By Samuel Gerweck
Last week, the record-of-the-month club Vinyl Me, Please announced the forthcoming release of an extensive 14-LP boxed set: The Story of the Grateful Dead. The anthology spans the influential jam band’s catalog, mixing essential studio albums and live recordings from 1969 to 1990. Along with the music are liner notes by prolific musicians and Grateful Dead fans, including North Carolina’s own M.C. Taylor, of Hiss Golden Messenger, and John Darnielle, of the Mountain Goats. This isn’t the first time North Carolina and the Dead have crossed paths, though.
Jerry Garcia, the late front man and founder of the Grateful Dead, began his musical journey studying and performing bluegrass and early American folk music. In fact, Garcia’s first recorded work, Folk Time, made when he was just 20 years old and three years before the formation of the Grateful Dead, features covers of Earl Scruggs (“Ground Speed” and “Flint Hill Special”) and some traditional tunes that Doc Watson popularized (“Roving Gambler” and “Sitting on Top of the World”).
After the Grateful Dead formed, in 1965, Garcia continued to employ his early influences through the Dead’s jam band lens. “Cold Rain and Snow,” by the Madison County ballad singer Dillard Chandler, was on the Dead’s 1967 debut album and stayed in rotation on their live sets through the band’s existence. “Oh Babe, It Ain’t No Lie,” written by the musician and songwriter Elizabeth Cotten, of Carrboro, was frequently featured on live acoustic sets by the Dead, and “Sugaree” — off Garcia’s 1972 solo album, Garcia, but played by the Grateful Dead live — borrows lyrics from Cotten’s song “Shake Sugaree.”
Jerry Garcia’s friend and frequent collaborator David “Dawg” Grisman recorded an album with Doc Watson over a few years and a few sessions that was released in 1997 as Doc & Dawg. The album featured a slew of takes on traditional tunes and covers, including a couple of songs by Jimmie Rodgers (“My Dear Old Southern Home” and “Blue as I Can Be”), who rose to fame through his WWNC radio show in Asheville in 1927.
The Grateful Dead has one of the most fervent fan bases out there, so there must be some hidden North Carolina gems in the band’s long history missed in this account. If Darnielle and Taylor don’t mention any others in their liner notes, maybe the Come Hear NC community can share some with us in comments on this website.
About the Author:
Sam Gerweck works for the North Carolina Arts Council as a Program Administrator for the Come Hear North Carolina campaign. Performing as a solo artist and in garage bands since his pre-teens, he went on to study vocal performance and music theory at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. Settling in North Carolina, he has come to love the rich musical culture of the state, and you can likely find him at any number of music venues, record stores, or guitar shops around the region.