August 24, 2009

China>Rider - The Early Years

The first China>Rider we have was played on 9/30/69, 40 years ago - these two songs have a tangled history in the early years of the Dead, so I'll offer a brief introduction to how their performances evolved up to '74. (Note that this is not a guide to best-of versions; in fact, I won't even be mentioning the best versions.)

Our story begins with I Know You Rider, which first emerged as a series of floating blues verses in the '30s. In the late '50s it started circulating as a folk song and was covered by a number of people in the early '60s; Garcia picked up the song from the folk scene and brought it to the Dead - possibly they had even been doing it in the Mother McCree's jugband. Some of the alternate lyrics of other versions are here:
The lyrics the Dead chose are very evocative in their compressed blues style, being somehow foreboding and hopeful at the same time. There's an excellent discussion of the origins of Rider here:

I Know You Rider was one of the first songs the Dead recorded, at the Autumn Records session in November '65 - not a standout version, but it shows they already had the arrangement in place, and it wouldn't significantly change during the next year. A somewhat better version was recorded at the Scorpio Records session in June '66; but one of the Dead's trademarks was already becoming apparent - their songs were better at live shows. (studio) (studio - these early takes were also released on the "Birth of the Dead" CD)

There are lots of live Riders from '66, mostly identical to each other - they turned this old blues into a happy pop song that fits in well with the mid-'60s folk/rock sound. Phil takes the singing lead with Weir harmonizing; the music is more upbeat and bouncy than later Riders, taken at a faster speed with Garcia's constant rhythm-guitar chirps and Weir's Byrds-style chords; the harmonies are straight folk. Garcia has a cool, poppy guitar solo, and he keeps soloing under the vocals in the second half, which is a nice touch. They sometimes sing the verse, "I'd drink muddy water, sleep in a hollow log, than stay here in Frisco, be treated like a dog" - which would be dropped in later years. (also in So Many Roads box)
The 9/16 version marks a change - it's longer with more verses and two solos, and it's the first time the "I wish I was a headlight" verse appears (sung by all). 12/1 follows the same format.

They apparently considered Rider for their first album, since we have an instrumental track of it from the album sessions in January '67. It seems stronger than their last studio attempt in June '66, but sadly they don't seem to have finished it.
After that, the song vanished from their setlists for nearly three years.

China Cat Sunflower was one of the first lyrics Robert Hunter wrote for the Dead - apparently he mailed it to them as a poem in mid-'67, and they later set it to music. The lyrics are quite consciously psychedelic:
When Garcia sang the words, they could sound like a string of nonsense syllables.....but the words weren't the focus of the song, they were more a backdrop to the music. China Cat is one of the Dead's catchiest pieces, with an unstoppable riff, intertwining guitars, and memorable soaring solos - it might make even a non-deadhead tap their toes. Bob Weir later said, "China Cat Sunflower is just about the only song where Jerry ever taught me a riff and told me that's what he wanted to hear. That little arpeggiated lick was his."

Our first live performances of China Cat come from the Northwest Tour in January '68, as part of a medley: Dark Star>China Cat>Eleven. These three songs were always performed as an indivisible unit - the segue from Dark Star into China Cat is like stepping onto a rocket, as China Cat blasts into hyper-speed with some screeches from Garcia's guitar. The Eleven fits so naturally into the China Cat jam it seems inseparable, like an extension of the same song.
China Cat is very different in early '68 from its later incarnation - it's full of that roaring '68 energy, taken very fast with lots of rattling drums and lots of solos from Garcia, and Pigpen doubling the lead riff with Weir - the song just rushes by. It's in a different key, which Garcia doesn't sound too comfortable with, since his voice is too low. By March they'd start to correct this - notice in the March versions how they change the key right after the opening riff. Also in the middle solo, the key changes again for a section of the solo, then shifts back for the verse - this part of the arrangement they would keep in later versions.
1-23-68 - Road Trips
2-23/24-68 - Dick's Picks (two versions, one out of Alligator) (also in So Many Roads)
3-17-68 - Download Series (out of New Potato Caboose)

