• October 9, 2014
    http://www.dead.net/features/greatest-stories-ever-told/greatest-stories-ever-told-sugaree
    Greatest Stories Ever Told - "Sugaree"

    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!)

    "Sugaree"

    “If that jubilee don’t come….maybe I’ll meet you on the run.”

    Garcia is one of those collections of songs that seems borderline unbelievable, 44 years later. But then, the same could be said of most of the albums—song collections all—from that era: the golden age of story songs by Hunter and Garcia.

    I remember having to face the question: side one or side two? Side one is the impeccable suite of perfect songs: “Deal,” “Bird Song,” “Sugaree,” and “Loser.” Side two is the exploration of sonic spaces and the incredible opening up into “The Wheel.” I loved them both, but it was all about the mood of the moment. CDs don’t offer the same choice. And iTunes one-off downloads rob us of all context.

    “Sugaree” is a story song utilizing all the subtle tricks in Hunter’s arsenal. He lays out a character, addressing another character, the Sugaree of the title, in terms that could mean several things, and offers a glimpse of a shared past and a possible future that awaits. But even in the song’s present moment, what is occurring or has just happened?

    Garcia’s setting of the lyric is just as mercurial as the words themselves. The performances could settle into a wide range of tempos, and the instrumentals between the verses could roar to life and then descent to a whisper.

    I have read a wide range of interpretations over the years. If you want some fun, take a look at the series of proposed interpretations voiced in the “deadsongs” conference on the WELL. Just to give you an idea, they range from well-argued position to well-argued position proposing a variety of possible scenarios including one involving two slaves newly-arrived in the New World, all the way to the relationship of a john to a prostitute.

    You may have seen Robert Hunter’s liner notes on the song, written for the Garcia box set All Good Things, in which he wrote:

    "Sugaree was written soon after I moved from the Garcia household to China Camp. People assume the idea was cadged from Elizabeth Cotten's ‘Sugaree,’ but, in fact, the song was originally titled 'Stingaree,' which is a poisonous South Sea manta. The phrase 'just don't tell them that you know me' was prompted by something said by an associate in my pre-Dead days when my destitute circumstances found me fraternizing with a gang of minor criminals. What he said, when departing, was: 'Hold your mud and don't mention my name.'

    "Why change the title to 'Sugaree'? Just thought it sounded better that way, made the addressee seem more hard-bitten to bear a sugar-coated name. The song, as I imagined it, is addressed to a pimp. And yes, I knew Libba's song, and did indeed borrow the new name from her, suggested by the 'Shake it' refrain."

    So there you have Hunter actually telling us how he imagined the song—a rare glimpse behind the curtain.

    But the point, as always, is not about reality. It’s about the listener’s perception, about the variety of ways a song can be heard, and heard differently over time, or how it can be convincingly explained in many differing ways.

    Each of the listeners who took time to lay out a theory of the song’s meaning had spent time with the words. As we all do, whether we are conscious lyric listeners or just let the words wash over us as part of the overall music. (Sometimes I wish I understood no English at all, so I could hear these songs as pure sound, because that’s a definite component of what Hunter does. The “sh” sound, repeated over and over in this song, for instance, is a hushing sound, or a windy sound, or a percussive, impossible to intonate sound made by the mouth, like brushes on a drumhead.)

    And it’s that investment in the words, or in the sound, that leads us to want to hear a song over and over—because we can never get to the bottom of it. Its meanings are endless, and the musical variations are endless, too.

    I’m grateful for this song for several reasons other than its inherent greatness. I’m glad that it sent me looking for Fred Neil, and for Elizabeth Cotten. I’m glad that I was forced to familiarize myself with the concept of Jubilee—a concept that seems, at its core, utterly civilized and lacking in today’s unforgiving world of foreclosures and job loss and constant indebtedness. Why shouldn’t there be a cleansing of the accounts every 49 years? What a great idea! Slaves were freed. Debts were forgiven. All this happened in the 50th year. Clean slate.

    Hmmm….the 50th year. Hadn’t thought about that, but it will be the Jubilee Anniversary.

