A reader reminded me that there’s been no post on this site for He’s Gone, so I thought I’d write a few words on the song’s history. This post will cover the early years of performances during Keith Godchaux’s time with the Dead from 1972-1979. The song has a unique background: written to address the band’s own mishaps, its meaning changed completely and became more universal over time. The Dead developed He’s Gone on the road, so we can hear many changes as they crafted the song in its early stage; later on, the jam part of the song would go through its own evolution over the years.
In April 1969, the Dead were in a state of financial chaos, as usual. Bill Graham had briefly been their manager at the start of the year, but had been dismissed by the band. Meanwhile they were digging themselves ever deeper into debt with their endless studio sessions and steady expenses.
Then Lenny Hart appeared. Mickey recommended his father as a manager to help solve the Dead’s financial woes, and at first Lenny cut an impressive figure as a self-proclaimed reverend and experienced businessman (he’d been a savings & loan executive, and had run a drum store with Mickey). It seems everyone around the band distrusted Lenny, but the bandmembers were enthusiastic about him, so he stayed.
Lenny lost no time in establishing control over the band’s finances, and if he seemed strange and secretive, inept at bookings, creepy with the ladies, and prone to making deals behind the band’s back, well, anything went in the world of the Dead. At least some money was coming in, and he appeared to be a trusted, religious family man.
And so a year passed, until early March 1970, when suspicions mounted and the band finally discovered he’d been stealing checks, keeping fake books, and squirreling away their money in his own secret bank accounts. Lenny fled to Mexico in a hurry, taking the money with him and leaving the band broke.
They decided not to pursue him, and it seemed he had disappeared for good; but in August 1971 he was discovered in San Diego, pretending to be a minister, and was arrested.
The Dead sued, and Lenny went on trial for embezzling from the Dead. He repaid part of the amount to the band, and in March 1972 was sentenced to six months in jail.
That month, the trial inspired Robert Hunter to start writing a song about Lenny Hart. As he later told Relix, “I warned them about him from the beginning. That song just contained more warning… People thought it was about Pigpen after Pig died, but they didn’t think.” (Relix vol.5 #2)
Blair Jackson asked Hunter and Garcia about the song in a 1991 interview for Golden Road.
Garcia: My recollection is we wrote it just before we went to Europe in 1972. I remember working on it in a little apartment I had in [San Francisco]…
Hunter: It was considerations of Lenny in my head that kicked off the whole “Rat in a drain ditch, out on a limb, you know better but I know him.” I was telling them all along this was not the right way to go. I must say, I told you all so!
Garcia: Yeah, you did.
Hunter: So the song started that way, but later on it became an anthem for Pigpen, and it’s changed through the years. These songs are amorphous that way. What I intend is not what a thing is in the end.
Garcia: …We don’t create the meaning of the tunes ultimately. They recreate themselves each performance in the minds of everybody there.
Initially, the song was not very complimentary to Lenny, calling him a “rat in a drain ditch, caught on a limb.” Hunter also had to crow to the band, “You know better, but I know him – like I told you, what I said,” Lenny would “steal your face right off your head.” The song alludes to his escape, gone to “some high cold mountain range,” and doesn’t hold much hope for reformation, for band or thief: “Lost one round but the price wasn’t anything, a knife in the back and more of the same.” Lenny was probably already in jail when Hunter wrote the song, but Hunter preferred to leave his outlaw on the run: “nothing’s gonna bring him back.”
Despite the song’s subject, Garcia found it appealing and arranged it to bring on the Europe ’72 tour. Almost immediately, the song began shifting meaning, from a bitter ode to a thief to a jaunty, catchy tune where the words were almost nonsense syllables that could mean anything; and within a year it had become a slow mournful lament, offering positive sympathy for anyone who’d “gone;” but at the same time it could also feel like a triumphant anthem of survival, and listeners could personalize it however they chose.
The live debut of He’s Gone was on a Danish TV show, 4/17/72:
At the start, He’s Gone was an up-tempo toe-tapper, similar to Ramble On Rose or Tennessee Jed. Pigpen played organ, and Weir didn’t harmonize in the verses yet; the “going where the wind don’t blow so strange” bridge wasn’t played yet, instead the guitar solo was much longer; and the song came to an end with a quick riff after the last chorus, without any vocal coda.
He’s Gone went through some changes over the course of the European tour. It gradually became slower, dropping from 72 to 61 beats per minute by the end of the tour. In April the guitar intro had stuck to one repeated note, but in May it became the more melodic familiar riff.
On 4/29, Garcia sang the bridge for the first time (by himself), shortening the solo to its normal length – a simple repetition of the verse melody. Garcia sang most of He’s Gone by himself through the tour, except for Weir’s harmony in the chorus; there were no group vocals. There were occasionally some minor lyric differences, and Garcia would sometimes switch the verse order, but otherwise he sang it pretty much the way he always would. (One interesting difference: Garcia seems to sing “high cold mountain train” in the bridge throughout this tour. In this summer this would apparently become “mountain chain,” though it can be hard to hear the difference, and I could swear Garcia keeps singing “mountain train” in many versions in following years.)
They started drawing out the ending a bit more; Garcia would usually play a short, sweet little guitar coda at the end to round out the song. In May, they would quietly fade out the song at the end (like an album) instead of bringing it to a firm stop.
