• May 1, 2014
    http://www.dead.net/features/greatest-stories-ever-told/greatest-stories-ever-told-easy-wind
    Greatest Stories Ever Told - "Easy Wind"

    By David Dodd

    Here’s the plan—each week, I will blog about a different song, focusing, usually, on the lyrics, but also on some other aspects of the song, including its overall impact—a truly subjective thing. Therefore, the best part, I would hope, would not be anything in particular that I might have to say, but rather, the conversation that may happen via the comments over the course of time—and since all the posts will stay up, you can feel free to weigh in any time on any of the songs! With Grateful Dead lyrics, there’s always a new and different take on what they bring up for each listener, it seems. (I’ll consider requests for particular songs—just private message me!)

    "Easy Wind"

    Two songs with words and music by Robert Hunter appear in the Grateful Dead repertoire. The first of these was “Easy Wind,” sung by Pigpen. Influenced by Robert Johnson’s blues, Hunter decided to write a song for Pigpen, and it fit like a glove. The band debuted it August 20, 1969, at the Aqua Theater in Seattle, and then played it 45 times, with the final performance on April 4, 1971, at Manhattan Center in New York.

    According to Hunter, in an interview in 1993 with Blair Jackson, “my arrangement was a little bit closer to one of those slippin’ and slidin’ Robert Johnson-type songs because it was just me and a guitar. Then when the whole band got a hold of it, it changed a bit, as they always do. Still, a lot of that original style crept over into the band’s version.”

    The song appeared on Workingman’s Dead, released in June 1970.

    At the risk of reading too much into very few words, I am, nevertheless, intrigued by Hunter’s use of the phrase “easy wind.” It’s not necessarily an obvious phrase, so I am inclined to think of Robert Frost’s use of the phrase in his poem, “Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening” (1923):

    Whose woods these are I think I know.
    His house is in the village though;
    He will not see me stopping here
    To watch his woods fill up with snow.

    My little horse must think it queer
    To stop without a farmhouse near
    Between the woods and frozen lake
    The darkest evening of the year.

    He gives his harness bells a shake
    To ask if there is some mistake.
    The only other sound’s the sweep
    Of easy wind and downy flake.

    The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
    But I have promises to keep,
    And miles to go before I sleep,
    And miles to go before I sleep.

    Could the tone of this poem be further removed from that of the “Easy Wind” lyric? And yet, there’s that phrase.

    To continue for just a moment in this vein, I think there is more evidence for Hunter’s utter familiarity with Frost, and other New England poets. Witness his use of another Frost phrase / concept in “Uncle John’s Band” on the same album:

    Fire and Ice (1920)

    Some say the world will end in fire,
    Some say in ice.
    From what I’ve tasted of desire
    I hold with those who favor fire.
    But if it had to perish twice,
    I think I know enough of hate
    To say that for destruction ice
    Is also great
    And would suffice.

    (And, of course, there is the Emily Dickinson phrase “no time to hate” in the same song.)

    It seems an odd grouping, a mix of the three Roberts: Hunter, Frost and Johnson.

    I found a version of the song on YouTube from August 30, 1969, at the Family Dog on the Great Highway. Now, that is a wonderful thing, given the line in the song about chippin’ up rocks for the Great Highway. (Other sources show that date as a KQED studio session. Looks to me like they did both—there are entries on Archive.org for both venues on that date, each containing a version of “Easy Wind.” Busy day!)

    So, getting to the story in this song, I’ve always faced the conundrum of a bayou setting, which would imply Louisiana, coupled with the construction of a “Great Highway.” And there’s a river. Now, I’m not familiar with the region, but I can’t locate a “Great Highway” anywhere near the Louisiana bayou, so I’m assuming we’re dealing with the great big America of Hunter’s imagination, which we so often run across in the songs (think of Big Foot County).

    Hunter conjures up a narrator, a perfect character, and perhaps the character of the Working Man in Workingman’s Dead, who is a construction worker helping to build the roads. He drinks (again, perfect for Pigpen), sings about his Rider (see “Operator,” and other songs with this term), and can’t help but notice all the ladies “out in red on the streets today.”

    Pigpen variously sang this line as "Out dressed in red ...", "Out on the streets in red today" and "Out in red that way,” according to the Grateful Dead Lyric and Song Finder. Somehow I doubt that Hunter would mind. (Another variant I heard today in listening to the two versions from August 30, 1969 was “picking up rocks” instead of “chipping up rocks.” Fun!) Pigpen was not one to sing a song exactly the same way each time, that is certain.

