• 149 WESTCHESTER AVENUE, PORT CHESTER, NY 10573-4549 · (914) 937-4126

  • November 6th, 2017

    Port Chester Legends Recorded Every Grateful Dead Show at The Cap

    While working at The Capitol Theatre in our 1970s heyday, Ken and Judy Lee preserved history. The live Grateful Dead shows that they recorded have been freely shared and circulated for decades, and thanks to them, we have been able to explore and experience our past. We are forever grateful for their dedication. In honor of the Grateful Dead’s November run at The Cap in 1970, we welcome you to learn more about Ken and Judy Lee.

    1. Having worked as an usher at The Capitol Theatre, you’ve had a lot of exposure to live music, and of course, the Grateful Dead. You must have been able to really appreciate the difference that live music makes, and all the creative energy that the Dead had on stage. What made you want to record these shows initially?

    Judy and I both remember being out on the sidewalk under The Capitol Theatre’s marquee and listening to the Chambers Brothers blowing the roof off the house inside, an amazing show that far transcended the experience one could get by buying records. It was magnitudes better, quantum levels higher. It was that moment when I realized just how much better live music could be than studio recordings.

    Joe Sia, Wolfgang’s Vault

    2. You recorded the Grateful Dead’s performances in the 1970s, when live recordings were not so easy to access as they are now with the internet. At that time, what kind of role did the tapes have in your life and the life of fellow music fans?

    The recordings that we made from the master tapes gave many happy hours of music for us and our friends. Because of the inevitability of generational loss I wasn’t willing to start that procedure of decay by recording my own master tapes or releasing any recordings preferring, instead to rely on technology to come up with a way to replicate each recording exactly the same, so everybody has the same quality recording and so, that came to pass several decades down the line.
  With the recordings came the obligation to keep them for the future and that really had an impact on our lives, quite a few sleepless nights wondering and worrying how I would grab them and whatever else I want to keep in case of some sort of disaster.

    We really enjoy hearing from strangers how our music affected their lives, one of the kids in the park wound up as a music professor at a college out in Granville, Ohio and says if it weren’t for those recordings it would not have happened. He’s retired now and has a yearly blues festival in that little Ohio College town. He sends his students our way during Phil Lesh shows and asked them to send back a picture of themselves with Judy & I. Nice way of keeping in touch. 

    Other professional touring musicians have similarly expressed their gratitude, saying the precision of our recordings allowed them to recalibrate after a tough night on the road. High praise indeed.

    3. It’s easy to take for granted how easy it is to record sound now, with smart phones ready to go at a moment’s notice. Without this accessibility in the 1970s, you must have put a lot of thought into how you were going to record a performance. What kind of technology did you use, and did you have any favorite techniques to get the best sound possible?

    We used a Sony TC 124 with two Sony F 95 Mics including a 10 m or so run of insulated extension cable to each mic. The microphone placement was that of a big giant head. It’s usually right in the middle of the room, that sweet spot and I would just walk around until I felt it and that was where I laid my wires into The Capitol Theatre. Aimed like a pair of ears, a 45° angle towards the stage. The microphones each had a cocoon of dark gray acoustical foam to both conceal them and filter out random chit chat. I always like to use the house electricity while recording in those days. Batteries were costly and unreliable.

    The absolute most important part of my recording technique involves my lifelong companion Judy Lee. Only she could’ve kept those unruly deadheads from banging on that rail in front of the balcony and thus preserving the sound quality of those shows all the way from 1970 to whenever you’re listening to it right after you read this article. Most people listen to Judy. I still shush people if they are shouting to one another near my microphones. There’s nothing wrong with that, you’re certainly sacrificing something for the good of the future. I go to shows to listen to the music and curate it for future generations. I’ll play the grouchy guy so you future people can enjoy the music. Judy also handled the tape flips, we only had 45 mins. on each side so timing was critical.
 That recording deck represented the best quality cassette recorder of the era just prior to Dolby.