The Other One was paired with He’s Gone for the first time on 5/13, but in reverse from its later usual order – He’s Gone came out of the end of the Other One. (And in one unusual touch on 5/26, Weir starts the song with a “wobbly” tremolo effect on his guitar, which he soon abandons.)
For the Europe ’72 album, the 5/10 version was used but significant overdubs were made to bring the song closer to its summer ’72 state: the vocals were entirely redone in the studio, with extra backing vocals added throughout in the verses and bridge, and the “ooo, nothing’s gonna bring him back” vocal coda was added at the end.
After a two-month live break, He’s Gone came back on 7/16/72, unusually coming in the middle of the Other One jam. There are no harmonies in the verses yet, but Donna now joins Weir in the chorus, and all three sing the bridge; and most significantly, the song now has the “nothing’s gonna bring him back” vocal coda at the end, lasting a minute before a short wah jam ensues, merging back into the Other One.
He’s Gone usually remained a standalone track for the next month, though – on 7/21, they fade on the ending vocals for a minute without a final jam. This would be the pattern for the rest of July and August; in the next few versions, Garcia just briefly plays his trickling-guitar figure to end the song. (The average song tempo in summer ’72 holds steady at around 62 beats per minute.)
7/25 is the first version where Phil can clearly be heard singing in the bridge and adding a bass vocal in the end coda, which is now stretched out for a couple minutes, starting to take on a gospelly flavor.
A couple weeks later on 8/12, there are harmony vocals in the verses for the first time, and the instrumentation in the ending vocals has briefly dropped to just piano and drums. There’s still no jam at the end, but a drum solo links it to the Other One. The versions in the rest of August would also simply fade out with no ending jam.
September would be a turning-point though; He’s Gone reached the 10-minute mark on 9/3 and never turned back. The song itself would remain unchanged, but in the week after Veneta, they worked out a new ending – after a relatively brief vocal coda on 9/3, for the first time there’s a little jam with Garcia’s trickling-guitar lines, which blends directly into the Other One. There would still be standalone He’s Gones through the rest of ’72, but now just as often it would start off a song suite with either the Other One or Truckin’.
On 9/9 the ending jam, already starting to get longer, leads into Truckin’. The same happens on 9/10 but He’s Gone jumps up to 14 minutes in length – the vocal coda is still only a couple minutes, but Garcia now stretches out the final jam for five stunning minutes. His playing takes on a Roy Buchanan tinge, combining a stinging tone, lyrical sweetness, volume swells, pinched high notes, and piercing melodies.
The 9/16 audience tape is interesting since it reveals an audience already entranced by this brand-new song (not yet released on album) – some already seem to recognize it from the night before. They clap along all the way through the couple minutes of the vocal coda, then fall silent when Garcia unleashes the final jam. (The coda-clappers can also be heard on other audience tapes of the month, so this was a widespread early phenomenon.)
9/17 had a short He’s Gone (“only” 10 minutes, but He’s Gone would rarely be that short again), with the Dead cutting down the vocal coda, but the ending jam seamlessly turns into the Other One. On 9/21, they stretch out again – the vocal coda is still just a couple minutes long (with light instrumentation throughout), but a long mellow jam segues into Truckin’, with Garcia gradually sneaking in Truckin’ motifs until the song appears.
The versions from the rest of the September tour follow the same pattern, usually coming to a full stop (as on 9/26-27), except for 9/28 which deftly switches to an Other One jam. The extended ending jams are uniformly great, and 10/2 is the first He’s Gone to top 15 minutes, since they reprise the vocal coda. (On 10/9 Garcia teases Bird Song at the end of the jam, which would have been quite a segue, but then he veers away.)
A couple of the October versions are sandwiched inside the Other One again – 10/19 (rather short and unremarkable until the end, when it magically transforms into a hybrid Truckin’/He’s Gone passage linking back to the Other One) and 10/24 (which soothingly comes out of a deep meltdown, to the audience’s delight, and has an unusually fiery ending jam melding into the Other One).
The average tempo through fall ‘72 remained around 60 beats per minute. He’s Gone was very consistent from one performance to the next, and by this point the ending jams were becoming ever more amazing, 10/21 being particularly intense. Usually they still played lightly through the vocal coda, but by October they were varying the dynamics of the ending more, dropping the instrumentation under the vocals to just drums and piano, until the jam burst in all the more forcefully – 10/28 is a good example of them playing with a longer coda like this. (Although Garcia would often just dribble into the jam without any drama.) This became a more regular part of the performance in November, the band starting to whoo and scat playfully around the lyric like stoned gospellers. With audience tapes in late ’72 being rare, it’s worth remembering that this was always a clap-along section of the song – for instance on 12/11.
He’s Gone segued twice more into Truckin’ that year, on 11/14 (much of the ending jam is a lengthy Truckin’/Other One tease) and 11/22 (a charged jam full of bass bombs). The rest of the versions that year were standalones, from the punchy 11/17 to the relaxed 11/18 (which, at almost 16 minutes, is the longest pre-hiatus He’s Gone). There were three performances in December (12/11, 12/12, and 12/15), all fantastic, Garcia’s playing sharp and keening in the jams. 12/15 has a particularly long vocal coda, which builds in enthusiasm until the jam bursts forth. (Were it not for a tapecut, this would likely be over 16 minutes.) All three versions subside to quiet, faded endings on a repeated riff, a practice that would soon disappear in 1973 as He’s Gone became a regular part of longer song suites.
