March 24, 2017

Not Fade Away (Guest Post)


by Mark Mattson and Greg Poulos, 1999

This stompin' cover tune was a crowd pleaser for 25 years. The original Buddy Holly version of Not Fade Away is included on the CD "The Music Never Stopped: Roots of the Grateful Dead". The booklet covers the history of the tune, including the version by the Rolling Stones. The essence of Not Fade Away (henceforth NFA) is the beat, what might be called the Bo Beat, for Bo Diddley, its major proponent (the Dead backed up Bo on 3-25-72). The Dead have performed a number of tunes with this infectious rhythm: Women Are Smarter, Iko Iko, Who Do You Love, Willie And The Hand-Jive, and Mona come to mind.
 Besides the hard-driving Bo-beat, part of NFA's longevity as a crowd-pleasing Dead staple is due to its simple, yet universal, lyrics. In the original version, Buddy Holly is 'gonna tell you how it's gonna be' - the Dead 'wanna tell you how it's gonna be.' And while Buddy is speaking for himself ('You know my love will not fade away'), the Dead are letting you know that their love, collectively, will not fade away ('You know our love will not fade away'). These are some pretty powerful words. What started off conceivably as a simple statement of love from one person to another can be interpreted as an epic proclamation of a band's love for its extended family, the Deadheads. And just in case you missed the message, Bobby screams it after each of first two verses -- "Not fade away!"
Verse two sends the message home with even more intensity. 'My love is bigger than a Cadillac'? How about a 1957 Cadillac, the year this song was originally recorded -- that's some great imagery. Even though love is barreling at you bigger than a Cadillac, you drive me back. The rest of this verse deals with the realization that love this big might be too hard to handle, thus, 'Your love for me has got to be real / You're gonna know just how I feel,' as if to send reassurance of not being afraid of a love this big. The last line of this verse is what the song is all about - that real love will not fade away.
NFA was used (and continues to be used) as a vehicle for the band to express their love and appreciation to their fans, and vice versa. In the right slot, especially as a show closer, NFA could reach a feverish pitch, fusing the band the crowd together, emotionally and spiritually. What other band in the world could get away with singing shamelessly about the power of love - and have the audience sing it right back at them? No other song in the Dead's repertoire had as much interaction from the audience. The combination of the intoxicating Bo beat coupled with the universal message expressed through simple lyrics make NFA a song that will continue to find a place in whatever incarnation of the Grateful Dead family that the future may bring.

Buddy Holly version:
I'm gonna tell you how it's gonna be
You're gonna give your love to me
I wanna love you night and day
You know my love not fade away
You know my love not fade away
My love bigger than a Cadillac
I try to show it, you drive me back
Your love for me got to be real
For you to know just how I feel
A love for real not fade away
I'm gonna tell you how it's gonna be
You're gonna give your love to me
A love to last more than one day
A love that's love not fade away
A love that's love not fade away

Dead version:
I wanna tell you how it's gonna be
You're gonna give your love to me
I wanna love you night and day
You know our love will not fade away
You know our love will not fade away
(Not fade away)
My love's bigger than a Cadillac
I try to show you but you drive me back
Your love for me has got to be real
You're gonna know just how I feel
A love for real not fade away
(Not fade away)

