Guest Post by Dr. Jeff, aka Dr. Beechwood
The goal of this analysis is to establish which Grateful Dead songs (originals and covers) have been played throughout the band’s history, thus establishing the permanent repertoire of the band. This includes songs they played consistently throughout their 30-year career, and songs with only a few short gaps in which the song was shelved for a time. We also discuss songs played at the very beginning and then revived much later. For the first group, we discuss all of the songs debuted by 1968 and played over 200 times total. The second group includes songs that were not played as frequently, but illustrate the continuity in the Dead’s repertoire.
The early days of the Grateful Dead remain mysterious because of the dearth of setlists, so the data here has to be based on our incomplete tape record. The number of times we know a song was played must be regarded as the minimum. The sparse setlists from 1966 allow us to establish the time by which a certain song was definitely being played. The assumption must be that these songs may have already been played, possibly for up to a year or two earlier. (The best resource for 1966 shows is here.) We also have information from the songs on the 1965 Autumn Records demo, released on “Birth of the Dead,” and the “Rare Cuts and Oddities” collection of demos from early 1966; and there is some more information from interviews with Phil and Jerry regarding other songs played in the early days.
Numerous songs on this list were debuted in 1966 and shelved between 1966/67 and 1969/70. I think this may have occurred because after 1966, they wanted to play more originals and more exploratory jams, and they were moving away from the repertoire of their jug-band days. In 1969, they were playing much longer shows and probably needed more songs to flesh out those sets, so they decided to balance their “psychedelic” compositions with more of the early “roots” material. Thus, they went back to the old days and brought back songs such as Me and My Uncle, I Know You Rider, Minglewood Blues, Good Lovin’, Don’t Ease Me In, and Cold Rain and Snow.
The result of this investigation is a list of 15 songs that can accurately be described as being part of the Dead’s permanent repertoire. These songs are ranked based on the number of times played, and major gaps are listed in the notes. Other songs that debuted in the early days but were not played much thereafter are not part of the permanent repertoire. Examples of these include Viola Lee Blues, Golden Road, and Cream Puff War. The cut-off point for this list was early 1968, so original Dead songs written after that were not included, since we are focusing on the earliest, longest-lasting songs in the Dead’s repertoire. As a result, most of the songs here are covers.
I have included links to the first and last known live versions (and a few of the variant versions), so that they can be compared; and I also list the gaps, which are defined as when the song was not being played for more than a year, with the exception of the October ’74-June ‘76 hiatus. Because so many shows are missing in the 1966-1969 period, the gaps in which these songs weren’t played in those years are certainly shorter than listed here.
Part 1: Top 15 songs of the permanent repertoire
1. Me and My Uncle
This song premiered no later than 11/29/66 and was the most played song in the Dead’s history, having been trotted out 620 times (at least). With such a high frequency, it’s surprising that there were any gaps, but this song wasn’t played between 3/18/67 to 4/27/69 and again shelved from 6/17/75 to 4/23/77.
2. The Other One
This is one of only three original songs in this list of 15. It started on 10/22/67 as the central section of the “That’s It For the Other One” sequence, but after 9/23/72 it was played on its own, without the flanking “Cryptical Envelopment.” After its debut there were no significant gaps. This is the only song on this list that was played continuously throughout the band’s history, with at least 600 performances. The Cryptical section came back briefly in 1985 with a bust-out at the 6/16/85 Greek Theater show, which I attended, and played a total of four other times in 1985 before being retired permanently.
3. Not Fade Away
This Buddy Holly cover was one of several that was chosen because of the influence of the Rolling Stones (see also Little Red Rooster and King Bee, among others). This was certainly being played in early ’66 and based on the Stones’ version, as heard on the “Rare Cuts and Oddities” CD, but our first recorded live version isn’t until 2/19/69. After 12/21/69 it was played continuously, some 560 more times.
4. China Cat Sunflower
Another original song, this debuted on 1/17/68 and was played at least 560 times, yet experienced an initial year-long hiatus from 3/30/68 to 4/5/69, then a nearly five-year period from 10/20/74 until 2/3/79 during which it was played only once, on 12/29/77 (Dick’s Picks vol. 10). It was paired with I Know You Rider (#5) frequently after 9/30/69, previously being paired most commonly with The Eleven (see http://deadessays.blogspot.com/2009/08/chinarider-early-years.html for a detailed history).
5. I Know You Rider
This traditional folk cover was played 547 times; there are no known renditions between 12/1/66 and 9/30/69, and later it experienced the same gap as China Cat. It was recorded for the 11/3/65 Warlocks demo; according to Phil it was played from the earliest Warlocks days.