1972 TIMINGS (48 shows)
Timings are mostly from deadlists, and may vary from the tapes.
[I] indicates it was played in the first set. (When it was a standalone tune, He’s Gone was often the first or second song of the second set.)
4/17/72 - He’s Gone (6:45) [I]
4/24/72 - He’s Gone (8:45) [starts set II]
4/26/72 - He’s Gone (7:33) [I]
4/29/72 - He’s Gone (7:35)
5/3/72 - He’s Gone (7:05) [I]
5/4/72 - He’s Gone (7:50) [I]
5/7/72 - He’s Gone (7:25) [I]
5/10/72 - He’s Gone (7:11) [I]
5/13/72 – Truckin’ > drums > Other One > He’s Gone (7:59)
5/23/72 – He’s Gone (7:47)
5/26/72 - He’s Gone (8:26) [I]
7/16/72 – Truckin’ > drums > Other One > He’s Gone (8:08) > Other One > Looks Like Rain
7/21/72 - He’s Gone (8:22) [Truckin’ follows]
7/22/72 – He’s Gone (8:09) [after Truckin’]
7/25/72 - He’s Gone (8:46) [starts set II]
7/26/72 - He’s Gone (8:46)
8/12/72 - He’s Gone (8:53) >drums > Other One > Black Peter > Other One
8/20/72 - He’s Gone (9:00) [Truckin’ follows]
8/21/72 - He’s Gone (8:06) [I]
8/22/72 - He’s Gone (8:30) [I]
8/25/72 - He’s Gone (8:42) [I]
8/27/72 - He's Gone (8:50)
9/3/72 - He's Gone (10:12) > Other One > Wharf Rat
9/9/72 - He's Gone (11:18) > Truckin' > drums > Other One > Stella Blue
9/10/72 - He's Gone (14:21) > Truckin' [starts set II]
9/15/72 - He’s Gone (12:03) [starts set II]
9/16/72 - He's Gone (12:43)
9/17/72 - He’s Gone (10:16) > Other One > Sing Me Back Home
9/19/72 - He’s Gone (11:40) > Other One > Stella Blue
9/21/72 - He's Gone (14:01) > Truckin' [starts set II]
9/26/72 - He's Gone (14:32) [I]
9/27/72 - He's Gone (12:38) [starts set II]
9/28/72 - He's Gone (12:26) > Other One > Bobby McGee > Other One > Wharf Rat
9/30/72 - He’s Gone (13:45)
10/2/72 - He's Gone (15:40)
10/9/72 – He’s Gone (11:38) [starts set II, after the jam with Grace Slick]
10/19/72 – Truckin’ > drums > Other One > He's Gone (11:07) > Other One
10/21/72 - He’s Gone (12:55)
10/24/72 – Truckin’ > drums > Other One > He's Gone (12:42) > Other One
10/28/72 - He's Gone (14:20) [starts set II]
11/12/72 - He’s Gone (10:35) > Not Fade Away…
11/14/72 - He's Gone (14:58) > Truckin' > Other One > Sing Me Back Home
11/17/72 - He’s Gone (13:28) [Truckin’ follows]
11/18/72 - He's Gone (15:55)
11/22/72 - He's Gone (13:05) > Truckin' > drums > Other One > Stella Blue
12/11/72 - He's Gone (13:23) [I]
12/12/72 - He’s Gone (13:31) [Truckin’ follows]
12/15/72 - He's Gone (15:41) [Truckin’ follows]
For its first performance of the year, on 2/17, He’s Gone comes unusually early in the show (second song in the first set), and suffers from some mixing issues; but this is the first time the band can be heard clapping the beat in the vocal coda. The jam is long and delightful, and seems to end all too soon.
The song hasn’t changed in the month-long break since 1972, but the better mixes in early ’73 make it sound warmer and more detailed – 2/19 is a great example, with an excellent jam that winds its way to a segue with Truckin’. The band’s getting looser and more carried away with their moaning and scatting in the vocal coda, which is gradually getting longer, reaching three minutes in March.
There were two more standalone versions that winter (2/28 and 3/19), both in the first set and the last times He’s Gone appeared in the first set – it would be a second-set fixture from then on. For the rest of the year it would almost always be paired with Truckin’; in fact there would be only a couple times over the next two years that He’s Gone would go into anything other than Truckin’.
On 2/28 and 3/19, Phil & Jerry open the jam with a combination bass-bomb and trickling-notes figure, which had sometimes featured in late ’72 but now becomes a regular dramatic intro to the jam – 3/19 is particularly good, but they weren’t usually so coordinated. (This adds some extra drama for the experienced listener anticipating this moment: will they hit it in unison? Quite often, not.)
On 3/24 Garcia plays a slide during the jam, bringing out the bluesy feeling that was always implicit in the music. (It almost sounds like he’s about to break into a Nobody’s Fault But Mine.) The jams in March ’73 are noticeably more laid-back than they had been before, perhaps in part because the band’s general performance is mellower than in ’72. The song tempo has slowed a bit – He’s Gone now averages 59 beats a minute.
3/19/73 was the first performance of the song after Pigpen died. Coming at the start of the show, pretty much everyone in the audience took it as an emotional tribute to Pigpen. (Even a Rolling Stone review called it an “apparent reference” to Pigpen’s death.) I have doubts whether the band intended it that way, but from then on, the song would always have a new meaning as an elegy for the dead.