According to Deadbase, NFA was performed 530 times (not including reprises), making it one of the top 10 most frequently played tunes over the years. NFA was also performed once by the Garcia Band, as an encore at Asbury Park 7-9-77; this version is interesting because Jerry played it in the key of G, instead of the key of E, the key that Buddy Holly and the Dead did it in. The key of E is another part of the success of the song: many of the Dead's jam tunes are also in E, including almost all the songs that were mostly frequently paired with NFA over the years. When songs are in the same key musically, the transition between songs is much easier -- you just mess with the rhythm, but you don't have to change keys.
Initially (December 1969 to October 1970) NFA was paired frequently with St. Stephen and Lovelight (both in E), but lots of other tunes were tried with it. Then the magic pairing of NFA with Goin' Down the Road (again, in E) started on 10-10-70, with the very first Goin' Down the Road. From this point until 1973, NFA was virtually always followed by Goin' Down the Road, then a reprise of NFA. This is the team that introduced lots of people to NFA: the awesome version on Skull and Roses.
Peak play years for NFA were 1970 through 1972 (averaging about 40 performances a year), followed by a lull from 1973 through 1975. After the hiatus they usually played NFA about 20 times a year. In 1976, Goin' Down the Roads were rare, and were never paired with NFA; NFA was linked once again to the (updated) St. Stephen, and to drums. The first post-hiatus NFA--> Goin' Down the Road was 4-23-77, and the pairing remained rare after this. Beginning with Fall 1977, NFA took over the spot after drums, and remained there till Fall 1982, when Throwing Stones began sneaking in between drums and NFA.
The changes in NFA closely parallel the changes in the band's personnel over the years. Before Mickey Hart left the band in 1971, the jams were long and wide-ranging. After he left, the band was instrumentally essentially a quartet, and the NFAs were tighter, staying closer to home. Adding Keith in late 1971 made a small incremental change in NFA, with the piano banging out the beat and adding melodically to the jam. Just about everything was revamped after the hiatus. Mickey rejoined the band, and the double drum attack on the Bo beat was like one drummer with four arms and four legs, at least for the first couple of years. It is said that the '76 versions of NFA were fairly slow, and they picked up speed through 1977, culminating in up-tempo versions like 10-6-77. Also Donna began singing on a lot more tunes after the hiatus, including NFA. They started playing breaks on the verses in Fall 1978, just before Keith and Donna left the band. The Brent years featured organ on relatively short NFAs that tended to be focused on the sing-along aspects of the tune, rather than innovative jamming. For example, 4-12-83 was apparently the first time they played NFA to end the 2nd set, got the crowd singing along, left the stage while the crowd kept it up, then returned to reprise it for the encore. NFA remained mainly a sing-along anthem in the 1990s during Vince Welnick's tenure.

