We explore “New Speedway Boogie,” the last song on Side 1 of the Grateful Dead’s Workingman’s Dead, examining how the song grew from the disastrous 1969 free festival at Altamont headlined by the Rolling Stones, and listen to never-heard session outtakes from “Mason’s Children.”
New Speedway Boogie supplementary notes
By Jesse Jarnow
The only dated tracking sheet from the Workingman’s Dead sessions that survives comes from “New Speedway Boogie.” It shows the Grateful Dead working on “New Speedway Boogie”--then titled “New Speedway Blues”--at Pacific High Recording on March 3rd, 1970, likely the week they laid down basic tracks and overdubs for the whole album. It shows that the song was recorded with an ultra-minimalist live track with only hand percussion, hand claps, Bob Weir’s acoustic guitar, and Jerry Garcia’s live vocal.
“New Speedway Boogie” and its sibling song, the Workingman’s Dead outtake “Mason’s Children,” were both pieces of musical journalism that grew from the disastrous 1969 free festival at Altamont Raceway Park. The event was captured in the legendary 1970 Maysles brothers’ documentary Gimme Shelter, but that barely covers the surface. There’s been lots of detailed writing about what happened at Altamont and why. Dennis McNally’s Long Strange Trip frames it in the Dead’s history, Buzz Poole’s Workingman’s Dead examines its relationship to the album, Joel Selvin’s Altamont goes deep on the whole event, and Sam Cutler’s You Can’t Always Get What You Want offers a singular inside look by someone involved in the planning.
Here’s Jerry Garcia’s take on Altamont, filmed by the BBC in London in May 1970, six months after the event, and included as a bonus feature on the DVD release of Amir Bar Lev’s Long Strange Trip documentary.
Is it really THAT difficult to come out and say, "Golly, maybe it WASN'T the best idea in the world to recommend the Hell's Angels as security? #Weasels