‘Me and My Uncle’ was composed by John Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas and it became the most-frequently-performed Grateful Dead song, as they played it over 600 times in concert. John said that he began receiving publishing royalties from a song on a Judy Collins record with which he was unfamiliar with. It was titled ‘Me And My Uncle’ and he called Judy to let her know of the mistake because he hadn’t written any such song. She laughed and told him that he did in 1963, in Phoenix, Arizona at a party after one of her concerts. They had a tequila fueled night back at the hotel with Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Roger McGuinn and a few others. They were running a blank cassette and everyone else had a turn performing a song and John proceeded to play the spontaneous song ‘Me And My Uncle’ not writing any of it down and passing out after he finished. The next day, John woke up and everyone else was gone except the empty tequila bottle containing the worm and he had no recollection of ever writing this song. Judy kept the cassette from that evening and then, without informing John, she recorded a slower version of the song for her own record. Over the years the song was recorded by several people, and eventually became a standard of the Grateful Dead. John used to joke that, little by little, with each royalty check, the memory of writing the song would come back to him.
This song is a real cowboy song with two guys on horses stopping in Santa Fe, Texas where it is hot and they are thirsty, so one of them becomes shirtless and the other starts to play cards for gold and there are acquisitions of cheating. It probably takes place sometime between 1870 and 1912 and the two cowboys are related, a guy and his uncle that rode horses from Denver, Colorado headed to somewhere in West Texas (possible El Paso, Lubbock, Amarillo or Abilene) on a six day ride, but they make a stop over half way there. The guy who sings this song seems like a really nice guy, as he takes good care of the horses and when he starts drinking in the bar, he orders drinks for everyone. It is hot and after riding for three days he tries to clean up a bit. The cowboys in the bar just got paid and they are drinking heavy and gambling. They are betting gold in a card game referred to as ‘High Low Jacks’.
The nephew sees that his uncle has joined in the card game and he is winning some gold. A few cowboys accused his uncle of cheating and he can’t believe this as he always thought of his uncle as being honest. He knows his uncle and he thinks that he is as honest as he is and he says that he is as honest as a Denver man can be. He sees one of the cowboys pull out his gun, so he shoots and kills him and then he shoots a few more of them. As this is going on his uncle grabs all the gold and they both start to hightail their way down to Mexico. It doesn’t actually say what happened to his uncle, but a good guess is that one of the cowboys shot him as they were leaving with the money. It does say that when the nephew realized that his uncle was dead, that he left his ass on the side of the road. This is ruthless tale about two greedy and dishonest guys from Denver that probably cheat at cards and rob and kill others.
Me and my uncle went ridin’ down
To South Colorado, west Texas bound
We stopped over in Santa Fe,
that day on the pony, just about half way
And you know it was the hottest part of the day
I took the horses up to the stall
Went to the barroom, ordered drinks for all
Three days in the saddle, You know my body hurt
It being summer, I took off my shirt
And I tried to wash off some of that dusty dirt
West Texas cowboys, they was all around,
Wheat liquor and money, they loaded down,
So soon after payday, no one seemed ashamed,
You know my uncle, he starts playin’ the game,
Hey! Hi low jacks and the winner take the hand.
My uncle starts winning, the cowboys got sore,
One of them called him, and then two more,
Accused him of cheatin’, oh no it couldn’t be,
I know my uncle he’s as honest as me,
And I’m as honest as a Denver man can be.
One of them cowboys he starts to draw,
And I shot him down Lord, He never saw,
Shot me another, Right then he hit the floor,
In the confusion, my uncle grabbed the gold,
And we hightailed it down to Mexico.
Now I love those cowboys, I love their gold,
Love my uncle, God rest his soul,
Taught me good Lord, Taught me all I know,
Taught me so well, that I grabbed that gold, and
I left his dead ass there by the side of the road
Written for Song Lyric Sunday Theme where the prompt is “Cowboy/Gun/Hat/Horse/Western”.