If there were any more live performances of China Cat in 1968, they've been lost. The Dark Star>China Cat>Eleven medley was broken up into its separate pieces that spring, and none of them were used on the Anthem of the Sun album (the Dead perhaps feeling they weren't fully worked-out yet). But when recording Aoxomoxoa later that year, China Cat was an obvious contender. It wasn't as much of a victim of studio over-experimentation as other songs on the album, and some of the changes they made became permanent - the song is taken at a more moderate pace, Garcia sings in a more playful way, and his loose solos capture a live feel. Aside from the rattling drums, the new intro of Garcia and Phil setting up the rhythm would remain standard. Constanten is now a big part of the sound with his organ fills, and he's a natural fit in this song; but one feature that's only heard on the studio version is the backing vocals, endearingly silly as they sing "na na na....china cat...." as if this will be their radio hit. Perhaps thankfully, they didn't repeat that in live shows! It's odd, though, that they didn't play China Cat live while they were recording it.
(A reader comments: "The original vinyl mix of Aoxomoxoa has Weir playing from the beginning. The 1971 remix has his guitar entering at the same time as the vocal - among other changes making this version sound more like the one they were playing live by then." The outro jam was also considerably shortened in the remix, losing the loose, stoned "live-in-the-studio" feel of the original album.)
The outtake here (sadly shortened) has quite a different intro, fewer overdubs, and a very druggy feel. Garcia's guitar part is less thought-out, but it's nice to hear the fadeout solo run to its conclusion. (Aox outtakes)

China Cat makes a brief surprise appearance in the 12/16/68 Hartbeats show - around the 35-minute point of the "Creator" jam, Garcia plays the riff for a bit.
China Cat pops up again in early '69 - in the great Alligator jam on 2/7/69, shortly after the drums, Weir starts up the China Cat riff and the band grabs it. Garcia seems to be trying to remember how it goes, and he eventually drags them back to Alligator....

In April '69 the Dead's shows were generally becoming looser; the singleminded focus we can hear in the winter shows was dissipating. They were looking to break out of the tight format of their shows over the past few months, and shake up the setlist a bit - but what they didn't have yet were new songs - those wouldn't start coming until June. So one little-mentioned facet of the April shows is that they dug up a lot of the old songs that they hadn't done, sometimes in years! (I know, since so many '67/68 shows weren't recorded, a lot of these dates will be wrong, but I think the general picture is true.)
For instance, at the 4/6 Avalon show, they played Viola Lee for the first time since March '68, Beat It On Down the Line also for the first time since March '68, and It's All Over Now Baby Blue for the first time since 1966.
On 4/5/69, they resurrected It's a Sin for the first time since May '66, and did it a few times that month. (And of course, they also did China Cat Sunflower for the first time since March '68.)
At the 4/26 show they did Silver Threads and New Minglewood Blues for the first time since 1966.
At the 4/27 show they did Me and My Uncle for the first time since 1967.
They also started doing He Was a Friend of Mine regularly in April, which hadn't been in their setlists since 1967. And they started doing Sitting on Top of the World again, for the first time since March '68.
And on 5/7/69 they pulled out a couple more antiques - Good Loving for the first time since May '66 (with Jerry singing), and Smokestack Lightning (which we only have one version of from '68).
And, they started doing Hard to Handle (its debut show was 3/15).
So without writing any new songs, the Dead added about a dozen oldies to their setlists that month, almost all of them 'traditional' tunes or covers. The shift to more country songs and Workingman's Dead would come a few months later....

Anyway - on 4/5/69, China Cat was returned to the setlist, with an extended intro and a long exit jam. China Cat was more feisty and rollicking in early '69 than it would become - Garcia sings emphatically, Constanten adds his organ swirls, the drums bash all over, and the playing is very energetic. Though they're sloppier than later 'classic' China Cats, these early April-June '69 versions are all recommended for their exuberant feel. The jamming at the end sounds fresh and exciting, since they're playing 'free' without any set format of where they're going to go. On 4/5 the jam almost sounds like it's heading into Rider....but over the next few months, they'd segue into a variety of songs: China Cat>Doin' That Rag China Cat>Doin' That Rag>It's a Sin
4-26-69 - Dick's Picks - Mountains>China Cat>Doin' That Rag Doin' That Rag>Friend of Mine>China Cat>Eleven>Death Don't China Cat>Sittin' on Top of the World Dancin' in the Streets>Friend of Mine>China Cat>New Potato Caboose China Cat>Morning Dew China Cat>Morning Dew (AUD) China Cat>High Time>Mama Tried Doin' That Rag>China Cat>Mama Tried>High Time (poor AUD) Minglewood>China Cat>Doin' That Rag China Cat>Doin' That Rag China Cat>High Time (AUD)
China Cat never came to a stop, but was always jammed into another song. Doin' That Rag was the usual segue, but other odd combinations were tried. Morning Dew was a strange song to try to segue into, but High Time was a diabolical choice - on 7/5 the attempt to slow down is quite awkward. 7/12 is a notably long China Cat; the Dead seem to have been somewhat dazed at that show, and the intro to China Cat is stretched out with Weir taking a long solo to start the song! - but they head into an intense jam. 8/21 is unusual since there's a guest playing flute and whooping through China Cat; the band tries to accommodate him, but he's very repetitive and doesn't add much. 9/27 is the last China Cat that doesn't go into Rider; it has a nice long jam, from which the Dead exit into.....a super-slow High Time.

