Well, the first days are the hardest days,
don't you worry anymore
When life looks like Easy Street
there is danger at your door
Think this through with me
Let me know your mind
Wo-oah, what I want to know
is are you kind?
It's a Buck Dancer's Choice, my friend,
better take my advice
You know all the rules by now
and the fire from the ice
Will you come with me?
Won't you come with me?
Wo-oah, what I want to know,
will you come with me?
Goddamn, well I declare
Have you seen the like?
Their walls are built of cannonballs,
their motto is Don't Tread on Me
Come hear Uncle John's Band
by the riverside
Got some things to talk about
here beside the rising tide
It's the same story the crow told me
It's the only one he know -
like the morning sun you come
and like the wind you go
Ain't no time to hate,
barely time to wait
Wo-oah, what I want to know,
where does the time go?
I live in a silver mine
and I call it Beggar's Tomb
I got me a violin
and I beg you call the tune
I can hear your voice
Wo-oah what I want to know,
how does the song go?
Come hear Uncle John's Band
by the riverside
Come with me or go alone
He's come to take his children home
Come hear Uncle John's Band
playing to the tide
Come on along or go alone
he's come to take his children home
First recorded performance on December 4, 1969, at the Fillmore West in San Francisco.
Also included on the video, So Far
Included by Jim Henke, chief curator for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, on his list of the 500 most influential songs in Rock and Roll history.
Blair Jackson, in Golden Road, issue 8 (Fall, 1985) had this to say:
"The warm feeling of this "Uncle John's" was palpable; in a lot of ways it's THE SONG, if you know what I mean--the anthem..." (p. 19)
A Grateful Dead cover band is named after the song.
This note arrived the other day:
Subject: Uncle John's Band[Note: Mike Seeger was the recipient of the Rex Foundation's 1995 Ralph J. Gleason Award.]
Date: Mon, 21 Oct 1996 14:49:07 -0400
From: Jeff Place
Jeff Place of Smithsonian/Folkways Records here. Mike Seeger of the New Lost City Ramblers was just here and we were showing him the web. For jollys I did a search on "New Lost City Ramblers" and turned up your Uncle John's Band page. The original NCLR was Seeger, John Cohen and Tom Paley.
It reminded me that once when John Cohen was visiting the office he wondered aloud if Uncle John's Band might not be a song about the NLCR. Apparently Uncle John was a nickname for Cohen. He noticed that lyrics of Uncle John's Band mention a number of their songs. He also remembered Garcia coming to a number of shows by them and the Kentucky Colonels in California in the early days. He wasn't sure but it was something he has wondered about. Certainly could be true.
Which in turn brought this response from Hunter:
Date: Mon, 4 Nov 1996 20:42:14 -0500
I like the direction of the discussion on UJB. It's right on the money. I thought I'd give you a piece to the puzzle which is not so obvious; a less direct allusion: compare:like the morning sun you comewith:
and like the wind you goCome all ye fair and tenders ladies(NLCR did that one too.)
Be careful how you court young men
They're like the stars on a summer's morning
First appear and then they're gone
and while we're at it, they're both what is known as "come all ye" tunes which is a rich tradition.
Tom Paley was a math teacher at University of Connecticut the year I was there. (I was president of the folk music club). His replacement in the Ramblers, Tracy Schwartz, came to a party at Ellen Cavanaugh's hourse, along with Garcia, Nelson and me, after one of the NLCR shows in 1964 and we played until way early in the morning.
Congratulations on Rosemary!
Another note from a reader:
From: Keven Skelton
Sent: Wednesday, July 02, 2003 6:10 AM
David, I was just looking at UJB and noticed the reference to Taj Mahal. Also being into TM I thought I'd have a look on All Music Guide for the album mentioned. Looking at the entry, which has no track listing, I noticed that Merl Saunders plays keyboards on the album.
I then tried the AGM song search, which gave 14 entries for the song Buck Dancers Choice. One of these was the Taj Mahal version on a TM compilation album but more interestingly other versions where by Mike Seeger and John Cohen.
The John Cohen version is on an album that also lists David Grisman as playing on it and, curiously enough, is titled 'Stories the Crow Told Me'. One of the tracks on the record is 'The Story that the Crow told me'. Intrigued, I did an AGM song search on this and found two other entries. One of these is a compilation CD that includes the song, called 'Story That the Crow Told Me, Vol. 1: Early American Rural Children's, Songs Classic' (the other entry is for the 1930's original used on this CD).
So what have I found out? - everything/everyone is linked to each other and that at least these two song titles demonstrate John Cohen's earlier comment 'He noticed that lyrics of Uncle John's Band mention a number of their [NLCR] songs'.
I wish I had the time to figure out the rest!
An astute member of the WELL Deadlit conference noticed that a manuscript of the handwritten lyrics up for auction along with Garcia's guitars back in April 2002 included these words:
Why wait in the dark for dawn
(while) when the sun's still going down?
Maybe I'll dust off your chair
if you say you're comin' round
Keep your place in line
all things come in time
Whoa-oh,all I need to know,
(will) do these coals glow?
