Credit: The Grateful Dead

The 1967 letter from a record executive that said The Grateful Dead had “many problems”

We’re dipping into the Far Out vaults to bring you a very special letter about The Grateful Dead and the recording of their sophomore album Anthem of the Sun. It’s a letter in which Warner Bros label boss, Joe Smith, takes aim at the band and their “many problems.”

We’re not sure how infuriating The Grateful Dead may well be when trying to get their mercurial sound down on tape but judging by their previous performances and Smith’s reaction the group must have been a contemptuous bunch to work with. Though we’d never believe it, the Dead seemingly pushed Smith to the very edge.

On December 27th, following weeks and weeks of fruitless recording sessions, Joseph Smith, the Warner Bros. Records executive, lost his temper and wrote a strongly worded letter to the Dead’s manager Danny Rifkin complaining of their lack of professionalism and their inability to keep to the task.

As Smith writes: “The recording in New York turned out to be very difficult. Lack of preparation, direction and cooperation from the very beginning have made this album the most unreasonable project with which we have ever involved ourselves.” The damning indictment doesn’t get any better from there either.

He added: “Your group has many problems, it would appear, and I would believe that Hassinger has no further interest or desire to work with them under conditions similar to this last fiasco.” And true enough Hassinger would leave the recording sessions after Bob Weir tried to ‘make the air thicker’ in the studio for a recording effect.

Smith also points the finger at the band’s Phil Lesh’s wild behaviour and also suggests they’ve found themselves banned from a lot of studios, saying “the guys ran through engineers like a steamroller”. The band were seemingly unlikely to get any large catalogue off the ground.

There is one moment on the letter which Smith will likely regret: “It all adds up to a lack of professionalism. The Grateful Dead is not one of the top acts in the business as yet. With their attitudes and their inability to take care of business when it’s time to do so would lead us to believe that they never will be truly important. No matter how talented your group is, they’re going to have to put something of themselves into the business before they go anywhere.”

Smith likely feels a little silly because firstly, the Dead gave more of themselves to music than most artists can ever hope to and secondly it was exactly their attitude which would see them become a gold tier act.

See the letter, below.

Credit: The Dead

Read the full transcript below:

WARNER BROS. RECORDS, INC.

December 27, 1967

Mr. Danny Rifkin
710 Ashbury Street
San Francisco, California

Dear Danny:

Dave Hassinger is back from his New York trip and the tapes are being sent from New York. We plan to release the LP in February and must have all art work in her almost immediately. There is no time for delays or indecision as we must have the package on the market as quickly as possible.

The recording in New York turned out to be very difficult. Lack of preparation, direction and cooperation from the very beginning have made this album the most unreasonable project with which we have ever involved ourselves.

Your group has many problems, it would appear, and I would believe that Hassinger has no further interest or desire to work with them under conditions similar to this last fiasco. It’s apparent that nobody in your organization has enough influence over Phil Lesh to evoke anything resembling normal behaviour. You are now branded as an undesirable group in almost every recording studio in Los Angeles. I haven’t got all the New York reports in as yet, but the guys ran through engineers like a steamroller.

It all adds up to a lack of professionalism. The Grateful Dead is not one of the top acts in the business as yet. With their attitudes and their inability to take care of business when it’s time to do so would lead us to believe that they never will be truly important. No matter how talented your group is, they’re going to have to put something of themselves into the business before they go anywhere.

Recording dates have been firmly fixed for January 3rd and two days thereafter. We expect that you will be on hand to complete this drawn out project and get the art work going. Your artistic control is subject to reasonable restrictions and I believe that the time and expense involved along with your own freedom has been more than reasonable. Now let’s get the album out on the streets without anymore fun and games.

Best regards,

(Signed)

Joseph B. Smith
JBS: a
cc: Brian Rohan

Source: Letters of Note

Subscribe to our newsletter
Delivering curated content