Since there were lots of NFAs, it's not surprising that almost half of Dick's Picks have a version. In chronological order, here are the released versions of NFA:
2-14-70 (DP4; 13:55): The transition from Me and My Uncle into NFA is abrupt, and Jerry and Bob miss coming in on the vocals at the beginning of both verses. These early versions feature the double drum attack of Billy and Mickey on that Bo Beat. The jam is rich, going through several changes: generic E jam, E7 bluesy stuff, and an Emaj section that presages the transitions to come later into Goin' Down the Road. I was surprised that they also did the little instrumental And We Bid You Goodnight bit that eventually ended Goin' Down the Road. The transition to Mason's Children is fairly smooth (surprise -- it's in E too).
4-5-71 (Skull and Roses; 4:10): This version is very crisp and together. With one drummer and no perceptible Pigpen organ, this is basically a four-man unit. On the relatively short jam, Jerry plays some very beautiful melodic lines. The dynamics -- the way the band gets quiet, builds up, etc. -- are great. For example, they take it down nice and low for the intro to Goin' Down the Road. On the CD, Goin' Down the Road fades out with the And We Bid You Goodnight instrumental. The tape continues with a bit of a jam on And We Bid You Goodnight, a little noodling on the E chord, then back into the Bo Beat. Then they play the chord riff, but go into Lovelight instead of singing NFA.
10-31-71 (DP2; 7:25 + 3:30 reprise): At this point Keith has just joined the band, and he is barely audible in the mix. This version features the prototypical arrangement: Start off with the Bo Beat, then the chord riff, two verses of NFA, an okay jam [an incredible jam – LIA], the transition to Goin' Down the Road, ending with the instrumental And We Bid You Goodnight, then back to NFA for a repeat of verse one, followed by harmonizing on the repeated "You know our love will not fade away", then Bobby screaming "Not fade away!", and concluding with the chord riff. The magic happens in this version on the way to the NFA reprise: they do a great jam on E to D.
9-10-74 (DP7; 15:55): Well, now, here's a long, extended stand-alone NFA. Keith plays electric piano in the background as the boys go for some mildly funky jamming.
12-29-77 (DP10; 10:05): Before the hiatus, Bob took the low part and Jerry sang harmony. Now add Donna up on top. And now we're back to the double drumming attack, which was so nice and together in 1976 and 1977. This version is much busier than the previous versions, yet the jam kicks forcibly. Jerry, Bob and Donna do some nice vocal by-play on the repetitions at the end, which gradually fades down to a great transition back to Playing in the Band.
12-26-79 (DP5; 11:51): This NFA comes out of space, and begins with guitar banging out the Bo Beat until the drummers pick it up. There is a tease of Mona in the introductory section. The verses are sung by Bob and Jerry, and the band breaks for each line (they started playing these breaks after Egypt in Fall 1978, with Donna and Keith). Brent uses the organ on this version. The jam chugs along, then thins out nicely, with a section where the band just hits on the first beat of each measure. Then it builds up, and finally fades down to Brokedown Palace without reprising the first verse.
3-15-90 (Terrapin Station; 5:40): Here we have the common transition from Throwing Stones to NFA. It's a natural, since the end of Throwing Stones is in the key of E, and the beat is very similar to the Bo Beat. This version has Brent as usual playing organ, and singing the high harmony over Bob and Jerry. The band plays breaks on the verses, and the jam is quite short; by the 4 minute mark they're doing the vocal by-play after the reprise. The band fades down and Jerry and Brent start singing "umm-bop bop bop-bop" (from the original Buddy Holly version) in counterpoint to Bob's "you know our love will not fade away". This ends somewhat abruptly at about 5:40, at which point the audience applauds and the band leaves the stage. The audience clapped a fast Bo Beat after the band was off for a minute, and continued for over a minute.
3-24-90 (Dozin' at the Knick; 9:42): This version is arranged the same as the 3-15-90 version, with a just another minute or so of jamming. The audience gets into the act in a much bigger way at this show. At the end everybody stops, Jerry last, with the boys singing bops and the audience responding with "you know our love - not fade away". Then the audience takes over the bops by clapping, and the band leaves the stage. The audience chant continues till the band comes back on stage for an encore.

