Day 355: China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, 6/16/74

Grateful Dead Road Trips 2.3 album cover artwork

In my quest for variety in these pages it dawns on me that I actually would have liked to have had one or two more China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider combos. Oh well. C’est la vie.

On one level 1974 China/Riders are a no-brainer, and it would have been better to have a bit broader representation. At the same time have the cream of the crop included isn’t a bad thing.

This is an interesting version because the China Cat is much longer than usual. It seems China Cat is usually in the 6-8 minute range, and Rider is around 5-6 minutes. This China Cat clocks in at 10 minutes and a mere four and change for Rider. If China Cat Sunflower is your favorite section of this combo than this is definitely a version worth hearing.

As far as the signature song combos China Cat Sunflower/I Know You Rider may be the most accessible to a broad audience. China Cat is catchy, upbeat, and fun, and I Know You Rider is an instant singalong. If you were introducing someone to the Grateful Dead would you start with China/Rider? Or be a bit more brave and go for the Scarlet/Fire, Estimated/Eyes, or Help/Slip/Frank? Are there any other consistent combos that I’m missing? Those are the biggies as far as I’m concerned. I don’t think you can go wrong with any of them, but China/Rider might be the best for introductory purposes. Of course you can always just go with Without A Net as well since it’s got very nice versions of China/Rider and Help/Slip/Frank, not to mention the epic Branford Eyes. I probably should have included the China/Rider from that set at some point, but oh well. These 1974 gems will have to suffice.

While Bobby kicks this one off with his signature riff, Phil adds some nice little bass fills and Billy’s tubs sound mighty nice. Keith is playing an electric piano of some sort – my knowledge of his gear is admittedly poor. Billy is pretty high in the mix and it’s easy to get a greater appreciation for the innovation he brings to this band. He really is a tour de force back there, and you can almost feel him taking the rest of the band by the scruff of the neck and pointing them in the direction he wants to go. The band works its way through the changes and everything is solid and well-played. It’s easy to hear why these ’74 China/Riders are so revered and appreciated. No one is re-inventing the wheel here, but the execution is beautiful and the playing inventive and inspired. A familiar China Cat theme emerges at 5:45 but instead of functioning as a culmination it simply serves as a launching pad for extending the jam further. Around the 8 minute mark the guitars scream and moan, almost sounding like a locomotive announcing its arrival. What might be another signal to move on is instead another jumping off point. Before long there a quick run through the Mind Left Body jam, and Jerry, almost intuiting the train analogy plays the melody to “I’ve Been Working On The Railroad” before they tag the Mind Left Body progression and work their way into I Know You Rider.

Phil’s high tenor is quite discernible here. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. Depends on the day for me. The playing is solid, although after the epic China Cat Sunflower, the first instrumental passage in Rider isn’t as inspiring and there sounds like a bit of a flub in there. The electric piano sounds cool here though. The last verse is mainly just drums and vocals. In general Rider seems a bit rushed, but that doesn’t diminish the fun.

Complete Setlist 6/16/74

Previous China Cat Sunflower I Know You Rider DFAY Selections

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3 Comments
  1. This is just spectacular. Of course it is, it’s a China>Rider from 1974. For me the best versions of this combo are from late ’73 and 1974, but these songs are well played throughout the Dead’s history. I agree that the China>Rider on Without a Net is outstanding and I think it really illustrates how much better the boys got at singing by that time. I know a lot of fans prefer Jerry’s voice in the pre-Persian days but that’s not quite what I mean–I mean that by ’89/’90 their singing “technique,” if that’s the right term, was much better, Jerry, Bob and Phil (although I don’t think Phil sings on this one in the later years). That’s my opinion anyway.

    I like your question, Lunchbox, about GD combos. This one probably is at the top for two reasons, the seamless transition and because it was so good during many different eras. Another combo that I think would appeal to non Deadheads would be Bertha>GSET–two high energy songs that don’t go too far out there for the beginner. Also, those NFA>GDTRFB>NFAs from the early 70s are dynamite–I love Pigpen’s contributions on those NFAs.

    • Great call on the NFA > GDTRFB > NFA sandwiches. I can’t get enough of those these days.

      I hadn’t thought about Bertha > GSET. I didn’t think they played that combo with enough regularity to make it “a thing” so to speak. I would have assumed Bertha > Good Lovin’ might fall into that category. It certainly did in the late 70s and early 80s. I think that’s a fun one, too.

  2. I just happen to be listening to 11-11-73 in anticipation of DaP13 coming tomorrow and decided to post here since that fantastic show opens with a hot Promised>Bertha>GSET. You’re right that Bertha and GSET weren’t combined with as much regularity as Scrarlet>Fire or China>Rider but they were played together many, many times throughout their career and sometimes inversed. Maybe the fact that it wasn’t an automatic is what made the pairing so special to me. There was a long spell, of course, when Bertha was paired with Good Lovin’ and later when GSET followed Alabama Getaway but eventually the boys got back to combining Bertha and GSET, maybe not all the time, but enough to make it special.
    On our way back to Illinois after the Richfield shows in ’94 we stopped for gas and some young hippy girl, probably 18 or 19 said, “How about that great big Bertha?” I agreed it was great and she excitedly pointed out that they usually play Bertha THEN GSET but at the show in Richfield they opened with GSET>Bertha. She was absolutely right and I was kind of surprised I hadn’t realized it before.

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