Song: Terrapin Station
Artist: The Grateful Dead
Album: Terrapin Station (1977)
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*Guest post from Matt, who speaks with us about the Grateful Dead on Episode 9 of the podcast (listen here)*
The Grateful Dead are a lot of things – a San Francisco-based band constantly consisting of Jerry Garcia (lead guitar, vocals), Bob Weir(rhythm guitar, vocals), Phil Lesh (bass, vocals), Bill Kreutzmann (drums), and Mickey Hart (percussion); the godfathers of the jam band; counterculture icons; music industry visionaries. The list goes on. And while their song catalogue stretches hundreds of songs, I always come back to Terrapin Station.
Each character in the band always brings something inherently different to the table. While technically a suite consisting of 7 sections, it’s quite noticeable here when you listen to the psychedelic Terrapin Transit section. However, the essence of the band always flows through Jerry Garcia and this song perfectly shows off the dynamic songwriting partnership between Garcia and Robert Hunter. Part poetic inspiration, and part emotional exploration overlapping with vibrantly winding instrumentals, the Grateful Dead are on truly on full display. Hunter – a former bandmate of Garcia’s prior to the Dead – is not an instrument-playing member of the band, but the Garcia/Hunter duo always shines brightly across the band’s greatest successes.
Hunter tells that title (and later the lyrics) of the song came to him in the middle of a wild lightweight storm over San Francisco Bay. Fortunately, Garcia found similar inspiration that same day and raced home to place the music. The next day, Garcia already had the music ready once Hunter showed him the words.
It’s this singular spontaneity and the forming of a natural bridge between disconnected ideas that powers the Grateful Dead’s ability to lead, follow, and easily oscillate between the two not only in songwriting, but most profoundly in their improvisation jamming. Live versions of Terrapin Station stretch longer than the studio-recorded suite while only playing through its first 2 sections. The Terrapin Station section opens, ‘Inspiration, move me brightly,’ frankly the best way for one to sink into this magnificent.
Or maybe as a University of Maryland grad, I’m always drawn to Terrapins.