On 9/30/69 the Dead played their first China>Rider. How they got the idea to resurrect this long-dead folk song and pair it with China Cat, I think has been lost to time, but they must have been happy with the result. Due to the recording quality, it's hard to hear the vocals in I Know You Rider, but it's clear the song hasn't changed much despite the long hiatus - it's less of a chirpy pop song and sounds a bit more somber now, but other than a few slight changes (mainly in Garcia's playing), the parts are much the same. Rider has a very 'closed' arrangement, and over the years it would develop very little, aside from some extra verses and Garcia's solos. As for China Cat, it would now forever be tied to its folky partner. (AUD)
Our next performance is from a month later, another audience tape of 10/24/69, and is worth noting since it's the first time Weir takes the first solo after China Cat. From then on, he would have an increasingly dominant part in the China Cat jam. (AUD)
The first two China>Riders we have are from pretty low-fi audience recordings; the first soundboard China>Rider is from 10/31/69, and we can finally hear it clearly. China Cat is notable for coming out of Cryptical (the only time this happened); there is a long transition solo out of China Cat which is all Weir - Garcia seems to sit out the solo entirely. Weir is actually quite good here - it's not the standard China Cat solo he'd develop over the next year, but a little more in Garcia's style.
One more China>Rider that needs attention is from 12/5/69. Not only does it have the longest transition jam for years (five minutes), but it's also the first time Garcia sang the "I wish I was a headlight" verse. Though not the big climax it would become in later years, this verse was striking from day one; with the later versions in our memory, it's interesting to hear how he sings it in December '69. (exc AUD)

At this point there's no need to provide links for the China>Riders, since each version is much the same as the next, and changes come slowly. By this time China Cat was sounding tamer than it had been in the spring; but late '69 is one of my favorite periods for this song - Constanten adds a nice presence, I like Garcia's raw '69-style guitar sound in this song, and the transition jam is looser and less rigid than it would be for the next few years. They have a questing feel coming out of China Cat and they're free to explore it for a few minutes, without rushing straight into Rider. By February '70 the jam had shortened down to a couple minutes, where it would stay for a couple years, with Weir taking his usual solo and Garcia often doing little more than setting up Rider with a few notes.

In their acoustic sets of 1970, the Dead debuted a third version of I Know You Rider. Though the acoustic arrangement was simplified, it was a lot slower and more dirgelike; they replaced the three-part harmony with Garcia's lead vocal sounding very stark and mournful. Garcia also revived the "I'd rather drink muddy water" verse that hadn't been heard since 1966. This was always a highlight of the acoustic set - of course they never played China>Rider at the same show. (poor AUD)
5-2-70 - Dick's Picks (AUD) (AUD)

For me, 1970-71 are the least interesting years for China>Rider, due to most of the versions being very short (each one is about ten minutes) - Garcia solos in the transition jam only briefly, or barely at all. Also, after Constanten left, Pigpen didn't play any organ in this song, which further simplified it. That said, otherwise most of the time it's played very well.
There is an interesting tryout of China>Rider from Keith's first rehearsals with the band:
However, they didn't perform China>Rider very much in the fall '71 tour - once in October, twice in November, thrice in December - which is odd since they normally played it at nearly every show. They did, though, introduce China Cat jams into the Not Fade Aways. They'd done this sometimes in 1970, most famously 9-19-70 (as I mentioned in the Fillmore East '70 post); by late '71 Not Fade Away was hitting a new peak and becoming more jammed-out than it had been in early '71, and some of the best versions come from this tour. These are the Not Fade Aways with China Cat jams in them:
and a later one -

It may be worth mentioning the few China>Riders that have unusual places in the set. Up through '74 China>Rider could appear anywhere in the show, first or second sets, but it was almost never attached to another song. The exceptions are: - St Stephen>China>Rider - Good Lovin'>China>Rider>Good Lovin'; here it replaces the usual Good Lovin' jam. - Good Lovin'>China Cat>Good Lovin'; here China Cat comes out of a great '72-style jam and returns to Good Lovin', minus Rider. A must-hear. - Dark Star>China>Rider - Here Comes Sunshine>China>Rider