Would you carry me uphill
back the way I carried you?
Take me further, if you can,
(You know) I'd do the same for you.
Think this through with me,
let me know your mind,
Whoa-oh all I want to know is,
Will you be kind?
Well now - I can hear
The flutter of their wings,
Standin' still on our little (not sure about that word) hill
can you hear the sirens sing?
Come hear U.J.B / playing to the tide etc.
"easy street n. a condition of ease and comfort, esp.financial success. ...1897 Hamblen GeneralManager 215: He has arrived at the railroad man's 'easystreet'."Also the title of a 1917 filmby Charlie Chaplin.
"buck-and-wing n, ... Also buck (dance) ... A lively dance usually performed by one person.
1968 Stearns Jazz Dance 191, The wordWing was used to describe a combination known as Buck and Wing--the general designation for tap dance (and almost anything else) at the turn of the century. Introduced on the New Yorkstage in 1880 by James McIntyre, the Buck and Wing began toswing...and launched a new style of Negro-derived dancing.
1977 Nevell Time to Dance 169sAppalachians, Buck-dancing is the simplest and yet themost enigmatic kind of southern mountain dancing. Essentially, buckdancing is a dance for one but can be for more than one; the dance itself involves nothing more than moving your feet in time to the music. The origins of buckdancing are unclear. The name probably came from the Indians who may have had a ceremonial dance danced by a brave costumed as a buck deer."
In The Anthropology of Dance, Anya Royce says:
"There existed also a genre that has been labeled "water dances." These, including such named dances as Set the Floor, Buck Dance, and Juba [cf. line in "Mister Charlie"], all involved a test of skill in balancing a glass of water on the head while dancing. Juba and Buck dances appeared as well without the water balancing. ... Emery also claims a long past for the Pigeon Wing and Buck Dance: "the Pigeon Wing and the Buck dance appear as authentic dances of the Negro on the plantation, much before they were picked up for the minstrel shows and billedas the Buck and Wing" (1972:90)."
Buck Dancer's Choice (1966, Wesleyan Univ. Press) is also the title of a volumeof poetry by James Dickey, and, according to Blair Jackson in The Golden Road, (Winter, 1984), is an old white mountain tune.
And this comment from a reader:
Date: Thu, 13 Apr 95 12:32:18 -700
From: David Foyt
Subject: "A Buck Dancer's Choice"
I always thought that a Buck Dancer signified a stripper, i.e. one who dances for a buck. A "Buck Dancer's Choice" would be to decide between right and wrong. This is why one should "Take MyAdvice - You should know the rules by now, the fire from the ice."
Another reader weighs in:
Uncle John's Band- "Buckdancer's Choice" is also the name of a popular fiddle tune of southern Appalachia.
And still more readers on this topic:
Date: Sun, 7 Jan 1996 01:39:21 -0500
A friend of mine at work showed me an old album from, I think 1960?, by Taj Mahal, called "oooh so good 'n blues." On it is a song called "Buck Dancers' Choice." On the jacket, there is an explanation of the title, which I Qoute:"Buck dancers' choice is a tune that goes back to Saturday night dances when the Buck or male dancer got to choose who his partner would be. Sort of the opposite to "Ladies' Choice." While mostly used as a string band tune, anyone calling this tune out would be sure to get a positive reaction from all the Does and Bucks."I hope this helps you out. I must say that I really enjoy reading about the songs. If you have any questions about this, you can reach me atRoyREW@aol.com
And this one:
Date: Fri, 05 Jan 96 08:01:19 -0800
From: Randy Lewis
Re: "Buck Dancer's Choice"
As well as being a fiddle tune, this was/is a very popular guitar picker's piece, especially in the early 60's. While I don't think he ever recorded it, I know that it was in Jerry's repertoire on guitar for sure and also on banjo I believe.
Thank you for doing such a wonderful job, and keep up the good work -as you probably know, there are lots of fans and Dead Heads here in Kaua`i, and we all try to keep that 60's spirit alive and well.
Aloha for now,
Kapa`a, Kaua`i, Hawai`i
Yet another piece of the puzzle, from a reader:
-----Original Message----- From: timothy sheehan [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Thursday, January 16, 2003 2:11 PM
Subject: buck dancer
This is the info. I have on a show of a young Garcia. I saw song six and got to your site to find “Buck Dancers choice” which I knew was in a song somewhere.
I saw some other posts about “buck dancer” and thought id chime in. tim
Sleepy Hollow Hog Stompers
Boar's Head Coffee House
Jewish Community Center
San Carlos, CA
Master Audience (?) Reel (Scotch 150) > playback on Technics RS 1520 @ 7-1/2 ips no dolby > first gen reel (Scotch 207 recorded via Otari MX5050 @ 7-1/2 ips no dolby) > playback on Technics RS1506 > Tascam DA-40 DAT > Tascam CD-RW700 master CD > CDs > HP 9350i extraction using EAC > .shn encoding using mkwACT. Source discs from Jay Jurina, extraction and .shn encoding by Joe Jupille. Sector boundary alignment confirmed using shntool.