May has two versions of He’s Gone – 5/13 starts off unpromisingly, the band tuning as they begin the song, but it turns into a spirited version. 5/26 features a fine closing jam with a great unique spacy section and a very smooth segue into Truckin’. By now, though, the vocal coda is edging up to four minutes long and the final jam is correspondingly shrinking.
(It’s also noticeable in May that Weir has started using a distinctive guitar effect in this song…I don’t know what it’s called, though.)
6/9 finds the crowd distracted during the song, but they get into the spirit of the vocal coda; the final jam turns into a Truckin’ jam after a few minutes. 6/10 is altogether more remarkable: He’s Gone calmly emerges from a feedback Space in the midst of Dark Star. The effect of this, with the audience going wild and fireworks going off, can really only be appreciated on the audience tape. The crowd also really digs the vocal coda, and cheers the jam intro, which explodes out of near-silence. This He’s Gone is slower and spacier than usual, and the ending jam feels generously stretched out; in keeping with the hypnotic mood, Garcia segues to Wharf Rat instead of Truckin’. (You’d think the stadium crowd would be impatient at getting two slow ballads in a row, but they’re delighted, greeting “old man down” with ecstasy.)
By mid-’73, the increase in audience tapes allows us to hear how much the crowds enjoyed the vocal coda, which almost resembles a revival meeting with all the clapping and hollering – one reason it kept expanding. On 6/22 it’s a full four minutes and the band skips the jam entirely, starting Truckin’ straight out of the vocals.
But the vocals get shorter after that – 6/26 sees the return of a really nice final jam with slippery Garcia lines (better heard on the audience tape). 6/29 also has a long jam (four minutes is the average length), although these jams are all more sleepy and subdued than they used to be.
7/28 is more raucous with the jam perking up, though it’s somewhat short (and hampered by a bad buzz). 9/8 is a definite improvement, another four-minute ending jam with some utterly beautiful Garcia playing – he’s really in another zone here, and this performance reaches a spine-tingling finale.
A couple small changes are noticeable by the fall: the vocal coda is consistently trimmed down to under three minutes, and the trickling-notes lick Garcia plays to start off the jam has now expanded into a flowing cascade of notes. He’s Gone has also kept slowing down: the fall versions are generally 57-58 beats per minute.
9/21 has the vocals low in the mix and is more of an average version with a jaunty upbeat jam, Garcia seeming fixated with double-string playing. 9/26 follows a similar path but is more interesting, as the band enters a protracted quiet space at the end with Garcia pinching off high notes.
Garcia takes a pinched approach throughout the 10/21 jam (though part of that may be due to the SBD mix); the jam on 10/27 starts out in the same vein but becomes more of a triumphal truckin’ march similar to 9/21.
Other than the novelty of coming out of Mississippi Half-Step (which sounds like a planned segue), He’s Gone on 11/1 is only notable for being a short and skimpy version as the band hurries into Truckin’. 11/23 is better, but still just average; the jam is perhaps too relaxed and comes to a sudden halt.
Donna was absent in December, so the band adjusted He’s Gone accordingly, dispensing with the vocal coda. On 12/2, He’s Gone has a perfect placement out of one of the best jams of the year, and is well-played; the vocal coda is skipped entirely and Garcia slips right into a sensitive jam that gives way to Truckin’ too soon. 12/8 is similar; the ending jam is almost purely abstract, a deconstruction of the usual jam motifs. (The crowd is audibly impressed.) 12/19, the last He’s Gone of the year, has a more conventional but very subdued jam. It’s somewhat unfortunate that, with Garcia’s playing ready to slip out of the bounds of the song entirely, the band kept the jams so short on this last tour; but 1974 would see a return to longer performances.
1973 TIMINGS (25 shows)
2/17/73 - He’s Gone (14:30) [I]
2/19/73 - He’s Gone (14:28) > Truckin’ > Other One > Eyes of the World > China Doll
2/28/73 - He’s Gone (11:30) [I]
3/19/73 - He’s Gone (12:04) [I]
3/24/73 - He’s Gone (13:43) > Truckin’ > jam > Dark Star > Sing Me Back Home
3/26/73 - He’s Gone (14:17) > Truckin’ > WRS Prelude jam > Wharf Rat > Bobby McGee
3/31/73 - He’s Gone (12:17) > Truckin’ > drums > Other One > I Know You Rider
5/13/73 - He’s Gone (10:10) > Truckin’ > Other One > Eyes of the World > China Doll
5/26/73 - He’s Gone (14:26) > Truckin’ > Other One > Eyes of the World > China Doll
6/9/73 - He’s Gone (14:12) > Truckin’ > Playing in the Band
6/10/73 – Dark Star > He’s Gone (14:35) > Wharf Rat > Truckin’
6/22/73 - He’s Gone (11:25) > Truckin’ > Other One > Wharf Rat > Sugar Magnolia
6/26/73 - He’s Gone (13:47) > Truckin’ > drums > Other One > Bobby McGee > Other One > Sugar Magnolia
6/29/73 - He’s Gone (//13:19) > Truckin’ > Other One > Morning Dew
7/28/73 - He’s Gone (12:42) > Truckin’ > El Paso
9/8/73 - He’s Gone (14:28) > Truckin’ > Not Fade Away…
9/21/73 - He’s Gone (13:37) > Truckin’ > Other One > Wharf Rat
9/26/73 - He’s Gone (13:27) > Truckin’ > Eyes of the World > WRS > Let It Grow
10/21/73 - He’s Gone (13:25) > Truckin’ > Wharf Rat > Sugar Magnolia > GDTRFB > Saturday Night
10/27/73 - He’s Gone (13:32) > Truckin’ > Wharf Rat > Stella Blue
11/1/73 – Mississippi Half-Step > He’s Gone (10:29) > Truckin’ > Wharf Rat
11/23/73 - He’s Gone (12:59) > Truckin’ > Other One > Me & Bobby McGee
12/2/73 – Wharf Rat > Mississippi Half-Step > Playing in the Band > jam > He’s Gone (10:27) > Truckin’ > Stella Blue
12/8/73 - He’s Gone (10:42) > Truckin’ > Other One > Wharf Rat > Stella Blue
12/19/73 - He’s Gone (10:52) > Truckin’ > Other One > Stella Blue
After a two-month break, He’s Gone returns on 2/23 in a high-spirited version, with an excellent jam that quickly turns into a Truckin’-type boogie; the introspection that marked the late-’73 jams has given way to a more rock & roll approach. Before long the band heads into Truckin’ itself; most versions of He’s Gone from 1974 would continue to be paired with Truckin’. But despite the inevitability of this segue, they never play the transition the same way twice, so it remains unpredictable just when or how they’ll spring it.
