• March 27, 2014
    http://www.dead.net/features/greatest-stories-ever-told/greatest-stories-ever-told-me-and-my-uncle
    Greatest Stories Ever Told - "Me and My Uncle"

    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!)

    "Me and My Uncle"

    Since I mentioned it last week, I thought this would be as good a time as any to tackle “Me and My Uncle.” I have to admit, I’ve been avoiding the song for the past year or so.

    What comes up for me when I first start thinking about blogging about any particular song is the first time I remember being conscious of it as a separate song. I think it took me awhile, after I started going to shows, before I was really able to differentiate all the songs. At the same time as I was going to as many Grateful Dead concerts as I possibly could, I was starting to accumulate the albums. (Yes, vinyl. And yes, I still have them.)

    And what I remember about “Me and My Uncle” coming into my consciousness was being at Winterland with my friend Mike and his sister Danielle, and having Danielle tell me the name of the song. She was about 15 years old at the time, and we were the much older college kids, but she definitely knew more about the Dead than I did. She was enthusiastic, at that moment, about the fact that the band was playing this particular song, as if were a particular favorite, or something she hadn’t heard in awhile. And since I had a little bit of a crush on her, I filed that away, and it has stuck with me lo these many years.

    Needless to say, I heard the song countless times over the following couple of decades, and indeed, it is the most-frequently-performed Grateful Dead song, with 616 performances noted in DeadBase. It’s among the very few cover songs we included in The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics. The first documented performance was on November 29, 1966, at the Matrix in San Francisco, although the notes in DeadBase cast some doubt as to whether all the songs noted were from that show. Its final performance was July 6, 1995, at the Riverport Amphitheatre in Maryland Heights, Missouri.

    And, though the lyrics seem like second nature to me now, there was a time when I thought the line was “I’m as honest as a government man can be.” I still like that better than the “real” line!

    Two guys on the road. Card games. Betrayal. Gold. Horses. Shirtless singers. All the classic ingredients of a cowboy song, right?

    The origin story of this song is well documented. John Phillips, of The Mamas and the Papas, wrote it in a tequila-soaked haze after a Judy Collins concert, in roughly 1964, best as I can ascertain, in a hotel room with Stephen Stills, Neil Young, and some others. He woke up with no memory of writing the song, but fortunately, someone had run a cassette tape, and Judy Collins kept it, later recording the song. The liner notes to Phillips’s Phillips 66 album say that “John used to joke that, little by little, with each royalty check, the memory of writing the song would come back to him.”

    Phillips’s other best-known songs include “California Dreamin’,” “Monday, Monday,” and “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers in Your Hair).”

    Bob Weir says he learned the song from “a hippie named Curly Jim,” who, according to Blair Jackson, must have been Curly Jim Cook, a member of the Bay Area band A.B. Skhy.

    When I put together the annotated lyrics site and book, I was loath to annotate the cover songs. Therefore, I never did note very much about the song in terms of its references. Maybe I can take care of that here.

    If Phillips wrote the song out of his head, without a map to hand, he must have had a good sense of geography. If you look at the route from, say, Pueblo, Colorado, to El Paso, Texas, you will see that Santa Fe is indeed about halfway between the two points. Amazing.

    What was the time period? Well, there are some clues, but not anything that would narrow it down much. There are cowboys. They’re drinking in a bar. People are riding horses. They are betting gold. So, somewhere between 1870 and 1912, at which point Santa Fe became part of New Mexico (up until then it was located in Texas, officially)…. I would love to hear additional speculation.

    The card game referred to as “High Low Jacks” in the song seems to be a game known more commonly as “Pitch.” It also goes by the name “Setback.” It can be played as a partners game, or as a singles game—known as Cutthroat Pitch. If you want to know more, you can look it up!

    It’s a long ride from Santa Fe to the Mexican border—337 miles or so to Juarez, just across the river from El Paso. That could have been a ten-day ride, if the horses average 35 miles a day, which seems to be within reason.

    All-in-all, a dire tale of dishonest guys from Denver. Having lived in Denver for awhile, I never noticed that in particular, but it’s a fun line. The one time I saw them play in Denver, in November of 1994, they played the song. I don’t remember the reaction from the crowd…

    Not that there needs to be a moral to the story, but if there is one, I’d say it’s “watch each card you play, and play it slow.”

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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!)

"Me and My Uncle"

Since I mentioned it last week, I thought this would be as good a time as any to tackle “Me and My Uncle.” I have to admit, I’ve been avoiding the song for the past year or so.

