Today the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame will induct, among several others, Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia into their exalted ranks. The Daily Beast asked me to write about them. They had a remarkable relationship, and it turned into a very interesting assignment.
I touch on their time together in Palo Alto in the early days, how Hunter came to join the band during the writing of “Dark Star,” and the Workingman’s Dead/American Beauty period when they came to full, brilliant maturity. There’s also some consideration of the backgrounds of “Terrapin” and “Days Between.”
Jerry talked about how Hunter was able to write for him with no little sense of wonder, and we’re all the richer for Robert’s extraordinary ability. One example: pretty much everybody not actually in the band first heard “Uncle John’s Band” as an acoustic song on Workingman’s Dead.
But the tape that the band gave Hunter to write to was a 40 minute jam in normal 1969 style, which meant it was heavy, electric, and absolutely sizzling. Now, if ever there was a song where the lyrics match the music, it’s “Uncle John’s Band.” As I put it in the article, there’s a “soft Americana” to UJB, and the tone is perfect for the acoustic version — it’s about the morning sun, the crow, and so forth. How Hunter could listen to those electric changes and write what he did… seems miraculous to me.
And that’s what the piece is about. See it here. Enjoy!