I might mention here that even though the middle solo had remained the same length and melody line since early ’72, Garcia played it in an increasingly ornate way in ’73-74, and it’s a pleasure to hear the baroque variations he comes up with each time.
(The He’s Gone song timings remain about the same as in ’73: the song itself is seven minutes, the vocal coda 2-1/2 minutes, the jam about four minutes. Later versions in ’74 would keep the same proportions, give or take a minute. The tempos this year mostly stayed around 57-58 beats per minute.)
He’s Gone wasn’t played during the May or June tours for some reason, but resurfaced in the summer shows. 7/19 is another fine version with prominent booming bass – they may be a little rusty, as Garcia gets carried away in the solo and loses his place. They keep playing through the vocal coda, and Garcia slinks into the jam this time, cutting short the vocals. The jam is long, calm and delightful; midway through it becomes a hypnotic shuffle, the band holding in place for a couple minutes before deciding to (clumsily) wrap it up and jump into US Blues, an unexpected twist which gets the audience clappers going. This He’s Gone ends more awkwardly than most, but it’s interesting to hear the band try something new on the fly.
7/29 has a standard version with no surprises; the jam, though well-done and featuring Keith on the Fender Rhodes, is rather short and disappointing, and they’re eager to jump into Truckin’.
On 8/5, after a strong version of the song, Garcia takes up the slide again during the jam for the first time since 3/24/73; but the jam stays pretty low-key instead of heating up.
The next day on 8/6, He’s Gone transitions out of the Sugar Magnolia raveup in a planned but odd shift. Under the circumstances it’s a very laid-back version; the jam is nice but stays at a simmer and never boils over. (At 12 minutes, this is the shortest version of the year.)
On 9/18, He’s Gone follows Eyes>China Doll in a rare Garcia trifecta. This version is positively sluggish, the slowest yet; however the jam is great and the band perks up, teasing Truckin’ for a while before the segue.
10/17 is still slow-paced but an enthusiastic version – the vocal coda comes off well here, with vocals mixed up and the audience clapping evident. The jam’s good and eventually turns into a shuffle as usual, which sounds like it’s heading into Truckin’ but becomes the Other One instead. (This was the first He’s Gone>Other One since 1972. It’s odd that He’s Gone didn’t segue into the Other One more often, since it’s a natural fit.)
The last He’s Gone of the year comes on 10/19 – they repeat a trick from 8/6 and segue from Sugar Magnolia to He’s Gone. (These last versions of ’74 are slower than before, at 55-56 beats per minute.) Phil doesn’t sing in the coda for some reason (mic not working?), and it suffers without his doo-wop-style bass vocal. The jam starts off gorgeously but soon dissipates; after just a couple minutes the band is ready to move on, and hastily starts up Truckin’. But this proves a false start, since they only get as far as the intro before it melts into a loose Caution jam. This is pretty hot, but after a few minutes they stop for a drum break, then embark on a long ambient space, which after ten minutes finally picks up steam and develops into a light shuffle; and after all that they’re finally ready to dive into Truckin’ again. Whether all this counts as part of the He’s Gone jam is up to the listener, but it’s an adventurous departure from the norm; He’s Gone wouldn’t find its way into a Caution jam again for six years.
1974 TIMINGS (8 shows)
2/23/74 - He’s Gone (14:11) > Truckin’ > drums > Other One > Eyes of the World
7/19/74 - He’s Gone (14:46) > US Blues
7/29/74 – He’s Gone (13:26) > Truckin’ > Other One > Wharf Rat [starts set II]
8/5/74 - He’s Gone (13:01) > Truckin’ > jam > Stella Blue
8/6/74 – Sugar Magnolia > He’s Gone (12:04) > Truckin’ > Other One > GDTRFB > Sunshine Daydream
9/18/74 - He’s Gone (14:01) > Truckin’ > drums > jam > Ship of Fools
10/17/74 - He’s Gone (12:50) > Other One > Stella Blue
10/19/74 – Sugar Magnolia > He’s Gone (12:13) > Truckin’/Caution jam (6:08) > drums (1:20) > space (11:09) > Truckin’ > Black Peter
Absent in 1975, He’s Gone wouldn’t return to the stage until 10/15/76. Understandably it starts off sounding a little tentative – and slower than ever before, at 51bpm. Donna’s singing is more prominent in the verses now; and while the vocal coda has the same structure, four singers over light drum and piano rhythm, the slower pace and sweeter vocals give it a different, softer feel than it had before. (It stretches out to over three minutes again.) The band also builds the music up gradually under the vocals until they burst into the jam, a new touch. With two drummers (this is Mickey’s first He’s Gone), the jam now has a heavier beat than before; after a couple minutes it gives way to Other One teases and dissolves into a long tumbling drum break, another new trend for He’s Gone.