What comes up for me when I first start thinking about blogging about any particular song is the first time I remember being conscious of it as a separate song. I think it took me awhile, after I started going to shows, before I was really able to differentiate all the songs. At the same time as I was going to as many Grateful Dead concerts as I possibly could, I was starting to accumulate the albums. (Yes, vinyl. And yes, I still have them.)

And what I remember about “Me and My Uncle” coming into my consciousness was being at Winterland with my friend Mike and his sister Danielle, and having Danielle tell me the name of the song. She was about 15 years old at the time, and we were the much older college kids, but she definitely knew more about the Dead than I did. She was enthusiastic, at that moment, about the fact that the band was playing this particular song, as if were a particular favorite, or something she hadn’t heard in awhile. And since I had a little bit of a crush on her, I filed that away, and it has stuck with me lo these many years.

Needless to say, I heard the song countless times over the following couple of decades, and indeed, it is the most-frequently-performed Grateful Dead song, with 616 performances noted in DeadBase. It’s among the very few cover songs we included in The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics. The first documented performance was on November 29, 1966, at the Matrix in San Francisco, although the notes in DeadBase cast some doubt as to whether all the songs noted were from that show. Its final performance was July 6, 1995, at the Riverport Amphitheatre in Maryland Heights, Missouri.

And, though the lyrics seem like second nature to me now, there was a time when I thought the line was “I’m as honest as a government man can be.” I still like that better than the “real” line!

Two guys on the road. Card games. Betrayal. Gold. Horses. Shirtless singers. All the classic ingredients of a cowboy song, right?

The origin story of this song is well documented. John Phillips, of The Mamas and the Papas, wrote it in a tequila-soaked haze after a Judy Collins concert, in roughly 1964, best as I can ascertain, in a hotel room with Stephen Stills, Neil Young, and some others. He woke up with no memory of writing the song, but fortunately, someone had run a cassette tape, and Judy Collins kept it, later recording the song. The liner notes to Phillips’s Phillips 66 album say that “John used to joke that, little by little, with each royalty check, the memory of writing the song would come back to him.”

Phillips’s other best-known songs include “California Dreamin’,” “Monday, Monday,” and “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers in Your Hair).”

Bob Weir says he learned the song from “a hippie named Curly Jim,” who, according to Blair Jackson, must have been Curly Jim Cook, a member of the Bay Area band A.B. Skhy.

When I put together the annotated lyrics site and book, I was loath to annotate the cover songs. Therefore, I never did note very much about the song in terms of its references. Maybe I can take care of that here.

If Phillips wrote the song out of his head, without a map to hand, he must have had a good sense of geography. If you look at the route from, say, Pueblo, Colorado, to El Paso, Texas, you will see that Santa Fe is indeed about halfway between the two points. Amazing.

What was the time period? Well, there are some clues, but not anything that would narrow it down much. There are cowboys. They’re drinking in a bar. People are riding horses. They are betting gold. So, somewhere between 1870 and 1912, at which point Santa Fe became part of New Mexico (up until then it was located in Texas, officially)…. I would love to hear additional speculation.

The card game referred to as “High Low Jacks” in the song seems to be a game known more commonly as “Pitch.” It also goes by the name “Setback.” It can be played as a partners game, or as a singles game—known as Cutthroat Pitch. If you want to know more, you can look it up!

It’s a long ride from Santa Fe to the Mexican border—337 miles or so to Juarez, just across the river from El Paso. That could have been a ten-day ride, if the horses average 35 miles a day, which seems to be within reason.

All-in-all, a dire tale of dishonest guys from Denver. Having lived in Denver for awhile, I never noticed that in particular, but it’s a fun line. The one time I saw them play in Denver, in November of 1994, they played the song. I don’t remember the reaction from the crowd…

Not that there needs to be a moral to the story, but if there is one, I’d say it’s “watch each card you play, and play it slow.”

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Since I mentioned it last week, I thought this would be as good a time as any to tackle “Me and My Uncle.” I have to admit, I’ve been avoiding the song for the past year or so.
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Greatest Stories Ever Told - "Me and My Uncle"

