Rather Be in Some Dark Hollow

Jerry met his first wife the Stanford sophomore, Sara Ruppenthal in 1963, and they played folk and bluegrass as a duo at local clubs around Palo Alto.  With folk, country, Jugband and bluegrass making its mark around the Stanford University campus in the early to mid-60s, Jerry was part of many groups like The Hart Valley Drifters, Sleepy Hollow Hog Stompers, Asphalt Jungle Mountain Boys, and the short-lived Jerry & Sara duo.  Sara Ruppenthal was into folk music for a number of years, and she especially idolized Joan Baez’s music and one day she met and befriended Joan Baez, then a folk superstar, and Baez asked Ruppenthal to join her on tour as an assistant inviting Sara to accompany her on a European tour.  Joan Baez went to Palo Alto High School before Bill Kreutzmann, Ron McKernan and Jerry Garcia went there.

In the spring of 1964 Mother McCree’s Jug Band temporarily shut down as Garcia made one last shot at fulfilling his dream of becoming a member of a renowned bluegrass band, and he traveled to Bill Monroe’s annual festival with the hope of auditioning for the mandolin legend Bill Monroe, but he lost his nerve.  By then the Wildwood Boys had morphed into the Black Mountain Boys, a bluegrass band with him playing banjo, Eric Thompson on guitar, future NRPS member David Nelson on mandolin and the Dead’s lyricist Robert Hunter playing bass.

In March of 1967, Garcia had gone electric and was down in Los Angeles.  Jerry played with a band called The Kentucky Colonels which featured the influential bluegrass guitarist Clarence White, who later went on to join the Los Angeles rock band the Byrds.  When visiting the Ash Grove, a famed local club of the time, he introduced a set of Clarence and Roland White’s band and it included this version of ‘Dark Hollow’, which is close to the style that the Dead eventually recorded acoustically around 1970 and released on the Bear’s Choice album in 1973.  The song was also performed by Old & In The Way in 1973.

Bill Browning is a rockabilly artist that is largely unknown, but he wrote ‘Dark Hollow’, which was played by the Grateful Dead in acoustic sets in 1970 and again in 1980, with a couple of electric performances in 1971.  The native West Virginian whose real name is Wilmer L. Browning was born 1931 and he passed away from cancer in 1978.  Bill formed his first band the Kanawha Valley Band when he was in his mid-teens, and they had a radio show on WTIP in Charleston, West Virginia, for some years.  In 1955, he formed another group, the Echo Valley Boys.  His professional career lasted only five years before he quit to help raise his family, but ‘Dark Hollow’ became a standard in the bluegrass songbook.

This song makes me think about the Bill Withers song ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’, as they both are about being in a dark place after losing love.  This is a train song, or more accurately a song about a guy that wants to get on a train to get out of town, and the lyrics mention a girl that is gone.  He is going through this madness and fever that perhaps ensued over his lost love.  I think this song is going against the saying of “it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”, as the guy in this song is suffering deeply from unrequited love and he wants to get away from everything and he is going to the dark hollow to accomplish that.  Browning recorded this song back in 1958 and it got noticed and re-recorded by two other artists with better distribution, those being Luke Gordon and Jimmie Skinner.  While Browning and His Echo Valley Boys’ version was cut in the rockabilly style, Gordon and Skinner’s versions are heavily influenced by Hank Williams.

I’d rather be in some dark hollow where the sun don’t ever shine
Then to be at home alone and knowing that you’re gone
Would cause me to lose my mind

Well blow your whistle freight train carry me far on down the track
Well I’m going away, I’m leaving today
I’m going, but I ain’t coming back

I’d rather be in some dark hollow where the sun don’t ever shine
Then to be in some big city, in a small room, with you upon my mind

So blow your whistle freight train carry me far on down the track
Well I’m going away, I’m leaving today
I’m going but I ain’t coming back

So blow your whistle freight train carry me far on down the track
Well I’m going away, I’m leaving today
I’m going but I ain’t coming back

I’m going away, I’m leaving today
I’m going but I ain’t coming back

Written for Song Lyric Sunday where the prompt is to feature a song whose title must start with the letter D or J.

18 thoughts on “Rather Be in Some Dark Hollow

  1. Thanks Jim…never heard this song. The sound reminds me of being over my grandparents when I was a kid…a lot of music like this.

    Joan Baez…she just doesn’t fit with the Dead…she is too square compared to them…thats just me though. I was never a big fan of her…I respect her though…great voice.

    I like all of the versions.

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    1. Joan Baez played a show at Palo Alto High School in summer 1961 and Jerry Garcia went to the Joan Baez concert and sat in the front row so he could watch her and he was terribly excited that she was well-known and he was as good on guitar or better than her.

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  2. Never heard of this song, but maybe my mom has as she is into 50s and 60s country/bluegrass music. I feel like the tone of the melody changed as the Browning version seems happier tone-wise than Jerry Garcia’s down-to-earth approach. It could be just me though…

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