The Jerry Ballad is one of a number of sacrosanct moment of the show, along with the Dylan Slot, the Closing Raver, and the Brent Bathroom Break. (Or the second set Estimated in ’77; on two separate occasions, they set up their gear so they could play Estimated on an off-day.) Unlike the other categories, the Jerry Ballad has been there since the very beginning, along with the part of the show where the drummers get high while the rest of them irritate the audience and then the reverse.
The songs that work in the Jerry Ballad slot are perfect examples of what I call The Lope, that uniquely Dead stop-and-start stumble. Ramble On Rose, Sugaree. Slow it down a little and you’ve got Row Jimmy (or the later versions of They Love Each Other). Speed it up and it’s Brown-Eyed Women (or the early versions of They Love Each Other). It is the sound of a small barefoot boy in overalls ambling along with his donkey in the South that only exists in the first 20 minutes of rock star bio-pics. The donkey may be wearing a hat. Bum-BA-Bum-BA-Bum: the beat toodles to and fro.
Black Peter does that. So did Standing on the Moon and Ship of Fools and Wharf Rat. Sing Me Back Home never did that: it might be the worst of all Jerry Ballads. It is a perfect exemplar of the maxim Keep it snappy, boys! They’re DYING out there! Plus, SMBH was always a victim of the Dead’s most pernicious trait: the tempo drift. Songs have a certain tempo they sound right in. A 10 bpm deviation either way leads to the rushed, coked-out clatter od ’85, or the sludgy miasma of the Fall ’76 shows. They never got the tempo for Sing Me right, which might not have been such a problem but not for the fact that they were incapable of playing the song for anything less than a dozen minutes at a time.
(Bobby also had interests in a late show weeper. In fact, that’s what he called it: the Bobby Weeper. When he told Garcia about this, Garcia said nothing, just walked away and found Billy and the crotchpunching began.)