The Dead were pleased enough with China>Rider in their Europe '72 tour that they included it on the album, and this is probably the most 'classic' China>Rider format in people's minds. Some of this may be due to Keith: he is so much at home in China>Rider it's hard to remember what it was like without him. In 1972 the China>Riders are slowing down (especially noticeable in the fall), and the playing sounds more precise and methodical. With a more relaxed groove, they start building the dynamics of the music a little more - the second line of the "headlight" verse in particular starts to get the extra kick in fall '72. Weir has his solo down to a science and it's nearly the same every time; Garcia's solo into Rider is more unpredictable, and sometimes in late '72 he stretches it out a bit, depending on his mood - some of the transitions from these months are great.

The China>Riders in February '73 mark a change from '72 - though not longer, they are considerably more peppy, with Garcia downright hyper sometimes. The transition jam from 2/28/73 (on Dick's Picks 28) is particularly explosive, one of the finest - the Dead were ready to inject new life into this medley.

A new character now enters our story: the Feelin' Groovy jam, which the Dead had adopted back in fall '69. The first Feelin' Groovy jam appears in the 9/26/69 Dark Star, around the 11-minute mark, unfortunately hard to appreciate due to the sound quality:
Since it's an audience tape, most people probably haven't heard it - but this one from the Dark Star a month later is well-known:
- and just a week after that it had one of its best performances:
Feelin' Groovy appeared in many Dark Stars thereafter, too many to cite - some of the best-loved versions might include 1/2/70, 2/13/70, 5/15/70, 9/19/70, 10/21/71, 4/14/72, and 5/25/72. From the end of '69 and through '70, Dark Star had a particular format: after the first verse the band would evaporate into space, explore weirdness for a while, then slowly return back to melody - and here the Feelin' Groovy jam (or sometimes the Tighten Up jam) would emerge, like bright joy after the darkness. Over time the Stars changed, and became more dense and complex; particularly after Keith joined, the '72 Stars got jazzier with more jamming elements and meltdowns, and the Feelin' Groovy jams often became more brief and fleeting - sometimes just a hint from Phil. Late '72 saw the end of its stay in Dark Star - one instance is 10/18/72, a classic version at the end of the Star, after the Philo Stomp:
- by contrast, from 11/13/72 we have an extremely fast version in a Star filled with intense meltdowns:
The last time I recall Feelin' Groovy being played in a Dark Star is 11/26/72, a great version that should be known by more people - the end of the Star has a bass solo>Feelin' Groovy>Tiger meltdown - Garcia's tone in the Feelin' Groovy is just amazing:
A couple times the Feelin' Groovy jam would appear 'solo': on 10/2/72, in the post-Truckin' jam it's one of the themes after Nobody's Fault But Mine and is played very loosely, leading up to Morning Dew:
- and on 2/24/73 it's part of the jam coming out of Eyes of the World (unfortunately the more complete audience tape isn't on the Archive), and follows a long bass solo - Garcia initiates it and they play it very sweetly:

The first time Feelin' Groovy entered the China>Rider transition was on 3/16/73 - the Dead started the show with it, as if eager to show off their new jam. Though it would never leave its new spot, Feelin' Groovy was a very welcome addition to China>Rider - played simply and briskly and sliding into Rider, it extended Garcia's solo and brought a new emotional lift to the medley as Garcia's cheerful notes soar and peak. The audiences in '73 certainly seem surprised to hear it, and it often brings cheers.
The rest of March '73 offers the same pattern; one unique variation happens in the 3/31/73 show, where out of an Other One space they suddenly shift into Feelin' Groovy, and from there head naturally into Rider without bothering with the China Cat:
The new China>Rider format remained basically unchanged through '73/74. These China>Riders are probably most people's favorites, and there are numerous discussions of various versions from this era; so there's no need to provide links to examples, as you will probably have your own favorites on-hand. I'll just mention that in the summer and fall of '73, China Cat grew much longer as they really started jamming the solos, and even longer in '74; almost every transition during this period is fantastic, and the Riders are much improved from earlier years, with wizardly solos and growled "headlights". And I'd be remiss not to mention the longest China>Rider ever played, on 6/26/74:
The last linkable '74 China>Rider on the Archive is from 9/20/74. Ironically, it's one of the poorest versions of the year, very disjointed as if the Dead are too spaced-out to focus, though they do manage to build up a bit of heat in the transition. So it's worth a listen just to hear a comically weak China Cat from this peak year, with the Dead stumbling around the song unable to connect - it's rare in '74 to find them like this.
(Update: 10/20/74 is now streamable - though the mix here is rather poor, with Weir buried in the back, it's the last China>Rider from the early years, and has a good example of the long, unwinding transition with a Feelin' Groovy jam.)