    When I first hear the song live in concert, I simply could not believe how it could stretch out. I only knew the studio version up until that show at Winterland in the spring of 1977, and then wham! they played it. I was sitting in that spot you used to be able to go, up behind the band, looking out from their perspective over the rest of the crowd, focusing a lot on the drummers, but it seemed they played instrumental choruses heaped one upon the next, building in intensity, and then, as I mentioned, “shhhhh…” down to a whisper. “Please don’t tell ‘em that you know me.” Shush.

    372666
user picture
Default Avatar

Member for

9 years 8 months

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!)

"Sugaree"

“If that jubilee don’t come….maybe I’ll meet you on the run.”

Garcia is one of those collections of songs that seems borderline unbelievable, 44 years later. But then, the same could be said of most of the albums—song collections all—from that era: the golden age of story songs by Hunter and Garcia.

I remember having to face the question: side one or side two? Side one is the impeccable suite of perfect songs: “Deal,” “Bird Song,” “Sugaree,” and “Loser.” Side two is the exploration of sonic spaces and the incredible opening up into “The Wheel.” I loved them both, but it was all about the mood of the moment. CDs don’t offer the same choice. And iTunes one-off downloads rob us of all context.

“Sugaree” is a story song utilizing all the subtle tricks in Hunter’s arsenal. He lays out a character, addressing another character, the Sugaree of the title, in terms that could mean several things, and offers a glimpse of a shared past and a possible future that awaits. But even in the song’s present moment, what is occurring or has just happened?

Garcia’s setting of the lyric is just as mercurial as the words themselves. The performances could settle into a wide range of tempos, and the instrumentals between the verses could roar to life and then descent to a whisper.

I have read a wide range of interpretations over the years. If you want some fun, take a look at the series of proposed interpretations voiced in the “deadsongs” conference on the WELL. Just to give you an idea, they range from well-argued position to well-argued position proposing a variety of possible scenarios including one involving two slaves newly-arrived in the New World, all the way to the relationship of a john to a prostitute.

You may have seen Robert Hunter’s liner notes on the song, written for the Garcia box set All Good Things, in which he wrote:

"Sugaree was written soon after I moved from the Garcia household to China Camp. People assume the idea was cadged from Elizabeth Cotten's ‘Sugaree,’ but, in fact, the song was originally titled 'Stingaree,' which is a poisonous South Sea manta. The phrase 'just don't tell them that you know me' was prompted by something said by an associate in my pre-Dead days when my destitute circumstances found me fraternizing with a gang of minor criminals. What he said, when departing, was: 'Hold your mud and don't mention my name.'

"Why change the title to 'Sugaree'? Just thought it sounded better that way, made the addressee seem more hard-bitten to bear a sugar-coated name. The song, as I imagined it, is addressed to a pimp. And yes, I knew Libba's song, and did indeed borrow the new name from her, suggested by the 'Shake it' refrain."

So there you have Hunter actually telling us how he imagined the song—a rare glimpse behind the curtain.

But the point, as always, is not about reality. It’s about the listener’s perception, about the variety of ways a song can be heard, and heard differently over time, or how it can be convincingly explained in many differing ways.

Each of the listeners who took time to lay out a theory of the song’s meaning had spent time with the words. As we all do, whether we are conscious lyric listeners or just let the words wash over us as part of the overall music. (Sometimes I wish I understood no English at all, so I could hear these songs as pure sound, because that’s a definite component of what Hunter does. The “sh” sound, repeated over and over in this song, for instance, is a hushing sound, or a windy sound, or a percussive, impossible to intonate sound made by the mouth, like brushes on a drumhead.)

And it’s that investment in the words, or in the sound, that leads us to want to hear a song over and over—because we can never get to the bottom of it. Its meanings are endless, and the musical variations are endless, too.

I’m grateful for this song for several reasons other than its inherent greatness. I’m glad that it sent me looking for Fred Neil, and for Elizabeth Cotten. I’m glad that I was forced to familiarize myself with the concept of Jubilee—a concept that seems, at its core, utterly civilized and lacking in today’s unforgiving world of foreclosures and job loss and constant indebtedness. Why shouldn’t there be a cleansing of the accounts every 49 years? What a great idea! Slaves were freed. Debts were forgiven. All this happened in the 50th year. Clean slate.

