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Credit: Warner Bros.

Music

The classic Grateful Dead song recorded with no engineer

@TylerGolsen

The twisted tales that followed the Grateful Dead on their 1972 European tour have long since been canonised into the band’s legend. Well-known are the stories of war between the Bolo and Bozo busses or the four-hour appearance at the Bickershaw Festival in England, attended by none other than a young Elvis Costello. But one story in particular exemplifies the impromptu, and almost accidental, magic that the Dead could conjure out of thin air.

That came on the final night of the two-month trek when the Dead settled into the friendly confines of the Lyceum Theatre in London for the fourth night in a row. The band had started their tour in London a few weeks earlier, and their comfort within the Lyceum helped produce a number of tracks that would eventually make the final cut of Europe ’72. One of those tracks wasn’t even originally intended to be included in the band’s planned setlists.

Unlike the freewheeling live shows that the band would become famous for, the Europe ’72 shows had a few boxes that required checking. The Dead knew that their British audiences were enthralled with Live/Dead, so the band dutifully worked in ‘Dark Star’ on a far more frequent basis than they would in later years. The Dead were also promoting a new single in Europe, ‘One More Saturday Night’, which was played at nearly every performance on the tour.

One song that wasn’t originally earmarked for inclusion was ‘Morning Dew’, Bonnie Dobson’s apocalyptic folk tune that the band first played in January of 1967 and later got recorded for their self-titled debut album. Back then, ‘Morning Dew’ had a far more pronounced garage rock feel, but after half a decade of occasional performances, the song had transformed into a slow-burning and euphoric epic, punctuated by some of Jerry Garcia’s most emotional soloing.

It took a full month of touring for ‘Morning Dew’ to make its first appearance in a setlist during the Europe ’72 trek. 14 shows went by before the band first played the song in the Netherlands on May 11th. After that, only three additional performances of the song occurred over the final seven shows of the tour: once in Germany on May 18th and twice at the Lyceum, one for the first night of the four-night stand on May 23rd and once on the final night of May 26th.

During the final concert of the tour, tape operator and engineer Dennis ‘Wiz’ Leonard realised that he hadn’t actually seen any of the performances – he was stuck in the recording truck changing tape, checking levels, and monitoring the Dead from a small screen. Wiz was planning on keeping it that way until he noticed that a microphone was dropping on the stage. When he radioed for crew member Steve Parrish to fix it, Parrish rattled off a few expletives and told Wiz to fix it himself.

And so, with a fair amount of caution, Wiz locked the now-empty recording truck to fix the microphone while the Dead were tumbling through ‘The Other One’. Just as completed his mission and began to trek back to the truck, the band fell into a particularly poignant version of ‘Morning Dew’. In that moment, Wiz decided he was going to stay right where he was, soaking up the bittersweet tones of the song instead of experiencing it second hand in the recording truck.

“I said ‘You know what? Fuck this. This is where I am.’ And I made the decision there that I had to be right there,” Leonard recalled in the documentary series Long Strange Trip. “Garcia just looked at me and shook his head, and in that instant, I knew that I was busted because no one was in the truck. The raised eyebrow over the eyeglasses, it was saying ‘I know who you are, I know what you’re doing, and it’s OK.’ Because no matter what, they really wanted everybody to be there with them.”

After the Dead segued back into ‘The Other One’, Wiz crept back to the recording truck and cautiously opened the door. To his relief, nobody had broken in and the tapes were still running, unaffected by Wiz’s brief detour inside. Wiz had gotten to see the Dead play for the one and only time on the European tour, and his absence didn’t affect the recording process that the band were using to assemble their live album.

When the entire crew returned to California a few days later, the process of going through the tapes and picking out the best performances began. One day, Wiz saw Garcia giddily exit the control room and gave him some news. “He looked at me and said, ‘Wiz, ‘Morning Dew’ from the Lyceum is 100 per cent on the album.’ And he looked at me and he said, ‘And no one was in the truck.'”

Check out the version of ‘Morning Dew’ that appears on Europe ’72 down below.