Book Notes: DeadBase 50, the Complete Grateful Dead Database on Paper

Before the internet, there was DeadBase. Not the internet in general, just for Grateful Dead fans and tape traders. DeadBase was first published in 1987, and it contained setlists, lists of dates when each song was played, discographies, and “reviews” of shows that you might have been able to get when trading. I bought my first copy of DeadBase in the mid-1990s, when I started trading tapes, before I shifted to CDs a few years later, and DeadBase was one of the essential tools to know what to look for.

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Now, DeadBase 50 brings things full circle, with this final edition of the book that covers the Grateful Dead from their first shows in 1965 through the Fare Thee Well shows of July, 2015. Compiled by John W. Scott, Stu Nixon, and Mike Dolgushkin, and with the contributions from hundreds of other contributors, this 992 page book weighs in at 2.5 kg, and costs $90.

DeadBase 50 is full of tables and stats (2,314 shows, 36,534 songs, 484 different songs), with setlists not only for the Dead, but also for each band member’s solo careers. Here’s a spread showing the Europe 72 shows, among others:

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As you can see, DeadBase 50 is glorious plain text. It’s a book for obsessives. But sometimes, if you’re a Grateful Dead collector, you’ll want to check something in the book.

DeadBase 50 is a bit of a hybrid. It contains the entire 1996 DeadBase XI edition of the book (578 pages), fronted with 400 pages of updates. This makes it a bit unwieldy; you really need to check both sections of the book if you’re looking for a specific song or show, and it would have been a lot better if all the new content had been integrated with the old. It’s also got full updates to GarciaBase, WeirBase, along with new sections containing information about Phil and Friends, Ned Lagin, and Further.

So the organization isn’t great, but that’s okay. Part of the fun of a book like this is the browsing. You look up your favorite songs, then check the dates they were played, and check in your collection to see which show you might want to listen to. Or you flip through some of the concert reviews, provided by a small army of Deadheads, to find a show you remember hearing, or to check out one you’ve never spun.

Get DeadBase 50 if only to have a reminder of the old days, when tape trading depended on a paper database. Or to have a book to flip through from time to time to check out the many great shows the Dead and its members played. It’s a bit anachronistic to buy such a big book these days, when there are websites that contain some of this information, but it brings back memories.