Hmmm….the 50th year. Hadn’t thought about that, but it will be the Jubilee Anniversary.

When I first hear the song live in concert, I simply could not believe how it could stretch out. I only knew the studio version up until that show at Winterland in the spring of 1977, and then wham! they played it. I was sitting in that spot you used to be able to go, up behind the band, looking out from their perspective over the rest of the crowd, focusing a lot on the drummers, but it seemed they played instrumental choruses heaped one upon the next, building in intensity, and then, as I mentioned, “shhhhh…” down to a whisper. “Please don’t tell ‘em that you know me.” Shush.

Custom Sidebar

Listen on Spotify

Display on homepage featured list
On
Homepage Feature blurb
"If that jubilee don’t come….maybe I’ll meet you on the run.” Garcia is one of those collections of songs that seems borderline unbelievable, 44 years later.
Homepage Feature title
Greatest Stories Ever Told - "Sugaree"
summary
"If that jubilee don’t come….maybe I’ll meet you on the run.” Garcia is one of those collections of songs that seems borderline unbelievable, 44 years later.
Custom Teaser

"If that jubilee don’t come….maybe I’ll meet you on the run.” Garcia is one of those collections of songs that seems borderline unbelievable, 44 years later.

dead comment

user picture
Default Avatar

Member for

8 years 1 month
Permalink

Well, the first Sugaree I ever heard was on Steal Your Face (which is the 10/18/74 version) so for me, that is the definitive Sugaree. It was brand new to me when my mother died in 1976, and I remember hearing Sugaree several days later -- and that's when I lost it. So to me, the song has some overtones of finality, departure from this world, death, whatever you want to call it. But it's all about Jerry -- I can't remember who said this when he died, but Jerry's singing made sad songs sound hopeful, and hopeful songs sound sad. Tennessee Jeds, Losers, and the like, may come and go, but I'll take a good Sugaree any day of the week.
user picture

Member for

6 years 4 months
Permalink

I have always, always pictured the lyrics of Sugaree being the words spoken between a well-to-do businessman and a prostitute. Let me have my fun with you; "Just don't tell them that you know me". And there is no undesireable version of Sugaree either....world-wide factoid. And it was nice to discover here that "Jubilee" is associated with 50 year anniversaries. I will turn 49 this weekend and, with any luck, will be hitting 50 with the GD family next year. Next year will be the Jubilee shindig :)))))))))))))) P.S. Not sure if it was last winter or two winters ago, but I was fortunate enough to get to see the Tedeschi Trucks Band in Madison and they performed a beautiful Angel from Montgomery/ Sugaree/ Angel from Montgomery. That alone was worth the price of admission.
user picture

Member for

8 years 3 months
Permalink

Definitely love me some Sugaree! Always a great show opener (if you were so lucky!) or a great 2nd set opener (again, you were lucky!). My mom had a toy poodle and we named it Sugaree!!! She didn't know the Dead but liked the name...
user picture
Default Avatar

Member for

7 years 9 months
Permalink

Did I just imagine it or was/is there an Althea-Sugaree pairing out there somewhere?The Angels/Sugaree/Angels ref hit a a spot down deep. Can't talk to you without talking to me We're guilty of the same old things Thinking a lot about less and less And forgetting the love we bring
user picture