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A few updates on the backstory of "Me And My Uncle": The infamous 1964 Tequila Party after a show in New Mexico where John Phillips played (and probably improvised) "Me And My Uncle" is usually described as including Judy Collins, Stephen Stills and Neil Young. However, after reading Neil's new autobiography, it didn't and couldn't have included him, as Neil and Stills did not even meet until 1965. More likely, it was Stills and Richie Furay, a simple mistake to make given the history of the Buffalo Springfield. I was one of the people way back when who promoted the idea to Blair Jackson that the "Curly Jim" who taught "Me And My Uncle" to Bob Weir was James "Curley" Cooke of the Steve Miller Band, a stellar blues guitarist in his own right. However, that was not the case. Curly Jim was a different person, and Curley Cooke himself apparently denied teaching Weir the song (before he passed away in 2011). Further research into the subject revealed that the guilty party was almost certainly an infamous character named James Stalarow, who played various intriguing roles in the history of the 13th Floor Elevators prior to moving to San Francisco in the mid-60s. It also seems that Stalarow co-wrote the song "Blind John" with Peter Monk (Zimmels) under the name "CJ Stetson", which appeared on Mickey Hart's Rolling Thunder album. If this isn't enough for you, you can dive down the rabbit hole into the whole story here: http://hooterollin.blogspot.com/2011/06/who-was-curly-jim-me-and-my-unc…, complete with a photograph of Curly Jim himself (don't forget to read the fascinating Comment Thread).
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Thanks so much for that! This helps several mysteries--given that it would be great to fill in more about the Peter Monk biography, too.
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Perfect song to have followed Deal. In the same vein as Contract by the New Riders, this is a gettin'-down-to-business song. I don't know why I like these two songs so much, but they have a curious energy about them that's more positive than negative. As also noted in the Greatest Story Ever Told: "Now and again these things just got to be done..." "Taught me so well, I grabbed that gold And I left his dead ass there by the side of the road." One of the all-time great song endings. "I ain't got no star on my shirt."
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Pitch was hugely popular on my college campus in the early seventies, and we enjoyed great family matches after I taught everybody back home. It always gave me secret satisfaction that these people who considered me a weirdo hippie freak for my devotion to the Dead were playing a card game featured so prominently in one of the Dead's songs.
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great to learn more about this stuff! I'd never even heard the tequila-party story. Trivia side note: this DOES explain why "San Francisco" is so prominent in "Monterey Pop." Trivia side note 2: "San Francisco"--boon or bane? (My opinion: even at the time it seemed to border on self-parody. And yet. Kinda like the Eric Burdon counterpart.)
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Thanks, gcs. Great to hear that crowd reaction. Shivers.
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David - When, ever, was Santa Fe (capital of Santa Fe de Nuevo México province of New Spain and of Mexico's territory of Nuevo México, and of the U.S. Territory of New Mexico) "located in Texas, officially" before 1912? What's the source for this "located...officially" locution? As a result of the U.S.-Mexico war (during which the U.S.'s Army of the West occupied Santa Fe) and the following 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, New Mexico became in 1850 a U.S. Territory, with, I believe at the same time, Santa Fe its capital. (Santa Fe has been the capital of Nuevo México and New Mexico nearly continually since 1610 - interrupted in that official status by the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and the war of Mexican independence from Spain). The Republic, and later the State, of Texas had CLAIMED areas of New Mexico east of the Rio Grande - which would include Santa Fe - but apparently never controlled or even physically possessed most of those areas (El Paso an exception). As part of the Compromise of 1850, a package of legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Millard Fillmore, the state of Texas, in exchange for debt relief, dropped its claim to areas north of the El Paso-area panhandle and west of what then became its current border that runs from that panhandle north to Colorado - well east of Santa Fe. David, please tell us by what basis, other than claims on a map or Texas-sized talk, the New Mexico town or city of Santa Fe has ever actually been "located in Texas." No "facts on the ground" for that, I think!
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the MAMU that frequently comes to mind is the one from skull and roses (4/29/71). It would have been REALLY cool if they had included the Cumberland Blues that it segues from.
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(btw there is a Santa Fe in Texas, but it's in Galveston County over by the Gulf of Mexico) some info pages: Texan Santa Fe Expedition -- 1841 http://www.lsjunction.com/events/santafe.htm SANTA FE COUNTY | The Handbook of Texas Online | Texas State Historical Association (TSHA) http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hcs81 And Santa Fe’s City Historian, Jose Garcia (Santa Fe native), can be emailed at: josegarciacuartocentenario@yahoo.com
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You can hear the Judy Collins recording at https://myspace.com/80093079/music/song/me-my-uncle-4757-5180, though you have to sit through a commercial first. Here's Joni Mitchell performing it live in 1965: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zp3lJg07u4w. When they invent that time machine and I can go back to see some incredible Dead concerts, I just might sneak out and go see Joni Mitchell once or twice. Skull and Roses shook up my young world like you wouldn't believe, and MAMU was one of the reasons.
