Day 150: Sugaree, 5/28/77

To Terrapin, Hartford 77

I’m not a big believer in ranking songs as the best ever. I’m much more comfortable providing a few options of versions that strike me as interesting, but nevertheless this version of Sugaree surely has made it onto many people’s lists in one way or another.

1977 is about when Sugaree transformed from a 7-9 minute song to a 18-20 minute journey. May of 1977 has lots of killer versions of pretty much anything that was played on that tour. There were 7 performances of Sugaree, 4 of which have been released (DP3, DP29, May 1977 boxset, and this version). Perhaps the most notable version from the month of May that has NOT seen the light of day yet is the one from 5/26/77, a version that stacks up nicely against this one. (If we include the Winterland ’77 run which followed right on the heels of the May tour there was one more version played during that run and subsequently released on the Complete Winterland 1977 box set.)

Regardless, of how one views the May 1977 Sugarees, this is the one that I always reach for first. It’s the longest one, too, so that certainly helps in my book.

Right out of Good Lovin’ the gears quickly shift and the familiar opening riff of Sugaree greets our ears. It lopes along at a pleasant place with Keith’s piano sounding nice and full. Bobby plays some nice figures underneath the verse and he an Donna adds just the right amount of vocal support during the chorus. Neither one overdoes it. It’s easy to see early on why this version is so highly regarded. Jerry’s solo meanders, but with purpose, with a sense of direction. Phil works his way to the upper register, offering some counterpoint. Ever so slowly things build to a head, the tempo quickens, and before we know it everyone is busily moving from one measure to the next. Their understanding of and command over dynamics is one of the reasons that I hold the Dead in such high esteem. It’s almost a lost art nowadays. This Sugaree is a perfect lesson on the subject.

Keith plays some nice arpeggios, while Weir fiddles with some harmonics before moving over to the slide. Mr. Godchaux takes additional liberties and then Jerry emerges as a musical director again. Another journey to the stratosphere courtesy of a simple I/V progression in E, complete with cascading guitar lines from one Mr. Garcia. Mere description cannot do this song justice. When they get back to the verse I feel like I need a cigarette, and I don’t even smoke! The roller coaster ride simply continues for the entire song. Almost 20 minutes of sheer goodness here trails off slowly to the cheering of an appreciative crowd, and their cheer are well earned.

Complete Setlist 5/28/77</h2>

Previous Sugaree DFAY Selections

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7 Comments
  1. Great version of a great song. Probably the first song from the dead that really got my attention. Love the guitar lick and the chorus just seems to fit the laid backness of the whole songs feeling. Heard and liked WMans Dead and American Beauties tunes, but this one grabbed me right away.
    Also love this release and seeing it’s the last night of a great spring tour the whole show feels like one that is both a yearning for heading home and a tribute to what they had accomplished the entire run. Jerry’s solos are magnificent and a highlight of the entire spring tour.

  2. About halfway into the first verse, Betty applies some reverb to Garcia’s voice, lending a cavernous sound to this ballad. As you know by now, this vintage produced some epic versions of this song and as the first instrumental passage arrives, you can just hear Jerry kick back and signal that we are going to be here a while. Just nod and groove along. He worries one high lick dramatically, releases it and runs through some speedy figures before really digging in with crunchy goodness. This is a great one. Every bit of juice is wrung out of the two chords at hand. My! The next verse is fantastic, then Jerry backs way off to allow Keith and Bob to color a segment with pastels. He can only stay quiet for a few bars, and the lead guitar soon takes over again as the point of focus. The solo builds and builds, reaching one climax in a flurry of high notes, then a larger one with huge help from the whole band. It drops into another verse to cheers. But wait, there’s more! The next instrumental area has Phil at the fore, quickly joined by Jerry, who of course ends up dominating. Before that happens, Bob behaves himself admirably with tasty slide figures. This part never heats up and remains a cool interlude instead. It’s great, nonetheless. Jerry does those meaty slides up to the chords a few times and the last verse comes around. This explodes into the chorus. Wowie! You may have a favorite version of this song already, but it is in serious danger of ending up in second-place after you hear this one.

  3. Have always love this song, but since was my interest was renewed again back in Fall of 2013 at a Tedeschi Trucks show. Susan Tedeschi played a solo acoustic version of Sugaree and I had to put it in the top of my playlist again. After listening to as many versions as I could, the May 28th, ’77 version is hands down my all time favorite. Jerry expands the feel of the song ten fold. I think one of the best parts of this show is that Sugaree fell between a wonderful Good Lovin and Jack Straw. It makes sense that this is may favorite version as 77 in my opinion was one of the top 5 best years for The Dead.

    • Ed, I’m right there with you. Probably my favorite artist that isn’t the Grateful Dead is Derek Trucks. I try to keep things Dead-centric here, but I’ve followed Derek very closely for the past 14 years. I think I’ll always like the DTB the best, but the TTB is doing phenomenal work. They played Sugaree at Red Rocks this summer when I saw them there.

      • I was fortunate enough to take my 16 yr old daughter to her 2nd concert two weeks ago (first was Darkstar), to see TTB at House of Blues in Boston. I am really digging the pieces they keep adding, additionally being able to take my daughter to a show where she can see such a phenomenal guitarist like Derek, who in my opinion hasn’t really hit his prime yet will bring memories for a lifetime. The biggest bonus of all was the opening act. Never heard of him and will never forget: Lee Fields and the Expressions. That said, my fingers are crossed that I will be able to take her the 50th Anniversary show should Bob and Phil get along and decide to give us one last trip.

        • That’s awesome. I haven’t had a chance to dig up any of the recent TTB shows so I haven’t heard the newer songs but perhaps I’ll have some time over the current holiday break. Derek is basically my Obi Wan Kenobi. I hope he’s still playing when my kids are old enough to go to a show and appreciate it.

          • That show in Boston is on YouTube and definitely worth a watch 🙂

            As for new stuff, all I can say is the band is as tight as I can imagine a band can get. They played one new song, but aside from that, their horn section is bar none! That and Derek play a tribute to Johnny Winter and Albert King that can only rival Phish’s 6/2/2014 Harry Hood. Happy Holidays and let’s look forward to a 2015 slate of great shows

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