Evolution of Morning Dew as a Grateful Dead Song and Sunday afternoon
musings on the song:
Submitted without approval of anyone except Stev Lenon
Morning Dew was penned by Bonnie Dobson in 1961 and recorded by her in 1962
on the album Bonnie Dobson At Folk City. It began life as a rather
plaintive, strongly emotional plea for peace in an age when nuclear
annihilation was all too likely. The softness of the folk music styling and
structure of the song underplayed the impact of the lyrics; capable of
cutting to the bone with the brutality of the Committee for State Security
(KGB) or the House Committee On Un-American Activities (HUAC.)
The song was restyled to a more rock-like format by Fred Neil. Neil also
re-wrote the line, "Take me for a walk in the morning dew," to read "Walk me
out in the morning dew." These two changes take the song from conception to
the instruments and voices of the metamorphosing Grateful Dead.
Morning Dew's first recorded performance by The Grateful Dead was 01-14-67
at the Polo Field, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, CA. The band performed
Morning Dew at random with the last performance 6-21-95, Knickerbocker
Arena, Albany, NY. The song appeared 241 times in the band's setlists.
Those of us not fortunate enough to have direct access to the band's early
venues, were usually first exposed to the song on the original Grateful Dead
album issued in 1967. The impact of the song was instant. Like everything
else on the first album it suffered from chemical engineering during
recording. The tempo is several shades too fast to have the greatest
musical impact possible. By late 68 the song began to approach it's own
tempo in the show with the music demanding to be slowed down and stretched
out. The early 70's gave us a more stately and powerful Morning Dew which
the band could open out more than any other ballad played in this period.
During the first half of the band's existence the song could and did appear
anywhere in any set. It was unlikely to appear as a show opener but when
the first recognizable notes appeared in Set 1 Song 1 it gave instant notice
that the show would be above average. This pattern held through to the
departure from touring at the end of '74. When the band returned to the
road, a more formalized structure in set configuration relegated Morning Dew
to the "Garcia Ballad Slot" after Drumz. It shared this spot with other
songs of great power, Stella Blue (probably Garcia's favorite and certainly
one of mine), Wharf Rat, Black Peter, and in the later years Standing On The
Moon and Days Between. Garcia tended to view the ballads as songs designed
to wind the show down and reach that perfect place where the only acceptable
next note is silence. This is a difficult concept for some to accept and an
even more difficult one to achieve from the stage. More than with any other
ballad, Garcia took us there with this song.
By 73, the song had matured, and save for random tempo changes really
experienced no evolution in the band's ability to produce the powerful
effect the song deserves. Changes in keyboard players provided much of the
day-to-day changes in the song. In the earliest readings, the song is a
masterful interplay between Garcia and Lesh. Pigpenís organ is there but
other than provide fill; does little to change the song. Thatís OK. Pigpen
ís most important contributions were not keyboards. There was a noticeable
change when the Godchaux family came aboard. Keithís bass chords dancing
with Phil's profundo counterpoint while his right hand feeds riffs to Garcia
as Jerry plays into the stratosphere and back down to earth much like the
bombs he is singing about are pathognomic for the song during Keith's
tenure. Brent's arrival shifted the balance a bit too with his Hammond
calling the dance to one more often between he and Jerry while Phil powered
the whole from beneath. Note that Phil was not left out of the mix; he was
rather more submerged in the construction and was generally more subdued
after the late í79 period. Then in the 90's the duet is once more as it
began, Jerry and Phil, point and counterpoint, orchestration as grand as
Bach or Beethoven, a symbiosis of two musiciansí hearts and hands into one
musical thought. Each keyboardist changed the outer structure of the song.
And in truth, each keyboardist had less impact upon the performance than is
commonly accepted. The song, the lyric, the chord structure and the musical
vision of Lesh and Garcia define the performance. The rest of the band
fills and supports. Even the jazz-born stylings of Keith Godchaux or Brentí
s inspired Hammond B-3 had little effect on the overall song.
The song is, when successfully performed by the Grateful Dead, entirely
driven by Phil. The 5th and 6th strings as added gave immense power and
presence to Phil's notes and chords. During the shows when Phil had his
volume levels down, the song fails to crystallize quite correctly, needing a
touch of something to make it taste just right. This is a song that should
never be performed by a band with a 4 string or even a 5 string bass player.
It should never be attempted by a band with a bass player who is merely an
additional rhythm player. Garcia excels playing Morning Dew. Lesh powers
and animates Morning Dew. Together, they generate and unleash the power and
beauty resident in the song.
Which Morning Dew is best of all 241 readings? John Dwork in Dupree's
Diamond News lists 13 versions in a best of article. Many Deadheads
including Mr. Dwork and Dick Latvala, keeper of the vaults, feel 5-8-77 to
be the pinnacle reading. This is a very impressive show with a quite good
Morning Dew (prepare to witness published heresy) but, falls far short of at
least six other readings. 5-8-77 lacks something significant in sound. It
is tightly performed, beautifully played and comes after a truly wonderful
performance. But for me, the fire is lacking; the image never quite
appears. 9-18-87 is far superior for it's sheer power and energy.