The Dead decided not to carry China>Rider over the touring break, and aside from one revival in 1977, didn't start performing it again til 1979. From then, they played it steadily til the end -- but that's a story for someone else to tell......

* * *


Here is a short article on China>Rider written by Andy Lemieux for another website in 1999:


The pairing of China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider is one of the most enduring, consistently well played, and psychedelic in the Grateful Dead's repertoire. It is a pairing that is successful and popular among Deadheads because it harkens back to the band's beginnings and speaks to the multifarious talents of the band members. The combination of the colorful lyrics and convoluted music of China Cat Sunflower, with the care-free nature and straightforward jamming of I Know You Rider, blends psychedelia and folk music in a way that is quintessentially Grateful Dead.
The sneaky, resplendent laughter of China Cat Sunflower segues perfectly into the down-home honesty of I Know You Rider. Hunter's kaleidoscopic epiphany in China Cat Sunflower, is combined with the double drumming rhythms of Kreutzmann and Hart that Jerry once described to Hugh Hefner as creating "figure eights inside your head," as well as the layered throb of Weir and Lesh, and Garcia's shimmering, metallic attack, dancing joyously over the whole shebang. I Know You Rider offers a simple but heartfelt reflection, and resolute optimism in the combined vocals of Garcia and Weir, and is backed by the roaring rhythm of Weir and the drummers while Lesh unleashes mad, steam-blast bombs and Garcia soars freely in flight.
 Lyrically, the two songs are very different stylistically. However, the pairing is not an accidental one. China Cat Sunflower is a metaphoric onslaught that beautifully depicts Hunter's psychedelic vision. It invites us to join in, to "look for a while" at the startling weaving of sights and sounds, the "proud walking jingle in the midnight sun." The words are a vehicle for vividly describing the revelations of both LSD and the music of the Grateful Dead, the "Leonardo words from out a silk trombone." Both of these elements bring a Buddhist-like enlightenment, a "copper dome bodhi" that "drip[s] a silver kimono." The music and the acid offer a journey that shines, "like a crazy quilt star-gown through a dream night wind." It is a merry adventure filled with "comic book colors" that is expansive, striking "a silent bell beneath a shower of pearls." The band becomes the "leaf of all colors" that "plays a golden string fiddle to a double e water fall."
I Know You Rider is a much simpler, more straightforward folk song, but there is a connection between the two songs. I Know You Rider is an honest, if somewhat bold declaration by the speaker that his love, his "rider," will miss his "rollin' in [her] arms...when he is gone." The speaker seems torn between staying, and the urge to hit the road again, as his mind is "wanderin' like the wild geese in the West." Ultimately he leaves, convinced that things will get better, "the sun will shine" and "March winds will blow all...troubles away." The brilliance of combining these two songs, the search for a higher enlightenment that washes "over [their] back[s]" can only come through continuing to ply their trade, by continuing the adventure, and in doing so, shining for all of us who joined the ride like "a headlight on a North-bound train...through the cool Colorado rain."