    So the overall story is implied by these outlines, and there is nothing spectacular, adventurous, or special about it, but it is, nevertheless, worthy of a song. That, to me, is the essence of the song, and of many of Hunter’s songs—he is seeking all that’s still unsung, after all, which means giving voice, and recording for our memory, that which is unremarkable otherwise. It elevates the everyday, and that’s something any of us can do at any time with our lives that may seem all too normal. There’s nothing about life, Hunter seems to be saying, that is not worth taking note of.

    That’s something you find over and over again in the body of lyrics found in blues songs, and I think Hunter has achieved a perfect addition to that repertoire with “Easy Wind,” in both words and music.

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By David Dodd

Here’s the plan—each week, I will blog about a different song, focusing, usually, on the lyrics, but also on some other aspects of the song, including its overall impact—a truly subjective thing. Therefore, the best part, I would hope, would not be anything in particular that I might have to say, but rather, the conversation that may happen via the comments over the course of time—and since all the posts will stay up, you can feel free to weigh in any time on any of the songs! With Grateful Dead lyrics, there’s always a new and different take on what they bring up for each listener, it seems. (I’ll consider requests for particular songs—just private message me!)

"Easy Wind"

Two songs with words and music by Robert Hunter appear in the Grateful Dead repertoire. The first of these was “Easy Wind,” sung by Pigpen. Influenced by Robert Johnson’s blues, Hunter decided to write a song for Pigpen, and it fit like a glove. The band debuted it August 20, 1969, at the Aqua Theater in Seattle, and then played it 45 times, with the final performance on April 4, 1971, at Manhattan Center in New York.

According to Hunter, in an interview in 1993 with Blair Jackson, “my arrangement was a little bit closer to one of those slippin’ and slidin’ Robert Johnson-type songs because it was just me and a guitar. Then when the whole band got a hold of it, it changed a bit, as they always do. Still, a lot of that original style crept over into the band’s version.”

The song appeared on Workingman’s Dead, released in June 1970.

At the risk of reading too much into very few words, I am, nevertheless, intrigued by Hunter’s use of the phrase “easy wind.” It’s not necessarily an obvious phrase, so I am inclined to think of Robert Frost’s use of the phrase in his poem, “Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening” (1923):

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Could the tone of this poem be further removed from that of the “Easy Wind” lyric? And yet, there’s that phrase.

To continue for just a moment in this vein, I think there is more evidence for Hunter’s utter familiarity with Frost, and other New England poets. Witness his use of another Frost phrase / concept in “Uncle John’s Band” on the same album:

Fire and Ice (1920)

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

(And, of course, there is the Emily Dickinson phrase “no time to hate” in the same song.)

It seems an odd grouping, a mix of the three Roberts: Hunter, Frost and Johnson.

I found a version of the song on YouTube from August 30, 1969, at the Family Dog on the Great Highway. Now, that is a wonderful thing, given the line in the song about chippin’ up rocks for the Great Highway. (Other sources show that date as a KQED studio session. Looks to me like they did both—there are entries on Archive.org for both venues on that date, each containing a version of “Easy Wind.” Busy day!)

So, getting to the story in this song, I’ve always faced the conundrum of a bayou setting, which would imply Louisiana, coupled with the construction of a “Great Highway.” And there’s a river. Now, I’m not familiar with the region, but I can’t locate a “Great Highway” anywhere near the Louisiana bayou, so I’m assuming we’re dealing with the great big America of Hunter’s imagination, which we so often run across in the songs (think of Big Foot County).

Hunter conjures up a narrator, a perfect character, and perhaps the character of the Working Man in Workingman’s Dead, who is a construction worker helping to build the roads. He drinks (again, perfect for Pigpen), sings about his Rider (see “Operator,” and other songs with this term), and can’t help but notice all the ladies “out in red on the streets today.”

Pigpen variously sang this line as "Out dressed in red ...", "Out on the streets in red today" and "Out in red that way,” according to the Grateful Dead Lyric and Song Finder. Somehow I doubt that Hunter would mind. (Another variant I heard today in listening to the two versions from August 30, 1969 was “picking up rocks” instead of “chipping up rocks.” Fun!) Pigpen was not one to sing a song exactly the same way each time, that is certain.

So the overall story is implied by these outlines, and there is nothing spectacular, adventurous, or special about it, but it is, nevertheless, worthy of a song. That, to me, is the essence of the song, and of many of Hunter’s songs—he is seeking all that’s still unsung, after all, which means giving voice, and recording for our memory, that which is unremarkable otherwise. It elevates the everyday, and that’s something any of us can do at any time with our lives that may seem all too normal. There’s nothing about life, Hunter seems to be saying, that is not worth taking note of.

