For anyone scratching their heads when hearing the name ‘Dick Latvala’, he was the tape archivist for the Grateful Dead and creator of the “Dick’s Picks” series that, in 1993, began releasing high-quality live Grateful Dead performances. Today is the 10th year anniversary of Dick’s death, so it is only appropriate that we examine his impact and significance on the Dead and their fans.
Though Dick had only seen the Grateful Dead mostly in 1966 and 1967, he was an avid tape collector and was hired in 1985 to be the Dead’s official archivist. In 1996, when asked why he was chosen amongst the many people collecting live Grateful Dead recordings, Dick stated, “I got hired because I cared, and still, when I go in the Vault, I’m like a kid in Candyland. It takes my breath away.”
As the Dead’s career began winding down in the early 90’s, Dick thought it would be a great idea to release official recordings of the their best concerts.
Dick was thought to have fantastic taste on differentiating a great show from a mediocre one. Thus, in 1993, the show from 12/19/73 Curtis Hixon Hall, Florida, was released under the name “Dick’s Picks Vol. 1”. While there are 36 official “Dick’s Picks”, only the first 14 were selected by Dick himself. Moreover, while Dick was the leader in selecting which show would be chosen as a Dick’s Pick, Dick typically would ask for fans suggestions through the dead.net website.
Following the release the Dick’s Picks 2, Dick was interviewed about what makes the Grateful Dead such a special band, and came up with this answer:
“That’s what the Grateful Dead experience is for me: music that moves people as powerfully as they can be moved. Each person expresses it in a different fashion – some twirl around, some sit still as a rock. I’m the still-as-a-rock type. But everyone’s way of expressing it is just dandy, and that’s what it’s all about. I thought I was as hardcore as it gets – that no one could be as hardcore as me. But now there are thousands. Everyone in the building! This is energy in its highest form, in a group format. It’s better than sex, man. You can quote me on that.”
This statement shines light on what motivated Dick to be so altruistic. He collected endless Grateful Dead shows starting so he could share his euphoric experiences with the rest of the world, as they too could share in his feelings. He thought the Grateful Dead were life-changing and wanted each and everyone to be able to have the opportunity to bask in the glory of a Dead show.
Dick’s favorite tunes were “The Other One” and “Dark Star”, though he saw “Playing in the Band” as the ultimate indicator for a good show. At the end of the day however, Dick just loved the Dead regardless of song: “Every song has value. I’m for all the tunes – I never wanted to hear anything specific. All I wanted was for them to play it well.”
With every ‘Pick’, Dick opened his heart and soul to everyone as each one bore great significance to his life, as he was a very spiritual man. From a musical perspective, Dick was nothing short of a visionary. It takes time, effort, devotion, and critical listening to find those shows that have the power to effect people in the way they did for Dick. After all, as many know, Dead shows were not just about the music, and there was something much larger than the band itself, perhaps on a cosmic level. The power of the Deads music exceeds the norm of musical output, and Dicks Pick’s will continue to make that message clear.
Following a heart attack and subsequent death in 1999 at age 56, the Dick’s Picks series was handed over to David Lemieux, who who release another 22 DP. In memory of Dick, the Grateful Dead selected two of Dick’s favorite shows, 9/3/77 and 11/8/69, and released them as Dick’s Picks 15 and 16. To commemorate the man even more, it has been noted that the name “Latvala” (Dick’s last name) can be seen in different places of the Dick’s Picks album art.
Dick truly felt the Deads music in his soul, and saw their music as possessing spiritual potential. He knew how important it was do document this type of music that was having such a great influence in the Bay area in the 60’s, and soon enough, all over the world. Dick wanted people to be able to access the music themselves so they too could feel this spiritual climax. He knew that people will need to hear this music long into the future. Dick was truly the vehicle for that, the engine if you will. We thank him for all he has done. Dick – a great man and a true hero.
For audio interviews, pictures, letters, and hand-written setlists, please visit Dick Latvala.com
Listen to The Other One from 1978-10-21 at the Winterland.