The Deadcast season finale wraps up American Beauty and looks at the iconic Truckin’, the autobiographical album-closing road anthem, unpacking the band’s history from its verses, lost lyrics, and never-heard original ending.
Truckin’ supplementary notes
By Jesse Jarnow
“Truckin’” is a Grateful Dead classic with deep roots, autobiographical lyrics, and a history of big jams, an iconic album closer that provided a preview of what was to come.
Originating in Harlem in the ‘20s but with tendrils stretching back into the murky era of minstrel shows, truckin’ was a move from Black dance culture. If you’re into Lindy Hops, you may have even trucked yourself. And if you haven’t, you can learn (or catch up on the origins). References to truckin’ to show up in many songs from the late 1920s and ‘30s.
The underground cartoonist R. Crumb brought the phrase “Keep on Truckin’” into the counterculture with a 1968 sequence in the debut issue of Zap Comix that illustrated the lyrics to Blind Boy Fuller’s “Truckin’ My Blues Away.” Though it didn’t refer to actual trucks, it easily mutated into the version seen on truck-flaps everywhere.
Robert Hunter’s lyrics to “Truckin’” make reference to various events in the band’s life circa 1970. According to Hunter’s journal, the Houston reference came from a show in “69 or ‘70 when cops in battlegear swarmed the stage to pull the plug,” likely this gig from February 1970. Buffalo’s presence in “Truckin’” owes to it being the opening night of Hunter’s March 1970 tour with the Dead that ended with the writing of “Truckin’.” One of the most infamous untaped (or perhaps uncirculated) shows in Dead history, when the band jammed with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. While there are no tapes, there was a lot of press coverage.
The most infamous verse in “Truckin’” pertains to the Dead’s bust in New Orleans at the end of January 1970. Alison Fensterstock wrote a great story about the event, “Bust Fund Babies,” and thanks to a local librarian turned up the entirety of the original police report.
A work-in-progress draft of Robert Hunter’s lyrics for “Truckin’” are in the band’s archive, with some lyrics typed, but some handwritten by Hunter.
As they had for the Dead’s 1967 debut and Workingman’s Dead earlier that year, the studio of Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley created the cover. It was part of a long collaboration with the two artists, discussed in this studio visit in the ‘80s.
I am always waiting for the next one. Love Rich Mahan. He and Jesse are treating us right!