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we never got picked up as hitchhikers... John's kinda mean on tequila...but productive... I got bombed on ta-kill-ya at a wedding reception long time ago and woke up on a gravel driveway - far away, no car, before cell phones. Pranksters. Understandably so, the homeowners were unimpressed and called me a cab - the kind with red and blue lights. The upside was that the sheriff's deputy who woke me up was a really cute gal who was new to the force and she gave me a free ride - all 17 miles - back to my car. Other working titles included, but weren't limited to: (chronological order in the span of 7 minutes) Me and My Antifungal Me and Art Garfunkel Me and My Carbuncle Me and Say Uncle and then, finally, Me and My Uncle ...little known 1's and zeroes about the actual song title progression I love MAMU! :))))))))))))) it's energy helps pull ya outa the goo
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There I go again, extrapolating from reading too fast. The article I read about Santa Fe (Wikipedia...) noted that the Republic of Texas laid claim to Santa Fe upon its secession from Mexico in 1836. However, you are correct, that never seemed to take, and in subsequent events, it was simply in the territory of New Mexico, not in Texas. My (Texas-sized) mistake!
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I've always doubted John Phillip's claim that the song was written in a "Tequila soaked haze" and that he didn't recall writing it. You see, it seems too clever and well thought out to be composed in such a careless and slapdash manner. It's actually an inspired composition, and tells a good story. But if what John Phillips claims was actually the truth, it shows what a great songwriter he actually was. You see, I can't even create a decent song on my own, even when I'm totally sober.
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I read somewhere that, while John Phillips was influenced by cactus related substances when he wrote MAMU, it wasn't just tequila. When I used to play MAMU with Bob Irvine we figured that, since we weren't from Denver and had nothing against people who were from Denver, we would make it "I'm as honest as a criminal man can be".
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I always heard its sung This Way...."I'm as Honest as a Gambling Man Can Be" Gamblers know how to Bluff after all and likely know how to Cheat when they want to! I gotta think this song was Incubating in John Phillips Sub Conscious in a Powerful Way. Pulling information from Maps and John Wayne and Louis LaMour and a yearning for the Good Old Days when you could Carry a Gun and Shoot People make off with their Gold and Cross the Border with no need for a Passport. The Best Songs have a Way of Writing themselves....and maybe the Cactus Juice was just the thing to Release this Tale of Cowboys and Saloons and Gambling and Gold. I've always Wondered exactly who killed the Uncle. I want to believe it was one of the West Texas Cowboys at the Saloon and that he died on the Road with no time available for a Proper Burial. Gambling and Guns make for Great Songs!
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I also always thought it was the west Texas cowboys who killed "my uncle" because I misheard the line as "Some of those cowboys, out of their gold, rolled my uncle, God rest his soul." Then I heard Judy Collins' version and understood the lyrics correctly as "I love those cowboys, I love their gold, I love my uncle, God rest his soul." That opens the possibility that the singer is the one who killed his uncle. And that makes sense, as my uncle grabbed the gold, and we hightailed it down to Mexico. But I really appreciate the ambiguity regarding who killed my uncle.
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I have never entertained any doubt as to who killed the uncle, even though I also (mis?)heard it as "One of those cowboys, after their gold, shot my uncle, God rest his soul". The whole point of the song, the way I read it, was that the uncle taught his nephew only too well.
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It is the singer who kills him - c'mon it's gotta be - you can't get much more outlaw than that!I swear I'be got a recording where Bobby sings "I'm as honest as a Denver man can be." Maybe that's where they were playing?
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Hey David, I learned this song by listening to it on Dick's Picks. While listening to the first half of 1977 I heard Weir sing a variation on one line in the song, Me and My Uncle. In the verse out of Jerry's solo, I am used to hearing him tell us: "One of them cowboys, he starts to draw I shot him down, Lord, he never saw. I shot me another, that boy he wont grow old In the confusion, my uncle grabbed the gold We high-tailed it down to Mexico" Yet, at least once in 1977 Weir tells it like this: "One of them cowboys, he starts to draw I grabbed a bottle, cracked him in the jaw. I shot me another, that boy he wont grow old In the confusion, my uncle grabbed the gold We high-tailed it down to Mexico" Does anyone know which show this lyric was used in 1977? The second version is little more tricky, and if you have heard it the other way for so long, trying to say it differently can jam you up at first. Weir sure made singing and playing guitar look easy!
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"love my uncle, God rest his soulhe taught me good, Lord taught me all I know taught me so well, I grabbed that gold and I left his dead ass there by the side of the road." i got that first time around on S&R (a great version of the song)
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1. The narrator definitely killed his uncle (taught me so well...). You wouldn't have to teach someone to grab the gold and run when someone else is chasing you and they shoot your uncle/companion). 2. I always heard "Denver man" and not "gambling man." 3. Bob sang the "grabbed a bottle and cracked him in the jaw" line in Akron on 7/2/86 as well. Not sure what 77 show he sang it at.
