Day 54: Dire Wolf, 6/27/69

Workingman's Dead

This cut from the expanded version of Workingman’s Dead is a real treat for two reasons.

1. Bobby sings lead


2. Jerry plays pedal steel

I remember hearing a discussion about this somewhere, perhaps on Tales from the Golden Road, that the reason that Bobby sang lead here is because Jerry was playing pedal steel and couldn’t do both at the same time. Makes sense. I don’t know how many versions are out there with Bobby singing lead, but it’s safe to say they’re rare if any others do exist.

Dire Wolf is a really great song, and at least one essay argues that it was THE song that signaled a shift from the primal/baroque Dead period to the song-focused, country-inflected music of Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty. It’s a long piece but definitely worth a read.

A few pick up beats from the drums and some swells on the… what is that?! Pedal Steel? As soon as the vocals kick in you know this is a unique rendering of Dire Wolf because Bobby is singing lead! The tempo is very fast for this tune and Jerry’s pedal steel is front and center, and really it’s the highlight of this version.

The solo is all pedal steel. This is great because Garcia coaxes sounds unattainable on the standard guitar. Weir bangs out the chords on an acoustic guitar for a nice contrast as well. The whole thing is over in a blur of pedal steel licks and exhortations for one’s life.

Complete Setlist 6/27/69

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  1. Lunchbox,
    Super choice, love this version and really hadn’t listened to this extra stuff on the live extended version on the album too closely. Really the entire live material is wonderful, not that different from the studios, but subtly flavored with more texture than the studio versions. Of course this was always the case that the band only extended as the years and albums went by. The band was so tight in that era and the Americana vein of their music was so special. Must of been awesome to see a lot of this album played live in one setting.
    Gonna have to crank this live stuff on the big stereo over the weekend. Funny that today I had Ry Cooder’s first 3 or 4 albums on spotify at work and find this song highlighted tonight. If you haven’t dabbled in that stuff, I’m sure you’ll love it.

    • Joe – Thanks for the Ry Cooder tip. Definitely a name I know, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually listened to him, aside from some of the Latin Jazz stuff he facilitated, a la Buena Vista Social Club, et al.

  2. The first thing you might notice about this version is that it is played very sparsely, with a semi-acoustic treatment augmented by a tambourine tapping and Garcia on pedal steel — always a good thing. But a split second after that, you will definitely notice that it is Bob Weir, not Garcia singing the lead! I can only guess that this was something they tried out as a way to allow Jerry to play steel which may have been impossible if he were singing. I do not know. But dig it as a rare treat, anyway. The song itself is a bit rushed and less than the gem you might want it to be, but it sounds okay and is well worth your time to check out.

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