With the exception of the 1980s, that covers a sample of NFAs over the years. Here are some more notable NFAs, to fill in some gaps:
4-23-69: For an encore, the band came out and did the Bo Beat in E -- well, at least some of the instruments were in E -- they were so out of tune that they faded NFA out before singing it.
2-8-70: According to DeadBase, the first version of NFA was 6-19-68 [actually 2-19-69 – LIA]; according to the Compendium Volume 1, the first tape of NFA that is available is 2-8-70. [Several earlier versions are now available. – LIA] St. Stephen drops "lower down and lower down again", and the band comes back with the Bo Beat for a while, then right into verse 1, followed right away by verse 2. They jam in a moderately interesting way for a while before repeating both verses. While Weir is shouting NFA, Jerry starts hitting a St. Stephen riff, and they go right back into Stephen.
2-11-70: We agree with Steve Silberman in Volume 1: this is a great NFA! NFA was the stand-alone show opener, and it's ferocious from the start. There are Mona teases in a couple of places, the organ fills in the backing, Weir takes a good solo, not to mention Jerry, and generally there's that crazy energy that the band had on its best nights back then.
10-31-70: This is one of the earliest board tapes of the new NFA-->Goin' Down the Road-->NFA reprise combos, and the playing is much better than the night before, when they did basically the same segue: St. Stephen into Bo Beat drums into NFA, etc. The Halloween version is much tighter, with an innovative jam on NFA. These early Goin' Down the Roads have the chorus, then the "chilly winds" verse that was dropped later, then chorus, solo, the "climate" verse, then two choruses with a bit of a buildup, then the And We Bid You Goodnight instrumental. The transition back to NFA rocks out, and the show ends on a high point.
5-26-72: For a fairly typical Europe '72 version, this one in London's Lyceum Theatre, check this out. The audience claps the Bo Beat, Billy picks it up on the drums, then the rest of the band comes in. This is thought to be the first time the audience started the Bo beat, and the band picked it up. The London audience tried it again on 9-11-74, but the band didn't go along. Both Pigpen on organ and Keith on piano can be clearly heard throughout. The jam includes a China Cat tease, and they go right into Goin' Down the Road without an instrumental intro. Goin' Down the Road is hot, and they end with five repetitions of the chorus, with Donna Jean wailing up top. Once through And We Bid You Goodnight, a few quiet alternations between E and D, and it's.....drum roll.....NFA. Jerry's guitar and Bob's vocals trade off in the final section.
4-29-77: Goin' Down the Road ends with Keith starting the And We Bid You Goodnight instrumental, while everyone else goes right for the Bo Beat. This short NFA jam (no vocals) fades down to drums; it's the only NFA jam listed in DeadBase.
5-15-77: St. Stephen ends early, as the whole band bangs out the Bo Beat for quite a while. Then they start the first Iko Iko: chorus, verse, chorus again, a couple of measures of E, and then "I wanna tell you how it's gonna be!". This Iko is in E; when they started doing it for real on the Fall 1977 tour, they moved it to the key of D. On NFA, Keith is especially prominent on piano on the chords after the verses. The NFA jam goes all the way out to space, then Weir kicks off Sugar Magnolia.
12-31-81: This is a great, down and dirty jam. NFA starts abruptly out of the Other One, with guest guitar work from John Cipollina. Even before the familiar intro vamp, we're treated to a lengthy jam by Garcia and Cipollina. Verse one and two are finally delivered and then Cipollina takes center stage on a smoldering slide guitar solo. The first verse is forgotten and Garcia segues into Goin' Down the Road. This is a great, straight-ahead, no-nonsense jamming version of NFA, and also one that doesn't follow the "normal" structure adopted in later years.
12-31-85: The first set kicks off with NFA. This is a pretty standard version - at first. After the first two verses, Garcia delivers a lengthy jam. The first verse is reprised and is followed by "you know our love will not fade away" vocal ad-libbing by Bobby and Brent - Garcia's vocal is conspicuously absent, as if his mind is on something else. He must have been preparing for the segue into Touch of Grey, which is pulled off nicely. To sandwich the entire show (minus the encore), the boys return to NFA to close out set two, after Throwing Stones. Even though the first set NFA was complete, they repeat the first verse again. Again, no Garcia vocal during the vocal ad-libbing. The crowd helps the band out almost immediately, with the "you know our love will not fade away" chant - and both parties are keeping very good time with each other. The guitars and keyboards drop out and we're left with the drums and the crowd to keep the chant going. This continues for quite some time until Bobby steps up to the mike and sings, "Not Fade Away", to which the crowd echoes him perfectly. This interplay continues for a bit more before the band steps into Lovelight. This version of NFA, especially the second set portion, is a great example of how tight the audience could get with the Dead.
2-12-89: Nothing spectacular, but notable for the inventive call-and-response at the end of the song between the crowd and Jerry's guitar. Instead of the "umm-bop bop bop-bop / you know our love will not fade away", we get /"you know our love will not fade away", which is a lot of fun.
12-31-89: NFA found a comfortable home in the later 80's to close the second set after Throwing Stones. While this pairing became quite predictable and didn't always look interesting by just reading the setlist, there are some stellar versions of NFA in this slot - this is one of them. After the first verse, Garcia plays a very hot and long jam, raising the intensity of the band. Verse two is on fire vocally, with Brent coming across loud, strong, and sweet in the mix. Another great jam ensues and is followed by a reprise of the first verse. The audience and the drummers finish things off in usual form. Do yourself a favor and listen to this version, which is played by the Dead during what many consider to be one of their peak periods of consistently hot playing (Fall '89 to Spring '90).
9-8-90: Vince Welnick's first NFA closes out the second set of his second show with the Dead. His playing is very hesitant and cautious throughout the entire song, and is also very choppy and stiff. There's no extraordinary jamming in this version, but it's interesting to compare Vince's playing here with his playing on the same song several years later: his chops improved dramatically.
12-31-90: Set two starts at midnight with NFA to usher in the new year. The band is joined by Bruce Hornsby throughout the entire show. Verse one and two are pretty standard, but then we get a nice, long jam that lets everyone show their chops - Hornsby, Garcia, Bobby, and even Phil takes a subtle bass lead. There's some very hot playing in this jam. Garcia continues with a MIDI sax jam until Branford Marsalis comes onstage and NFA peters out into Eyes of the World. To close things up at the end of the second set, the band slowly starts back into NFA with a very nice piano intro from Hornsby. Verse one is repeated and is followed by sax and piano fills. The "umm-bop bop bop-bop / you know our love will not fade away" call-and-response between the band the audience continues until we're left with just the drummers and the crowd. This a very hot post-Brent NFA, highlighted by playing from both Hornsby and Marsalis.
4-2-95: This is a great version of a 90's NFA. Compare Vince's playing on this version with his debut NFA on 9-8-90 - his playing has improved dramatically over the course of five years. After the first verse, Garcia and Vince trade some nice licks before returning to verse two. The highlight of the song comes at the end of the next jam. As the rest of the band plays the intro vamp before going back to repeat verse one, Garcia lays down a guitar lead that is reminiscent of something he might have played at the Fillmore East 24 years earlier - this is a truly amazing moment. All of the singing band members finish the song with some great improvised harmonies - even Phil gets into the mix delivering the low notes. There's a very long call-and-response interplay between the band and the audience to finish things off.
6-25-95: Bruce Hornsby joined the Dead for one of their last shows. During a tour marred by problems, including an often visibly frustrated Garcia, Hornsby seems to infuse some renewed energy into the entire band, especially Garcia. Wharf Rat segues into verse one of NFA, which is followed by a sweet Hornsby keyboard jam. Verse two and another jam are next, followed again by the repeat of verse one. It's after the repeated verse where the magic happens. Instead of finishing the song in the usual manner, Hornsby takes center stage and delivers some amazing piano. Garcia gets into it, and he and Bruce trade off some wonderful licks, with Bruce doing a great job echoing Garcia on the piano. Finally, things cool off and the "you know our love will not fade away" vocals bring us to the end of the song. This is one of the hottest NFA's from the end of the band's career.