That’s something you find over and over again in the body of lyrics found in blues songs, and I think Hunter has achieved a perfect addition to that repertoire with “Easy Wind,” in both words and music.

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Two songs with words and music by Robert Hunter appear in the Grateful Dead repertoire. The first of these was “Easy Wind,” sung by Pigpen. Influenced by Robert Johnson’s blues, Hunter decided to write a song for Pigpen, and it fit like a glove.
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Greatest Stories Ever Told - "Easy Wind"
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Two songs with words and music by Robert Hunter appear in the Grateful Dead repertoire. The first of these was “Easy Wind,” sung by Pigpen. Influenced by Robert Johnson’s blues, Hunter decided to write a song for Pigpen, and it fit like a glove.
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Two songs with words and music by Robert Hunter appear in the Grateful Dead repertoire. The first of these was “Easy Wind,” sung by Pigpen. Influenced by Robert Johnson’s blues, Hunter decided to write a song for Pigpen, and it fit like a glove.

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Another excellent essay David! And I really like the phrase, "elevating the everyday," that's what great art is about. Look at Manet, Frost (I've been in those woods, as have most of us I guess), Lucinda and all the other Williams, etc. "I don't know, if I'm going back again," to a life of drudgery and disease. "We could have us a high time," but the world is pressing on us too much. "All of my friends came to see me last night," but even they couldn't help me beat death. This is one of the Dead's best songs on one of their best albums. And I never can not sit up and pay attention when the beautiful instrumental interplay of the bridge ends and Pigpen tells us what it's all about: "Gotta find a woman be good to me, won't hide my liquor try to serve me tea." [Insert Mickey woodblock/whatever here] The dictionary tells us that a jack baller is someone who risks it all on one roll, attempt, gamble. A stone jack baller who's heart is true is what we all aspire to be, someone who truly will risk his life for what he believes in. But will anyone know besides himself? This is the song that's sung, but perhaps unheard. I love the way Pig hits the word "true," and almost turns it into a plaintive wail ... all in a short note. And the dedication embodied by "gotta find." Yes, this is worth taking note of.
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Epic Pig!!
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This song is kind of the opposite of Sugar Magnolia in some of the lyrics. Instead of this being a relationship where the man relies on the woman to clean up after him and heap him back on the wagon, this is a relationship where the man (Pig) just wants to be himself, and wants his woman to love him for being that way. Don't you dare wake him up off the couch or try to take the bottle out of his sleeping hands, that man worked from dawn til noon (sometimes I hear doom or dune)and this is his plan! The last time a woman took his bottle he woke up to a cup of tea, and that was the end of that Rider in his life.
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Balling that jack has always meant, to me, running a jackhammer (as I have done a few times in my field of construction). That would be one way of chipping up rocks for the Great Highway. This has always been one of my GD favorites. What great music and lyrics. Thanks Robert, and Robert and Robert . . . oh yeah, I'm a Robert too.
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Like many early Grateful Dead songs, it is harder to pin down the first performance of "Easy Wind" than it may initially appear. The Dead did perform "Easy Wind" at the outdoor Aqua Theater in Seattle, WA in August 1969, where they were appearing with the New Riders Of The Purple Sage and Sanpaku. However, although the show was scheduled for Wednesday, August 20, in fact it was rained out, and they performed the next day. Owsley wrote the correct date (August 21) of the performance on the box, but because of the poster (which says August 20), there has always been confusion about this date (http://lostlivedead.blogspot.com/2010/01/august-21-1969-aqua-theatre-se…) However, on August 20, when the bands were rained out of the Aqua, the groups rolled up to a biker bar in suburban Ballard, called El Roach (at 5419 Ballard Ave NW). Although eyewitness memories are understandably foggy, it's not impossible that they played "Easy Wind" on Wednesday August 20 after all (http://lostlivedead.blogspot.com/2010/01/august-20-1969-roach-seattle-w…). The great YouTube video of "Easy Wind" that is posted above comes from a TV special called Calebration (not a typo). For many years this was thought to be a live-in-the-studio broadcast from the studios of KQED, the local PBS station. The broadcast date was August 30, 1970, and it's remarkable rare video of 1970 Dead, and it uniquely demonstrates how Bob plays the lead part for much of "Easy Wind." In fact,, scholarly research has revealed the Calebration show to be different than originally thought. First of all, it was recorded at and broadcast by the local CBS affiliate (KCBS-TV, Channel 5). Second of all, the recording was mentioned in the paper on August 28, 1970, so the performances had to be before that date, and hence not broadcast live at all. (http://jgmf.blogspot.com/2012/03/gd-august-30-1970-calebration-misdated…). It's still a great and rare performance.