First: http://www.archive.org/details/gd1966-XX-XX.sbd.GEMS.81254.flac16 (track 17, from January 1966)
6. New Minglewood Blues
For this analysis, we make no distinction between the versions of the early ‘70s versus the more disco “All New Minglewood Blues” version that was on Shakedown Street. This Gus Cannon/Noah Lewis cover was done by Mother McCree’s jug-band in 1964, though there are no recordings; Weir told David Gans in 1981, “’New Minglewood Blues’ in the original form that we did it in the jug band was a jug-band song…not that close” to the later Dead version. It was played over 430 times by the Dead beginning at least by 5/19/66, but had two significant gaps, one from 12/1/66 to 4/26/69 and another from the closing of the Fillmore East on 4/29/71 until 7/12/76. The version recorded for the first Grateful Dead album was titled “New, New Minglewood Blues”.
7. Promised Land
This Chuck Berry cover was being played no later than early ’66 (and sung by Garcia) based on the “Rare Cuts and Oddities” CD, and Garcia also remembered it as being part of the earliest repertoire; but the first recorded live version isn’t until 5/29/71, a five-year gap. It’s one of two songs on the list played at the very last Dead show, 434 performances later.
8. Good Lovin’
This song was originally done by Limmie Snell (as Lemme B. Good), then the Olympics in 1965, but made famous by the Young Rascals in a single that was released on 2/21/66. The Dead’s first version was on 5/19/66, but then it was not played until 5/7/69 (Garcia sang it from then until 9/6/69). It was later dropped when Pigpen fell ill after Europe ’72, resulting in a gap from 5/25/72 to 10/20/74, when Bobby took it over. This is one of the rare Dead songs done by three different singers (see the last song in part 2 for another).
9. Beat it on Down the Line
This Jesse Fuller cover was played originally by Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions with a recorded version from 7/8/64. (Other songs from the jug band era also later played by the Dead include Overseas Stomp, Cocaine Blues, Ain’t It Crazy, On the Road Again, and The Monkey and the Engineer). Our earliest Dead version was on 2/6/66, and there was a short hiatus from 9/28/75 until 3/20/77 (which basically means it only wasn’t played during 1976). This was also a track on the first Grateful Dead album. One of only two songs on the list with final versions in 1994 rather than 1995.
First: http://www.archive.org/details/gd1966-XX-XX.sbd.GEMS.81254.flac16 (track 13)
10. Don’t Ease Me In
This cover of an old Henry Thomas blues tune was played occasionally in 1966 (we have only two live versions, the last from 7/16/66); but the next version was for the 1970 acoustic shows, beginning with 3/20/70 (another of these acoustic versions is on the Festival Express DVD). Another gap occurred from 11/29/70 to 9/17/72, and another from 8/6/74 to 2/7/79. It is interesting that they didn’t play this during the acoustic sets of 1980, but rather kept it in the electric sets (see set 3 opener of 10/31/80 on Dead Ahead). There is a studio version from June 1966 on “Birth of the Dead,” which was released as the Dead’s first single.
First: http://www.archive.org/details/gd1966-XX-XX.sbd.GEMS.81254.flac16 (track 2) (See Notes)
11. Johnny B. Goode
Another Chuck Berry cover, Garcia indicated it was part of the Warlocks repertoire and likely played in the early Dead days as well, hence its inclusion here. The first recorded versions aren’t until 9/7/69 and 12/31/70 with other musicians, and the first Dead version on 1/22/71. As Bobby says in the Grateful Dead movie (10/20/74), “This is the one it’s all about.”
Garcia/Hot Tuna: http://archive.org/details/gd69-09-07.sbd.dfinney.5808.sbeok.shnf
12. Turn On Your Lovelight
Another R&B cover of a popular Bobby Bland tune, initiated by Pigpen on 7/23/67, it was put away after the Europe ’72 tour and played once at the special Melkweg show of 10/16/81 (now of course sung by Bobby), again on 5/28/82 with Boz Scaggs sharing verses and John Cipollina adding some guitar, and again on 12/31/82 with verses sung by both Bobby and Etta James and backed by the Tower of Power Horns. Its next incarnation was as part of the regular repertoire starting at the 7/7/84 Alpine Valley show.
First: http://www.archive.org/details/gd1967-08-05.sbd.10356.shnf (See Notes)
13. Morning Dew
The earliest known version of the Dead's cover of Bonnie Dobson’s popular folk song is their studio recording in January 1967. They played it more or less continuously until the 10/18/74 version immortalized in the Grateful Dead Movie, and brought it back again on 9/23/76 (a gap of only 28 shows). In a semi-hiatus, it was played only twice between 6/7/77 and 5/16/80, once each in 1978 and 1979. Also on the first Grateful Dead album.
First: http://archive.org/details/gd67-03-18.sbd.fink.10282.sbeok.shnf (See Notes)
14. Cold Rain and Snow
Another early cover of an old folk song learned from Obray Ramsey, this was on the first Grateful Dead album and the first known version was on 3/12/66. There are no known versions between 10/22/67 and 5/31/69, and despite being played every year, it was only played 16 times from 1973 to 1978, and nearly half of those renditions were in 1976.
