Stop Ballin’ That Jack

‘Easy Wind’ is a Grateful Dead song written by Robert Hunter for Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKernan and it was released on the 1970 Workingman’s Dead album.  This album marked Hunter’s integration into the band as full-time lyricist and along with ‘Cumberland Blues’ it contains a theme about having a job.  Hunter wrote this hard-edged blue-collar blues song that features a construction worker who is helping to build roads.  He drinks, likes all the ladies (a whole lotta women) and specifically notices the ones that wear red.  ‘Easy Wind’ is about a laborer who toils, balling a steel jack hammer on a road crew, and he rejoices when he feels the easy wind blowing across the Bayou.  Unlike many of Pigpen’s concert songs, ‘Easy Wind’ didn’t really lend itself to the vocal improvising talents that Pigpen was famous for.  However, it did open itself up for jamming that the Dead like to do in their live concerts, but because Pigpen fell ill, this song was only featured it in their concerts between 1969 and 1971.

Hunter said that he wrote ‘Easy Wind’ while he was listening to Robert Johnson and he liked Delta blues an awful lot, so this was sort of a tribute to Robert Johnson.  Hunter played this for Pigpen and he dug it, so it became a song, even though it became a perfect addition to the album, Hunter didn’t think it was all that special.  Hunter said that his original arrangement of this song was a little bit closer to one of those slippin’ and slidin’ riffs that Robert Johnson was known for playing.  Johnson developed his own technique, using a bottleneck slide sparsely, but he was able to blend rhythm and slide phases together so well, that he sounded like two guitar players instead of one on some songs.

Robert Frost uses the phrase easy wind in his 1923 poem, Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening where he wrote, “Of easy wind and downy flake.”  Pigpen died on March 8, 1973 and he knew he was dying in November ‘72, as that is when he split up with his girlfriend Vee sending her away, because he did not want her around to see his demise.  In this song he sings, “Live five years if I take my time, Ballin’ that jack and a drinkin’ my wine” and these lyrics have a hard-working, hard-drinking feel to them and that is why they were so were perfect for him, as he died at 27 from alcohol abuse.  Another line says, “While my rider hide my bottle in the other room”, and his rider is his woman who knows better than to try and hide his liquor and serve him tea.  His doctor is worried that his back may give out from being a stone jack baller all day, but “the rivers keep a talkin’ But you never heard a word it said.”

I been balling a shiny black steel jack-hammer
Been chippin’ up rocks for the great highway
Live five years if I take my time
Ballin’ that jack and a drinkin’ my wine

I been chippin’ them rocks from dawn till doom
While my rider hide my bottle in the other room
Doctor say better stop ballin’ that jack
If I live five years I gonna bust my back, yes I will

Easy wind cross the Bayou today
Cause there’s a whole lotta women, mama
Out in red on the streets today
And the rivers keep a talkin’
But you never heard a word it said

Gotta find a woman be good to me
Won’t hide my liquor try to serve me tea
Cause I’m a stone jack baller and my heart is true
And I’ll give everything that I got to you, yes I will

Easy wind going cross the Bayou today
There’s a whole lotta women
Out in red on the streets today
And the rivers keep a talkin’
But you never heard a word it said

Written for Song Lyric Sunday where the prompt is Hold/Pause/Stop/Wait.

19 thoughts on “Stop Ballin’ That Jack

  1. Love the blues and the story is just another example of great talent dying too soon at what drugs and alcohol do to people. One of my favorite artists, Keith Whitley succumbed to a similar fate so young. Thanks for the share & sorry I’m so late in responding. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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