Greatest Stories Ever Told - "Pride of Cucamonga"
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!)
Hmmmm. I can’t locate a link for “Pride of Cucamonga” on the Dead.net website.
However, it is Phil Lesh’s birthday week, and therefore time to talk about a Phil song. “Pride of Cucamonga” is one of the several songs Lesh wrote with lyricist Bobby Petersen, and its road-oriented words fit in with the outlines of Petersen’s life spent out on the edge of an empty highway.
This song contains a number of biographical clues to Petersen’s life. The summary of his life included in The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics was written by Alan Trist:
Robert M. Petersen
Born in 1936, of a solid middle-class background in Klamath Falls, Oregon. In the fifties, he hopped freights, played jazz saxophone, and attended San Mateo College, in California, where he met Phil Lesh, with whom he later wrote several songs for the Dead. Sometimes, he lived on the mountain. He served time. He knew the lore of the West, its local and natural history. He practiced freedom. He bridged the Beat scene of San Francisco to the rock era, like his sometime companion, Neal Cassady. He was a constant presence in the Grateful Dead’s world, from its earliest days in Palo Alto. He published one volume of poetry during his lifetime, Far Away Radios. A posthumous edition of his collection poems, Alleys of the Heart, was published by Hologosi. Petersen died in 1987. He has one son, Didrik.
“Pride of Cucamonga” was never played live by the Grateful Dead. Since Garcia’s death, it has become a feature of post-GD versions of the band, introduced by The Dead into the live repertoire on June 15, 2004, at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado.
It appeared on side two of From the Mars Hotel, released June 27, 1974—which means the Dead debuted it on very close to its 30th birthday.
The lyric vividly portrays a life on the road, and seems to convey a sense of escaping one thing (“the northern sky, it stinks with greed”—a reference to the lumber mills of southern Oregon, perhaps) to fall prey to another (“and I done some time...”). There’s a sense that something better must be available—(“I think I’ll drift for old where-it’s-at...”), but that this might be a chimera.
The title was long a source of some speculation. I found references to it in Annie Lamott’s Rosie — but as a reference back to the song. I chased down the locale of Rancho Cucamonga itself. But eventually, I received a note via email, as I often do, letting me know that “Pride of Cucamonga” was indeed the name of a brand of cheap wine produced in the 1960s. Here’s the annotation:
Pride of Cucamonga: The label of a jug wine produced in the late 1960's by the Joseph Filippi Winery in Rancho Cucamonga. An article on the winery's website confirms that the label is being revived for a fine wine in its new incarnation. The article includes this paragraph:
“A Venetian immigrant named Giovanni Filippi founded his vineyards in 1922, and in 1934 with his son Joseph, made a name in table and altar wine. Joseph and his son Joey boosted production, creating a jug brand offering nine different varietals and a name so distinctive - Pride of Cucamonga - that the Grateful Dead used it in a 1974 song.”
That article is no longer available on their website, but they do seem to be producing a wine under the Pride of Cucamonga label.
I would love to find a vintage label from the 1960s, but no luck so far....
The song is a very catchy country tune, with tasty pedal steel by Garcia laid in, that takes a side trip into the blues on one of the “done some time” refrains. Lesh sings it with humor and grace on Mars Hotel, where his major composition “Unbroken Chain” overshadows “Pride of Cucamonga.” But I’ve always thought it a perfect example of what it is—a catchy County road song.
In some ways, this song fits in with the album title better than any other song on the album. You can easily imagine the song’s character taking a room in the old SRO hotel, on his way to somewhere else. Better, anyway, than the Graystone Hotel, a reference to a jailhouse.