The combination of the two songs developed quite a bit through the years, enduring a number of stylistic changes, but remaining a testament to the ethos of the band and the community of Deaddom as a whole. The early versions of China Cat Sunflower, that pre-date 9/30/69a (the first version that is combined with I Know You Rider), are paired with a number of songs, including The Eleven, Alligator, Doin' That Rag, Sittin' on Top of the World, Morning Dew, and High Time.
The early versions from 1968, while shorter and played in the key of E, are dripping with psychedelia and played at a much speedier pace than most later-day versions. The pair began to gel in 1969 and 1970, as the band began to stretch the combo out and changed the key of China Cat Sunflower to G, as evidenced by versions such as 12/5/69, 12/30/69, and 2/14/70b. The band began to put more emphasis on the vocals in 1970 and 1971, and also experimented with the China Cat Sunflower Jams, intertwining the theme at a number of shows, including, most notably, 3/21/70b, 5/7/70, 11/15/71, 11/20/71, and 12/10/71. Other outstanding versions that cook from start to finish from this time period include 10/4/70 and 4/29/71.
The perfect blend of vocal harmony and pristine jamming culminated in the versions that were played in Europe in 1972, including such stellar efforts as those performed on 4/26/72, 5/3/72, 5/11/72, and 5/26/72. The band experimented with the pairing again in 1973 with interesting results, including the incredible trifecta of Here Comes Sunshine > China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider on 2/17/73 and the noteworthy, stand-alone I Know You Rider out of Spanish Jam on 3/31/73. This exploration led the band to change the tone of the transition jam to a more Reggae flavored style that hints at Uncle John's Band at times, and has wilder, more extended jamming as in the versions played on 2/24/74, 5/25/74, and 6/16/74. The remarkable interpretation from 6/26/74, with the long and spacey jam with the China Cat Sunflower theme before the song proper is also exquisite and is an essential version!
The change to an even more powerful swelling, transition, and explosion, not unlike the version from 5/25/74, began with the version on 12/29/77, after a long hiatus, and was expanded upon on 2/3/79, 10/28/79 and 11/5/79. This approach, in turn, led to the full tilt boogie and blown out insanity of latter day versions, such as the powerful rendition on 8/16/80, as well as the performance on 6/20/83. The pairing continued to be well played throughout the band's entire career, and other later versions that are outstanding and worth tracking down include 4/6/85, 6/25/85, 4/22/86, 9/9/87, 7/29/88, 7/17/89, 3/26/90, 6/16/90, 7/6/90, 9/20/90, 4/1/91, 6/16/91, 9/24/91, 5/19/92, 6/28/92, 6/9/93, 9/28/93, 6/18/94, and 3/17/95.

By Andy Lemieux


  1. Thank you for this labor of love.

  2. Great work here, and i'll second what Peter says above.

    Also, your point is well-taken about the 73 China/Rider taking on a bit of a different character from the previous year.

    i wonder if you know any more details about equipment, etc. changes that may have happened during the fall of 72? Many of the shorter songs that carried most of 72 (JStraw, Deal, BT Wind for instance) all seem to have taken a turn around the winter of that year, and seem quite different from what 73 would produce...


  3. One place to check for equipment changes is Blair Jackson's book Grateful Dead Gear.

    That said, I'm not sure whether any equipment changes affected the songs at that time.... I assumed the stylistic change from '72 to '73 was just natural development, the Dead keeping things interesting for themselves.

  4. > I won't even be mentioning the
    > best versions.

    10-04-70 - that version is the standard by which all others are judged.

    I-) ihor

  5. 10-4-70....hey, you said that in the Taping Compendium!

    I bet it could be the most engaging version from '70/71.
    My own standard is based on the '74 versions, though...less peppy, but more playing. For me, a China>Rider without a long Jerry-led transition jam is like a Rider without the headlight verse.....missing something important!

  6. For some reason, maybe I'm the only one who hears this, but nobody seems to mention that Weir's solo in most versions, typically 72-ish, have a real "Suite:Judy Blue Eyes" feel to them. Am I crazy, or do others hear this, too? To me I hear a clear influence. I would dig up a version or two at say at what point it comes, but I don't have much time to do that right now or comment much more. But I thought I would add my opinion.


    1. I hear it plain as day. I assumed Weir was directly quoting Still's part during the transition into the last part of SJBE

  7. Last night I heard Bob Weir and Phil Lesh play Rider without China Cat. That seemed pretty unusual and made me wonder how many other times that has happened. Personally, it's also more than a bit symbolic for reasons I won't bore you detailing. Any insight is most appreciated.

  8. Aside from the early Riders of 1966 and the acoustic Riders of 1970, it almost never happened.
    The only time in the early years was 3/31/73, the Other One>jam>Rider.

    There were a couple more times in the '80s:
    11/10/85 Half-Step>Rider>Playing
    8/5/89 Playing>Rider>Terrapin

    Also this unusual medley:
    7/29/88 China Cat>Crazy Fingers>Rider>Playing

    And one time after '69 China Cat was played without Rider:
    3/9/85 China Cat>Cumberland>Miracle>Eyes

  9. From a Bob Weir interview:
    "China Cat Sunflower is just about the only song where Jerry ever taught me a riff and told me that's what he wanted to hear. That little arpeggiated lick was his. I do something similar on Scarlet Begonias, which I came up with."

