military service in the same space probably felt fuzzy and distorted for the impressionable audience.
Next up, you guessed it, another Grateful Dead radio broadcast and this time from none other than Jim Ladd’s Innerview in 1981. This unofficial release diverted somewhat from the beaten path by including acoustic songs on side A and B and electric songs on side C and D. As with many other 1980 Dead bootlegs, this album intertwines an interview with and music from the band.
The last bootleg released in 1981 and for a few years was Off the Record Special with Mary Turner, which was produced by Westwood One and which aired on September 27th, 1981. This 2 LP vinyl includes an interview with Mary and Jerry on side A and B and an interview with Mickey on side C and D. It also includes commercials from the U.S. Navy, Budweiser and Bealtemania – a true time piece.
The next Grateful Dead bootleg wasn’t released on vinyl until 1985 and was once again from Westwood One. The album was called, "What Keeps The Dead Alive?" and it’s an interview with band members and Bonnie Simmons, plus intermixed studio recordings and more commercials from our friends at Budweiser, M&M, Snickers, Starburst and the U.S. Army. Quite the mix.
In 1986, a bootleg was released by DIR Broadcasting that included the Grateful Dead and several other “Pioneers in Music” from “The San Francisco Scene”, such as Jefferson Airplane, Eddie Money and The Tubes. The only Dead songs on this mixed radio broadcast and vinyl are St. Stephen and Johnny B. Goode, both of which are studio recordings.
After another multiple year hiatus, another unofficial Grateful Dead album was released on vinyl called, Concerts that Rock the World Volume 1, which was a live recording from the Oakland Coliseum on New Year’s Eve in 1987. The King Biscuit Flower Hour release includes an uninterrupted first set of the Dead’s show that night, which was as follows: Bertha > The Promised Land, Cold Rain and Snow > Little Red Rooster, When Push Comes to Shove, When I Paint My Masterpiece, Bird Song, The Music Never Stopped.
The brief hiatus from 1980 radio broadcasts speckled with nothing but studio recordings and interviews was extended by the next release in 1988 from MJI Broadcasting with The Grateful Dead Radio Show. This album includes live recordings from the Dead show on June 23rd, 1974 at Jai-Alai Fronton in Miami, Florida. Of note, the Dark Star > Spanish Jam > U.S. Blues segment that closes out the record is slightly abridged because the source and original soundboard recording had a break in it too.
The first of two bootlegs released in 1989 was Timothy White’s Rock Stars produced by Westwood One, which originally aired on November 20th, 1989. As with nearly every other unofficial Dead release in the 1980s, this album includes interviews with the band between songs, commercials from the armed services and this time from the U.S. Marines, and studio recordings of Grateful Dead music.
To close out the decade, MJI Broadcasting released another The Grateful Dead Hour radio show. While the recipe they used was similar to other vinyls released in the 80s, this one is a bit different because it includes the original studio recording of a Grateful Dead classic, Morning Dew, sung by Bonnie Dobson. Check out the complete history of Morning Dew on vinyl to learn more including the controversy surrounding the song.