Day 93: Casey Jones, 5/3/72

Grateful Dead Europe 72 Paris 5/3/72 album cover artwork

Can you imagine if the Dead were the type of band that tried to re-create their studio albums note-for-note live? If that were the case someone would have to do a line of coke every time they played Casey Jones, right?

All kidding aside, this is probably one of the more recognizable Dead songs to the general public. Is that one of the reasons it doesn’t do much for me. When I was teaching in graduate school one of my exam extra credit questions as the students to name the Dead’s only top 40 hit. A couple wrote down Casey Jones, but no one got Touch of Grey.

My brother-in-law once told me he saw the Dead and they played this song. It seemed to stick out in his memory and he said it was unique because they rarely played the song at that point. (Note: It was most likely 6/20/92 that he saw. If true, this was the first Casey Jones since November 1984, and the 4th to last one ever played.) The song got played heavily 69-73 and occasionally after that until 84 before going dormant for almost 8 years.

Having been played 301 times are there better versions out there? I’ve got a few in mind but would love to hear others. Leave any ideas in the comments.

A fairly standard rendering of this song. Bobby’s playing stands out to me as being particularly tasteful. Garcia flubs the lyrics of the second verse but the rest of the band doesn’t seem to mind as they keep chugging along down the tracks.

The first instrumental break is actually a bit subdued because Jerry doesn’t take a solo during the first half of it. Instead we’re treated to some nice ensemble playing. Jerry squeezes out a quick solo before heading back into the next verse. As the band works its way into the outro lyrics, Keith really starts to exert himself more. As he does the pace quickens and pretty soon, we’ve moving like a steam locomotive, rolling down the track. Pigpen adds some organ and the whole thing becomes a raucous good time. Everything comes to a head for a final “And you know that notion….” This closes the first set and you can hear Bobby say “intermission” a couple times before the track fades out.

Complete Setlist 5/3/72

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  1. This song was one of the few GD songs that got airplay on FM radio when I was first listening to rock music (along with Truckin’, and less often, UJB and Sugar Magnolia, and later, Alabama Getaway).
    As for live performance, it’s never really been a huge part of many tapes or official releases that I’ve heard. The times that it is a big deal tend to be because of how rarely it was played, the RFK show Lunchbox mentioned is a good example.
    Still, it’s an enjoyable song to hear, partly for me because it’s not on that many official releases. The one on DaP6 sounds great but it’s certainly not the centerpiece of the the show. My favorite Casey Jones is probably the first set opener from 10-2-77 Portland, but that may have more to do with the (superb) show itself rather than the individual song–again, that version was the first in about three years.
    The reason I felt compelled to comment on this song was the mention of June ’92. I was at the Deer Creek show 6-28-92 when they played this as the encore. I remember feeling that show was particularly great. A friend brought someone along who was seeing his first show and at the time I thought he’s seeing a show that’s way way above average and imagining that he had no idea how rare it was for Casey Jones to be played live.
    I checked out the setlist in Deadbase tonight and it looks rather ordinary, I’m not a big fan of Around as a show stopper, but I always felt this was a really hot show (for the time). I had completely forgotten that this was my 26th birthday until checking the date tonight.

  2. And now for something completely different, as they used to say on Monty Python’s Flying Circus (look it up). It’s time once again for that tragic train ballad. Oops, Jerry gets confused coming into the verse. He doesn’t let this stop him from chugging forward with great steam. In fact, this version is just full of all the right electricity. I wouldn’t be surprised if this song and this take in particular was in consideration for the album. The solo section is off the rails. Weir does some spectacular things just after that. The repeat choruses come up and Billy adds speed. Watch it! The song travels perhaps one bit past it as Jerry wants to end but gets carried by the rest of the guys into one more round. Intermission is called and we hear the Parisians calling out for more music.

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