With a Voice So Sweet

Before the Grateful Dead were formed, they were known as The Warlocks a group from Palo Alto which existed in the end of 1964 when Jerry Garcia, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan and Bob Weir, who were all members of Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions, decided that they wanted to play “electric” music.  They added a rhythm section, Dana Morgan Jr. on bass and local drummer Bill Kreutzmann.  The first Warlock performance was in Magoo’s pizza parlor in Menlo Park in May 1965.  After a handful of performances Phil Lesh replaced Dana Morgan on bass.  The Warlocks recorded a six-song demo on their November 3, 1965 session for Autumn Records at Golden Gate Recorders in San Francisco using the name The Emergency Crew since they discovered that there was at least one other group in the country using the Warlocks name.  Four of these were original songs, ‘Mindbender (Confusion’s Prince)’, ‘The Only Time Is Now’, ‘Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks)’ and ‘Can’t Come Down’ and one was a cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘Early Morning Rain’, and they did the traditional song ‘I Know You Rider’.

Anyone of these four original songs could be called the first Grateful Dead song, although others say it is ‘The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)’, which was written when they became known as the Grateful Dead.  The lyrics for ‘Can’t Come Down’ were credited to Jerry Garcia and the rest of the group contributed to composing the music.  It was played in 1965-1966, then dropped from the repertoire.  I have heard people compare this song to Bob Dylan’s ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ and I might be able to compare some of Robert Hunter’s lyrics with Dylan’s, this was written before hunter became their lyrists.  It is a different sounding Grateful Dead song with very catchy lyrics and everything rhymes, so it more of a pop song and you have to love Pigpen playing the harmonica.

The Warlocks played at several Acid Tests and I guess that Garcia encountered a lot of extremely people at these events and some of them may have had trouble coming down off of the hallucinogens that they took at these parties.  This is a happy song and I don’t think that Garcia who was called Captain Trips at this time, had any problem dealing with being high and he may have even helped some people deal with a bad trip.  The chorus states, “I can’t come down, I’ve been set free.  Who you are and what you do?  Don’t make no difference to me.”  This fits into the hippie culture of accepting people, by promoting openness and tolerance as alternatives to the restrictions and regimentation that they saw in middle-class society.  By not conforming to conventionally accepted standards of behavior or morals, hippies were outcasts that decided that they would rather make love, and not war.  If this song came out after Viagra was released, “can’t come down” may have had a completely different meaning.

I’m flying down deserted streets
Wrapped in mother’s winding sheets
Asbestos boots on flaming feet
Dreaming of forbidden treats
When uniforms on nighttime beats
Ask me where I’m going and what I eat
I answer them with a voice so sweet

I can’t come down
It’s plain to see
I can’t come down
I’ve been set free
Who you are and what you do
Don’t make no difference to me

Well someone’s trying to tell me where it’s at
How I do this and why I do that
With secret smiles, like a Cheshire Cat
And leather wings like a vampire bat
I fly away to my cold water flat
And eat my way to a bone of fat
And I say to the man with the funny hat

I can’t come down
It’s plain to see
I can’t come down
I’ve been set free
Who you are and what you do
Don’t make no difference to me

They say I’ve begun to lose my grip
My hold on reality is starting to slip
Tell me to get off this trip
They say that it’s like a sinking ship
Life’s sweet wine’s too warm to sip
And if I drink I’ll surely flip
I just say as I take a nip

I can’t come down
It’s plain to see
I can’t come down
I’ve been set free
Who you are and what you do
Don’t make no difference to me

So, as I dream of cotton seas
And granite halls and redwood trees
An ugly eye that only sees
Endless mirrors and infinite me’s
About the winter’s coming freeze
This afterthought I say with ease
To all of you who made your pleas

I can’t come down
It’s plain to see
I can’t come down
I’ve been set free
Who you are and what you do
Don’t make no difference to me

Written for Song lyric Sunday where the theme is Delightful, Pleasant, Sweet suggested by Paula.

21 thoughts on “With a Voice So Sweet

  1. Awesome song. Has it been released officially on any album or single? Also, I found out this week that Amy Jo Johnson who played the first Pink Ranger in Power Rangers is a Grateful Dead fan. She is a director, singer-songwriter, and actress now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This song is on their So Many Roads (1965-1995) CD. I just read that Amy Jo Johnson’s favorite musicians are the Grateful Dead, Natalie Merchant, Sarah McLachlan, James Taylor, The Beatles, The Allman Brothers Band and Jewel.

      Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.