    4. Your recordings at The Cap are special parts of Grateful Dead history, and all of them included Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, who some would say was the heart and soul of the Dead. Though he passed away at only 27, the time that he was in the band was a significant part of their history. What was it like to record the band with Pigpen in the group?

    Pig Pen both grounded the band and also functioned as an agent of chaos from time to time. Thus,  keeping it real and unreal at the same time! He acted as the front man which was a job that Jerry really didn’t want to do and kept the action going as the master of ceremonies as well as his work on the keyboards and his soulful vocals.

    5. Your recordings were, and still are, very important parts of the Grateful Dead’s musical repertoire. By recording their live shows, you helped to secure the band’s live virtuosity. What aspects did you focus on most in your recordings? For instance, did you want to capture the live atmosphere of the venue, or get a more concentrated sound of Jerry’s guitar?

    The entire situation was what was important to the recording. The crowd certainly returned and refined the energy sort of like how light bouncing back-and-forth in the same direction creates a laser.
 I always listen for the clearest sound I could bring out of a venue. Hopefully above the buzz of the crowd, if there is any, and balanced to reflect the sound image of the room.
 They’re not always all gems. In 1970 (10/10/70), I hired the Grateful Dead to play for Judy‘s birthday and that recording wasn’t the best of ours. It was however, the first time that Jerry played the solo in an electric “Candy Man” and so it belongs to history, and I’m grateful for all the unforgettable craziness that went down that night including the party that went past Dawn. Rock ‘n’ Roll good times.

    6. Is there anything that you can recall in particular about the Grateful Dead’s shows at The Cap that set them a part from any other live shows? What was it about the Grateful Dead and The Cap that made the magic so very magical?

    For us it was the sense of family and being in our second home. The whole audience, staff and show folks were quite similarly engaged in exploration in all directions at once. From sub-audible Phil bombs to ESP experiments, crazy was just a number on the dial for those days. Extremely interesting things going on. As you well know.  

    We saw the dead in many different venues, including the Fillmore East, but the Cap shows had an intimate feel that just wasn’t there at the other venues. This place had, and still does  have, a special ambiance. This  place comes alive, from the the sound bouncing around, almost like wearing giant headphones, to the balcony actually moving in time with the movement of the  music and the crowd. The house has such a special, joyous feel that it makes any show you see there more magical.

    One of our daughters was lucky enough to see Steely Dan at the Cap and also at another venue down in DC, and she felt the difference also.  She told us that the show at the Cap were incredible while the one in Washington just didn’t have that special something. The theater was designed by a theatrical architect named Thomas Lamb and he did a spectacular job of assuring and ensuring that the sound was nothing short of the best. It was made so that a person on stage could speak and be heard by 2000 people.

    7. There are so many recordings in your repertoire that you were so generous to share with fans online. Do you have any favorites? Any that you’ve held back?

    I’ve always liked the undeniably blunt force Magic that exists in 6/24/70. I’ve watched grown man weep at the Power that we captured that magical night. Lightning in a bottle.
 Judy is partial to 11/8/70, which contains a rare recording of the boys doing a hypnotic Main Ten.
 There will be more releases, Time of course, keeps us all apart from doing this important work.

    8. Both yourself and your wife Judy are heroes among Deadheads. There are fans out there who are so devoted that they know the differences between countless live recordings, and you both are a part of this historical legacy. What are you most proud of in having played an active role in music history?

    Jerry used to say he wanted to create something that couldn’t be torn down, that would live on after him. We’re proud that we could help him achieve this goal. It’s great having the Internet to be able to listen into the past. Plus it keeps me from having to keep track of my own stuff, it’s a much more convenient place to keep things, that Internet. The way young people are picking up on this stuff with the same wide eyed amazement that we must’ve shown all those many years ago. All ages from way little ones to people much older than we are. Although I wish the parents would keep the way little ones away from the big speakers so they could have normal hearing for their lifespan.