Joe Jupille on ‘Fate Music’ and the Institute for Jerry Garcia Studies

“I’m a political scientist by profession and an amateur musicologist,” Joe Jupille observes, while describing two facets of his life where he has been particularly active as of late.

Since 2005, Jupille has been an associate professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, where he received the 2017 Teacher of the Year Award from the political science department. The esteemed Cambridge University Press recently published his new book by him, Theories of Institutions (with James A. Caporaso), which has been hailed as “a sweeping review of theories of human institutions as they have developed in political science, sociology, economics and history.”

Jupille’s avocation finds him applying his academic skill set and rigor to the life and music of Jerry Garcia. In 2005, the same year he joined the CU faculty, Jupille launched the Jerry Garcia’s Middle Finger blog to share his thoughts and analysis of him. This eventually led to Jerrybase, a searchable database of Garcia’s musical endeavors. The impetus for both of these efforts has been a long-gestating book titled fate music and, after many years of research, Jupille has finally shifted into writing mode.

Although he often deflects personal recognition, Jupille was the subject of a recent Wall Street Journal story that tracked the means by which he identified Elisecia Wright and Shirley Faulkner. The two vocalists performed with the Jerry Garcia Band in the fall of 1982 and were nearly lost to music history. While Jupille notes that the article wrongly suggests that he spent two decades seeking out their names—he only learned of the potential omission in 2021— he was able to resolve the matter, thanks to his recent acquisition of Jerry Garcia gig files that had been on his radar since 2003.

What initially prompted you to dig in and begin your Jerry Garcia research?

I began collecting Jerry outside the Grateful Dead through the FTP servers in the late ’90s. Then, I got into CDs, turning them into lossless files and sharing them with FTP servers. That was really nice for me because I got to write up the info files and make detailed notes about the songs, the cuts and the tapers, which satisfied an itch in my brain.

A real revelation came with a batch of 1974 and ’75 recordings from the Bay Area that were made by Louis Falanga and Bob Menke. My online home at that time was Dead Net Central. There was a folder related to Garcia stuff and, as these recordings started to circulate, I decided that I wanted to get all of them. I thought of them as a set and I wanted them to have consistent metadata.

While I was listening to them, I experienced my first big intellectual flash as to the bigger question of what Jerry was after. On 6/3/75, there’s a version of “Day by Day” that lit me up. I wanted to know what motivated Jerry Garcia at that point in his life to go down to the Keystone on a Tuesday night and play “Day by Day.”

These tapes were so atmospheric. On some of these nights, Bob and Louis put their mics onstage. One of the mics was pointed right into Jerry’s stage monitor and the other one was pointed in the center. You can hear the fuzz on the monitor and Jerry sort of laughing. You can hear the clink of the glasses and the waitress taking the orders. They really put you there, and I’m going, “Oh, man, what is Jerry after?”

This was right around 9/11, when we were all looking for something to hold onto. In fact, I was on DNC when I heard the news that a plane had just crashed in the World Trade Center. I ran downstairs and turned on CNN. Then, obviously, we spent days and weeks and months glued to the TV.

I wanted to do something that was comfortable, in order to take refuge a little bit. It was also very communal. We were all trading, we were all talking and that was an amazing space—people lost kids, marriages came and went and all that stuff. It was just so human.

So that was the original flash that led to my book, which is called fate music. It is a reference to something he said at one of the Hartbeats shows in 1968. But I don’t just start writing after I have one of these flashes. A flash happens, and then I sit down, gather data and make spreadsheets.

It starts with the music. I have every available Garcia recording, including a lot that aren’t readily available, and I listen and take notes. I’m gathering data and I have a scientific cast of mind. I’m a bicycle commuter but I can’t listen to Jerry on my bike because, when I hear stuff, I want to make notes. So I listen to the Grateful Dead or jazz when I’m on my bike.

Then, I do all the internet research. Over the last 20 years, think about how many more sources have become digitized, particularly newspapers. What I’ve realized is that, for every town that Jerry went to, there’s going to be a number of things in the papers that I can rely on. There’s gonna be a show announcement. There’s gonna be ads. There’s gonna be listings. There might be a little preview. There might be an interview. There might be a show review and there might be pictures. So there’s all that stuff and I’ve been gathering it.

I’m also into archival research. I went to the Union Archives in San Francisco, and they had these precious historical documents. When I first looked at them, they were just shoved into a basement filing cabinet. So I went through every single document, starting in ’65, looking for Jerry Garcia and other related stuff.

So my methodology starts with the music, then the newspapers and the archives. The last big piece is talking to people. At this point, I’ve probably interviewed a couple hundred people, including band members and other people who interacted with Jerry.

It’s been my hobby for a while and, after all these years of gathering, I am finally writing. I have the great privilege that I don’t need to publish this book to make my living, so I’ve been able to take as long as I wanted. I also don’t have to work another 20 hours on the weekend to make ends meet, so I can use that time to think about Jerry and write about the May ’83 tour or something like that.

Your archival research eventually led you to acquire a collection of Jerry’s performance contracts. How did that come about?

I probably learned about this big trove of business papers in 2003 from Ryan Shriver, who used to run The Jerry Site. He told me about someone who might have a collection of Jerry’s gig contracts. So I started chasing them, which was a whole saga in itself. At this point, I have everything from ’74 until the fall ’83 East Coast tour. Then, I have pretty much everything from ’92 forward. There’s a big chunk in there where I don’t have any of the gig files, which is kind of a bummer but, if the person who had these couldn’t find them, then it is what it is.

