Overdubbing on live albums is a contentious and polarising practice in the world of music. On one hand, overdubs could be viewed as a necessary action in order to produce the best possible results, with tweaks to vocals or crowd noise simply touching up the magic that is already there. On the other hand, overdubs can mask and obscure the music that was originally played, to the point that some live albums hardly sound like live albums at all.
Some of the most famous live LPs of all time, including Kiss’ Alive and Little Feat’s Waiting for Columbus, were subjected to extensive overdubs after their initial live recordings. Even a band as beloved for their singular live performances as the Grateful Dead weren’t exempt from polishing up their recordings in the studio. One of the Dead’s most important albums of their career, 1972’s Europe ’72, was an essential live document that also happened to be subjected to numerous overdubs after the fact.
Most of these overdubs came in the form of vocals. Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, and Donna Jean Godchaux all tweaked, and in most cases completely re-recorded, their vocal performances for the final mix of the LP. Garcia and Weir added additional guitar overdubs on a number of tracks, while pianist Keith Godchaux overdubbed a few new keyboard parts as well. When it was all said and done, only one song from the final mix received no overdubs at all.
That was Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKernan‘s original ‘Mr. Charlie’, written with lyrics from in-house Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. Almost immediately upon arriving back in the States, Pigpen began falling ill and would only perform one more concert with the Dead after the Europe ’72 tour before retiring from all band activities. In truth, Pigpen was dying, his body breaking down from years of extensive alcohol abuse. During the overdubbing sessions for Europe ’72, Pigpen was the only member absent.
Keith Godchaux added some additional piano lines to Pigpen’s second of two songs included on the final album, ‘Hurts Me Too’, but without the direction of its writer in the studio, ‘Mr. Charlie’ was left untouched. Both of Pigpen’s songs were left to the very end of the overdubbing sessions, with the Dead hoping that Pigpen would eventually recover enough to join them for the final mixes. That didn’t happen, and just four months after the release of Europe ’72, Pigpen died of a gastrointestinal hemorrhage at the age of 27.
Check out the only true live song from Europe ’72, ‘Mr. Charlie’, down below.