One difference in the audience: they now cheer at the line “steal your face right off your head,” a lyric which had not attracted particular notice two years earlier. (“Steal Your Face” had been released earlier that year, but despite the title, He’s Gone wasn’t included on the album.)
10/15/76 - He’s Gone (15:04) > drums > Other One > Comes A Time > Franklin’s Tower > Sugar Magnolia
He’s Gone returned to the regular rotation on 5/21/77, coming out of the Estimated Prophet outro jam. The switch doesn’t sound very comfortable on this first try, but the band must have liked it, since almost every performance of He’s Gone for the next two years would follow Estimated Prophet. (They gradually got better at it.)
The song itself is more or less the same as before. I think Phil no longer sings in the coda; instead here he taps on a bass note through the coda while Garcia plays little fills between the vocals, giving the coda a hypnotic feel. When the jam comes, it sounds more like a Generic 1977 Blues Jam than previous He’s Gone jams – Garcia’s different guitar tone, the thumping drums, and the lack of regular He’s Gone motifs herald a brand new style. Nonetheless, the jam is extended for several minutes (this would be one of the longest versions of the year) as Garcia really gets into it, wailing on the high notes; at some point it imperceptibly transforms into an Other One jam, and leads up to a drum break.
He’s Gone would almost always be sandwiched between Estimated Prophet and Drums in 1977-78, which unfortunately turned out to be something of a death slot for the jam. The song tempos this year usually varied from 55-58 beats per minute, save for a few slower versions in the fall.
On 5/25, the band again has a little trouble adjusting in the Estimated>He’s Gone segue. (Garcia’s vocal is down in the SBD mix for the first verse, but is clear on the AUD.) They return to a regular He’s Gone jam at the end, with increasingly flashy Garcia playing, which stops abruptly for Drums.
6/7 has a unique moment in the segue from Estimated – Garcia leaves on his Mutron as he starts He’s Gone, playing the intro with the Mutron for a minute. It sounds fantastic, and I wish he’d done that more often! It gives the intro a more meditative feel, and Garcia takes a minute to collect himself and start singing, strumming instead of playing the usual intro riff. His playing seems somewhat distracted for a while thereafter, but he does some neat strumming in the vocal coda (sounding a bit like an autoharp), and the jam slides out of the coda in a nice, unusual way. (Keith switches to synthesizer for a while here, adding to the oddness.) But gradually it becomes more of a regular blues jam, very similar to Nobody’s Fault But Mine, and just as it starts picking up steam they suddenly give way to Drums.
Playing for 125,000 people and a radio broadcast on 9/3/77, naturally the Dead screw up He’s Gone! Garcia gets lost in the solo and starts singing the “he’s gone” chorus in the wrong spot; a confusing moment but the band catches up, and he decides to play the solo over again. This part was edited out of the Dick’s Picks 15 release…but if anything, it adds to the performance. This may be the strongest He’s Gone of the year; it benefits from not being in the usual placement. Despite being at the slowest tempo (52bpm), it feels faster and the whole performance is done very sweetly. The giant Raceway Park audience loves the vocal coda, and the final jam, though not the longest, is rather mesmerizing. Garcia takes the band into a long Not Fade Away instead of a drum break, keeping up the jamming momentum.
9/29 has the smoothest Estimated>He’s Gone segue yet, and has a nice extended intro…but goes downhill after that. It’s a disjointed performance and suffers from a bad recording; and Garcia sounds distinctly opiated. Even the short coda is lifeless, and they don’t bother with a jam, just dropping right into Drums.
This poor version would usher in a series of short, disappointing He’s Gone performances from fall ’77. (Ironically, just as Estimated Prophet was becoming more awesome with each performance, He’s Gone was withering.)
10/9 has a similar sweet intro. A couple verses are lost in a tape flip. Garcia still sounds pretty sleepy. They manage less than a minute of jamming at the end before making a dive for Truckin’.
Another smooth segue on 10/12; the song is an improvement but, again, no jam at all at the end, they just go straight from the vocals to Drums.
On 11/5, Garcia sets up a nice contrast between the otherworldly Estimated outro jam and the smooth, relaxed He’s Gone intro. It’s an extremely slow performance (51bpm) but still stronger than its predecessors. But again, no jam, just straight to Drums.
12/27 boasts the shortest performance of He’s Gone since August ’72, less than ten minutes long. There’s a strong solo but, yet again, no jam; they just fade out on the vocals and stop, without going into anything.
10/28 stands out from this nadir. It’s the only time this year besides 9/3 that He’s Gone doesn’t come out of Estimated; it’s also tied for the slowest He’s Gone of the year (51bpm). It’s also the single longest He’s Gone before 1979, partly on the strength of a final jam that keeps going for five minutes, reaching Truckin’-type crescendos. Finally Garcia trickles away and the drums take over.