First: http://archive.org/details/gd66-02-25.sbd.unknown.1593.sbefail.shnf (See Notes)
15. Dark Star
This signature song debuted on 1/17/68 and was played almost 230 times on tape (almost as many as Cold Rain and Snow, actually), and experienced a gap from the 10/18/74 pre-hiatus show (see #13, above) until the closing of Winterland on 12/31/78. The few versions in 1979, 1981, and 1984 were followed by a resumption starting with the 10/9/89 “Formerly the Warlocks” show. On a personal note, the 7/13/84 Greek Theater version was my second show, and despite seeing them sporadically from 1989-1995, I never saw another version after that one. A short studio version was recorded on 11/14/67, and released as a single.
Part 2: Other notable songs from the early days played later in their history
The Last Time
One of Garcia’s banjo students said to him in 1967, “I remember when you were the Warlocks and at Magoo’s you were doing, oh, ‘Last Time’…” [That would be May 1965.] No early versions were taped; it was revived on 2/25/90 and played until 7/6/95.
(It’s likely that other current popular songs like Satisfaction, Gloria, or It’s All Over Now were also done in 1965 and revived many years later, but we have no evidence.)
Nobody’s Fault But Mine
We have one version from 7/16/66; it was then revived as an instrumental theme in New Speedway Boogie a few times in 1970 (see 5/14/70 or the Festival Express version); then it surfaced again as a Truckin’ outro theme on 10/2/72 through 7/29/74 (occasionally sung by Garcia); and it appeared eight more times in the next twenty years, the final version on 12/19/94.
Big Railroad Blues
A jugband-style version from 1966 is heard on the “Rare Cuts” CD; Garcia sang it on 9/7/69 in the quasi-Airplane oldies show, but it wasn’t revived in a Dead show until the 6/24/70 acoustic set. It went on hiatus from 10/19/74 until 2/17/79; played just once more in 1979, it went back into the regular rotation in 1980. Last played 6/28/95.
Garcia/Hot Tuna: http://archive.org/details/gd69-09-07.sbd.dfinney.5808.sbeok.shnf
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
Garcia said in 1971, “We did that from the very beginning because it was such a pretty song.” Played on 5/19/66 and a few times later in ’66; Garcia said in spring ’67 that it was still being played. It was revived on 4/6/69. Despite being played until 1995, the long gap from 2/24/74 until 8/14/81 resulted in only 141 known renditions. Last played 2/19/95.
She Belongs to Me
Played in the Warlocks era – Garcia said in 1967, “We used to do ‘She Belongs To Me,’ Bob used to croon it.” No early versions taped; revived on 4/4/85 and played until 11/21/85. A studio version with Garcia and Weir sharing verses is also on the 1992 Backstage Pass video.
Deep Elem Blues
This was played by Jerry and David Nelson on 11/10/62, and Jerry and Sara on 5/4/63, and the Dead played it as early as 12/1/66. It wasn’t played between 12/1/66 and 3/20/70, and was retired again from 12/28/70 until 10/4/80 (though it does appear in Keith’s September ’71 rehearsals, and the acoustic benefit on 11/17/78). The last version (electric) was on 9/24/83.
Death Don’t Have No Mercy
Debut on 1/8/66; a long gap from 3/21/70 to 9/29/89; last played 4/2/90.
Dancing in the Street
Debut on 7/3/66; a short hiatus on tape between 3/30/68 and 6/8/69; a long gap from 12/31/71 to 6/3/76 (in which the song was rearranged); in a four-year hiatus after 12/10/79, was only played once on 7/7/81, then revived on 6/24/84. Last played 4/6/87.
First: http://archive.org/details/gd66-07-03.sbd.unknown.40.sbeok.shnf (track 1)
On the Road Again
Played by Mother McCree’s in 1964, and by the Dead in 1966 (3/12/66, 12/1/66), it was revived acoustically on 9/26/80, and played electric a few times after that. Garcia sang it in ’66, but Weir sang it in the ‘80s. Final version 10/12/84.
Pigpen Songs Revived:
These cover tunes were originally sung by Pigpen and all debuted in 1966 (or earlier) but were shelved for many years prior to the early ‘80s (and then played until ’94-’95).
Big Boss Man: First tape 7/3/66; wasn’t played between 5/25/72 and 12/26/81. Of its 14 Brent-era performances, half were within one year from ’87-88. Last played 7/6/95, the only post-Brent performance. Garcia sang this song in its later years, but all the other old Pigpen tunes were tackled by Weir.
First: http://archive.org/details/gd66-07-03.sbd.unknown.40.sbeok.shnf (track 6)
Little Red Rooster: Played in the Warlocks era, as Garcia recalled in 1971, but is not on our 1966 Dead tapes. It was revived on 8/19/80 and then played continuously. Last played 7/9/95.