Member for

7 years 8 months
Permalink

Sugared performed in Hartford on 5/28/77 is special.
user picture
Default Avatar

Member for

8 years 1 month
Permalink

After the Hell In a Bucket opener, you're still slightly uneasy, unsure, and trying to figure out your skin color... You're chewing slowly but consistently on an imaginary piece of gum... The Sugaree is exactly what you needed to get the entirety of your physiology moving in the right direction... The Richness of Garcia's Voice has smoothed out the turbulence in your mind as well as your stomach... It seems like it's become a congruent dance party of joy now... It's one of "Those" nights... The Music is being delivered through the band, not by the band... Every note by every band member is absolutely deliberate and sent out from the stage with an incredible and other worldly confidence about it... It's so strong It creates a sense of enhanced confidence through all of us... In the middle of a raging jam between verses, You look to the stage and catch Billy hitting the cymbals with both hands, opposite sides, same time.... Mickey seems to hit a lot of things that can't be heard, only felt... You can hear the pick hit the strings on Tiger, furiously.... It's like the needle of a sewing machine embroidering this moment forever into the tapestry of your life... You're no longer responsible for dancing, you're like a flag in the wind at this point... The music is dancing through you without any conscious thought... The Fat Strings on Phil's bass seem to provide some kind of audible cushion that prevents you from going too far to the left or to the right... You catch the smiles of Those around you as you you're tossed about like a lone sneaker in a washing machine... There's unfiltered Joy and Freedom in every cell of your body... Instantaneously you understand The lyrics to songs that aren't even being played... "People joining hand in hand, as the music plays the band"... There's no doubt... The Jubilee HAS COME... And We still might catch you on the run...Priceless Moments Forever Carved deep within us...
user picture

Member for

11 years 5 months
Permalink

Ah another timeless song from the amazing solo album "Garcia". Yale Bowl was its first public performance. Second song as I remember. Caught many by surprise. Hardly anyone danced. That is until Pigpen sang Hard to Handle. Golden memories from the Golden Road. Sugaree could seem so common place and an often played song but somewhere deep inside during Dead shows we knew it was a fleeting moment. What might seem mundane was really profound. I dedicate this short piece to the memory of Missy Infante "life long hippie as the paper from Connecticut said. Also a mom, good human being with a great sense of humor. Her first Dead show was 7/31/71.
user picture

Member for

7 years
Permalink

Sugaree is one of those Dead songs that even non-Dead Heads will say" I'm not into the Dead but I like that song". I like the 72 versions with Pigpen's organ singing sweetly in the background the best! Great blog David, keep up the great work!!!
user picture
Default Avatar

Member for

11 years 1 month
Permalink

Sugaree is one song that ONLY Garcia sang well. Period. Hunter wrote this song for Garcia, and nobody else came close. I've heard recent performances of Sugaree by the many post-GD bands (Other Ones, Ratdog, The Dead, Phil Lesh & Friends, etc.) and it always has been less than stellar. For example, Warren Haynes frequently sings it with Phil Lesh, and his vocal perfomance is totally wrong wrong wrong!!! It's like nails against a blackboard. Mr. Haynes should NEVER sing it again. Joan Osborne tried to tackle it when she was with the Dead/Other Ones, and she fared no better. I had to stop seeing The Dead shows because Ms. Osborne was so off. My favorite version of Sugaree is April 22, 1979, at San Jose State University (a forgotten gem of a show). Brent just came on board, and his new sound adds a lot. (PS Bob Weir's Ratdog versions of Sugaree are painful to hear as well)
user picture

Member for

7 years 4 months
Permalink

Thank you -- I don't know much about Tedeschi Trucks Band so I didn't know that they did/do this combination of songs. Angels From Montgomery is one of my favorite songs too. I dont think this is the version you saw, but I'd thought I'd post it anyway because I think its great. As far as favorites of Sugaree go -- 12/28/79 (RT 3.1) is definitely up there. 81 Days until the Jubilee...and it will come!
user picture

Member for

6 years 4 months
Permalink

for the kind words, the TTB vid and, "You're welcome, yourself". How much server space is on youtube? Seemingly unphillable. I think a lot of folks here are John Prine fans as well. See TTB when you can. Outstanding, imo. Great crowd too. When I sat down, the folks next to me chuckled and wanted to know if I had any more of that "cologne" I was wearing ;) Take care and Thanks again :) PS. Midnight in Harlem was another one they performed and is equally as beautiful.
user picture

Member for

9 years 11 months
Permalink

Never thought much about the song until that fateful night in Uniondale in 1979, when they blew not just the roof of the place, but my mind as well. 15 minutes into the show and my life was changed forever.
user picture