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"Shot me another...then I canned me one for the road." At least I'm pretty sure I've heard it sung that way too.
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I always assumed that the uncle was shot by the angry cowboys during the scuffle, Bobby grabs the gold, and in lieu of trying to drag his dead uncle's body away for a proper burial (which would probably have caused him to get shot also), Bobby high tails it out of there.
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In this tale of hot lead the narrator walks us through every detail. The ride in, the heat, the washing up, the card game. Everything in this tale is literal, so when the narrator tells us he grabbed the gold and left his uncle by the side of the road that is all of it. If he had killed his uncle it would have been part of the narrative. That being said one should keep in mind that for the longest time I heard the lyric as " and I'm as honest as a day old bag of beans," so WTF do I know.
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inference my good people, inference. we hightailed it down to mexico...no cowboys shooting at them. narrator does the nefarious deed. unclecide. there you go. (if they had headed to gainesville, it might have ended differently) chocolate rain!
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Well Folks,Sounds like Most think the Uncle was killed by his own Nephew! How Cold Blooded can You Get!! Such Treachery Cowboy Justice Will Catch Him Sooner or Later. I remain an Idealist and will Insist the Uncle got Shot at the Table by "One of them Cowboys" only to Bleed to Death as they Hightailed it Out of Town. I Also Do Love the Ambiguity
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......that's the brilliance of the song. It's something your not expecting when listening to the tale for the first time. You think you know where everything is headed, you've got a bearing on how this is going to shake out and BAM! Can't you see a sly grin coming across Bobby's face as he throws out the last line to the audience. In all honesty I think it would be a boring ending to a great song if he didn't kill his uncle.
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...Kind of like the last couple pages of 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'... Whoa, didn't see that one coming! But it serves to remind us that not every story has a happy ending.
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If you're thinking his uncle was shot by cowboy/s and then died afterward, from that, by the side of the road, you don't get the simple and fundamental irony of the last lines of the song.
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It turns my stomach to think someone could be such a Greedy Bastardthat he would Murder his Old Buddy and Uncle just so he could have all the Gold. It is especially revolting after the way this song has me Cheering Him and his Uncle On as they succeed in getting out of Town with the Gold. I will concede that the line "I Grabbed that Gold" conveys a disturbing amount of Selfishness and Aggressiveness. I certainly See your Point... but I still Hate to Think the Uncle was killed in Cold Blood by a Trusted Nephew and Traveling Companion over a Bag of Gold
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I believe I heard that line a number of times in the 74-78 time frame. To me, it goes along with "I've spent my lifetime running from the" instead of "He made me trade the gallows for the" Mexicali Blues, which I'm sure I heard in the same time frame.
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    chemsoccer
    4 years 3 months ago
    "grabbed a bottle and cracked him in the jaw"
    I believe I heard that line a number of times in the 74-78 time frame. To me, it goes along with "I've spent my lifetime running from the" instead of "He made me trade the gallows for the" Mexicali Blues, which I'm sure I heard in the same time frame.
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    share-the-light
    4 years 7 months ago
    I Get it...BUT
    It turns my stomach to think someone could be such a Greedy Bastardthat he would Murder his Old Buddy and Uncle just so he could have all the Gold. It is especially revolting after the way this song has me Cheering Him and his Uncle On as they succeed in getting out of Town with the Gold. I will concede that the line "I Grabbed that Gold" conveys a disturbing amount of Selfishness and Aggressiveness. I certainly See your Point... but I still Hate to Think the Uncle was killed in Cold Blood by a Trusted Nephew and Traveling Companion over a Bag of Gold
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    mark_mumper
    4 years 7 months ago
    Just saying
    If you're thinking his uncle was shot by cowboy/s and then died afterward, from that, by the side of the road, you don't get the simple and fundamental irony of the last lines of the song.
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    Bach 2 Bach
    4 years 7 months ago
    Left his dead ass there by the side of the road...
    ...Kind of like the last couple pages of 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'... Whoa, didn't see that one coming! But it serves to remind us that not every story has a happy ending.
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    TripleJRacing
    4 years 7 months ago
    Of course he killed his uncle......
    ......that's the brilliance of the song. It's something your not expecting when listening to the tale for the first time. You think you know where everything is headed, you've got a bearing on how this is going to shake out and BAM! Can't you see a sly grin coming across Bobby's face as he throws out the last line to the audience. In all honesty I think it would be a boring ending to a great song if he didn't kill his uncle.