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Music

The conflict that lead to a classic Grateful Dead song

@TylerGolsen

Robert Hunter was an essential member of the Grateful Dead. Although fans never saw him plug in and join the band on stage, they could sense his presence in everything that the band did. As the primary in-house lyricist, Hunter forged a songwriting partnership with Jerry Garcia that produced most of the best-loved songs in the band’s catalogue, including ‘Sugaree’, ‘Uncle John’s Band’, ‘China Cat Sunflower’, and ‘Dark Star’.

Garcia wasn’t the only one who worked with Hunter, however. In the early days of the Dead, Hunter became the go-to lyricist for all of the band members and their songs, helping Phil Lesh complete ‘Box of Rain’ and Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKernan finish off ‘Mr. Charlie’. He was also employed as Bob Weir’s lyricist for Weir’s early compositions, but their relationship soon turned tense.

While Weir and Hunter successfully collaborated on songs like ‘Sugar Magnolia’ and ‘Truckin’, Weir had a bad habit of either flubbing or changing lyrics around in live performances. In the early 1970s, Weir brought in an uptempo rocker that needed some lyrics, understandably going to Hunter first. But when Weir began to renegade on the words that Hunter had laid out, the conflict between the two Dead members fired up once again.

“[Weir and Hunter] clashed again over ‘One More Saturday Night’,” Grateful Dead publicist Dennis McNally wrote in his book A Long Strange Trip. “Having gotten Hunter’s lyrics, Weir rewrote them–badly in Hunter’s opinion–and then asked to call the resulting song ‘U.S.Blues’, which Hunter refused to permit. In the end, he declined any association with the song and it was credited to Weir alone.”

Indeed, when ‘One More Saturday Night’ appeared on Weir’s 1972 solo album Ace, Weir’s name is the only one that appears in the songwriting credits. From that point on, Hunter asked Weir’s friend John Perry Barlow to act as his lyricist, frustrated with Weir’s process and unwilling to work with him anymore. Weir and Barlow would forge their own songwriting partnership that soon worked in tandem with the Garcia-Hunter team, producing classics like ‘Cassidy’, ‘Black-Throated Wind’, and ‘Throwing Stones’.

Although he refused to be associated with ‘One More Saturday Night’, Weir insistence on changing the song’s title stuck with Hunter. For 1974’s From The Mars Hotel, Hunter wrote his own song under the title ‘U.S. Blues’, including a pointed reference to the ‘One More Saturday Night’ debacle with the line “You can call this song the United States Blues.”

Check out ‘U.S. Blues’ down below.