David Lemieux has seen 100 Grateful Dead shows. And while he’s no Bill Walton — who has seen the Dead more than 800 times — it’s an impressive feat just the same. Lemieux, as they say, “followed the Dead” from 1987-’93, and today his passion has turned into a career as the band’s official archiver.
Sometimes that job involves getting new band members the most definitive live versions of key songs. And most recently, that has included John Mayer.
“The Dead are so well documented, so a lot of Dead Heads have heard the canon,” he says, mentioning American Beauty, Working Man's Dead and In the Dark.
“And in the live pantheon, there are those definitive shows that we've all heard and know,” he adds. “But let's say when they're playing with a new band member, and that person might call me. They have a new guitar player, John Mayer, and it's a big learning curve for him. Not only is this incredibly nuanced music, but there's 150-200 songs he needs to learn. On any given night they can play anything. So I worked with him quite a bit on making sure that he not only has the definitive studio version, but then also he's got the definitive live version, or maybe a couple.”
Below, Lemieux tells us about three definitive live songs he sent to Mayer before the singer the touring band Dead & Company as lead guitarist.
"The Dead opened up their Europe '72 tour with two shows at Wembley and the second night has this version of 'Dark Star' and there is one seed where Jerry Garcia takes it on a journey as lead guitar player and it's such a great melody — I'm thinking, written right there on the spot — that everybody followed. I just wanted John to know that as lead guitar player, he has that power, that ability, to take them where they want to go. If he's onstage and comes up with a melody and he can instantly take that idea and play it on the spot, go with it, they are going to follow you."
Listen to it here.
'Dancing in the Streets'
"There are two arrangements [for 'Dancing in the Streets'] by the Grateful Dead. There is the old Motown one, which is the Martha and the Vandellas one. That's Harper College, May 2, 1970 ... and then five days later at MIT. Now this is interesting because a couple days after Harper College, Kent State happened, students were shot on campus by the National Guard, and the Dead did a free show at MIT. That version, on May 6, that, to me, is the absolute two best Motown arrangements of 'Dancing in the Streets.'"
Listen to it here.
"Then they dropped it, come back in 1976, disco may have influenced them a little bit ... and so they brought back 'Dancing in the Streets' with a dramatically different arrangement. We all call it 'Disco Dancing.' The middle seven or eight minutes of the song, Jerry on the, what was it, the Mu-Tron? He was on this incredible effect that he played this solo while the band was playing incredible behind him. For the definitive version it would have to be Cornell, May 8, 1977."
"It's such an important part of the Grateful Dead canon. They were such a dynamic band, and those dynamics passed on to each and every song. It could start whisper-quiet and Jerry singing passionately, and it builds to this crescendo point of explosion and then drops down to dead silence again, and then they do it again to the point of blowing the roof off the place, and then the song ends. 'Morning Dew' is one of those songs. The version on the last show of the Europe '72 tour, widely considered the best version ever."
You can also hear Lemieux talking to CBC q about the Grateful Dead's new four-hour documentary, Long Strange Trip.
Follow Jesse Kinos-Goodin on Twitter: @JesseKG