Life at 33 1/3: Sunny slices of Americana

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Grateful Dead: Workinman’s Dead (Warner Brothers)

Suddenly this album arrived, just as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were the biggest thing around and singer-songwriters went Americana.  It was all guitar strumming, long hair, hats, suede fringe jackets, cowboy boots and pass that joint, will you.  

The hippie heads were discovering roots music, and so was everybody else. And whad’ya know, Grateful Dead hit the Top 30 in the USA.  Had they sold their souls to the devil?  Not quite.  They just showed the world that a Grateful Dead tune didn’t necessarily last for 37 minutes.  It was the same music, but a structured and disciplined version of it.

“Workingman’s Dead” contained songs that were immediate, warm and likeable, tightly arranged and yet true to the band’s ideals.  The guitar work is simply stunning.  Sunny slices of Americana, front porch stuff, easy to digest, a prefect audio dish for people in summer mode.

They had one more bullet in this gun, the peerless “American Beauty”, before they started stretching out again.  By then they had become a household name for thousands who didn’t mind the improvisational side of the Dead at all.  It was the same music, only taking a bit longer to get there, and giving you a mighty good time as the musical scenery unfolded.

“Workingman’s Dead” opened the doors.  A whole generation deadheads began their life long journey approximately here.  And if I were you I’d buy this album and its sequel “American Beauty” right away.  The latter’s got “Box Of Rain”, “Friend Of The Devil”, “Candyman” and “Truckin’” on it.  You need them.

Released: June 14, 1970

Produced by: Bob Matthews, Betty Cantor, Grateful Dead

(All songs written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter except where noted)

Side One

1.”Uncle John’s Band”  4:42

2.”High Time”  5:12

3.”Dire Wolf”  3:11

4.”New Speedway Boogie”  4:01

Side Two

5.”Cumberland Blues” (Garcia/Hunter/Lesh)  3:14

6.”Black Peter”  5:41

7.”Easy Wind” (Hunter)  4:57

8.”Casey Jones”  4:24

Grateful Dead:

Jerry Garcia – lead guitar, pedal steel guitar, vocals

Bob Weir – guitar, vocals

Pigpen (Ron McKernan) – keyboards, harmonica, vocals

Phil Lesh – bass, vocals

Bill Kreutzmann – drums

Mickey Hart – drums

Additional musicians:

David Nelson – acoustic guitar on “Cumberland Blues”