Member for

6 years
Permalink

You've probably all heard the story of the pundit who commented that the word "sugar" was the only word in the English language in which an "su" was pronounced "sh." His student pondered and then asked, "Are you sure?" Speaking of "s" sounds and John Prine, take a listen to his song, Lake Marie. They was sizzlin!!! And speaking of TTB, I saw them in Lynn MA last year (no lie) and was knocked over by Susan breaking into a verse of Sugaree in the middle of Angel From Montgomery. Will be seeing them again at Boston House of Blues in December. R.e. Sugaree, am I the only one who thinks of "Bring out your Dead!" when Jerry sings, "When they bring that wagon round?"
user picture
Default Avatar

Member for

5 years 5 months
Permalink

For some strange reason someone told me long ago that this song is about a dog about to be put to sleep. Even though that makes less and less sense the more I think about it; I still think of a Dumb Dog strutting around the Back Yard, barking like a Cool Fool, in the Pouring Rain. Then again...long ago as a young, red blooded man, the line "Shake It-Shake It-Shake It my Sugaree" lead me to think of One Thing and One Thing Only...nudge nudge... "Looking for a Lover Who Won't Blow my Cover and She's So Hard to Find"
user picture
Default Avatar

Member for

8 years 11 months
Permalink

I certainly wouldn't mind having my cover blown. heh heh...heheheh heh heh
user picture
Default Avatar

Member for

8 years 1 month
Permalink

After seeing a KFC ad last night featuring the Youngbloods' version of "Get Together", it occurred to me that we should all be thankful that The Estate of Jerry Garcia doesn't have full control of the songs, lest we be urge to "Shake it and bake it, Sugaree."
user picture

Member for

11 years 5 months
Permalink

Pimps & prostitutes! Go figure. This song made me a Deadhead hearing it on WBRU in my dorm bed at 2:30 in the morning '71/72(?). The "please forget you knew my name" struck me as an aching sacrifice of love to protect a to-be-lost lover. Heard it soundcheck Friday night at Watkins Glenn as I wended my way back into the festival and my companions, not realizing it was live at first. Three tears later it became our wedding song when I married "my darling Cindy Jean". Too many wonderful versions to pick a favorite. Always a smile and a chill.
user picture

Member for

6 years 1 month
Permalink

Portland, Or, Memorial Coliseum, '73. They played "Sugaree" in the first set, and I had nrver heard it before. Completely blew me away.
user picture
Default Avatar

Member for

11 years 5 months
Permalink

I for real have always thought of the 'bring that wagon round' line as a little dark, like a vision of the times of the black plague and bringing out your dead, or death in general, like it's your 'time to go' just as it says in the song. That's kinda a morbid way to look at it, I know, but that vision always came to me from those lyrics. Weird minds think alike I guess...
user picture

Member for

11 years 5 months
Permalink

I recall parts of an interview in Guitar Player magazine from late 80s ,early 90s, where JG was discussing writing Sugaree. My memory is surely hazy but I believe he asked Hunter to change the lyrics from something to Sugaree...Jerry wanted the "shucka-shucka" sound from shake it shake it sugaree. It surely works. Please do not take this as "gospel"....it is simply what I think I remember from 30 years ago. PS...I also hear "bring out your dead" when he sings about the wagon round.
user picture
Default Avatar

Member for

2 years 1 month
Permalink

After first hearing this a long time ago I developed this false recollection that the first verse went, "When they come to take me down," etc., in that vein. It changes the song from one of self-preservation to one of self-sacrifice, which is how I thought of it until I really paid attention to the lyrics. That sentiment might please me but that's not the song and it's probably just as well--or for the better--that it's not.
user picture

Member for

9 years 11 months
Permalink

David,You wrote :"...Winterland in the spring of 1977...I was sitting in that spot you used to be able to go, up behind the band, looking out from their perspective over the rest of the crowd, focusing a lot on the drummers..." Thanks so much for evoking that great memory! That was one of my favorite spots in Winterland. You could sort of look down over the back part of the stage. Jerry would smoke in between songs - the cherry on his cigarette would trail in the dark. It sat on his amp during songs. Such an intimate and great place to see the band and see the audience the way they did. You could see that poster that was there for years, "1578 days since last SF Dark Star", always up to date. For years! Then they played it finally. Sign was back at the next show - "3 days since last SF Dark Star". Smart aleck Deadheads!
user picture

