Friday, July 25, 2014
If you are searching for the spirit of the Grateful Dead, look no further than Robert Hunter. An old pickin’ friend of Jerry Garcia and his bluegrass pals, Hunter started writing lyrics for the Grateful Dead in the late ‘60s and remained the band’s poet-in-residence for the rest of their existence. As Garcia’s primary writing partner, he helped provide the Grateful Dead with some of their most enduring compositions, from “Uncle John’s Band,” “China Cat Sunflower,” “Ripple,” “Ste. Stephen,” “Dark Star” and “Truckin’” to “Eyes of the World,” “Althea,” “Terrapin Station,” “Touch of Grey” and “Days Between.”
His deep understanding of the American songbook and pre-rock roots music epitomized the Dead’s cowboy-swagger as the ‘60s collided to with the ‘70s, and his rich, descriptive, lyrical imagery reinforced the importance of words in a scene built on improvisation. A rare rock-and-roll band member who never took the stage with his band, Hunter appeared on the cover of the CSN-influenced classic Wokingman’s Dead but faded behind the scenes after that to tell the Dead’s stories from a few steps away.
Beginning in the ‘80s, he released a steady stream of albums through Relix’s record label while continuing to write for Garcia and select others. He toured as a support act for The Other Ones and The Dead at the start of the millennium—only to quietly retire from the road in 2004. While at home, he continued to write with the surviving members of the Grateful Dead as well as new-and-old friends like Jim Lauderdale, Little Feat and even Bob Dylan.
Removed from the spotlight, Hunter has quietly and subtly written the soundtrack generations of Deadheads’ lives and served as the hook that have brought thousands of listeners through the Grateful Dead looking glass. After an almost decade-long performance hiatus, Hunter returned to the road last fall to reimage his canon of material following and a near-death health scare. No mere storytelling sessions, his current live show is a living, breathing reinterpretation of one of the greatest storybooks in American music.
Please give him a warm welcome to Newport Folk Festival 2014.
– Mike Greenhaus