News Column

'Dead' lyricist Robert Hunter a crowd-pleaser

July 31, 2014

By Kristen Gaydos, The Citizens' Voice, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.



July 31--WILKES-BARRE -- Armed with just an acoustic guitar and harmonica, Robert Hunter brought the timeless tunes of the Grateful Dead to life.

The American lyricist played plenty of the songs he penned for the band to the stage Wednesday at the F.M. Center for the Performing Arts. The audience, many rocking psychedelic Grateful Dead shirts, applauded Hunter as he emerged for the acoustic show.

A longtime friend of Jerry Garcia, Hunter became a non-performing member of the band early on, writing a majority of their lyrics. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the band in 1994.

"Hi. It's just me," Hunter said, as someone shouted, "Thanks for coming to Wilkes-Barre."

"This is quite an experience. This is a beautiful place to live," Hunter said.

The musician, who allows the audience to record his performance, opened with the smooth "Bertha," which appeared on the Dead's 1971 self-titled live album. Hunter went into the band's "Direwolf," segueing into "Peggy-O" and back, weaving the two together to applause.

The clapping started as the crowd recognized the introductory notes to "Deal." Hunter talked about writing the lyrics for "Friend of the Devil," from the Dead's 1970 album "American Beauty." He said he wrote them on a tiny piece of paper and left them on a table, where Garcia found them and took them to write the music, while John Dawson came up with the title.

"It goes a little something like this. Matter of fact, it goes exactly like this," he said.

After the clever "Talking Money Tree," Hunter wove the outlaw tale in "Jack Straw," that he wrote with Bob Weir. He recalled one time when the two were touring together and Weir played the song.

"I said, 'Bob, you played that so well, I'm never going to play it again,'" Hunter said. "Some of you may have your opinions about whether I should be true to that or not."

Hunter moved on to the jaunty "West L.A. Fadeaway," from the 1987 Grateful Dead album "In the Dark." After a short intermission, he returned with "Box of Rain" from "American Beauty," a song composed with bassist Phil Lesh.

"1, 2, 1-2-3-4," he counted, picking up "One Thing to Try," from his own 1975 album "Tiger Rose."

"Here's a tune, one of the first Jerry and I wrote," Hunter said of "Mountains on the Moon," explaining how they came up with the 1969 album name "Aoxomoxoa" with cover artist Rick Griffin.

He followed that with the crowd-pleaser, "Sugaree," written for Garcia's first solo album, 1972's "Garcia." He told the audience he had started writing a song called, "Shake it, Shake it, Stingaree," but it didn't really work.

"So I got 'sugaree' from (folk musician) Elizabeth Cotten, and the rest is musical history," Hunter said.

After "Standing on the Moon," a woman yelled out "That was beautiful, Robert. Beautiful," prompting many more to shout out their love.

Hunter wound down the night with selections like "Reuben and Cherise" (or "Rubin and Cherise", depending on the recording), "Brown-Eyed Women," his own "Promontory Rider" and the Grateful Dead's only top 10 hit "Touch of Grey."

kgaydos@citizensvoice.com, 570-821-2118

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(c)2014 The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)

Visit The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.) at citizensvoice.com

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Source: Citizens' Voice, The (Wilkes-Barre, PA)


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