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...although I do get lots of looks. Probably my favourite Pig. I can't help but push on the gas just a little bit more once the jam starts y'know?
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and Easy Wind (one simple mistake on the keyboard turns this into "East" Wind). "Influenced by Robert Johnson's blues, Hunter decided to write a song for Pigpen..." how ironic... had no idea until now that Robert J. also passed at 27 :( Great essay, David. Love the Frost contribution as well.
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I always thought that the Great Highway was the Mississippi River and that the person in the song was breaking rocks to make levees. I always imagined that the worker lived in a shack like house with his woman(Rider)along a bayou and on week ends he would slip to New Orleans where the women were all out in red dresses.
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When I first heard this song I to had the Bayou picture. You can rest assure with Robert Hunter laying down the lines of words you'll be given in the minds eye an image of perfection and proper emotion. I have so far an 8/21/69 version then the 9/1/69 version. Both different in themselves and different from the studio being Pigs wonderful ability to create on the fly. I sometimes think of how PigPen would have shaped Rap music he did it plenty on stage. To dig into this song you have to think like a man of the blues. The song opens on which is also the closing thought off the character 'Easy Wind blowing cross the bayou today" the thought and the reaction man looking for change. In the Blues of OLD lingo, river is the name a bluesman calls a good friend someone he trusts. But you can't tell a bluesman what to do. Cause the river keeps talking but you never never never heard a word he say.I read somewhere a long time ago the shiny black steel jack hammer was Pigpens girlfriend at the time and I'm sure we all know what ballin' is. Chipping up rocks for the great highway could be doing gigs at and with the Familydog or Pig dealing with some problems. The way to deal/ live is ballin'that jack and drinking my wine. However his love interest ryder/rider and doctor know this life style is gonna kill him if he don't stop. But you don't tell a bluesman what to do. Gotta find a women be good to me ect... again the thought of life better some where else. Someone to treat the stone-jack baller the way he wants to be treated. Sorry to be so long winded I could go on but i'll wrap it up. Oh yea look at the common thread between Easy Wind and another great song Alligator. All this is just my 2 cents Thanks David keep'em rolling. Also there is a lesson in the song "don't you touch hard liquor just a cup of cold coffee" that way you'll be able to get up in the morning and go.
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Easy Wind is one of my very favourite Grateful Dead tunes, a fabulous homage to the blues that is right up Pig's alley. It is a lot of fun to play and has a very nice turnaround with a progression that sounds like B A C E to my ears. According to Deadbase, the Calebration broadcast was a simulcast, with the FM from KQED in SF. The TV station is not noted. The On the Town column cited above has a quadrophonic broadcast on KPIX television and KCBS and K-101 radio stations. Presumably quadrophonic radio requires two stations to broadcast simultaneously. Can anyone shed further light on this broadcast? Happy Trails
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The listing in Deadbase has not been updated for many years. The show was broadcast on KPIX channel 5 (not KCBS, different city, my mistake, but it was the CBS affiliate). The music was simulcast on two different radio stations and mixed to quadrophonic. The stations were probably KSAN and K101, but no one really remembers precisely. Numerous people rigged up two stereo systems and a tv to get the full Quadrophonic effect. Memories are generally "fuzzy," ahem, and in case rock broadcasting was in its infancy so there wasn't much to compare it to. Tapes seem to exist from one station, but I don't know if anyone had ever managed to tape both stations, separate them, and try and mix them back. Anyway, what would you play it on? There are some Comments from earwitnesses on the thread here: http://lostlivedead.blogspot.com/2013/09/grateful-dead-live-fm-broadcas…
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Thanks for the clarification, I'll update the On This Date In Deadhead History (OTDIDH) files. Another half-step on the lazy river road to just and exact perfection.
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I always loved the music on this tune-back in the day I liked to crank up the old VM record player which was stuck onto the window ledge in my dorm room and blast it into the Quad in all its funky cool glory! Great version of this song on Three from the Vault. Pigpen!
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"I been ballin' a shiny black steel jackhammer, been chippin' up rocks for the Great High Way..." Great song. Stay tuned.