  10. When China Cat Sunflower was played in 68-69, it contained that distinctive Hammond organ riff. You can hear this very well on the studio version of the song. However, after T.C. left the band in 2/70, Pigpen never bothered to perform this riff. You can see in the "Night at the Family Dog" video, he is by his Hammond Organ, but only hitting a tambourine.

  11. I think Pigpen's organ playing was very minimal in the first year or so after TC left. Though I haven't tried to trace what he played in each song, I think he often preferred to sit out rather than learn (or re-learn) the parts, other than in a few select songs. More song-by-song research is required here, though!

  12. Jan 2, 1972 appears to be Good Lovin' > China Cat > Good Lovin', with no Rider. Can you address this?

    1. Thanks for catching that! I made the correction. It's an amazing moment when they go into China Cat...

  13. Thanks for writing this --China/Rider was always one of their best, so much so that it's almost easy to take for granted. It was always so dependably good.

    It seems to me that one change in the arrangement that you don't mention is the effect of Phil's vocals being phased out, after being such a prominent feature --on Rider in particular. (It feels, anecdotally, like he kept it up for longer on Rider than just about any other song?)

    I'd love to read one of your essays about the backstory there.

    1. Well, Phil sang on Rider through 1974, then stopped after the hiatus. I think the only Riders in which Donna sang were the one in '77 and a few in Feb '79. I don't think it ever sounded right without Phil.

      I don't cover the later years here, but there's not a whole lot of backstory. Phil wrote that "singing high harmonies was starting to irritate my throat." Gans asked Weir in '77 why Phil had stopped singing: "He blew his voice with improper singing technique... He just wasn't singing properly, and he abused his throat. You can only do that for so long before you have no range left... Phil could get it back with an operation..." But, as McNally reports, "Lesh preferred to stop singing rather than accept throat surgery." He eased back into a few songs in the '80s.
      I think he still sang in Truckin' in the late '70s, though.

  14. Great chronicling of this important story of how songs are developed. Rider is a birth the entire GD sound. Heavy rock/blues sound infused in country bluegrass tune. The '66 version changed how people perceived the possibilities of were music could go. The energy and solo from '66 are impressive works of art. Then fusing of this tune China Cat was completion of the method. I heard 71 version in 1973 before I went to a show and it change my whole of thinking what advanced jamming was all about. The tone, the passion of the vocals, poly rhythms ... it has it all. It smooth out by 1972. This creation change a lot musicians methods. My band still sings the missing verse and mix the tones and solos of 66 and 72 in one.
    Thanks for studying and presenting this important piece of music history.

  15. An excellent breakdown and presentation of a wealth of information.

    In a bit of conjecture on my part I always felt that China Cat Sunflower was short changed by it's anchoring to I Know You Rider instead of it being developed into a longer improv piece in the way they evolved Playin' in the Band.As for Phil's vocal part on I Know You Rider I can't see how the band let that happen,it was simply awful and unprofessional.While the band played a number of excellent China-> Rider's in '73-'74 it was never quite the same for me.I felt forcing the Feelin' Groovy transition jam in often confused the end of the China Cat or the beginning of Rider and was an unnecessary addition.Those negatives aside the combo is a favorite of my mine from the song section of the catalog.I find it a very rare occurrence that both songs were played at a high level in a single performance,but I did come across six pre-hiatus performances in my notes where both were well done and I'm sure there are others such as the 10/4/70 version i-hor mentions in this comments section.

    1. China Cat never did become a longer improv piece - even to the extent that, say, Scarlet Begonias stretched out before being paired with Fire on the Mountain. Probably the loosest post-China Cat jams are in '69, when it was still fresh. For a couple months after Rider was introduced, they'd still do a nice free jam for a few minutes before entering Rider. But for the next couple years, there's very little improv in that section, though it loosens up a little again in late '72/early '73.
      So that section doesn't get really "open" again until the Brent years when China Cat was re-introduced; but by then it was played at a faster pace and feels more jittery, less relaxed to me.

  16. So 6 26 74 is the longest China Cat? You'd think that a stand alone version would be the longest. I've always thought that the I know your Rider pairing was the reason China was always fairly short, and that there had to be jammed out standalone versions from 69 somewhere.

    1. 6/26/74 is the longest China Cat. In general the 1974 versions are the longest, ranging from 8-11 minutes. It was never a standalone song - it always transitioned into another song, and never had an "ending." The versions from 1969 tend to be 6 minutes or less. They often jammed it out a little more in December '69 - 12/5/69 is the longest of the year. Other notable longer-than-usual versions from 1969 are mentioned in the post.