As a familiar cover tune with a simple one-chord jam basis, NFA is a natural for guest shots, and the Dead played it with guests 30 times. The most frequent contributor, with 10 appearances on NFA, was John Cipollina of Quicksilver fame. Quicksilver shared the Dead's enthusiasm for the Bo Beat, performing Mona and Who Do You Love. A number of these were New Year's Eve shows: 12-31-78, -79, -81, and -82. The Dead also played NFA three times with members of the Allman Brothers: 7-16-72, 6-10-73, and 7-28-73, the Watkins Glen encore, also featuring members of the Band. Aside from his stint in the band, Bruce Hornsby guested three times on NFA, twice on accordion. Branford Marsalis on sax and Airto on percussion each did it twice, and other guests on NFA included Hot Tuna (11-11-70), Traffic (11-23-70), Carlos Santana (1-13-80), Pete Townshend (3-28-81), Stephen Stills (4-17-83), Matt Kelly (3-12-85), Baba Olatunji (12-31-85), the Neville Brothers (2-11-86), Bob Dylan (2-12-89), Steve Miller (6-15-92), and David Murray (2-26-95).
Consider as another example the Cambodian refugee benefit show of 1-13-80: coming out of drums, Carlos Santana and John Cipollina join in on a E jam leading to NFA. As is often the case with guests there were initially problems with getting the guests audible in the sound system. The first solo seems to be Santana, but it's way down in the mix. Santana comes in loud and clear finally, then Jerry takes a solo, leading to some cool rhythm breaks. Bob and Jerry sing the first verse with breaks, then Santana and Cipollina take solos, each in his unique style. The second verse is followed by some 4-way guitar by-play, fading down to a nice smooth transition to Sugar Magnolia.
And we haven't seen the last of NFA: various configurations jammed on it on Furthur '96 and '97, and the Other Ones kept the Bo Beat going in 1998. One thing is for sure, you know: our love will Not Fade Away....