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and you never heard a word it says. One of the great jam vehicles of the Dead, A favorite Pigpen song. I loved seeing the Dead play it live all those years ago.
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I always think of Tom when I hear this Song.Tom was a genuine "Stone Jack Baller" working in the Granite Hills of New Hampshire (the home of Robert Frost) If Tom had a Horse I'm sure he would think it Queer the way Tom loved to Ride that Hammer all the Live Long Day. The Guys sure let Tom know how Amused they were by the way He'd Lean into that Jack Hammer and Squeeze it and Coax it into a Cloud of Dust and Noise and Blasts of Stoney Shrapnel. It was a Sight to Behold and Tommy never Denied the Lascivious Insinuations of How he Enjoyed Working that Jack Hammer! " Its All in the Hips!!" he'd say Like the Wind...and a Passionate Woman ... a Jack Hammer carries a Destructive Capacity that must always be Respected. An Easy Wind is a Blessing and a Whirlwind is a Curse. When Balling the Steel Jack Hammer you better take her Slow and Easy or you won't get too Far. This I Know....Mr. Tommy told me So! Mr. Tommy told me lots of Things...but I mostly Never Heard a Word He Said ... My Ears were Ringing Too Much from the Noise of that Hammer he Loved to Ride!
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On 04 May I read that todwel58 had the 'Bayou Picture' in his mind. But for me, since I first heard the song, the 'movie' in my mind was that of a grizzled highway construction worker in the San Joaquin Valley in California, regardless of the 'Bayou' reference in the song. Perhaps it's because I'm a local Cali man, born and raised, with a Great-Grandfather who came from Royalston, MA to a ranch in the Antelope Valley, just after the Economic Depression of 1893 via Denver for a few years (where he met and married 'Great Grandma Boyd'), and the 'ladies in red' mentioned in the song are the hookers plying their trade on G Street in Fresno. You get the picture. Highway 99? Highway 5? The veteran construction worker, day after day working himself too hard, messing up his back and spending his hard-earned $$$ on loose women and booze. You see their headstones in cemeteries all through the San Joaquin Valley from Sacramento down to Delano to Fresno to Bakersfield........
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Can’t locate a “Great Highway” anywhere near the Louisiana bayou? "Highway 61" runs alongside the Mississippi River all through the bayou!
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    Calis
    3 months 1 week ago
    Easy Wind
    Can’t locate a “Great Highway” anywhere near the Louisiana bayou? "Highway 61" runs alongside the Mississippi River all through the bayou!
  • peetstr50
    4 years 4 months ago
    Re: Easy Wind - The Movie You Conjure In Up Your Mind......
    On 04 May I read that todwel58 had the 'Bayou Picture' in his mind. But for me, since I first heard the song, the 'movie' in my mind was that of a grizzled highway construction worker in the San Joaquin Valley in California, regardless of the 'Bayou' reference in the song. Perhaps it's because I'm a local Cali man, born and raised, with a Great-Grandfather who came from Royalston, MA to a ranch in the Antelope Valley, just after the Economic Depression of 1893 via Denver for a few years (where he met and married 'Great Grandma Boyd'), and the 'ladies in red' mentioned in the song are the hookers plying their trade on G Street in Fresno. You get the picture. Highway 99? Highway 5? The veteran construction worker, day after day working himself too hard, messing up his back and spending his hard-earned $$$ on loose women and booze. You see their headstones in cemeteries all through the San Joaquin Valley from Sacramento down to Delano to Fresno to Bakersfield........
  • Default Avatar
    share-the-light
    4 years 5 months ago
    Balling That Jack
    I always think of Tom when I hear this Song.Tom was a genuine "Stone Jack Baller" working in the Granite Hills of New Hampshire (the home of Robert Frost) If Tom had a Horse I'm sure he would think it Queer the way Tom loved to Ride that Hammer all the Live Long Day. The Guys sure let Tom know how Amused they were by the way He'd Lean into that Jack Hammer and Squeeze it and Coax it into a Cloud of Dust and Noise and Blasts of Stoney Shrapnel. It was a Sight to Behold and Tommy never Denied the Lascivious Insinuations of How he Enjoyed Working that Jack Hammer! " Its All in the Hips!!" he'd say Like the Wind...and a Passionate Woman ... a Jack Hammer carries a Destructive Capacity that must always be Respected. An Easy Wind is a Blessing and a Whirlwind is a Curse. When Balling the Steel Jack Hammer you better take her Slow and Easy or you won't get too Far. This I Know....Mr. Tommy told me So! Mr. Tommy told me lots of Things...but I mostly Never Heard a Word He Said ... My Ears were Ringing Too Much from the Noise of that Hammer he Loved to Ride!
  • Strider 88
    4 years 5 months ago
    The River keeps a talkin
    and you never heard a word it says. One of the great jam vehicles of the Dead, A favorite Pigpen song. I loved seeing the Dead play it live all those years ago.
  • mustin321
    4 years 5 months ago
    Theres nothing about life that is not worth taking note of...
    nice