May 12, 2010
What a Long Strange Contract It's Been...
There is a Grateful Dead exhibit “currently playing” at the New York Historical Society, with lots of knick knacks on loan from the archives at UC Santa Cruz. (Jon Stewart once did a funny bit about a job listing for an archivist of the collection, though it apparently peeved serious archivists everywhere). Here's more information on the exhibit, including the insights of a sociology professor who has written a book called Deadhead Social Science and sounds like she's study the culture like Jane Goodall studied chimps.
The exhibit was a bit sparse and dissatisfying, and it mostly felt like at $12 excuse to lure you into the gift shop to buy a large peace sign tapestry or small stuffed dancing bear for your kids. (It still beat grading exams, of course). There were a few cool pictures of the Fillmore East, which I suppose were obligatory because it was after all an exhibit at the New York Historical Society.
It should be no surprise that, for me, the most interesting thing at the exhibit was a contract – actually, the notice of an exercise of an option pursuant to a contract. I learned that the Grateful Dead signed their first contract with Warner Bros. in 1966. They were the first rock band signed to the Warner label. The exercise of option (pictured, click to enlarge) was dated 1968 and it extended the terms of the 1966 contract through 1969. There was not a copy (at least that I saw) of the 1966 contract.
In the document, “notice is herby given” to Jerome Garcia and his bandmates that “the undersigned, WARNER BROS. – SEVEN ARTS RECORDS, INC., has exercised and hereby exercises its option under the contract referred to above, for with respect to the Term specified, upon and subject to all of the terms and conditions set forth above and in said contract.” The exercise came with a $30,000 advance and 8% of domestic royalties, and 5% of foreign royalties. The rest, as they say, is history.
More than anything, I came away with a sense that this band was a superb marketing machine and had a really good business sense, or at least someone advising them that did…. and still does.
[Meredith R. Miller]
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