Jerry Garcia performed with the group of ruffians and eccentric rockers known as Grateful Dead for the entirety of its 30-year career. As well as participating in a range of side projects, Garcia was the unofficial leader of the band and his attitude towards music permeated everything the group were renowned for, namely their refusal to be anything but evolutionary. He unified their sound with his swashbuckling guitar performances. One such moment can be revisited below as we take a listen to his isolated guitar for the song ‘Casey Jones’.
If there’s one song that can hold the title of the greatest opening lyric of all time, it may well be The Grateful Dead’s classic song ‘Casey Jones. Jerry Garcia sings “driving that train/high on cocaine”, and with it, he delivers a searing image of a band who has been through it all. It was the perfect vehicle for Garcia and his band to get loose and ride those rails.
Of course, inspired by the train engineer Casey Jones, there is no real evidence to say that he had a penchant for a few bumps. Instead, the image of Grateful Dead’s version of Jones looms heavily over the song and provides a figure of intrigue for all their fans as well as a rebel we can all get behind.
Put simply, this is one of the band’s finest tracks. Taken from their seminal album Workingman’s Dead the top of the pile is the song that produces the most ‘vibe’ and ‘Casey Jones’ does that from the very beginning. When speaking to Rolling Stone in 2015, lyricist Robert Hunter said of the song “didn’t start out as a song, it just suddenly popped into my mind: ‘driving that train, high on cocaine, Casey Jones, you better watch your speed.’ I just wrote that down and I went on to whatever else I was doing, and some time later I came across it and thought, ‘That’s the germ of a pretty good song.'”
As ever, it would take the mercurial musical mind of Jerry Garcia to make it into a spectacular piece, and that’s why we’re revisiting Garcia’s isolated guitar for the song. It operates as a facet of the poetry at hand that ios rarely explored though always enjoyed.
Usually, we look at the studio recordings of the track but, as this is the Grateful Dead, arguably the finest live performers in rock history, we’re more concerned with the live performance of the song from 1972, at the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Hall and the guitar of Jerry Garcia. Brought to us by YouTuber First Last, they say of the isolated track: “This is the Right Channel Audio from this soundboard tapes and is primarily Jerry’s guitar. Not sure who was running the mix, but this is a nice treat!”
Though it may not be the fully-fledged isolated track of our dreams, it does offer a crystalline viewpoint of Garcia’s ethos, for Garcia music was about the moment. Whether that moment took him off course for the chorus was by the by; for Garcia, it wasn’t the destination but the journey that was important. This attitude, complemented by the band’s impressive musical chops, meant the group and their performances would go down in history.