1977 TIMINGS (10 shows)
5/21/77 – Estimated Prophet > He’s Gone (15:37) > drums > Other One > Comes A Time > St. Stephen > Not Fade Away…
5/25/77 – Estimated Prophet > He’s Gone (13:47) > drums > Other One > Wharf Rat > Other One > Wheel > A&A
6/7/77 – Estimated Prophet > He’s Gone (14:47) > drums > Samson & Delilah
9/3/77 - He’s Gone (16:43) > Not Fade Away > Truckin’
9/29/77 – Estimated Prophet > He’s Gone (11:08) > drums > Truckin’ > Stella Blue > GDTRFB
10/9/77 – Estimated Prophet > He’s Gone (10:/42) > Truckin’ > drums > Terrapin Station > A&A
10/12/77 – Estimated Prophet > He’s Gone (10:31) > drums > Other One > Black Peter > Truckin’ > Iko Iko > Sugar Magnolia
10/28/77 - He’s Gone (18:08) > drums > Not Fade Away > Stella Blue > GDTRFB > A&A
11/5/77 – Estimated Prophet > He’s Gone (11:30) > drums > Other One > Black Peter > Sugar Magnolia
12/27/77 – Estimated Prophet > He’s Gone (9:41) [no segue; followed by Truckin’]
After the low point of He’s Gone in fall ’77, would it make a recovery in 1978? The signs weren’t good: Garcia’s weakening voice, the lethargy of some performances, and the frequent dropping of the jam indicated that a dismal year lay ahead for the song. Until fall ’78 He’s Gone would continue to be stuck between Estimated Prophet and Drums, which proved to be a death knell for developing any kind of jam out of He’s Gone, except on a couple occasions. (The transitions from Estimated are, at least, all well-done by now, but it can be painful to contrast the magical journey of Estimated with the mailed-in, shortened He’s Gone that follows.) The average pace of He’s Gone continued to slow down, with most tempos ranging from 54-55 beats per minute, and a few much slower.
The first He’s Gone of the year, on 1/10, is not promising. Garcia’s voice is starting to fail, giving this version a weary feel. After the vocal coda fades out, Weir and Godchaux play a quiet ambient backdrop over drumtaps for a little while; when Garcia returns, they play a full-fledged Space (without bass) before the Drums.
1/17 is more of a return to form. The song itself is decent enough (Garcia’s voice still recovering), but surprisingly after a short vocal coda, they launch into a pretty good four-minute jam which travels new territory and reaches a nice spiraling finale. He’s Gone ends and the guitarists leave the stage, but then even more surprisingly, Keith remains to play a six-minute piano improvisation with the drums. This is the kind of thing Brent would do in later years, but for Keith it’s quite rare. It’s not very compelling, but Garcia’s inspired to come back out and play little bumblebee flurries with Keith for a couple minutes, before the drummers finally shove them off.
The last He’s Gone of the winter, on 2/1, is smooth but somewhat rushed; there’s no jam, the coda fading into Drums.
After a two-month break, the next He’s Gone on 4/6 is a standard version; the coda has some funny falsetto wailing. There’s only a quiet little jam at the end which quickly turns to the direction of the Other One before Drums.
By this time, a tendency which had grown in ’77 was really becoming prominent: the band would sometimes emphasize certain key parts of the song (“smile smile smile,” “steal your face,” “going where the wind…”) by slamming into them with big crashes. (This was part of the general style of mid-’78, the band beefing up songs with more raucous playing and wide dynamic shifts.) Also, starting in April ‘78 the Drums get to be longer than He’s Gone by a considerable margin.
The performance on 4/19 is very slow and tired and has no jam. 5/7 and 5/16 are slightly better but nothing much happens there either.
Five months later on 10/21, He’s Gone is still just a shrunken shell of itself in another routine 10-minute version with no jam. But a small surprise awaits on 11/16, an AUD tape; for the first time in months there’s a small jam at the end of He’s Gone – but just a couple minutes, it soon dissolves into Garcia and Weir noodling spacily over drums. 11/18 also has a brief little jam at the end, with Garcia finding a pretty melody to repeat; but he stops short as the drummers start the Other One.
12/16 is the most lethargic performance yet (at a sluggish 46bpm), but the band really digs into the vocal coda – for several minutes Garcia goes wild with bluesy wails, doubled by his guitar, and Weir joins in on slide. This carries on into a high-spirited straight blues jam, the best moment in any He’s Gone of the year.
1978 TIMINGS (11 shows)
1/10/78 – Estimated Prophet > He’s Gone (12:48) > drums > Other One > Wharf Rat > Franklin’s Tower > A&A
1/17/78 – Estimated Prophet > He’s Gone (13:29) > piano jam (8:35) > drums > Other One > Black Peter > Truckin’ > A&A
2/1/78 – Estimated Prophet > He’s Gone (10:22) > drums > jam > Other One > Wharf Rat > Sugar Magnolia
4/6/78 – Estimated Prophet > He’s Gone (12:33) > drums > Other One > Wharf Rat > A&A
4/19/78 – Estimated Prophet > He’s Gone (11:16) > drums > space > Other One > Wharf Rat > A&A
5/7/78 – Estimated Prophet > He’s Gone (11:27) > drums > Iko Iko > Other One > Black Peter > A&A
5/16/78 – Estimated Prophet > He’s Gone (12:24) > drums > space > Comes A Time > Sugar Magnolia
10/21/78 – Estimated Prophet > He’s Gone (10:11) > drums > space/Got My Mojo Workin’ > Other One > Stella Blue > Sugar Magnolia
11/16/78 - He’s Gone (11:47) > drums > space > Black Peter > Truckin’
11/18/78 – I Need A Miracle > He’s Gone (11:09) > Other One > drums > Ollin Arageed > Wharf Rat > Sugar Magnolia
12/16/78 - He’s Gone (16:11) > drums > space > Other One > Wharf Rat > A&A
He’s Gone had hit bottom in 1978, its worst year. By the end of the year, Keith Godchaux was hitting bottom as well, his playing lacking the spark and creativity of earlier years and dragging down already sludgy performances.
