The New Light for a Fast Fading World
St. Dilbert The Obscure (2000-?)
It was on the road — Highway 1 between the rural West Marin County towns of Bolinas and Olema — in March 1972 that Rakow had flashed on a whole independent record system that could work for the Dead. After six years with Warner Bros., working with guys in suits who never quite understood them, the Dead had been considering declaring independence, and had asked Rakow to explore the possibilities. A slick financial appliance around the Dead’s funky household (he had come to the band in the mid-’60s by way of Wall Street, where he’d been a whiz-kid arbitrageur), Rakow proceeded to investigate, researching the financial statements, structure and distribution systems of the major record companies. On the Fourth of July 1972, Rakow’s vision became a 93-page report known as the `So What Papers’ (probably derived from that awful cosmic revelation, `So What?’). The Dead didn’t go for Rakow’s initial proposal as submitted. Maybe some of the more conservative guys in the organization didn’t like his idea of the Dead’s records being distributed by Good Humor trucks. (Actually, it sounded pretty good to me —here comes Uncle John’s van, buy his vinyl sides.’)
The Grateful Dead had firmly decided to have their own record label. In April of 73 we put together a record company crew that would be administered by Rakow as president and general manager, with me responsible for recording production coordination and
national promotion, Andy Leonard handling manufacturing and advertising, Greg Nelson covering distribution and sales, and Joshua Bardo doing national radio promotion. After taking over the Dead’s old office, which looked like it had been transplanted from Haight-Ashbury to San Rafael, the new Grateful Dead Records office staff was rounded out with Jeanne Jones as accountant and Barbara Whitestone and Carol Miller managing the office.
Despite their reputation as a group of guys who liked to take risks, Rakow and the Dead decided that rather than jeopardize Grateful Dead Records, which was co-owned by all the voting members of the organization, they would create a second label to handle the more financially dubious solo projects members of the Dead were interested in pursuing. Thus was born Round Records. Rakow financed the start-up of Grateful Dead Records and Round Records by selling foreign
manufacturing and distribution rights to Atlantic Records for $300,000. He also set up a financial umbrella in which the First National Bank of Boston would approve and underwrite the 18 independent record distributors we had chosen to use throughout the country.
Returning home after a summer of flexing their musical muscles, the Dead had a bunch of juicy new tunes ripe for their first offering on their own new label. And in August of 73 the band, family and crew moved into the Record Plant studios in Sausalito to start work on Wake of the Flood. Around this same time Robert Hunter was at Mickey’s barn recording tracks on our first Round Records release, Tales of the Great Rum Runners.
From the beginning we were determined to make our albums of the highest quality vinyl and apply our own personal quality control in all the phases of record production. We commissioned one of my favorite artists, Rick Griffin, to do both initial releases of Grateful Dead and Round Records — Wake and Rum Runners. Rick knew from the biblical story of The Flood (Genesis, chapter 8, verse 7) that Noah had sent forth a
raven. But the raven he rendered on the back cover looked more like a crow to Rakow. He knew that either we’d make a good show of our first independent re-leases or we’d be eating that silly bird.
— Steve Brown (The Golden Road)
The band’s first two releases on Grateful Dead Records.
Photo Credits: Herb Greene. Album Art: Rick Griffen