by Toni Brown
Foreword by Jorma Kaukonen / Afterword by Dennis McNally
$29.99 / available now from www.ToniBrownBand.com or your local book seller
Of course, this book is about the history of RELIX – the magazine. Dead Relix. “Music for the mind.” A magazine for the kind… There is a history between myself and Relix, a dharma if you will. Along my way through this wicked world back in the mid 80’s I found a few discarded copies of Relix magazine that were instrumental in my getting on the bus to nevereverland. I have oft told that piece of my story, and will again, so I won’t digress at this moment. But suffice it to say, without Relix, there might not be a Deadheadland.
I was a faithful reader for years to come, and usually made sure my friends got to read my issue too. As it turns out, that was par for the course – the readership was 10 times the number of printed issues! Relix – in the days before the World Wide Web was one of the main sources of Deadhead information, and also exposure to other bands (including early Phish) and other aspects of the culture.
What started out as a fanzine for tape collectors became a guide to the Deadhead universe, a hub of communication, with active trading, classifieds, cross country scene coverage, and of course up to date Grateful Dead tour news, set lists, reviews and pictures. Remember kids, we did not have this all coming into phones in our pockets. (Phones in our pockets, that would have made a bunch of trippers laugh real hard back then!) Relix was an important information link for the gelling of the group mind.
For many of the Latter Day Deadheads of the 80’s and 90’s it became the “virtual” scene that is now provided by social networks, blogs, online spaces, and bit torrents. The ads in the personals/classifieds were…. well, they were like Twitter in a way. Short message broadcast to the world: “Tennessee Jed seeks Sugar Magnolia to Sing my Memphis Blues Awayyyyyy (again) – and go to shows and stuff” (ok, that was not a real ad, but as memory serves, I am not to far off). And one could not download a show instantly minutes after it is done… if you didn’t know a taper or have a connection to someone who did, you would look to Relix for B&P offers and if you were lucky you might have a show within the same year! Back in the day, Relix was the hook-up.
I remember my joyful surprise reading one issue back in the nineties to see a picture of someone in the magazine wearing a Deadheadland t-shirt while at the Disney park in Orlando – and the caption identified the wearer as Toni Brown, Publisher! Toni Brown was owner and publisher of Relix from 1980-2000. Her new book, RELIX: The Book – The Grateful Dead Experience is a tribute to the magazine, compiled by Toni along with the help and contributions of Lee Abraham and Ed Munson. Toni is also a musician, and has performed with many people from the Dead family, and currently performs as the Toni Brown band.
I recently got to ask Toni some questions, and she generously shared with us her thoughts about Relix, her experiences there, Relix Records, and about her own music as well.
DEADHEADLAND: If I didn’t know anything at all about it, how would you describe Relix to me?
TONI BROWN: Relix started as a tape-trader newsletter and quickly became a place for Deadheads to connect in a pre-Internet world–a newsletter by Deadheads for Deadheads. Over its 35 year history, Relix covered a wide variety of music options, but stayed true to its roots. It became the birthplace of the Jamband scene, and provided a place for emerging artists to get recognition.
DHL:What was you first role at Relix?
TB: I started working as a copy editor with then Relix editor Jeff Tamarkin in 1979. I took over as editor and editorial director when he left in late 1979. My first issue was 1980’s Vol. 8#1, featuring John Lennon on the cover.
DHL: Are you involved at all with the current magazine?
TONI: I sold the magazine in 2000, and left at the end of 2001. I have not been involved with the new incarnation, though they have featured a tiny bit of my writing in the past year.
DHL: Did Relix grow in popularity along with the Grateful Dead’s own rise in popularity?
TONI: Relix grew in circulation as the Dead’s popularity grew. And likewise, the Dead’s popularity grew with Relix’s international involvement with the expansion of tape trading. In 1987, In The Dark’s commercial success brought the unexpected consequences that comes with a chart topping album and hit single “Touch Of Grey”. Many older fans were alienated by the influx of new fans, tickets to shows became scarce, and the parking lot scene grew out of control as people flooded the parking lots without tickets and without money.
During the Dead’s success with In The Dark, the media frenzy that followed the colorful traveling circus made the band’s Deadhead following a focus not only in the media, it helped fuel the targeting of Deadheads by the DEA in their war on drugs. In those days, Deadheads were put under a microscope by the mainstream world, and I became an outspoken critic in defense of our scene, trying to spin the positive side of the Dead scene, pointing out the familial aspects of it, our overwhelming involvement as environmentalists, and citing the music as the main reason we gathered. At the same time, I started to get an overwhelming number of letters from incarcerated Deadheads, and took on the job of fighting the DEA publicly, appearing on many television shows, in articles and on radio. I dedicated a cover story to the problem, and the problem was addressed worldwide when other media sources picked up on it. Rolling Stone was helpful in getting the word out, as were many other media sources. It was a rough time.
DHL: What was the circulation?
TONI: Our circulation at that time was around 60,000 copies (1987), but we had a ten to one pass-along rate, so many more people read each issue than bought it. That was considered successful at the time.