This is evident in the first He’s Gone of the new year, 1/11/79, where the piano simply hammers out repetitive chords through the whole song. The song has a long intro and very slow pace, and crawls along pleasantly enough; fortunately Garcia feels like jamming and slips into a four-minute jam after the coda. Weir contributes flocks of seagull sounds on slide while the piano bangs away, but despite this the jam gets better as it goes along, hinting at a Truckin’ segue until it pulls up short for Drums.
On 1/18, He’s Gone trudges forth at a glacial pace (45bpm) and is totally unremarkable. Despite the band skipping the Drums break at this show, they only manage the tiniest little jam at the end of He’s Gone before skipping to Truckin’.
On 2/9, the song passes without distinction, and the band quickly loses interest in the vocal coda, so the jam starts up from silence. Surprisingly, it turns out to be quite a long jam, and very different in flavor from anything heard in He’s Gone before – this sounds like it floated in from the Egyptian pyramids. Keith sounds a little more alive, and Weir provides some nice counterpoint to Garcia instead of resorting to the slide (however, the bass is inaudible on the AUD tape). This is the longest He’s Gone by far up to this point, but the jam outstays its welcome this time. Eventually Garcia gets stuck in his bumblebee flurries, the energy dissipates, and half the band drifts away, so the last five minutes of the jam are simply Garcia noodling nonstop over fluttering drumtaps.
And so an era passed. After that, Keith and Donna were gone, to be replaced by a new keyboard player. But He’s Gone would soon be revived – it was played in Brent Mydland’s first show and regularly through the rest of 1979. Already on 4/22, He’s Gone starts to perk up with a brighter feel and a new keyboard sound, although the jam is not much to write about.
With a different player aboard, the Dead rediscovered the jamming possibilities of He’s Gone, and over the course of 1979 the jams generally became better as Brent grew more comfortable and adventurous. They started frequently pairing He’s Gone and the Other One (such as on 10/27/79), and within the next year several lengthy and interesting jams would develop out of He’s Gone, including a noisy freakout (11/4/79), Gloria jams (11/9 & 12/1/79), and a Caution jam (5/12/80).
But that is a story for another day.
1979 TIMINGS (18 shows)
1/11/79 – Estimated Prophet > He’s Gone (16:42) > drums > space > Truckin’ > Other One > Stella Blue > Good Lovin’
1/18/79 - He’s Gone (12:39) > Truckin’ > Other One > Wharf Rat > A&A [no drum break]
2/9/79 - He’s Gone (23:26) > drums > space > Truckin’ > Comes A Time > A&A [timing includes long Garcia/drummer jam]
4/22/79 – Estimated Prophet > He’s Gone (12:28) > drums > Other One > Wharf Rat > A&A
5/5/79 - He’s Gone (15:36) > drums > space > Other One > Wharf Rat > Sugar Magnolia
5/9/79 - He’s Gone (12:58) > Truckin’ > drums > space > Wharf Rat > Sugar Magnolia
5/13/79 – Estimated Prophet > He’s Gone (11:25) > Truckin’ > drums > space > Wharf Rat > A&A
6/30/79 – Estimated Prophet > He’s Gone (13:42) > drums > space > Other One > Wharf Rat > Sugar Magnolia
8/13/79 - He’s Gone (12:36) > Other One > drums > Wharf Rat > Truckin’
9/4/79 - He’s Gone (20:35) > drums > space > Wharf Rat > A&A
10/27/79 - He’s Gone (15:31) > Other One > drums > Not Fade Away > Black Peter > A&A
11/4/79 – Estimated Prophet > He’s Gone (21:16) > drums > space > Other One > Wharf Rat > A&A
11/9/79 – Estimated Prophet > He’s Gone (19:08) > drums > space > Wharf Rat > I Need A Miracle > Bertha > Good Lovin’ [includes Gloria jam]
11/25/79 - He’s Gone (11:09) > Other One > drums > space > Truckin’ > Stella Blue > Good Lovin’
12/1/79 - He’s Gone (23:20) > CC Rider > space > drums > Not Fade Away > Black Peter > Sugar Magnolia [includes Gloria jam]
12/5/79 - He’s Gone (16:26) > Other One > drums > space > Black Peter > I Need A Miracle > Bertha > Good Lovin’
12/10/79 – Easy To Love You > Let It Grow > He’s Gone (12:13) > Truckin’ > drums > space > Wharf Rat > Johnny B Goode
12/26/79 – Uncle John’s Band > Estimated Prophet > He’s Gone (10:15) > Other One > drums > space > Not Fade Away > Brokedown Palace > A&A > JBG