What had happened was this person had rescued the documents when they were supposed to be chucked out and had paid to keep them in storage for all these years. I had some lawyers look at the situation, and they were satisfied that the person who held these documents had possessory rights. The big criterion was abandonment because the papers were going to be thrown out, but they were rescued.

These were the gig files. Every gig has a folder. There’s the correspondence, the telexs, the contract, the box office report, the settlement and all kinds of other stuff.

I had first seen these documents 10 years ago when I was given three hours with them, and I made a lot of scans. Then, this past July, I ended up getting four or five boxes through money I raised from friends who knew what I was into and helped me out. Then, I made copies and shipped them to Red Light [which works with the Jerry Garcia Family LLC]. I said, “Hey, I’ve got these documents. I think you’re going to want them,” and I shipped them for free. I got a second batch in December [which included the contracts that helped him identify Wright and Faulkner] and they gave me some shipping labels, so I felt it all out.

That basically was the culmination. I’m still processing all of what I have, but I’m actually writing now because I feel like there’s not much more for me to get anywhere.

To what extent does your work on Garcia mirror your academic scholarship?

The process is identical. I had been working on my book Theories of Institutions, which was just published, for a really long time. I pity my poor co-author, who’s a very nice man and a dear friend. In political science these days, a lot of people tell little data stories. You run a regression and you publish a little article. I am a much more immersive scholar. That’s true in my day job in political science and that’s true with my Garcia stuff. I really ruminate. I read a lot; I spend time thinking; I play with data. I think of it as a scientific process, and it’s the same for studying the European Union as it is for studying Jerry Garcia.

There’s a parallel with my day job in the subject matter. My new book is called Theories of Institutions and one of several throughlines in fate music is about institutionalization. In the beginning, things are spontaneous and ad hoc. Then, by the end—with the lawyers and the accountants and the record people—it becomes highly institutionalized. There are rules and regulations and all this stuff.

It starts with Jerry bopping down to the Matrix on a Monday to play with Howard [Wales] and trying to figure out what key he was in. Then, by the end of that last Jerry Band tour in November of ’93, it’s a highly professionalized operation that grossed over $2 million.

What led you to move beyond your blog and spearhead Jerrybase, which is also credited to the Institute for Jerry Garcia Studies?

The Institute for Jerry Garcia Studies is kind of a lark. I had a bunch of Jerry data on my blog and someone in my comments asked, “I wonder when they did this?” I was like, “I don’t know.” And he’s like, “Well, you should be able to answer that question.” I said, “Well, I have the data, but I can’t parse it that way.” Then, Michael Jacobs came along and said, “I’m a programmer. I would love to do that.” It happened in like eight weeks. He’s a Dylan guy too, who knew about the Institute for Bob Dylan Studies in Tulsa, so we said, “OK, we’re gonna call it the Institute for Jerry Garcia Studies.”

We have T-shirts with Jerry’s likeness on it and we also did a little fundraiser to cover our costs because we’re serving all this up on a nice, redundant high-speed server. We’re not doing it on a home machine. We want lots of people to go there and create their own show lists.

Jerrybase is a database of Jerry Garcia’s musical activities and you can search all different kinds of parameters. So let’s say you went to a Jerry Band show when they encored with “Rhapsody in Red,” but you can’t remember which show you went to. Well, you can go to Jerrybase and you can search “’Rhapsody in Red’ is encore” and it’ll land you on 5/29/83 and whatever other results might come up. The database aspect is powerful but we also keep our eyes open to anything new that might be reported so that the data remains fresh and it’s cross-checked.

The musical activities piece touches on anything that Jerry was involved in musically, and one thing that Jerrybase gives you that no other site really does is studio work.

It also gives you a chance to click on the calendar view, where you can see every Grateful Dead gig, every Jerry gig, every canceled show and every studio session. I have more data on things, like mixing sessions, and I consider those musical activities, but we haven’t been systematic about that.

So the pitch is that if you have a fact question about some Jerry Garcia musical activity—when did it happen, where did it happen, with whom did it happen, and how did it happen in terms of what’s on the setlist—then you can go to Jerrybase.

When folks who may not be all that familiar with Jerry’s solo work come to you and ask you for a recommendation, what do you suggest?

It’s somewhat similar to the way that we tell Grateful Dead newbies that they have to be patient; they’re not going to get it in the first flash. In that instance, if I had 45 seconds with somebody and my tape deck, I would play the transition from “Miracle” to “Shakedown” on 1/15/79 from Steven Rolfe’s tape at volume 11. That would be my 45-second pitch. If I had five minutes, I would play Phil’s bass solo from 8/22/72 and so forth.

With Jerry Band, it’s not quite like that. It’s a little more subtle, where you’re listening to what Jerry’s doing.

The cliché is right, though, 6/16/82 Music Mountain [in South Fallsburg, N.Y.] it’s phenomenal. It has “That’s What Love Will Make You Do” and lots of other groovy stuff. Another one is 5/31/83 Roseland Ballroom [New York, N.Y.], which has “Rhapsody in Red” and “Deal.” That’s for someone who wants to get their ears melted off. I’d start with those two but, of course, there’s so much more.

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