Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

Nonsense Written Down While Listening To the 5/19/77 Sugaree

  • Like all great American songs, Sugaree is half-original and half-stolen from an anonymous black guy from the 30’s.
  • “Please forget you knew my name” is iambic quadrameter, and also very sad.
  • The first solo.
  • The little shiver in Garcia’s voice when he sings about meeting you at Joo-hooooo-bilee.
  • Sugaree was a tiny little biscuit of a tune when it was born, but it grew into a cake large enough to feed Atlanta. (To use a pastry-themed metaphor.)
  • Playing in the Band got longer by increments, but Sugaree suddenly expanded to nine times its original length in ’76 or so.
  • Although knowing the Dead, they might have just forgotten the ending the first time and decided the song sounded better if you played it for 20 minutes.
  • Or maybe Garcia said,
  • “Hey, guys. Let’s play Sugaree for 20 minutes.”
  • And the guys said,
  • “How?”
  • And Garcia said,
  • “I’ll solo for 18 of them.”
  • And the guys were fine with that.
  • Billy plays these little THRRRP noises on his snare during the pre-chorus.
  • The second solo.
  • Garcia was a sloppy-ass guitar player, and he clammed all the time–half-fingered notes and fumbled frettings–but he rarely played the wrong note.
  • To his credit, he always earned it.
  • Wasn’t like he would start off the solo going DEEDLEDEEDLEDEEDLE.
  • He wasn’t a lunatic.
  • Gotta build up to that.
  • A man’s gotta choogle before he can deedle.
  • The difference between a good Sugaree and an acceptable one is dynamics: there’s only two chords during most of the song, so you’ve gotta get your kicks somewhere other than harmonically.
  • There is no third solo, but there might be one day.


  1. Maybe it’s just me, but when I see the term “pre-chorus,” I’m trasnported back to the transcriptions of rock tunes that were in all the guitar mags in the 90s. When I was making my living as a guitar teacher, those things were ny bread and butter.

  2. “A man’s gotta choogle before he can deedle.”

    May I put this on my tombstone, or urn, or have someone who may or may not like and/or resent me say it at my memorial service?

    With attribution, of course.

  3. Speaking of Atlanta and “Sugaree,” this is the best take from ’95. Garcia starts it out with that guitar lilt no one since seems able to muster. He pretty much immediately busts a lyric: “Just one chance I ask of you,” and follows it with clam chowder.

    There’s a cool Vince fill at 3:15. Garcia lyric mumble at 3:30 and thereafter. Vince helps carry the solo for a minute or so.

    Garcia builds it, he fans, he gets all jazzy, he wanders around. At 11:08 he starts this slide-y, pedal steely riff that brings tears to your eyes. It gets sloppy toward the end: he thinks the song is over and it isn’t. It clocks in at 16:40 and you’re really weeping by then because it’s so good, and you know Garcia is trying really hard to keep it together and you know what happens five months later.

    • Forgetting lyrics while playing incredibly well = Hilarious

      Forgetting Lyrics while struggling to play the song = Sad

  4. Well, it’s a headless iambic tetrameter (at least if you read it as iambic). 🙂

    The “fanning thing”: that’s good to give that a name. I always thought of it as bluegrass mandolin tremolo applied to electric guitar, and it is pretty much unique to Garcia, isn’t it?

    Definitely a performance worth having random thoughts about while you’re listening to it!

  5. “A man’s gotta choogle before he can deedle.”

    If they every replace “In God We Trust” on our currency, I vote for this.

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