Forty years ago, photographer Bob Minkin saw his first Grateful Dead-related show, a Jerry Garcia Band gig at the Capitol Theater in New Jersey. Luckily for fans and historians, Minkin, then a high school student in Brooklyn, began carting along a camera to take souvenirs of shows he attended. By the late Seventies, he was shooting professionally, and by the time Garcia died in 1995, Minkin had caught and shot hundreds of Dead and Garcia shows. Minkin's new book, Live Dead: The Grateful Dead (available at bookstore and here), compiles his work from the 1970s to the present, and Minkin shared some of the stories behind the shots.
Minkin almost didn't get this shot: After taking a bus from Brooklyn to San Francisco, he lost his wallet, complete with his show ticket, in the bus terminal. The next morning he and a friend went the office of promoter Bill Graham and bought a fresh pair of tickets. "They stood much closer together than in later years, so you see more interaction between them,"he says of the Dead in 1977. "They were at the top of their game in that era." At the show, he felt the much-discussed warmth of the Dead audience: "People were so cool: 'He's got a camera — let him up!' That wouldn't happen in New York."
"It was easy to get up to the rail at this general admission show," Minkin says. "I needed to if I wanted to take close-up photographs because I only had a 50mm lens on my new camera, a Minolta SRT101. Jerry was already onstage, tuning up, and I could tell by his notes that the opener was going to be 'Jack Straw.' At one point he looked directly at me. I paused, sort of mesmerized for a second. He looked so iconic and I pressed the shutter to capture this image."
By 1982, when this photo was taken, Minkin was regularly selling his work at Dead shows. "It helped finance my trips to the shows," he says. "I didn't sell drugs. I sold photos. At that time I was probably selling 8-by-10s for two bucks each. If I could make $100 or $150 a show, that was a lot of money. Other than a good group shot, Jerry was by far the top seller, with Phil and Bob second. He still is."
During a trip to San Francisco, Minkin saw a sign on a pole advertising a Garcia Band show and found himself at an intimate gig with only a few hundred people, allowing him to take close-ups. "It was a formative experience," he says. "While we were waiting, Jerry drove up in his BMW and waved at us. He pulled into the parking lot and came out with his guitar case. It was so casual. I was dumb-founded."
"This was the Garcia Band with Keith and Donna Godchaux, John Kahn and Maria Mulduar," Minkin says. "It was a seated show with reserved seats, so to take pictures I had to run up the aisle, grab a few shots and scurry back before an usher would tell me to get back. That cat in the background makes for shot for me."
Minkin went to this show on a chartered bus with friends. At one point he looked around and saw a familiar face outside the venue. "I said, 'Wow, is that Phil Lesh?' He was walking out among the people. He went past me toward the backstage, and these two guys had a banner and asked him to sign it, and he did. He actually sat down for a while until too many people noticed. You couldn’t imagine Jimmy Page at a Led Zeppelin show getting out of the tour bus and hanging with the people in the parking lot. But the Dead really cared about their audience."
Minkin attended a press conference for college media and was shocked when Garcia walked in and whipped out a joint in full public view. "It's not like today," Minkin says. "Pot was pretty illegal! Not everyone in that room was hip, either. There were people from the hotel in suits. It was a roach, not even a full joint, and he was re-lighting it. I thought that was pretty ballsy."
"I hadn't been back to San Francisco since 1977," says Minkin, "and a friend of mine used to send me clippings that Garcia was playing at the Keystone. I said, 'I have to see this!' For this show we got there early and spent the whole afternoon hanging out in front of the club. People were selling stuff and making music. I'd never seen anyone playing a cello before. It was a friendly, welcoming community. Strangers looked out for one another. It was a typical Dead scene."
"I'd read about the Dead playing Red Rocks and it sounded like such an incredible place that I said if they were playing again, I was going," says Minkin. "To me, shooting the audience at a Dead show was as important as shooting the band. There was a symbiotic relationship between band and audience. Not to sound too trippy, but the energy back and forth between band and audience was noticeable. They fed off one another. At this point, it all still had a good vibe."
"I think they were doing 'Why Don't We Do in the Road,'" recalls Minkin. "By this point, I was an experienced concertgoer, but Phil had started singing again around that time, so that was new and exciting. 'Box of Rain' came back. To me Brent brought a lot of youthful energy. Jerry looked terrible, but Brent gave them a good shot in the arm."
"At Dead shows there was so much to shoot," Minkin says. "People were hanging out all day before the show. Jerry was in a good mood, looking good and playing well, trim and neat, relatively speaking. In the Dark had just come out, and they were in a good space then. And again, what happened around the show was a show in itself. A couple of the guys in this picture saw it posted on Facebook recently and got in touch with me and said, 'Hey, we had hair!'"
"This was the night they made the 'Touch of Grey' video," says Minkin. "I got to hang with Jerry for an hour backstage. He was real chipper and funny. He was holding a cigarette and one of his daughters pulled it out of his hand. He said, 'The rest of the band, they try to screw me up!' I said, 'What do you mean?' He leans forward and says, 'They'll switch the tempo to make sure I'm following along.' I said, 'Really? You guys play games with each other?' He said, 'Oh, yeah — you gotta be paying attention.' He was so human and down to earth."
"Things had changed by 1989," Minkin says. "These were enormous stadium shows, hot and humid. It was tough. You had to have stamina. When 'Touch of Grey' came out, the demographic changed quite a bit. Now there was more of a mainstream crowd going to the shows and the legends of drugs and hippie chicks was part of the draw, the mythology. This audience looks like it could be at a metal concert. It wasn't like sitting outside the Keystone anymore."
"This was at Shoreline right after my wife and I moved there," says Minkin. "I shot the Dead a lot and they didn't change a lot onstage, so you tried to capture something unique. Jerry was just so energetic. He generally didn't move around much, but he was ending the song with aplomb. The guy next to me said, 'Did you get that?' This was pre-digital, so I said, 'I hope so.' Back then you didn't know until you got your slides back from the lab."
"When Jerry died, no one knew what was going to happen," Minkin says. "But these are musicians — they're not going to retire. And eventually they did come back in various configurations. Bob and Phil needed an outlet to play, and Furthur was one of them. This was a four-day run at Sweetwater, where I'm the house photographer. These were the best Furthur shows I'd ever seen. The Dead had started to become predictable in their sets and Furthur was completely unpredictable. They could play anything in any order."
"This was when Bill Kreutzmann was in 7 Walkers," says Minkin. "The feeling was that the drummers were estranged from the rest of the band, since they weren't in Furthur. Mickey was there as a surprise, but when Weir showed up I was like, 'Wow, you never seen that anymore.' As you can see in the picture, it's like they hadn't seen each other in a while, but they were all back-slapping and chatting up a storm. It was like getting together with best friends you hadn't seen in a while because some shit went down but now it's water under the bridge."