1970, Music

Workingman’s Dead (1970) by the Grateful Dead

If you had been aware of the Dead in Spring 1970 but you didn’t live in San Francisco, you would have no way of knowing the band was birthed by a folk band in the mid ’60s. If you caught them live, you would have been familiar with how they were the first ever jam band – though the name may not have existed yet – or if you listened to their albums, you would think they were by far the weirdest psychedelic band to emerge from San Francisco  -unless you only heard their debut. You certainly wouldn’t have guess they had country in them.

With a classic record like this, it’s hard for us to imagine what it was like before the album came out, but seriously, who could have seen this coming? This is about as big a left turn as left turns got in 1970. Sure, the Byrds had already done it. And CSN (who apparently inspired this) did it, albeit in a different band. But The Byrds had always played folk songs, and included them even on their psychedelic releases. And Stills had played folk rock, and Crosby obviously did. There were precedents.

I don’t know what the precedent was for the Dead to go this far into country and folk. I really don’t. Even if the album doesn’t completely commit – even if there are a couple of songs recognizable as the old Dead.

For me this works a lot better than CSN – the music doesn’t feel like a new vehicle for pop. It feels like genuine country, folk and blues rock from a band that knows this music as well as anyone. And it further helps to have the lyrics written by a poet. They tend to do a better job than singers.

An absolute classic.


All songs written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, except where noted.

  1. “Uncle John’s Band” 4:42
  2. “High Time” 5:12
  3. “Dire Wolf” 3:11
  4. “New Speedway Boogie” 4:01
  5. “Cumberland Blues” (Garcia, Phil Lesh, Hunter) 3:14
  6. “Black Peter” 5:41
  7. “Easy Wind” (Hunter) 4:57
  8. “Casey Jones” 4:24
  • Jerry Garcia – lead guitar, pedal steel guitar, banjo, vocals, lead vocals on all songs except where noted
  • Bob Weir – guitar, vocals, co-lead vocals on “Cumberland Blues”
  • Pigpen (Ron McKernan) – keyboards, harmonica, vocals, lead vocals on “Easy Wind”
  • Phil Lesh – bass, vocals
  • Bill Kreutzmann – drums, percussion
  • Mickey Hart – drums, percussion

With: David Nelson – acoustic guitar on “Cumberland Blues”

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