This past Friday evening I headed Eastbound to get down with The Schwag in Mountain Home at an eclectic and culturally stimulating venue, Royal 66. The drive was narrated by different versions of Me and My Uncle and Big River along with some 70s funk playlist action and went by rather quickly. I dismounted my Subaru and entered to check in to my hotel and ascended to my room to don my Elvis outfit. I would be Delvis this evening; and the Royal 66 would be the site of a collision of two worlds. Elvis would do the Dead and Delvis would be the administrator.
We sound checked at 7 to work out the kinks and I knew it was gonna be all right, mama. Four super talented musicians under my spell for three songs. I felt the magnetic chemistry and knew when it was showtime, it would be electric. The band went on at 9.
The Schwag played a nice ensemble of Dead tunes throughout the evening and the crowd was packed in and found themselves “dancing in the streets on dance floor.” The band had another guest Friday night in Molly Adamson who slayed Donna vocals and was amazing during White Rabbit (Jefferson Airplane) She opened the evening with a peaceful, easy acoustic set and also ran the merch table! Aside from having a beautiful voice, she is an obvious hard worker. Keep an eye out for her.
So I had been roaming the room as Delvis throughout the first set and after several Kodak moments, I found my way to the dance floor. Power moves commenced and flow artists followed my lead. An amazing assortment of souls had collected on the floor to engage each other in dance and celebration. It’s amazing how Elvis power moves go along with high energy jam music. We were intensely meandering through a dance party first set when Jimmy called for Delvis to grace the stage. I waved to the people as I ascended the stage stairs and took my place front and center. The bass and guitar riff ensued and before I knew it, Me and My Uncle were riding down. I told the story of Me and My Uncle as if Elvis had been riding with his uncle in a past life. It was a sincere telling of the ill-fated family road trip from South Colorado toward West Texas for a fella and his dad’s brother. After stopping in Santa Fe the story takes a turn. Due to a gambling addiction, the elder family member having taught his nephew by example how to lie, cheat, and steal to survive, gets them into a gun fight over a card game. Grabbin gold is the only way to support drinks for all and afford good guns in the old west. Being a Denver man, the young apprentice was no stranger to the game and with steady influence from his black sheep uncle he was a professional outlaw in no time, complete with exemplary gun skills. He put those skills to work realizing that he’s better at this Outlaw game than his Uncle. In perfect irony, the student kills the teacher while beating him at his own game. He took care of business, killed his no account loser uncle, and grabbed that gold. Inflection, cadence, and delivery were all given special consideration in my Elvisification of this song. Me and My Uncle was written by John Phillips (The Mamas and the Papas) at a drinking session in a hotel room with Judy Collins, Stephen Stills, and Neil Young among others in 1963. Bobby Weir learned it from Bay area blues man John “Curly” Cook and the Grateful Dead debuted it in 1966. Over the years it was the most-played song of all in the Dead’s long concert career, with 616 performances.
After I “left his Dead ass there by the side of the road” The band went right into Big River. There it was! The Memphis riff ala Scotty Moore that I’d been looking for. Matt Von Behren’s guitar work was masterful and heartfelt. I love it when a bond is formed purely over a musical moment. Matt and I are friends from a past life, I’m sure. To see his eyes light up as he looked down into the abyss of possibilities before him only to bring out nothing but the pure truth energy; conveying nothing but what the song demands. Honoring what had come before and championing what is coming while celebrating the now. Feeling the feeling that inspired the feeling. Ever seeking the sacred chord.
The same kind of phenomenon happened as well with Nick Stanford on keys. Waiting his turn like a student at recess he proceeded to tickle the ivories with crazy fingered precision and filled the dark space with the perfect lack of sound. This is the most important feature of great music. Knowing when silence is the rock, that is key. Upward and onward we went as we followed a red hot mama named Sharon Peters from St. Paul, Minnesota, back downstream, cavortin’ in Davenport, later on down the river to St. Louie where a trader had made contact and said she’s been here but she’s gone, boy, she’s gone. Next thing ya know we’re on down to Memphis where she just got off the bus, raised eyebrows, and went on down alone. We finally got down to Baton Rouge, River Queen Roll On, let me tell ya. Pretty soon Sharon caught the current and was swept on down to New Orleans as my blues were chased out into the Gulf. We ain’t got nothing on that big river…but it got us right where we needed to be.