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    4. Thanks for the reply, though I feel its a stretch to say it was "always jammed" into another song. IMO it usually seems like they just start the next song quickly after finishing china cat, not much transition. I believe this is the case with most the Doin that rag pairings, the "transitions" are very choppy and sound more like a band abandoning a jam, they just peter out,get very quiet/slow, and the band starts a new song. Not at all like the obvious transitions between Know Your Rider or Scarlet Fire for example. This is why there aren't any notable transitions, because the "transition" usually lasted 1 or 2 seconds and consisted of the band abandoning the jam. Thanks for all the work, really enjoyed going through it these last few months.

  17. I'd point this to anybody that wants to hear the longest China Cat before being linked to IKYRider. Ithink a case could be made for this to be known as thelongest standalone ChinaCat, the jam ends, 3 sec drums, into Mamatried. Theres no china bleeding into Mamatried


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  19. Although not technically a single show--unless you buy Bear's bet to the contrary--they did play the acoustic Rider and China/Rider on 5/15/70

  20. As an appendix, I added a short article on the evolution of China>Rider written by Andy Lemieux almost 20 years ago. I thought it was a bit too brief to post on its own, but it makes a good complement to this piece.

  21. Great write up LIA! But about this: "The first time Feelin' Groovy entered the China>Rider transition was on 3/16/73 - the Dead started the show with it, as if eager to show off their new jam." Yes, that's the first one the whole band plays it but on the two previous China>Riders, 2-26/28, Phil quite clearly plays the Feeling Groovy bass line during the transition. The rest of the band doesn't pick up on it though. It's also possible the same thing happened on 2-24 but it doesn't circulate. It would, then, seem to have been Phil's idea to put it in there.

    Also, for those interested in the musical details, the C>R transition is in D Mixolydian, as is IKYR, and it's this harmonic connection that explains, I think, their deciding to link the two songs. (Similar to Scarlet Begonias and FOTM being both in B Mixolydian.) But the FG Jam in C>R is in D major (Ionian) giving it a different harmonic color and thus a more adventurous transition overall, as well as a sense of harmonic tension and resolution once they resolve back to D Mixo for IKYR.

    1. Good point, Phil introduced Feelin' Groovy to China>Rider; they almost get into a jam on 2/26/73. They'd done a full Feelin' Groovy jam on 2/24/73 (after Eyes), which I think was the last time it was played without a Rider attached.
      Phil seems to have been very attached to the Feelin' Groovy line, popping it into several 1972 Dark Stars as well. There are a few times in 1970 Stars where Phil tries starting it but Jerry ignores him. Phil was also the first to play it briefly way back in the 4/5/69 Dark Star, though the full band didn't pick it up for a few more months. I have to wonder if this sequence meant something to him, or if he just liked the descending line.

  22. I've been checking out the other recorded I Know You Riders from the folk scene of the early '60s: - Tossi Aaron 1960 (first recording) - Joan Baez 1960 (but unreleased) - Judy Henske 1963 - the Big Three 1963 - the Kingston Trio 1963 - Fred Neil & Vince Martin 1964 (they did Morning Dew on the same album) - Judy Roderick 1965 (as Woman Blue). This is my favorite of these, kind of a cross between Tossi Aaron's melancholy version and the Dead's slow, funereal 1970 acoustic version.

    As the Dead lyric site notes, the "I wish I was a headlight" verse isn't in any earlier Rider - the Dead may have picked it up from the more obscure song "Blues Jumped the Rabbit." - Karen Dalton, 1970

    This is a case of the folk process, picking up a song & verses from other performers, rather than from records - so even in this widely recorded song, the Dead's source is unknown.

    1. Continuing with the early electric I Know You Riders: - Big Brother & Janis 1966 (live) - the Byrds 1966 (I Know My Rider, unreleased) - the Astronauts 1967 (a pop single)

      Meanwhile, acoustic versions were moving farther afield: - John Renbourn 1967 (I Know My Babe) - James Taylor 1968 (Circle Around the Sun) - Hot Tuna 1970

      And moving into the '70s - these have the "headlight" verse, probably Dead-derived; by now the Dead's version has become a source for other bands: - Mountain Bus 1971 (10-minute rock version) - Seldom Scene 1973 (bluegrass version)

    2. Good stuff.... Not quite sure about the key change after intro riff. Believe it has always been the G - F vant.