Smokestack Lightning: First tape 11/19/66; wasn’t played between 3/25/72 and an instrumental version on 4/9/83. Returned to the repertoire 10/9/84. Last played 10/18/94.
Midnight Hour: First tape January 1966; had a gap between 4/29/71 (the closing of the Fillmore East) and 12/31/82, when it was played in the third set with Etta James and the Tower of Power horns; there was a rough version in the third set of 12/31/83, and then it was played from 7/22/84 until 1994. Last played 10/17/94.
First: http://www.archive.org/details/gd1966-XX-XX.sbd.GEMS.81254.flac16 (tracks 18, 12)
Good Morning Little Schoolgirl: First tape early 1966; was on hiatus from 9/19/70 to 6/25/92, except for one version with Santana on 8/22/87. Of the seven ‘90s versions, all but two were in done in 1995. Last played 6/28/95.
First: http://www.archive.org/details/gd1966-XX-XX.sbd.GEMS.81254.flac16 (track 5)
The Same Thing: First heard on 11/19/66; our only Pigpen version after 3/18/67 was a surprise version on 12/31/71, after which it wasn’t heard again until 2/24/92. Last played 7/5/95.
First: http://archive.org/details/gd1966-11-19.sbd.miller.94106.sbeok.flac16 (See Notes)
King Bee: Was in the Warlocks repertoire, according to Lesh and Garcia, and is first heard on 1/8/66. After Pigpen last sang it on 4/28/71 (with a brief quote on 12/15/71), Weir revived it just a couple times on 12/8/93 and 3/31/94.
Big Boy Pete: First played 11/29/66, it shows up again on 9/6/69 and was played just a few times in 1969-70, and after 9/20/70 was only played on 11/17/78 and 11/21/85.
Walkin’ the Dog: It shows up on the early ’66 “Rare Cuts” CD, and was revived in 1970 (3/21/70 and 11/9/70), and again on 3/29/84; last version 11/21/85.
I Just Want to Make Love to You: Though rarely performed, this song has the distinction of being sung by three different singers at various points in the Dead’s history.
Debut on 11/29/66, sung by Pigpen
Played on 7/22/84 and 10/8/84, sung by Brent
Last version 2/21/95, sung by Jerry
* A number of the songs done in the 1966 demos don’t appear in any shows that year, such as Not Fade Away, Promised Land, and Big Railroad Blues. This could be by chance, or they could have been songs done regularly in 1965 that were phased out in 1966, hence not appearing on live tapes.
* Beat It On Down The Line – A version from 2/6/66 is on the Taper’s Section; two early versions are on the Various ’66 Reels set; the song was slightly rearranged (given a more abrupt intro & ending) after the 3/19/66 performance. See the comments here for more details.
* Lovelight - While earlier rehearsals survive, and a brief cut-off version at the end of the 7/23/67 tape, 8/5/67 is our first complete live Lovelight.
* Morning Dew - While there is a live version on the 1/14/67 tape, according to Light Into Ashes, this Morning Dew is not from that date, but seems to be from late '68 sometime. So our first live version is actually from 3/18/67, after the January ’67 studio version.
* The Same Thing is on our 9/16/66 set, but that track is actually from the Matrix 11/29/66.
* 3/12/66 (first taped live Dead versions of Cold Rain & Snow and On the Road Again) – this date is per the Vault, but it’s on the Archive mislabeled as 2/25/66.
* The Deadbase setlist for 1/7/66 includes On the Road Again, She Belongs To Me, Death Don’t Have No Mercy, Midnight Hour, and Baby Blue (among others), but no tape exists, and the source for their list isn’t known; so that date wasn't used here, but it may be accurate.
* Walkin’ Blues – Possibly done by the early Dead (Deadbase lists it on 10/7/66, and they do a snippet on the 4/8/67 TV show); later done at the 5/28/82 show (sung by Boz Scaggs) and by Weir from 6/16/85 to 7/2/95. Though it may have been part of the early Dead’s repertoire, the evidence is scanty.
* Monkey & the Engineer – A debatable inclusion; it was done in 1964, the ‘69/70 and ‘80/81 acoustic sets, and once on 2/12/89. Had it been done more often outside the acoustic sets, it could be included due to the jugband origin.
* Some cover songs were done so sporadically they could not be included: such as New Orleans (not really done in 1966 that we know of, but played a few times as an ‘oldie’ in 1969/70 and once later on 6/21/84), or La Bamba (played only instrumentally in a 1966 demo, and done in a medley with Good Lovin’ on 11/11/70 and a few times in September 1987). Others were not played late enough to be considered – songs like Searchin’ or Hog For You Baby were done nostalgically as nods to the early days in April 1971, but never heard after that.