(LOOTPRESS) – In 1970 the Grateful Dead made a stylistic pivot from the psychedelic sound upon which they had been building throughout the previous decade. The pair of resulting albums, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, saw the band adopt a rootsier sonic palette prominently featuring acoustic instrumentation such as banjo and acoustic guitar.
The latter of the two records would produce “Friend of the Devil,” an early Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter collaboration which would go on to become a modern day standard in popular music.
Credited to Garcia/Dawson/Hunter, “Friend of the Devil” is one of the most enduring songs to have been released by the Grateful Dead, having been covered extensively by other artists since the time of its release.
The song’s origins lie with longtime Dead collaborator Robert Hunter, who wrote the song on bass and penned the entirety of the lyrics with the exception of one key line.
As it turns out, the tune’s refrain originally went, “I set out running but I take my time/ It looks like water but it tastes like wine.” The lyricist described the coming together of the final version in a 2006 online journal.
“We got to talking about the tune and John [Dawson of the New Riders of the Purple Sage] said the verses were nifty except for ‘it looks like water but it tastes like wine,’ which I had to admit fell flat,” he wrote.
“Suddenly Dawson’s eyes lit up and he crowed, ‘How about ‘a friend of the devil is a friend of mine?’ Bingo, not only the right line but a memorable title as well!”
Jerry Garcia would be found the following morning with a pedal steel guitar working out the timeless music to which the song is now associated, effectively snatching it up as a Grateful Dead number. The rest, as they say, is history.
Garcia would also be responsible for reworking one of Hunter’s verses into a stunning bridge section.
“The ‘Sweet Anne Marie’ verse which was later to become a bridge was only one of the verses, not yet a bridge,” he would write.
“With a dandy bridge on the ‘Sweet Anne Marie’ verse, [Garcia] was not in the least apologetic about it. He’d played the tape, liked it, and faster than you can say ‘dog my cats’ it was in the Grateful Dead repertoire.”
Also significant is that the tune originally contained an additional verse which would not be heard on the studio recording.
“I’d changed the fourth verse, about parlaying the twenty dollars into five thousand and, except for the all important Friend of the Devil hook, the lyrics were pretty much as they stand today minus a fifth verse which goes:
You can borrow from the Devil
You can borrow from a friend
But the Devil give you twenty
When your friend got only ten,” Hunter wrote.
Though originally recorded as an uptempo bluegrass-leaning toe-tapper, the Grateful Dead would perform the song in various styles over the decades, changing up the tempo and harmonics in keeping with the band’s modus operandi
The song continues to be recorded and performed to this day by various artists, including Grateful Dead offshoots such as Dead & Company and Wolf Bros.