DHL: Was there ever negative reactions from readers when Relix covered music other than Grateful Dead?
TONI: Of course, from the beginning of time. When Relix started in 1974, the Dead took a hiatus the following year! So what was a fledgling newsletter to do? The New Riders opened for the Dead, so they were okay to write about. Commander Cody worked with the Riders, Hot Tuna was cool, and the Dead embarked on numerous solo projects, so 1975 was a very strong year in the evolution of Relix into other music. But that “other” music was family related, so it wasn’t so bad. During Jeff Tamarkin’s years, his focus veered towards the punk/New Wave movements of the day, and readers were confused. I brought more solidly back to the original targeted audience. But when David Gans of Dead Hour fame pitched an Ozzy Osbourne interview, it seemed a Deadhead’s perspective of Ozzy might be an interesting angle. Unfortunately, David wrote a great interview, but he didn’t connect it to the Deadhead viewpoint. Readers were a bit confused. And the very next issue found me having a baby, and the Relix founder put Joan Jett on the cover. That was a turning point. We lost so many readers, I made the ultimatum to take it in my own direction or leave. My direction meant Put the Dead back in Relix. We’d been getting petitions to do so, and the readers’ outcry from the Ozzy/Jett interlude gave me the ammunition I needed to step in as publisher in 1982.
DHL: Did you find that being involved in the “media” changed your perception as a Deadhead, of either the band or the music?
TONI: I am a musician. I’ve spent time around musicians. I felt it would be in the best interest of the magazine, my readers and my emotional well-being to stay away from the Dead on a social level. Yes, I’d get to meet them, stop backstage now and then, but I steered clear to avoid coloring my journalistic views. I was a fan of the music (my first show was The Pavilion, Flushing Meadow, NY 7/12/69) for most of my life, but I wanted to maintain a Deadhead perspective. So I spent my time in the audience amongst the other fans.
TONI: I did get to meet them, but as I said, I kept a professional distance. I had some interesting moments with them during interviews, or in some social situations, and I once helped Jerry when we were on the same flight and his luggage was lost. He also gave me some great songwriting advice. After Jerry died, I toured with Vince Welnick and Tom Constanten, and love sitting in with Donna Jean.
DHL: Could you share a story?
TONI: I got to know Robert Hunter pretty well. He was the person who suggested we start Relix Records in 1980, and we released a number of his records. I handled publicity for the label and worked with him a lot. He is a huge inspiration to me as a poet as well as musically. In fact, he gave me a guitar that had once belonged to Garcia, urging me to learn to play it and get my writings into song. Done! It was soon after that the David Nelson band approached me to record some of my songs, and they offered to back me up—they were on tour and had some days off. How could I refuse? My first CD. Blue Morning, is the project we worked on together, Garcia died in the middle of the process, and when we got back together to finish the CD, I added “Box of Rain” and “The Wheel” to the CD in his memory. Jorma played on a track or two, and Michael Falzarano (now of the NRPS) was my producer.
DHL: How did writing the book come about?
TONI: Back when I was still publishing Relix, in 1998 or so, I asked one of my contributor’s, Lee Abraham, to write “the Relix story.” He embarked on chronicling the stories behind the scene of the formation of Relix and its evolution as the special interest/lifestyle magazine it was/is. Business complications got in the way of it coming out, and Lee contacted me a couple of years ago to dust it off. It got me motivated, and when I went after a publishing deal, they asked me to change my focus to put out “a happy hippie helping of Relix as I saw it.” That sounded great to me. There are still many behind the scenes stories to be told, but not in this book. Though Lee wound up not being involved in this project, his spirit got me into action, and I love the way the book came together. It has an historic flow that shows the Deadhead evolution in a unique way. Hopefully, we can work on getting all of Lee’s work used sometime in the future.
I went to see Steve Bernstein, who originally bought Relix from me in 2000, and he was generous enough to give me permission to use the material from original Relix for the book. I appreciate his support in this project. By the way, Peter Shapiro, former owner of Wetlands, now publishes Relix. He’s a great guy!
DHL: How long did it take you to write?
TONI: If I include the time I spent on Lee’s version of the book that we put on the shelf, it was a two year journey for me. But the book that finally did come out took ten months to write and compile. My wonderful new husband, Ed Munson, did the amazing layout, making every page a piece of art. BackBeat Books/Hal Leonard wanted us to provide a full-color book, and since Relix was mostly a black and white magazine, we had to get creative. Ed worked his butt off, and the results are amazing. A full color feast for the mind!
DHL: Tell me about your book tour:
TONI: Ed and I are looking forward to touring in support of the book and our new CD, State Of Mind. We’re starting with an October southeast tour of Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Alabama and ending things at our favorite music festival, MagnoliaFest in Live Oak, FL. We’re looking forward to meeting up with the extended Deadhead family as we make our way across the country. Watch for us on the West Coast this spring, and the northeast in the early summer.
Watch our website for book-signing and concert dates, and for news on what we’re up to. We plan on linking up with many other like-minded musicians on our journeys, so we’re hoping to make this a great big family reunion!