The “bluoz” website has a photo from the San Francisco Public Library’s photo collection, and this statement:
The San Francisco public library historical photo collection has one single photo of the Mars hotel at 192 4th street at the corner of 4th and Howard, where the Moscone Center is today. 3rd and 4th streets near Mission and Howard was a low income area in the 60′s and 70′s similar to 6th street today and was demolished to make way for the Moscone Center in the 80′s
This photo is dated November 14, 1963, at the corner of 4th and Howard – S. F. News-Call Bulletin photo by Eddie Murphy.
I would include it here, but I try to respect copyright and only use photos that are clearly in the public domain, so you’ll have to go seek it out yourself.
There is a hotel in San Francisco’s Tenderloin called The Graystone Hotel. I can’t tell for sure if it was in existence when Petersen wrote the song—indeed, I can’t really tell when Petersen wrote the lyrics. It’s located at 66 Geary Street. So maybe that’s the place Petersen was referring to.
the wine, was really, really bad. My dad brought home a jug one time instead of Red Mountain (which was later to become of staple of college parties). Let's just say that compared to Pride of Cucamonga, Red Mountain (then 99 cents a gallon) was Beaujolais Jadot.
Here are some out takes from a rehearsal that contain versions of Pride of Cucamonga, Unbroken Chain, and some other tunes from Mars Hotel and Blues for Allah:
Pretty cool to hear.
I knew that John McFee played pedal steel on Pride of Cucamonga but I didn't realize he has a pretty impressive resumé as a multi-instrumentalist and also playing steel for Van Morrison and Elvis Costello.
I believe that Garcia's final pedal steel performance on a studio album by the Dead was on Wake of the Flood's Stella Blue and Weather Report Suite: Part 2. Wikipedia reports that it was Garcia on that album but on my vinyl and cd liner notes it does not mention anyone playing steel, so I guess we can assume it was Garcia? It sounds like his style anyway...can anyone confirm this? Garcia played the steel a few more times on the Dylan/Dead shows in 1987 (I'll Be Your Baby Tonight).
Here's a nice article I just found about Jerry's steel playing (it does not mention Jerry playing on Wake of the Flood):
I'm still curious about who played on Wake of the Flood?
If you are ever able to visit the great Grateful Dead Archives at the University of Santa Cruz you will see the original poem called Pride of Cucamonga seen here...
and you will see so much more cool stuff.
I seem to remember that, too. But it would have been 35-40 years ago, so who knows.
Played pedal steel on this song.
I've always been a country music fan, besides being a Deadhead. There are so many things that made the Grateful Dead great, and perhaps the biggest was their superior talent at so many aspects of American music. There was never a gap between being Deadicated and loving Silver Threads, The Race Is On, Big River, El Paso, Mexicali (oops, that was a polka), Cumberland Blues, You Win Again, Stagger Lee, Don't Ease Me In, and Pride Of Cucamonga. Heck, even I Need a Miracle would be a cracking country song done by the right hat act.
Another off the wall observation: I swear I was watching a Three Stooges episode once where "The Pride of Cucamonga" was mentioned. As I remember, somebody asked, "Where are you boys from?" and Curly said, "We're the pride of Cucamonga!" (please insert Curly enunciation). I've Googled that until the cows came home and never found any attribution of this memory. Which could mean that it's drug/dream-induced, or it could be that it's too obscure to be found with my reference faculties. Has anybody else experienced Curly Howard identifying with this great Peterson lyric? Note that if true, this usage would have pre-dated the song and the wine.
And I agree with Foliage12, it's wonderful hearing Phil sing this, later in life.
BTW, you can of course see the annotated lyrics at http://artsites.ucsc.edu/GDead/agdl/pride.html, though David may be respecting copyright(?) by not linking to this.
Though it obviously would have been great to hear how the Dead would have done this song live in the early 70's and on, I think Phil's versions of late (in Furthur and P&F) are really something. They extend the blues/rocker portion of it in a few different ways that are all interesting, but without taking away from the country aspect of it.
Mars Hotel was definitely still standing in the fall of 1974. Thanks again for featuring Bobby Petersen. I believe he had a humble life and end of life also.