Will They Turn Into Debtheads?

The Dead of the Month Club?

That's the idea being floated by leaders of the Deadhead community, seeking to fill the void left by the breakup of the Grateful Dead after the August 1995 death of band leader Jerry Garcia.

Here's how it would work: Deadheads register their credit card numbers with the band's Grateful Dead Merchandise company, which automatically sends them--perhaps as often as once a month--new CD releases of live recordings drawn from the vast warehouse of concert tapes accumulated during the Dead's 30-year history.

The notion has been discussed in the Dead organization, says spokesman Dennis McNally, though it is yet to be explored seriously.

The fans are, well, dead serious.

"There are at least 25,000, maybe 50,000 Deadheads in the country who would sign up for that," says John Dwork, publisher of Dupree's Diamond News, a Massachusetts-based Deadhead magazine.

In the 15 months since Garcia's death, the Dead has released a flood of archival material that almost equals the 26-year posthumous output of Jimi Hendrix music. There are three new three-CD volumes in the mail-order "Dick's Picks" series, two other live albums through Arista Records (the two-CD "Hundred Year Hall" a year ago and the new, three-CD "Dozin' at the Knick") and an "Arista Years" two-CD studio compilation. Also new on the market is a home video of the Dead's Oakland Arena 1987 New Year's Eve show.

Add to that such related releases as a live album by Garcia's '70s bluegrass band Old and in the Way, the new "Shady Grove" collection of folk songs recorded by Garcia with mandolinist David Grisman, and several other related works. And that doesn't count at least four tribute albums and various other associated projects, plus the dozens of books and licensed items--from neckties to nonalcoholic wine--hitting the market.

For any other act, this would exceed the saturation level.

"The Deadheads are insatiable," says David Gans, producer and host of "The Grateful Dead Hour," a syndicated radio show featuring Dead concert tapes that's heard in L.A. on KSCA-FM (101.9) on Sundays at midnight. "I think the Grateful Dead organization, if anything, is being a little too conservative in how much it's releasing."

So far, sales figures reflect a steady demand. "Hundred Year Hall," released soon after Garcia's death, has sold a decent 293,000, according to SoundScan. The "Dick's Picks" sets have settled into consistent sales of about 40,000 each--hardly spectacular, but plenty to make a profit for this low-budget series.

Demand isn't likely to taper off for several new projects. On the boards for 1997 are at least one new "Dick's Picks" collection, a third edition of another archival series, "Live From the Vaults," and, perhaps, the first of what could be many posthumous concert albums by Garcia's side project the Jerry Garcia Band.

The greatest Deadhead anticipation, though, may be for the new songs that the Dead was recording at the time of Garcia's death. Studio sessions were incomplete and unusable, but quality concert recordings of the material are being assembled by Dead bassist Phil Lesh for an album that could be out next fall.

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