Grateful Dead Producer/Engineer John Cutler Has Died

The sound engineer extraordinaire was 73.

By Scott Bernstein Dec 28, 2023 9:53 am PST

Longtime Grateful Dead producer/engineer John Cutler died at age 73 on Christmas Eve after a long illness as per his brother, Bill Cutler. John Cutler’s numerous credits include co-producing the Grateful Dead’s final two studio albums — 1987’s In The Dark and 1989’s Built To Last — with Jerry Garcia.

A statement posted by Bill Cutler reads:

My brother John died on Christmas Eve after a long illness. I know he was loved by many of you, and in the coming days I will share some stories about his life, but right now our family needs time to process this and grieve.

The news of John Cutler’s passing was confirmed by Grateful Dead archivist David Lemieux.

“I was saddened to learn of the passing of my friend and mentor John Cutler. John had more integrity than anyone I’ve ever known. He hired me 25 years ago to work alongside Dick Latvala as the Grateful Dead’s video archivist, my start date being February 1, 1999, John’s birthday. Amongst many, many accomplishments, John produced some of the Grateful Dead’s best and most popular albums, including In The Dark and Without A Net. An incredibly talented audio engineer, mixer, and producer, John was a very kind person, one of the best.”

John Cutler began doing odd jobs for the Grateful Dead in the early ’70s including the repair of amps. Cutler served as the band’s advance man before their famed September 1978 trip to Egypt for a series of concerts by the pyramids of Giza. After that, he signed on full time as an employee of the Grateful Dead. Among his duties was making a mix used by local radio stations or for television broadcasts, while FOH engineer Dan Healy would do the house mix.

Journalist Jake Feinberg interviewed Bill Cutler in 2015. One of the topics hit upon was John’s experience in Egypt. Feinberg shared the portion of the interview regarding Egypt:

“My brother (John) was already doing radio mixes from Winterland in the 70s. He didn’t become a full time employee until they needed somebody to go to Egypt and set up the advance work for the “Egyptian Experiment.”

John was sent to Egypt ahead of everybody else to bring all the stuff there. That was an incredible undertaking because Israel and Egypt were still at war so there was all of that tension in the Middle East to begin with. Anwar Sadat’s wife had given “The Dead” approval to come and play in Egypt.

When John went with all the gear, all the Mcintosh Amps to the airport the Egyptian authorities were very suspicious. They didn’t want any drugs in the country so John had to dissemble all of the amps right there at the airport. This is weeks ahead of when the band was getting there. He had to put them all back together and get all these permits done. Then he needed permission to get them to the Great Pyramids because they (GD) wanted to use it as an echo chamber. Can you imagine going over to Egypt, in that environment, and say “we want to use the Pyramids as an echo chamber.”

Your talking about a society that’s never even had a Rock n Roll band. He eventually got some of the authorities to allow him to do that. They had to find cabling to run all these cables from The Pyramid. At the time Egypt was so much more primitive then we think of as a country. When they looked for cable they really couldn’t find any they needed until they opened up an old shed and they found cable that was left behind by The Nazi’s when they were fleeing the British. They gave John that cable. It’s 1978 and the cable is so old that when he unspooled it most of it wouldn’t even hold together. They had to give up on the idea of using the Pyramids as an echo chamber. The experience of him actually going to do all those things sealed it. After “The Dead” got back from Egypt John became a full time employee of the band.”

Jerry Garcia tapped John Cutler to serve as FOH engineer for Jerry Garcia Band performances. Additionally, Cutler was the final GD FOH engineer after Healy departed the role in 1993.

Following Garcia’s death, John Cutler produced and engineered Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia live and studio archival releases. Rob Wasserman, Sanjay Mishra, Backbone, Gov’t Mule, New Grass Revival and Warren Zevon were among other artists Cutler worked with in production or engineering capacities.

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