New York to San Francisco

Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead was a tortured soul living and dying by the road.  The song ‘So Many Roads’ is full of references to things that have to do with Jerry Garcia’s life and the music that he and Robert Hunter listened to.  Roads can take you anywhere once you decide which road you will take, but the best road is the one that takes you back home.  Hunter throws in all of these clever musical references in this song.  I don’t think the opening line “Thought I heard a blackbird singing” is a reference to the Beatles song ‘Blackbird’, or ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ which was written by Mort Dixon and Ray Henderson.  I think it comes from a real old song ‘I heard a small bird singing’ which was composed by Jesse Williams and the lyrics were written by Mrs. Roberts Valentine.

The line, “Up on Bluebird Hill” is most likely a reference to the hit song ‘Blueberry Hill’ by Fats Domino where the music was written by Vincent Rose, and the lyrics were by Larry Stock and Al Lewis.  The Grateful Dead changed a line from this song “The wind in the willow played Love’s sweet melody” for their song ‘Scarlet Begonias’ into “The wind in the willows played Tea for Two”.  However, it could also be about the song Joe South recorded ‘Little Bluebird’ which was written by Isaac Hayes, David Porter and Booker T. Jr. Jones where he sings “Fly away little bluebird Sail away through the sky above High over hills”.

The song ‘Winin’ Boy Blues’ was written and recorded by Ferdinand Joseph Morton who is better known as Jelly Roll Morton and this 1939 recording has been preserved by the Library of Congress.  A whinin boy is a special type of locomotive that is used to pull extremely heavy loads. Hot Tuna and Janis Joplin also recorded this song.  Merle Travis wrote the song ‘Sixteen Tons’ which was made famous by Tennessee Ernie Ford and a line in this song says, “Born on a day when the sun didn’t shine”. Big Brother did a song called ‘Easy Rider’, whose chorus was “Easy rider don’t you deny my name”.  In the Chuck Berry song ‘No Particular Place To Go’, he sings “No particular place to go, So we parked way out on the Kokomo”.  ‘Kokomo’ was also a hit song for the Beach Boys.  Fats Domino had another hit with the song ‘Ain’t That A Shame’, which he wrote with Dave Bartholomew.

“I thought I heard that K. C. when she blow”, is a line from the song ‘KC Moan’ which was written by Tee Wee Blackman and sung by the Memphis Jug Band.  “Mountain high, river wide” is most likely a reference to the 1967 song ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ which was recorded by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell and written by the husband-and-wife team Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson.  Another line says, “Thought I heard a jug band playin’” and before the Grateful Dead formed remnants of the band were known as Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions.

“If You Don’t, Who Else Will” could be a reference to the 1976 country song ‘If You Don’t Somebody Else Will’ performed by Carl Smith and written by Jimmy Lee Fautheree, Geraldine Hamilton and Johnny Mathis.  The lines, “All I know the sun don’t shine And the rain refused to fall” probably references the 1966 Gordon Lightfoot song ‘Early Morning Rain’ where he sings “There the morning rain don’t fall and the sun always shines”.  The line, “Lonely and I call your name” may be a reference to the Beatles song ‘I Call Your Name’, which John Lennon said he wrote before the Beatles formed.  The lines “From the land of the midnight sun Where the ice blue roses grow” could be a reference to the Led Zeppelin tune ‘Immigrant Song’, where Robert plant sings, “We come from the land of the ice and snow From the midnight sun, where the hot springs flow”.

The line, “Howlin’ wide or moaning low” could be a tribute to Chester Arthur Burnett who was best known as Howlin’ Wolf.  Also, the Garcia song ‘Loser’ has a line in it that says. “Don’t you push me baby, ‘cause I’m moaning low”.  The last line in this song, “So many roads to ease my soul” could be a reference to the 1973 song ‘Drift Away’ written by producer/songwriter Mentor Williams and made famous by Dobie Gray where it sings, “Oh, give me the beat boys and free my soul”, or possibly the 1979 Bob Seger song ‘Old Time Rock and Roll’ written by George Jackson and Thomas E. Jones III where he sings, “I like that old time rock ‘n’ roll That kind of music just soothes my soul”.

Thought I heard a blackbird singing
Up on Bluebird Hill
Call me a whinin’ boy if you will
Born where the sun don’t shine
And I don’t deny my name
Got no place to go, ain’t that a shame?

Thought I heard that KC whistle
Moaning sweet and low
Thought I heard that KC when she blow
Down where the sun don’t shine
Underneath the Kokomo
Whinin’ boy got no place to go

So many roads I tell you
So many roads I know
So many roads, so many roads
Mountain high, river wide
So many roads to ride
So many roads, so many roads

Thought I heard a jug band playin’
“If you don’t… who else will?”
From over on the far side of the hill
All I know the sun don’t shine
And the rain refused to fall
And you don’t seem to hear me when I call

Wind inside and the wind outside
Tangled in the window blind
Tell me why you treat me so unkind
Down where the sun don’t shine
Lonely and I call your name
No place left to go, ain’t that a shame?

So many roads I tell you
New York to San Francisco
So many roads I know
All I want is one to take me home
From the high road to the low
So many roads I know
So many roads so many roads

From the land of the midnight sun
Where the ice blue roses grow
Along those roads of gold and silver snow
Howlin’ wide or moaning low
So many roads I know
So many roads to ease my soul

Written for Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie MM Music challenge New York Minute.

9 thoughts on “New York to San Francisco

  1. Good song…Jerry looks worn out in this video… Wasn’t he taking a long break after this tour? I’ve read that he kept going because of everyone on the payroll that depended on them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes this is a real good song and Jerry does look a little worn out in this song, but I think it is more about the song than a condition he was going through. Being the leader is not easy, when everybody is depending on you and he had played so many concerts by this time in his life that I am sure that he would rather be scuba diving in Hawaii than being up on stage. There is a lot of anguish in this song and I think Jerry always sang it the same way.

      Liked by 1 person

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