There have been few transitions in classic rock as strange as Keith Olsen’s, who went from producing Fleetwood Mac’s debut album with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks to the Grateful Dead’s newest weed-grooving studio effort, 1977’s Terrapin Station. The reason, Olsen said, was simple: Label president Clive Davis, whose Arista Records had just signed the Dead, made a personal request that he take over.
“All I could say was: Holy crap,” Olsen tells Brian Sword, laughing. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had heard the band, I had heard a couple of songs. But you don’t say no to Clive. When he asks you to do something, you do it — because, he’s Clive Davis. He’s a career maker.”
And those legendary Davis instincts — he’d previously worked for Columbia, and has since held management positions with RCA and Sony — paid off once again. Terrapin Station went gold for the Grateful Dead, posting the biggest sales figures the group had had since the double-platinum Europe ’72.
“I did everything I could to make the Grateful Dead semi-commercial,” Olsen says — but he had never dealt with the likes of the Dead. “Not like any other artist ever,” Olsen admits. “I mean, the stories would go on for hours and hours. It was quite a time. They had a nutritionist, in the studio. They had a meeting that said: ‘When we are in the studio, sometimes we do too many drugs and we don’t take care of ourselves very well. She can cook and present at least one healthy meal a day — so we won’t get ill and can survive the ordeal.’ That will give you a hint of what it was like in the studio.”