Day 203: Big Railroad Blues, 5/4/72

Grateful Dead Europe 72 Paris 5/4/72 album cover artwork

Let’s review. Grateful Dead blues singers I like: Pigpen: YES!; Jerry, Yes; Bobby, …. um… what?

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That may be harsh, but that’s why they’re called opinions. As far as the shorter, more sprightly takes on the blues rendered by the Dead Big Railroad Blues is a clear favorite of mine. I wanted something with some pep and a good mix so I opted for the Europe 72 tour. The Paris shows are toward the top of my Europe 72 preference hierarchy so I gave this version of Big Railroad Blues a listen and liked what I heard. It’s about as simple as that today! Let’s just say that in the end, my somewhat random selection methodology proved to be a winner with this pick as far as I’m concerned.

If you want a solid example of how important both Keith and Pigpen were to the band look no further. Pigpen plays a series of staccato organ chords throughout the song while Keith plays rich block chords and intricate little runs on the grand piano. Garcia’s Nash strat finds its groove here as well, with that warm, slinky tone. Jerry dips into his blues bag for his solo and finds a few gems rolling around in there. Keith joins Jerry in the limelight, offering some impassioned runs of his own. Nothing fancy about the ending here, just good old fashioned rock and roll.

Complete Setlist 5/4/72

Previous Big Railroad Blues DFAY Selections

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  1. I’m with you. I never bought the Bob blues. It was near impossible when he was wearing preppie shirts and short shorts. That is just not a blues image at all. Pig, yes. Nonetheless, Bob was of course great at lots of other stuff. Here’s wishing him a full recovery and happy continuation of whatever he wants to do.

  2. Without a breath of air preceding it, the first notes crank into the soundfield. The groove is loose and Jerry sings the verses in random order. This is not the rock version of the Skull and Roses variety. It is way soft compared to that. There is too much confusion and not enough conviction. I’d love to hear a hot version of this outside of 1971 but you won’t find that here. Sure, there are moments of interest, but nothing that will redeem it. I do like that Pig plays organ on it even though his parts subtract from any rockitude.

  3. Steven,
    Laughed my butt off about Jerry singing the verses in random order. Have always felt that the secret and love that they had for playing and for the folks listening was the unexpectedness that you never knew what might come next. Which is kinda the whole point of improv music, but the Dead had their own take on that style and probably in a lot of ways kept them going for so long. Always loved the interviews of the members as I loved the playfulness and fun they seem to chase throughout their run. In my mind they were the last holdouts from the 60’s to keep whatever that flame was alive. Can think of no other band that was able to not change and change at the same time and do it for so long.

    • Yeah, well put. Who else could get away with that? Some songs could be more randomly arranged than others and this one definitely varied a lot. The Skull and Roses version is so perfect that it is the standard in my mind and anything else is “random”. That is funny.

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