Obituary: Dick Latvala

Click to follow
LIKE MANY fans of the Grateful Dead, Dick Latvala's idea of the perfect life was to drop lots of acid and spend all day listening to great rock 'n' roll. Unlike most of his fellow Deadheads, however, he succeeded in living the dream.

From the time he first saw the Dead - then still called The Warlocks - in concert in 1965, he knew his destiny would be inextricably linked with them. For years, he followed them around on their concert schedules, taking up their invitation to record performances for his own use and, yes, ingesting a lot of illicit mind-bending drugs.

Then, in the mid-1980s, his passion turned into a livelihood as the Dead invited him to become their "intrepid vault archivist", sorting out 20 years' worth of live recordings and eventually, after the death of the band's leader Jerry Garcia in 1995, releasing more than a dozen of them on CD.

The "Dick's Picks" recordings, distributed only by mail order, became almost as legendary as the old concerts themselves, and are now considered essential items in any serious Deadhead's inventory.

Latvala was born in Berkeley, California, and quickly became absorbed in the San Francisco Bay area's Flower Power movement in the 1960s. Bands like Big Brother and the Holding Company, Janis Joplin's group, and Quicksilver Messenger Service hooked him on music, while an utterly above-board narcotics research project in which he participated as a paid volunteer introduced him to LSD in 1965. "He did nothing but take acid and go to shows," his long-standing friend Blair Jackson recalled. "He told me that's what he was put on Earth to do."

The advent of the audio cassette triggered his passion for recording Grateful Dead concerts and made him a legend among fellow fans. By the 1980s, when he was hired, the walls of his home were completely covered by his tape collection. "This is a guy who totally lived and breathed music," said Blair Jackson.

So familiar was he with the details of the Dead's 2,400-odd road shows that he could reel off the play-list of songs for almost every one. The radio show host David Gans, known for his Grateful Dead talk shows on public radio, once described Latvala as "one of them creaky, cranky old Deadheads who's been listening to this stuff as if his life depended on it for as long as I've known him".

Resisting hospital treatment for a heart attack, Lavala died much as he lived, lying in the living room of his home, surrounded by his beloved tapes and listening to music.

Andrew Gumbel

Dick Latvala, rock music archivist: born Berkeley, California 1943; married (one son); died Petaluma, California 7 August 1999.