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Saturday, April 09, 2016

Investing in Marmaduke

Some notes-to-self.

The Grateful Dead family was interested in turning John Dawson into a recording artist as early as 1968, and willing to spend their own studio time to do it, even though nothing ever came of it, so the New Riders project can be seen as a solution rather than a random idea.

I do think this slips a little into "functional fallacy", of postulating as the cause of some beneficial thing the mere fact that it is beneficial, ergo, folks must have wanted it and caused it to be produced. It might have been that they loaned him a bunch of money as friends, and then contributed so as to increase the probability of future repayment. So that would be "money -> idea" rather than "idea -> money" (in which case we are 180 degrees from our usual positions).

LIA seems to agree that the idea of Dawson as a "solution" doesn't follow from what we know: "we don't know what the purpose of the Dawson demo was, if Garcia himself had any plan or record-label in mind, or if Dawson just wanted to shop around various companies, or if there was thought to be any leverage from Dawson's 'Dead connection'."

Either way, cool insight: this is "as if" it were an early investment in a more diversified portfolio of commercializable music - absolutely fascinating.


LIA comments "If indeed the Dead were giving some of their studio time to an old buddy, it strikes me as a precursor to the Round Records idea", an interesting thought. JGMF, in comments:
I agree with LIA (in comments) and you that Round becomes the formalized expression of some basic elements of the Garciaverse: he wanted to help out his friends with paying gigs, and the world demanded that he monetize himself (in addition to giving time, effort and layers of skin) to achieve that. For all of his other flaws, Garcia was an unusually generous friend. Think about how many lives were "made," how many properties in Marin and Sonoma made affordable, by professional involvement with Jerry. Man had the Midas Touch.

JGMF, in comments, where apparently I have already had the same urge to think through the titular proposition. At least I agree with myself that this is interesting!

[Corry says] "I find it strange that no record company was interested in John Dawson's demos." Here's a flyer: maybe the record companies insisted on some demonstrable GD/Garcia connection, e.g. a playing contribution from Jerry, as a condition of signing on his friends? This necessity drove (at least to some extent) Garcia's constitutive role in the NRPS, which is consistent with your idea that the NRPS was a solution (a band with Garcia, i.e., one that could sell records) to a problem (Jerry's desire to help his ol' pal Marmaduke).


  1. Demos are often used by "new" bands to pass around to venues in an effort to get gigs. I don't know if that was the case in those days, but if so I would think that this material would be prone to bootlegging or trading. Did these recordings circulate before the relix release?

    1. Back in the 80s, there wasn't really any way to know what was "circulating," beyond whether you or your friends had the tape, or maybe it was on someone's list. I was not aware of any of the NRPS material from Before Time Began circulating, but it isn't impossible. I will say that almost no one back then had any interest in Riders tapes, even if Garcia was on them (and especially not if he wasn't).

  2. I have changed my mind about the 1968 Dawson demos somewhat since I wrote this some years ago. I now think that Dawson paid for the demos. I wouldn't be surprised if Garcia fooled with the track during the Aoxomoxoa sessions. I think there are more Dawson demo tracks (Betty Cantor alluded to some involvement in a Gans interview). I think they remain unheard and may be completely lost. Somehow one survived, which is why I think it became part of the Dead sessions.

    The reason I was surprised that no record company was interested in the Dawson demos was that record companies would sign anyone in those days. Mercury signed anyone from San Francisco with long hair back in '68. LA publishing companies thought nothing of signing songwriters just to get the demos so they could be used by other artists--this is how Jackson Browne was signed back in 68 (similar signings included Michael Martin Murphey, Kenny Loggins, Warren Zevon and Austin DeLone). From that perspective, Dawson would have been a good sign. I think neither Dawson nor anyone in the Dead knew how to get his demos in front of the right ears.


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