Jimmy Tebeau and Dave Clark rode in the back and steered the ship down the river with first rate ability.
Big River has a connection to Elvis through Sun Records and it has been declared that it is the most Elvis sounding Grateful Dead tune. It was written by Johnny Cash in 1958
Big River was first performed by the Grateful Dead on New Year’s Eve 1971. The Big River flowed through the Dead’s setlists steadily from May 1972 to July 1995, the 1980s and 90s saw decreasing regularity. Here’s a long strange trip down the history of Big River and it’s tenure in Grateful Dead setlists. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HErblUL6TWs
In total the Grateful Dead played Big River nearly 400 times.
The original Johnny Cash recording of the song was released on Sun Records as the flip-side of Ballad Of A Teenage Queen in December 1957. The catalyst for the writing of the song was Cash reading a magazine article with the headline ‘Johnny Cash has the big river blues in his voice.’
Big River was one of the Dylan/Band Basement Tapes songs. It was also recorded by Bob Dylan with Johnny Cash during the Nashville Skyline sessions on February 18, 1969, but not released. Bob Dylan has said that when he first heard the lyrics to Big River they seemed to him like “words turned to bone”.
Interesting Fact: There was an omitted verse to Big River
Although only one version of (Big River) has been released from the Sun Masters, Johnny Cash noted on his ABC-TV Show, aired January 6, 1971 that this song actually had another verse but was cut at the session because of it’s length, he did, however, sing the song in its entirety on that program. The omitted verse is:
” Well now I pulled into Natchez the next day, down the river, and there wasn’t much there to make a rounder stay very long, and when I left it was raining so nobody, saw me cry, Big River , why’s she doing me that way.”
The Grateful Dead never did the omitted verse.
Now it was time to “Sing some King”
After that one-two punch, I got back to where I once belonged and busted out some Lieber/Stoller http://www.leiberstoller.com/About.html composed Elvis material. Hound Dog.
First recorded by Big Mama Thornton, Hound Dog was one of Elvis’ and Leiber/Stoller’s biggest hits. Written when they were still teenagers, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote most of the song during a car ride and once finished, took it to Big Mama where she snatched the paper out of Stoller’s hand and said “Is this my big hit?” She began to croon the song out and Stoller told her it doesn’t go that way. She looked at him like looks could kill and said, “White boy, don’t you be tellin me how to sing the blues.”
Elvis impersonated Hound Dog as it was performed by a Texas group called Freddie Bell and The Bell Boys.
In 1956, Elvis was booked for the first time in Las Vegas at The New Frontier Hotel. One evening, while exploring the Vegas strip, they happened by the Sahara, where Freddie Bell and the Bell Boys were performing in the lounge. When they did their version of Hound Dog, Elvis was super impressed and decided he would do the song himself in a similar manner.
Hound Dog was released as a single with “Don’t Be Cruel” on the B side. It is the only single to have both sides reach #1 in the US. Hound Dog was #1 for 11 weeks, a record not broken until 1992 by “End of the Road” by Boyz II Men.
Once upon the end of my Delvis duties, I rescinded to the dance floor and we power moved our way through the second set. Tapping in to a great band and taking whomever is ready for a magic carpet ride is my favorite thing to do. Good times were had, pictures were taken, and new friends were made.
We finished our stories and parted ways one by one as the night began to wane. Back to the hotel room for some rest and then it was off to Eureka Springs to judge the Great Ozarkan Beard Off. But that’s a whole ‘nutha story.
Bottom line is I love them cowboys, I love their gold. Big River roll on and love all them hound dogs.
I will be performing several Christmas shows around Eureka Springs and will be raising money for Toys For Tots and Angel Tree for Christmas gifts. Look for me at Basin Park on Dec. 9 early evening. I’ll be busking and collecting money for the little ones. Join me!
Til next time mi amigos!