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Boomer Anthems: Truckin’

Lately… lately… it really occurs to me… what a long, strange trip its been!

How Cops, Pills, and Parties Inspired the Grateful Dead’s ‘Truckin’ ’

The “reds” were red Seconal pills. The bikers were using them as a recreational drug. We took them to overcome insomnia. Given how much coffee we drank to be up for shows, a little Seconal at night was the only thing that knocked us out fast.

In late March 1970, we finally had time to work on the music. We were booked to play a theme park in Dania Beach, Fla., called Pirates World. At our motel, we had the afternoon off, so the band sat by the pool. I don’t believe Hunter was there.

There weren’t any tourists at the motel so we had the pool to ourselves. Jerry, bassist Phil Lesh and I sat on the diving board with our acoustic guitars and came up with a melody to go with Hunter’s words.

As we wrote, we came up with this bluesy shuffle. We moved back and forth from the diving board to a table to write things down. The melody had to work in my register, so we put it in the key of E.

We outlined much of the song that afternoon. The melody came fairly quickly. Then we came up with choral parts for the melody, an approach we had picked up from the Swan Silvertones, a gospel group we loved and listened to.

The choruses were easy for me to sing the lead but the verses were hell. Some of them were straight-up tongue twisters, like “Most of the cats that you meet on the streets speak of true love.” Give it a try. You’re not going to get through it.

At first, I complained bitterly about how those dense verses were going to go. Jerry’s response was, “Sing ’em like Chuck Berry in ‘School Days’.” Jerry meant I should use Chuck’s rapid-fire delivery and enunciation to fit a lot of words into each measure.

We first performed “Truckin’ ” in August 1970 at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. We didn’t have time to go into rehearsal space to work on things. We did that live, while touring.

But the song was always a challenge for me. You had to hope you were having a good night to get the lyric out cleanly. If the band started too fast, I knew I was going to have a rough time of it.

We recorded “Truckin’ ” at Wally Heider Studios in San Francisco in September 1970 for our “American Beauty” album. We set up in a circle, but we had to get Phil’s bass away from Billy Kreutzmann’s drums. Phil liked to play loud in the studio, so we had to put him over in the corner.


Over the band’s long concert career, “Truckin'” was performed 520 times, making it the eighth-most performed Dead song.

Truckin’ got my chips cashed in
Keep truckin’ like the doodah man
Together, more or less in line
Just keep truckin’ on

Arrows of neon and flashing marquees out on Main Street
Chicago, New York, Detroit and its all the same street
Your typical city involved in a typical daydream
Hang it up and see what tomorrow brings

Dallas got a soft machine
Houston too close to New Orleans
New York got the ways and means
But just won’t let you be

Most of the cats that you meet on the street speak of true love
Most of the time they’re sitting and crying at home
One of these days they know they gotta get going
Out of the door and into the street all alone

Truckin’ like the doodah man
Once told me “Gotta play your hand
Sometimes the cards ain’t worth a dime
If you don’t lay them down”

Sometimes the lights all shining on me
Other times I can barely see
Lately it occurs to me
What a long strange trip it’s been

What in the world ever became of sweet Jane?
She lost her sparkle you know she isn’t the same
Living on reds and vitamin C and cocaine
All her friends can say is ain’t it a shame

Truckin’ up to Buffalo
Been thinking you got to mellow slow
Takes time, you pick a place to go
Just keep truckin’ on

Sitting and staring out of the hotel window
Got a tip they’re gonna kick the door in again
Like to get some sleep before I travel
But if you got a warrant I guess you’re gonna come in

Busted down on Bourbon Street
Set up like a bowling pin
Knocked down, it gets to wearing thin
They just won’t let you be

You’re sick of hanging around, you’d like to travel
Get tired of travelling you want to settle down
I guess they can’t revoke your soul for trying
Get out of the door, light out and look all around

Sometimes the lights all shining on me
Other times I can barely see
Lately it occurs to me
What a long strange trip it’s been

Truckin’ I’m a going home
Whoa, whoa, baby, back where I belong
Back home, sit down and patch my bones
And get back truckin’ on

Lyrics By Robert Hunter, Music By Jerry Garcia/Bob Weir/Phil Lesh

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Auntie Analogue March 10, 2020, 4:32 PM

    Love to play the boogie-woogie lead/bass riff of “Truckin’,” In fact this afternoon, before I saw this blog post, on a whim I stopped into a guitar shop and wailed that riff on a luscious Guild 12-string. Now if can only come up with the scratch to go back to that shop and take that 12-banger home . . . “Whoa, whoa, baby, back where I belong . . . . “

  • Nunnya Bidnez, jr March 10, 2020, 4:54 PM

    Six Days On The Road
    The Flying Burrito Brothers

    “I got my diesel wound up and she’s arunning like never before
    There’s a speed zone ahead all right but
    I don’t see a cop in sight”

    That’s real trucking.

  • CW March 10, 2020, 7:55 PM

    Lord, that was good. Just the song I needed to hear.

  • ghostsniper March 11, 2020, 4:14 AM

    “…luscious Guild 12-string…”
    I gave one away last summer.
    Along with 2 other guitars, 2 amps, a Digitech RP2000 processor, and 2 Roland keyboards.
    Trying to regain some real estate around here.

  • pbird March 11, 2020, 9:07 AM

    I have always loved that last illustration.

  • Vanderleun March 11, 2020, 10:23 AM

    Me too.

  • Bruce Wayne (myrealname) March 11, 2020, 12:58 PM

    Thank you for this video. 66 to about 73 was the best time of my life and I still love our music. I had hair to my shirt pockets and was TOTALLY unaware of politics. After a terrible childhood, I found the hippie brotherhood and was accepted for the first time in my life and I found the Harley brotherhood and was accepted there too. Good Times Man!

  • Callmelennie March 11, 2020, 1:55 PM

    That illustration was done by Robert Crumb and is entitled “Blues”– It could be his best

  • James ONeil March 11, 2020, 1:57 PM

    It waas grand while it lasted but

    Done truckin’ I sit here at home
    And I know baby that they be gone
    In a world where men ain’t got no stones
    The Dead stopped singin’ the song.

  • jwm March 11, 2020, 4:49 PM

    The dead were never much on my radar although I had friends who were die hard fans.
    Nonetheless I played the hell out of American Beauty.
    More recently, “Touch of Gray” has become one of my favorites. Something about it gets me all misty. I have that issue of Zap, and several others. I used to like the R. Crumb page on Facebarf, but the moonbats just made it insufferable.
    And you just had to post Truckin’, and all the Robert Crumb stuff when I’m on the wagon from smoking. There’s a bunch of dynamite Sativa in the freezer, a quarter ounce of shrooms, and dozen hits of acid in the stash. But not today. Not today.


  • Snakepit Kansas March 11, 2020, 7:30 PM

    Nunnya has it right. “Six days on the road and I’m gonna make it home tonight” I love that song!!!

  • Diedra Kaigle March 14, 2020, 4:20 AM

    I found Boomer Anthems: Truckin very educational.

    I want to share with you how my children learned to love the piano: https://s96.me/ingenious-way-to-learn-piano-and-keyboard
    Kisses!! 🙂