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iTunes walks with the Dead

Rock legends the Grateful Dead make their catalog of live recordings available for download.

The long, strange trip of acid rock icons the Grateful Dead has made a pit stop in cyberspace, with the band now selling digital downloads of key live recordings.

Jerry Garcia
Jerry Garcia, former
Grateful Dead front man
The band announced Tuesday that digital versions of the recordings are now available through Apple Computer's iTunes service and the band's merchandise site, which previously sold only CD versions.

The offerings include all 33 volumes of "Dick's Picks," a series of recordings capturing certain live performances by the band, and a dozen or so more selections from the group's "Vault."

Albums purchased through iTunes are in Apple's secure AAC format. Buy direct from the Dead, and consumers get their choice of two MP3 bit rates or FLAC, a "lossless" format preferred by many audiophiles. Prices range from $18.99 to $30.70, depending on the length of the recording and the audio quality.

The venture may not be a major moneymaker for the group, given that more than 2,500 live recordings of the band are already available for free through legal download sites such as Live Music Archive. The Dead were one of the first bands to allow fans to record concerts and swap tapes for noncommercial distribution.

While the Dead have been early adopters of technology, offering downloadable MP3 samples from albums as early as 1999, other classic rock acts are still waiting on the shift to digital music. The most notable holdouts are The Beatles, whose work is still unavailable for legal download, with any progress in that direction likely to depend on the outcome of a lawsuit against Apple.