Day 75: Greatest Story Ever Told, 2/19/71

Grateful Dead Three From The Vault

I feel ok admitting that I’m not a huge fan of Mickey Hart. I just liked the way the band played from 71-74 with only one drummer better. The more closely I’ve listened to these years the more appreciation I’ve gained for Billy and the more I tend to view Mickey as getting in the way.

However… I will say that I really like the original version of Greatest Story Ever Told that appeared on his Rolling Thunder solo album under the title of “Pump Song.” If I recall correctly, there was a pump of some sort on Mickey’s property that made some unique percussive sounds and this was an attempt to replicate that sound and apply it to the context of a song. The lyrics of the original are different from what would eventually make it onto Bobby’s solo record Ace in 1972, and some of those divergent lyrics are on display here. The guitar parts are different as well, which is a major reason I wanted to highlight this particular version.

Greatest Story Ever Told appeared a total of 283 times during the Dead’s illustrious career, and this particular version is the second one they ever played (the debut taking place the night prior).

Thoughts on other stories, great or not? Leave them in the comments.

Throbbing bass. This one starts with throbbing bass. It seems like Billy misses his entrance by a fraction of a beat, but no matter. I love the chord progression in these early versions of the song. It gets dropped relatively quickly, but I think it adds a ton to the song, which is why I singled out this version. Bobby tell us that Moses came riding up on a bar car rather than a quasar or guitar, perhaps just an ad-libbed Weir-ism?

There’s a brief solo after the first verse, but Jerry doesn’t take many risks. The next two verses are played in succession, and Bobby flubs the words a bit. You can tell it’s still a new song. It sounds like the 2nd solo might actually be Weir. Am I hearing that correctly? Can someone confirm or am I just getting confused with all the Dead I’m listening to, and Jerry moved over to the other channel. It just doesn’t sound as fluid as a Garcia solo to me, and kind of stumbles along. The song ends pretty abruptly. It was certainly a bumpy ride, but the similarity of this live version to the Pump Song on Mickey’s solo record is reason enough, for me, to give it a nod here.

Complete Setlist 2/19/71

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7 Comments
  1. My favorite versions of this are from the E72 tour, but that can be said about almost everything they played on that tour. There is a story about this song on a rare promotional CD called Best of the Grateful Dead Hour. Apparently, Hunter got very frustrated around this time with Weir changing his lyrics. The original was “guitar”. Weir changed it to “quasar” but maybe tried out “bar car” along the way. I’ll give this a fresh listen today, to see if I can figure out that guitar solo business.

  2. Nope, I am not hearing any trading off of “lead” guitar parts. Weir plays the bright-sounding tricky figures on the left and Garcia plays the meatier single-note meanderings leaning slightly right. There is quite a lot of fumbling around and I am surprised I gave it this much praise when I originally listened:

    At the time, this still had the static Ace album arrangement during all the verses. Moses was still not riding on a quasar (nor a guitar, as Robert Hunter originally wrote), but “in the bar car”. Ouch. Pigpen is present with some organ color. Though this is an embryonic version, it is plenty listenable throughout. [I wouldn’t say that now, having heard so many more accomplished versions replete with big jamming in the middle.] Unlike the other new tunes, it actually sounds like they practiced this one in advance. At the end, it swerves without warning into Johnny B. Goode.

    • Thanks for clarifying Steve. It seems that Jerry and Bob change channels depending on the release. Sometimes it’s blatantly obvious to me who is doing what and other times not so much. It’s a rough and tumble version, but like I said I really like the arrangement that’s closer to Pump Song.

      There are some good E72 versions, but pretty much all of E72 is good so that’s a bit of a cheat move!

  3. Steven, if I remember correctly, Hunter once described himself as the Grateful Dead’s word whore. Barlow, being a Republican, used the much less politically correct term, “word n****r.”

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