The Story That The Crow Told Me -- The New Lost City Ramblers
Uncle John's Band -- The Grateful Dead
Cold Rain and Snow -- Obray Ramsey
Cold Rain and Snow -- The Grateful Dead
Sweet Sunny South -- Da Costa Woltz's Southern Broadcasters
Sweet Sunny South -- Jerry Garcia & David Grisman
Even the name had a traditional source. There are hundreds
of accounts of the origin of "Grateful Dead" which agree on all points
except the source. Jerry
Garcia picked up a book at someone's house and it fell open to a page
with that name on it. "Grateful Dead" refers to a folktale about a guy
the road who encounters an abandoned corpse. He takes the time to bury
after which he has nothing but good luck. Typical sources given by
authoritative informants include the Oxford English Dictionary,
Webster's, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, etc., etc. The only trouble is
that none of the books listed have an entry for "Grateful Dead." The
only book I've found with such an entry is Stith Thompson's Motif-Index
of Folk-Literature. (6 vols., University of
Press). I maintain that had to be the source. I'll excuse the
authoritative informants who were present on the basis that
As with many of us from that era, Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter (who became the band's chief songwriter) were strongly attracted to The Folkways Anthology of American Folk Music, a 3-volume (6-LP) set, first published in 1952. It was a reissue collection of old commercial 78 RPM records of American old-time southern country music, including mountain, African-American and Cajun artists. This unusual collection was edited by an unusual person, Harry Smith. It's been reissued as a Smithsonian-Folkways 6-CD set. I highly recommend it.
Another main influence on Garcia and Hunter was The New Lost City Ramblers, a city-bred group devoted to authentic re-creation the 1920s Appalachian string band sound. In addition to listening to the Ramblers's records, Garcia and Hunter attended Rambler concerts in the Bay area. The Story That the Crow Told Me is performed by The New Lost City Ramblers: John Cohen, vocal and guitar; Tom Paley, crow calls and banjo; Mike Seeger, fiddle. From The New Lost City Ramblers, Vol. 4, Folkways LP FA2399. In keeping with their promise when they inherited the Folkways catalog, Smithsonian-Folkways can make you a CD of this album.
A Grateful Dead tribute to the New Lost City Ramblers: Uncle John's Band (starting here at the crow verse), performed by The Grateful Dead, from Workingman's Dead. Originally issued as an LP in 1970 and re-released as Warner Brothers / Rhino Records CD R2-74396. For the connection of "Uncle John" with John Cohen, see Stephen Peter's What A Long Strange Trip: The Stories Behind Every Grateful Dead Song, 1965-1995, p. 62 (Thunder's Mouth Press, 1999). The New Lost City Ramblers at that time consisted of Mike Seeger, who said factual things; Tom Paley, who said funny things; and John Cohen, who talked about the artistic values of the songs. Hunter and Garcia were oriented towards Cohen's approach, and could have thought of the Ramblers as Uncle John's band. But, as with most of Hunter's poetry, it means more than one non-specific thing.
For information on the influence of both the Folkways Anthology and The New Lost City Ramblers on the Grateful Dead, see Blair Jackson's Goin' Down The Road: A Grateful Dead Traveling Companion (Harmony Books, 1992), particularly pp. 210-211.
In 1963, a North Carolina traditional singer / banjoist named
Obray Ramsey made an LP for Prestige/International: Obray Ramsey
Sings Folksongs from the Three Laurels. Folk music collectors
bought it because Ramsey sang some unusual songs, one of them being Cold
Rain and Snow. That song is reissued on the Shanatchie CD
6014 anthology album, The Music
Never Stopped: Roots of the
Grateful Dead (on the "Americana" tab at their website). Obray
Ramsey went on to have a (to say the least) varied musical career.
The Grateful Dead performed Cold Rain and Snow on their first
LP, The Grateful Dead, originally issued in 1967, and
re-released as Warner Brothers / Rhino Records CD R2-74392. I think the
Dead version is livelier than Ramsey's.
Here's an example of a literal cover. First, the source: Sweet Sunny South, performed by Da Costa Woltz's Southern Broadcasters, with vocal by Ben Jarrell (Tommy Jarrell's father), fiddle and two 5-string banjos. Recorded May, 1927 in Richmond, Indiana, by American Recording Company. This recording is from an Nth-generation tape of the original 78, where N is a large positive integer. It was reissued on a County LP (524) in 1972 and a Document CD (8023), but I don't know of any way you can run down to your record store and get a copy. The unusual arrangement uses one banjo to play melody while the other plays chords up the neck. That's opposite from the usual country instrumentation, where chords are lower than the melody. In 1991, Jerry Garcia, vocal & banjo, and David Grisman, banjo, tried valiantly to imitate the Southern Broadcaster's two-banjo sound on Acoustic Disc ACD 21, Shady Grove (the website doesn't list the song, but it's on the recording). Here the results are less satisfactory. Garcia's voice always lacked the "punch" or "edge" that all good traditional singers have, and he sounds particularly tired here.
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