Member for

2 months 3 weeks
Permalink

One of my former (female) supervisors at work is a notorious sycophant, the governing bodies created a new executive position and she recruited a woman who at best can be described as narcissist, but she did have all the qualities of a sociopath. It happens. Anyway, I worked under these two crazies for almost 5 years and listening to the Dead kept me sane. Sugaree became my mantra because it begins with "When they come to take you down..." I knew that eventually their insanity would piss off the wrong people and they would be gone. Filled me with hope. They were both gifted at managing up and getting us "lesser thans" to do their bidding through their charm. "Please forget you knew my name..." was about my fear that I would somehow be marked as guilty by association. Those words helped me keep the faith the the truth will prevail. The other lyrics describe manipulation, ill gotten gain...described the situation so completely, someone out there had to be looking out for me. "Shake it, shake it..." represented "go ahead, keep thinking you are all that, break the rules, it's your funeral - just leave me out of it." "Pouring rain" was about when their s...t finally hits the fan, it is going to stick to everyone involved. "I guess it's time you go..." meant that their deeds would be revealed. The verse about the Jubilee or "on the run" was reassurance that things would work out for the good one way or the other. Jubilee meant that maybe they could see the error of their ways. "On the run" meant that if they haven't changed - "oh well, see ya, never wanna be ya."
25 comments
sort by
Recent
Reset
Items displayed
  • Sooden
    2 months 3 weeks ago
    my take
    One of my former (female) supervisors at work is a notorious sycophant, the governing bodies created a new executive position and she recruited a woman who at best can be described as narcissist, but she did have all the qualities of a sociopath. It happens. Anyway, I worked under these two crazies for almost 5 years and listening to the Dead kept me sane. Sugaree became my mantra because it begins with "When they come to take you down..." I knew that eventually their insanity would piss off the wrong people and they would be gone. Filled me with hope. They were both gifted at managing up and getting us "lesser thans" to do their bidding through their charm. "Please forget you knew my name..." was about my fear that I would somehow be marked as guilty by association. Those words helped me keep the faith the the truth will prevail. The other lyrics describe manipulation, ill gotten gain...described the situation so completely, someone out there had to be looking out for me. "Shake it, shake it..." represented "go ahead, keep thinking you are all that, break the rules, it's your funeral - just leave me out of it." "Pouring rain" was about when their s...t finally hits the fan, it is going to stick to everyone involved. "I guess it's time you go..." meant that their deeds would be revealed. The verse about the Jubilee or "on the run" was reassurance that things would work out for the good one way or the other. Jubilee meant that maybe they could see the error of their ways. "On the run" meant that if they haven't changed - "oh well, see ya, never wanna be ya."
  • Commander.McJeff
    1 year 6 months ago
    Winterland memories
    David,You wrote :"...Winterland in the spring of 1977...I was sitting in that spot you used to be able to go, up behind the band, looking out from their perspective over the rest of the crowd, focusing a lot on the drummers..." Thanks so much for evoking that great memory! That was one of my favorite spots in Winterland. You could sort of look down over the back part of the stage. Jerry would smoke in between songs - the cherry on his cigarette would trail in the dark. It sat on his amp during songs. Such an intimate and great place to see the band and see the audience the way they did. You could see that poster that was there for years, "1578 days since last SF Dark Star", always up to date. For years! Then they played it finally. Sign was back at the next show - "3 days since last SF Dark Star". Smart aleck Deadheads!
  • Default Avatar
    Hee Nalu
    1 year 11 months ago
    Role reversal
    After first hearing this a long time ago I developed this false recollection that the first verse went, "When they come to take me down," etc., in that vein. It changes the song from one of self-preservation to one of self-sacrifice, which is how I thought of it until I really paid attention to the lyrics. That sentiment might please me but that's not the song and it's probably just as well--or for the better--that it's not.