9-18-87 is probably the best performance with Brent on keyboards. 5-2-70
has more energy. 5-26-72 has more intense jams. 11-8-79 has tremendous
Phil presence, always a marker for a great reading. Newly surfaced
soundboards of 10-19-73 offer a superb early reading, probably my favorite
of this 73-74 period. Which is my overall favorite?
Of all Morning Dew's I have encountered my favorites arise from the high
plateau of Lady With A Fan/Terrapin Station. 5-22-77 provides one moment of
supreme delight springing from Terrapin Station (without Lady With A Fan)
following an elegant Estimated>Eyes> Wharf Rat. This is an absolute feeding
frenzy for Lesh and Garcia with the second of perfection occurring as a
grace note on an ascending riff by Garcia as Lesh feeds chords of incredible
power to the band. Listen to the song. You will know the single note I
write about if this is the best reading for you. If not, keep listening.
Even more impressive and my favorite reading is 6-7-77. A full Lady With A
Fan>Terrapin Station follows Drumz and Lesh realizes Morning Dew needs to be
next. Garcia agrees and the result is Morning Dew as performed by a rock
and roll orchestra tuned to the tonality of Bach organ. This is the Morning
Dew to record for musical posterity. This is at 15 minutes, 23 seconds by
my watch, one of the longer readings around. Garcia soars on the first jam
and reads the vocals well. The second jam is a high-octane sequence of
crescendos and ascending riffs with long examples of "fanning". Lesh
refuses to end the song and keeps pushing Garcia to new explorations of the
musical space while thundering counterpoint and harmony with the impact of a
bomb exploding underground and shaking the world around you. That night in
Winterland, it must have felt like an Arclight going in on the Ho Chi Minh
Trail; a sensation with which I am all too familiar. When the song finally
ends, Jerry's voice, stretched, thin and so poignantly real, cracks on the
final word. ìGuess it doesnít matter anywaaaaaaay!î It should crack. This
is perfection achieved partly by accident, partly by exhaustion, partly by
emotion. The show should end right then. But here comes Weir with an
instantaneous Around And Around. Ah, well! Jerry tried, Phil tried, I
agreed, Bob disagreed. Bob started another song. That's what made them who
they were. This is, for me, the penultimate performance of Morning Dew.
This is the perfection of Kiplingís Barrack Room Ballads, Bachís Tocatta and
Fugue, the majesty of a thunderstorm at 14,000 feet, the mind numbing power
of a perfectly placed tactical air strike. And that is the necessary
reminder of what we have been fortunate enough to avoid.
You have my opinion of the best occurrence. You are free to agree,
partially agree, or disagree with me. If you know of a better Morning Dew
please let me know. I promise to listen to and enjoy the song. I hope they
send cold chills of flashback down my spine! That's how a great Dew affects
me, visions of mushroom clouds, ìDuck and Cover Drillsî, overwhelming sense
of pathos and impending loss. Then the music sweeps over me and itís today
Will I change my mind? Maybe. I have yet to hear all 241 readings. So if
there is a better version out there, I want to listen to it.
One thing is for certain however; the meaning of this song is not
debatable. I have read threads on various usegroups debating the meaning of
the song. Is it about a dying lover/friend? Is it about ecological
disaster? What does this song mean?
This was the end of the age of above ground nuclear testing. Strontium,
cobalt and other radioactive isotopes sprayed into the stratosphere from
national displays of bigger and bigger bomb detonations. They fell to earth
in rain and dew, clung to the grass and were ingested by cattle. Strontium
90 fell from the skies daily and there were warnings not to let children and
pregnant females drink milk. Strontium can replace calcium in physiologic
uptake. We were all at danger of having a skeleton that would serve as
nightlamp long after we were otherwise dust. The very morning dew was
becoming deadly. ìCanít walk you out in the morning dew, my honey!î
I am 52 years old as I write this. It is impossible for me to hear the song
performed by anyone in any fashion without flashbacks to The Cuban Missile
Crisis, as a 14 year old helping to dig a fallout shelter into the hillside
through a hole knocked in a neighbor's basement wall. We were all glued to
TV sets and radio played continually on either 640 or 1240 kHz stations,
waiting for the high pitched scream of the ìEmergency Broadcast Systemî to
announce that only ConelRad would now be trying to send us any thing over
the electromagnetic spectrum. The world was within 11 seconds of nuclear
war. Overlay this image with scenes from the movie "On The Beach. " You
didnít hear no baby cry today;î isnít it a shame you never will again.
ìThought I heard a young man moan this morning!î ìYou didnít hear no young
man moan!î ìDonít you worry ëbout all those people.î ìGuess it doesnít
matter anyway!î And it wouldnít have. That's what Morning Dew means.
Total ecological nightmare, social destruction and a dead world caused not
by means beyond our control but within our control.
Dark Star became The Grateful Deadís signature platform for a jam.
Throwing Stones was perhaps the most politically active song they performed.
Morning Dew was the most powerful plea penned by our generation for nuclear
disarmament. Nobody performed it better than The Grateful Dead. IMNSHO, no
one ever will.
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