They Love Each Other

I am going out on a limb and maybe deep down a rabbit hole with my selection today of this song collaboration that has lyrics by Robert Hunter and music by Jerry Garcia, as it actually does not include the lyric “unity”, however unity is implied with the lyrics ‘they made a fine connection’ and also with ‘he chose this place beside her’.  Being the keyboard player for the Grateful Dead is often referred to as the most dangerous job in Rock and Roll, because the first four keyboard players died untimely deaths and three of them died before they’d reached their 38th birthdays.  Without their first keyboard player Ron Pigpen McKernan, the Dead might not have happened at all.  It was McKernan who first suggested forming the band that began as the Warlocks and evolved into the Grateful Dead.  In the band’s earliest years, McKernan acted as front man, playing the harmonica and keyboards while adding gritty blues vocals.  While Garcia and most of the other members of the Dead started experimenting with psychedelic drugs, McKernan stayed with his Thunderbird wine and Southern Comfort.  McKernan’s hard-drinking life finally caught up with him.  He was hospitalized with liver trouble in 1971 and his failing health caused him to leave the band for good in June 1972.  On March 8, 1973, he was found dead in his apartment at age 27 of a gastrointestinal hemorrhage.

Keith Godchaux filled in as the backup keyboard player for the ailing McKernan in 1971, and he became the permanent replacement in 1972.  A Seattle, Washington, native, Godchaux grew up in the East Bay area of Concord, California, and he had played with Dave Mason before Garcia invited him into the Dead.  Keith was brought on before Pigpen’s death and soon after, Donna was asked to join as an added vocalist.  She spent seven years, from 1972 to 1979, singing with the Dead and as backup for the Jerry Garcia Band as well.  As for Grateful Dead records, she appears on the 1973 studio effort Wake of the Flood, the 1974 From the Mars Hotel album and the 1975 Blues for Allah album.  In 1978, six years after joining the group, when the Dead hit the road Keith Godchaux succumbed to anxiety.  He suffered from bouts of depression and heavy drug use followed that, after a few shows where he nodded off at the keyboards and Donna sang off-key, both were booted out of the band in 1979.  In 1980 Keith died in a car accident.

Keith and Donna were introduced almost simultaneously to each other and to the Dead.  Just before they met Keith was playing jazz piano & cocktail music and he became tired of doing bar gigs, until he met Donna, who turned him on to rock & roll.  He was known to have said, “I never played rock and roll before I started playing with the Grateful Dead.”  As far as I know, the Godchauxs spent a night listening to some Grateful Dead with their friends Pete & Carol while they were high and so in love with each other.  It was then that Keith said, “I don’t want to listen to it.  I want to play it.”  And suddenly they made up their minds that they were going to play with the Grateful Dead!  They saw that Garcia’s band was playing at the Keystone, so they went down there, and at the break, Garcia walked by going backstage, so Donna grabbed him and said, “Jerry, my husband and I have something very important to talk to you about.”  Garcia said, “Sure” and the rest is history.

I always liked the Godchauxs as part of the Dead, because Keith could rock out and Donna was able to hit some really high notes.  Donna’s voice wasn’t always spot-on when she was a member of the Grateful Dead, but in her defense she did not have a Rock or touring background before she became a member of the Grateful Dead, as she spent most of her time singing hits by Elvis Presley and Neil Diamond.  When she was a studio singer, she was never off-key, as she wore headphones and was in a controlled environment, which is completely different from being in a Grateful Dead concert.

As the only woman officially billed with the Grateful Dead, Donna Jean Godchaux held her own on-stage with the rest of the boys.  Before then-Donna Thatcher met the Dead, she was an in-demand background singer in the mid- to late Sixties.  She worked with a group of backup singers (Jeannie Green and Ginger and Mary Holladay) who called themselves Southern Comfort and she is credited as Donna Thatcher on Cher’s 1969 release 3614 Jackson Highway, as well as on Elvis Presley’s From Elvis in Memphis and Elvis Back in Memphis albums.  Her name did not appear on several albums which she worked on, but Godchaux’s voice can be heard on a slew of hits cut during that time, including Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman”, R.B. Greaves’ “Take a Letter, Maria”, and Neil Diamond’s “Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show”.  She also recorded with Joe Tex, Boz Scaggs, Dionne Warwick and Ben E. King, among others.

After Keith departed, Donna Jean married Bay Area musician David MacKay and they have a son, Kinsman, who plays in a band of his own.  She recently released her third album titled ‘Back Around’ which pays homage to the Southern soul which she first sang and it includes originals like “Don’t Ask Me Why”, a cover of Wilson Pickett’s “Don’t Fight It’, the Stones’ “19th Nervous Breakdown”, the Beatles’ “She Said She Said”, the Youngbloods’ “Darkness, Darkness”, and for Grateful Dead fans, it has “Crazy Fingers”.

This song ‘They Love Each Other’ was written in 1977 about Donna Jean and Keith Godchaux and the love they shared.  It is a classic Garcia song that has a funny little off-beat thing going on, with a bouncy ascending motif about a merry-go-round.  It is elegant, simple, and catchy and it has a punchy ending.  I was disappointed when I learned that Keith and Donna were leaving the group, as I always felt the Dead’s music took a quantum leap when Keith joined in the fall of ’71, and Donna made significant contributions when she came onto the scene the following year.  She was easy on the eyes, and she added that touch of gospel to the harmonies in the songs that she sung.  I was never bothered by what some other Dead Heads referred to as her “wailing”, but there were occasionally pitch issues with her voice.  This is the era where I saw my majority of Dead shows, and I always loved the warm rapport that was shared between Jerry and Donna in those intimate settings.

My video today of the Grateful Dead playing ‘They Love Each Other’ starts out a little bit dark, but it clears up after a few seconds and it is from 12/27/83 recorded at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium.

Merry run around, sailing up and down
Looking for a shove in some direction
Got it from the top, it’s nothing you can stop
Lord, you know they made a fine connection
They love each other, Lord you can see it’s true
Lord you can see it’s true, Lord you can see it’s true
He could pass his time around some other line
But you know he chose this place beside her
Don’t get in the way, there’s nothing you can say
Nothing that you need to add or do
They love each other, Lord you can see it’s true
Lord you can see it’s true, Lord you can see it’s true
Its’ nothing, they explain it’s like a diesel train
Better not be there when it rolls over
And when that train rolls in, you won’t know where it’s been
You gotta try to see a little further
They love each other, Lord you can see it’s true
Lord you can see it’s true, Lord you can see it’s true
Though you’re making noise, they just can’t hear your voice
They’re on a dizzy ride and you’re cold sober
They love each other, Lord you can see it’s true
Lord you can see it’s true, Lord you can see it’s true
Why can’t you believe what I say is true
Everything I’m saying, Lord, I heard it first from you
Heard your news report, you know you’re falling short
Pretty soon won’t trust you for the weather
When that ship comes in, you won’t know where it’s been
You got to try to see a little further

Written for 3/11/18 Helen Vahdati’s This Thing Called Life One Word at a Time Song Lyric Sunday Theme where the prompt is “unity”.

13 thoughts on “They Love Each Other

  1. I’m going out on a limb, Jim, by suggesting that you branch out in your song choices by picking another band besides the Grateful Dead. I know you have deep roots with that band, but aren’t you gonna run out of Dead songs soon? 😜

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good stuff, I like the idea of the Greatful Dead possibly rather than the music, I’ve never really listened despite once having a Deadhead girlfriend way back. I love the electric look aid acid test by Tom Wolfe which shows how important the Dead were in the psychedelic movement. Rock on!!

    Liked by 1 person

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