Attorneys share quest to recover, restore and return recordings of Grateful Dead concerts

WMU-Cooley graduates Andrew Acker, Jeffrey Butler and Charles Dadswell shared their quest to recover, restore and return the famous lost “Betty Board” concert recordings to their rightful owners —Betty Cantor-Jackson, the Grateful Dead and Warner Music Group — during WMU-Cooley’s 12th annual Howard Soifer Memorial Lecture in Sports and Entertainment Law on April 13.

Cantor-Jackson was a soundboard operator for Grateful Dead and spent close to 20 years recording hundreds of hours of tape with the band. In the mid-‘80s, she put most of her possessions in a storage unit, including more than 1,000 tape reels from the Grateful Dead and other groups.

When Cantor-Jackson was unable to keep current on the storage fees, all of her items were sold at an auction.

Acker and Butler shared how their interest in the Grateful Dead, which began in 1979, led them to recover 1,000 reels of the band’s recordings in just five years. 

Acker, who practices municipal law, and Butler, who has extensive knowledge in education law, enlisted help from Dadswell for his experience in corporate and intellectual property law. The trio, along with Prescott Carter, another fan of the Grateful Dead, joined forces to find the recordings that have been missing since 1986 and formed ABCD Enterprises, LLC in 2012.

Dadswell, a senior vice president and general counsel for a Nasdaq 100 corporation, explained how the group worked to gain partnerships within the music industry and other investors to help finance the purchase of the tapes. However, due to lack of interest from investors, the four partners pressed on with the project and created their own corporation.

“We thought about partnerships, we thought about LLCs and we talked about different joint ventures with various groups,” said Dadswell. “Simply to protect our own personal assets, each one of us as individuals created a LLC as a holding company and those four holding companies are members of ABCD Enterprises.”

The members of ABCD estimate 1,500 hours were spent getting the recordings back into the hands of the rightful owners. Their time included researching, traveling to gain possession of the recordings and restoring and digitizing each tape.

“From the tapes that we discovered, we restored them and digitized them,” said Butler, who practices law with Lansing-based Clark Hill. “We then took those tapes, gave them back to Warner Music, and through the Grateful Dead, they have been released for public purchase.”

Since May 2016, there have been eight Grateful Dead releases using recordings provided by ABCD. Each release contains a credit thanking ABCD for its assistance in providing the recordings.

“Although ABCD did not receive a profit for returning the Grateful Dead Betty Boards, we do recognize pride and satisfaction of doing the right thing and getting the job done the right way,” said Acker, an attorney with Storino, Ramello & Durkin in Rosemont, Illinois.

“The music recovered is nothing short of amazing and the recordings, in my mind, are pure works of art by Betty Cantor-Jackson.”

Realizing how this music was close to being forever buried, Butler and Dadswell each said they are humbled to hear the long-lost melodies of these talented musicians.

“I consider this project my good deed to the universe,” said Acker.