  1. This is the 8th in a series of fourteen Guest Posts I’m adding this month.

    These essays were written in 1999 for a now-dead webpage meant to accompany the Deadheads’ Taping Addendum. The Addendum concludes, “For those readers interested in reading more from our team of crack contributors, check out our lyrical and musical essays on the Grateful Dead’s most illuminating songs.” A variety of Compendium writers contributed essays on various songs, but their webpage was only up for a short time before it was taken down some 13 years ago.
    The essays haven’t been reprinted elsewhere (as far as I know), so they’re little-known today. I thought they should be revived in a more accessible presentation for readers who might be interested in them.
    I’m not including here the essays on song-lyric interpretations, or (with one exception) songs written after 1974, since those are of much less interest to me. The full contents are still linked on the Web Archive for those who want to read more in those areas.
    Obviously some performance histories are a little incomplete or out of date, since fewer shows were available then, but I haven’t updated or revised them [except for a few minor corrections]. The date of writing should be kept in mind.
    I don’t always agree with the authors – these are their opinions, in their style! – but including these essays here doesn’t preclude me writing my own posts about some of these songs in the future.
    More guest contributions on early songs, shows, or Dead history are always welcome, of course.

  2. I always thought the Buddy Holly version was "A love so real will not fade away", which makes more sense than "A love for real not fade away" but maybe is harder to sing.

    I was at 12/31/85, I remember that some Deadheads were circulating a bunch of flyers before the show suggesting that we start the NFA clap rhythm when the band came out on stage. This happened, Mickey started nodding his head and smiling at the idea, and then the band started the song.

    1. I transcribed the lyrics as accurately as I could. What was interesting is that Buddy doesn't actually sing what most people think he sings - he skips some words so some of the lines are in shorthand (he never sings "will," like the Dead do, and they regularize the Cadillac verse). He also implies words by adding his frequent "-a" syllable to the words he sings.
      It's definitely "a love for real not fade away." Here's a take without the backing vocals, so the words are more clear:

      For me, the best rock & roll song ever conceived. Like many of Buddy Holly's songs, I can only think in wonder, "there is a fountain that was not made by the hands of men."

    2. Phonetically, it sounds like Buddy sings "My lover bigger than a Cadillac" - more of a Pigpen-type image!

  3. I was also at 12-31-85 and it was awesome that the crowd started the clap and refrain when the band came onstage for the first set, to goad them into opening with it. Remember how they would so often close shows with the crowd clapping and singing along - "you know our love will not fade away - clap, clap, clapclap" - as the band wandered off and the crowd still clapping and singing a cappella - until the band came back for their encore. So some fans passed out flyers in line before the New Year's show show to get us to start it up before the show. Imagine how organized we might have been with social media! Great moment.

  4. "Then the magic pairing of NFA with Goin' Down the Road (again, in E) started on 10-10-70, with the very first Goin' Down the Road."

    i was at dead at midnight at fillmore east, 7/12/70. could swear nfa segued into gdtrfb

    1. As it happens there's an audience tape of that NFA, and the Dead jam all kinds of things in it, but never quite GDTRFB...

  5. There has been over 75(!) released versions of NFA since 1999

  6. My first show was Binghamton 4-12-83 ,,, I was 15 years old.