Words of the Dead: Spotlight on Robert Hunter

Robert Hunter in 1977
Photo Credit
Ed Perlstein/Redferns/Getty Images

On June 23, 1941, Robert Burns was born in Arroyo Grande, California...no, we’re not talking about the famed Scottish poet, although we are talking about a poet, one whose last name changed when his mother remarried in the wake of his father deserting the family when young Robert was all of seven years old. Henceforth, he would be known as Robert Hunter, and since we gave it away in the title of the piece, it’s no spoiler at this point to confirm that, yes, this is the Robert Hunter who would subsequently go on to serve as lyricist for the Grateful Dead.

Hunter met Jerry Garcia in the early '60s, after moving to Palo Alto, California in the wake of a one-year stint at the University of Connecticut. The two musicians formed a short-lived duo, which they cleverly named Bob and Jerry, but with Garcia being the better guitarist and Hunter having more interest in writing than playing anyway, the twosome broke up. Of course, they soon reunited as a songwriting team, quickly cementing their relationship to such a degree that by the time the Grateful Dead recorded their Aoxomoxoa album, every single song on the LP was a Garcia/Hunter co-write.

Want definitive proof as to how crucial Hunter was to the Dead? When the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, Hunter was inducted as a member, the first non-performer ever to be inducted in such a capacity.

We’ve pulled together a six-pack of some great moments in the Garcia/Hunter oeuvre, including five Dead songs and one song which was originally released on a Garcia solo album but inevitably became part of the Dead’s live sets.

“Black Peter” (Workingman’s Dead, 1970):

People may know but
The people don't care
That a man could be
As poor as me...

READ MORE: From "Box of Rain" to "Freaks & Geeks": 50 Years of the Grateful Dead's "American Beauty"

“Ripple” (American Beauty, 1970):

There is a road, no simple highway
Between the dawn and the dark of night
And if you go, no one may follow
That path is for your steps alone

READ MORE: Grateful Dead Share New Video for "Ripple"

“Attic of My Life” (American Beauty, 1970):

In the secret space of dreams
Where I dreaming lay amazed
When the secrets all are told
And the petals all unfold
When there was no dream of mine
You dreamed of me

“Comes a Time” (Jerry Garcia, Reflections, 1976):

Gotta make it somehow
On the dreams you still believe
Don't give it up, you got an empty cup
That only love can fill
Only love can fill

“Terrapin Station” (Terrapin Station, 1977):

The storyteller makes no choice
Soon you will not hear his voice
His job is to shed light
And not to master.
Since the end is never told
We pay the teller off in gold
In hopes he will come back
But he cannot be bought or sold

READ MORE: July 1987: Grateful Dead Reach New Generation of Heads with "In the Dark" and "Touch of Grey"

“Touch of Grey” (In the Dark, 1987):

The shoe is on the hand, it fits
There's really nothing much to it
Whistle through your teeth and spit
'Cause it's alright
Oh, well, a touch of grey
Kind of suits you anyway
That was all I had to say, and It's alright
I will get by
I will get by
I will get by
I will survive

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