Single Disc (18) 62:52
1. Tuning [0:23]
2. Run Mountain [4:50]
3. Billy Grimes The Rover [3:51]
4. Cannonball Blues [4:06]
5. Devilish Mary [4:05]
6. Buck Dancer's Choice [2:16]
7. Little Birdie [3:56]
8. Sally Goodin' [2:32]
9. Hold The Woodpile Down [4:08]
10. Crow Black Chicken [4:05]
11. The Johnson Boys [3:57]
12. Shady Grove [5:22]
13. Hop High Ladies [3:34]
14. Sweet Sunny South [4:28]
15. All Go Hungry Hash House [3:37]
16. Man Of Constant Sorrow (1) [2:25]
17. Rabbit Chase [3:00]
18. Three Men Went A-Hunting [2:10]
(1) Garcia acapella
Times given are for tracks, not songs.
According to Deadlists, the band consists of Jerry Garcia (guitar and banjo), Marshall Leicester (banjo and guitar), and Dick Arnold (fiddle). The performance took place at the 'new' Boar's Head Coffeehouse, relocated in the San Carlos Jewish Community Center. Deadlists also hypothesizes that this is an audience recording, possibly with onstage mics.
Another note from a reader on the use of this line in a movie!
From: Adam Taylor [mailto:ATaylor@langmichener.ca]
Sent: Friday, May 30, 2003 8:03 AM
Subject: Buck Dancer's Choice
Not sure if you are aware but in the movie "CHUD", there is a bizzare reference to "Buck Dancer's Choice", it just comes out of nowhere where in the middle of intense conversation regarding a journalists duty to tell the world about the dangers of radiocative waste, the street preacher character yells out "it's a buck dancer's choice, my friend" on the DVD audio track with the actors commentary it is quite hillarious, anyway if this is the kind of thing you are interested in for your site I can give you better details, the actors in question are the guy who played one of the bad guys in Home Alone, Daniel something, and the guy who played the crooked cop in Sopranos season I.
"Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice."
"THE GADSDEN FLAG: In January 1776 Col. Christopher Gadsden left Philadelphia,where he had served as a delegate to the Continental Congress and a member ofthe Marine Committee, to return to South Carolina. He brought with him to Charleston the flag he had designed for use by the commander in chief of the American Navy, whose vessels were assembled in the frozen Delaware River. His presentation of this flag to the Provincial Congress of South Carolina on February 9, 1776, is recorded in the congressional journals:Col. Gadsden presented to the Congress an elegant standard, such as is to be used by the commander in chief of the American navy; being a yellow field, with a lively representation of a rattle-snake in the middle, in the attitude of going to strike, and these words underneath, "Don't Tread on Me!"This flag was that day ordered preserved in the hall of the South Carolina Provincial Congress.
And this note from the maintainer of a web site on American flags:
Date: Fri, 12 May 1995 23:36:58 -0500
From: Duane Streufert
Subject: Re: Don't Tread On Me Flag
Eventually I will have info on the "Gadsden Flag" on the Page, but for now I'll quote from a book I have on hand. (This flag is of a yellow background with a coiled rattlesnake and the words "Don't Tread On Me" beneath it.) Less well known is the 1st Navy Jack, having 13 red and white stripes witha rippling form of a rattlesnake stretched across them, and the words 'Don't Tread On Me' below.
"The American Revolutionary period was a time of intense but controlled individualism - when self-directing responsible individuals again and again decided for themselves what they should do, and did it- without needing anyone else to give them an assignment or supervise them in carrying it out.
Such a person was the patriot Colonel Christopher Gadsden of South Carolina. He had seen and liked a bright yellow banner with a hissing, coiled rattlesnake rising up in the center, and beneath the serpent thesame words that appeared on the Striped Rattlesnake Flag - Don't Tread On Me.
Colonel Gadsden made a copy of this flag and submitted the design to the Provincial Congress in South Carolina. Commodore Esek Hopkins, commander of the new Continental fleet, carried a similar flag in February, 1776, whenhis ships put to sea for the first time.
Hopkins captured large stores of British cannon and military supplies in the Bahamas. His cruise marked the salt-water baptism of the American Navy, and it saw the first landing of the Corps of Marines, on whose drums the Gadsden symbol was painted.
Subject: "By the river side" from Uncle John's Band
Date: Mon, 17 Sep 2001 17:09:53 -0700
From: Richard Katz
I have been having a wonderful time reading your on-line annotations of Grateful Dead songs once again. I have several associations with 'river side' which I thought I'd share with you. Rivers, and standing by a river side are of course a near universal human experience. The song Uncle John's Band is of course somewhat a self-reference to the Grateful Dead. Yet it's also about community sharing peace, the hope for peace, and a turning away from war. And it is an art work the song helps one paint in ones mind - an ideal "Grateful Dead" Band in an ideal concert.
The words "by the riverside" occur just after "Come hear Uncle John's Band" and thus form the back drop for the central image of the song. And the whole UJB phrase closely follows the two images of war - the cannon balls and "their motto is 'don't tread on me,'" thus making this a concert whose purpose is about peace.
For a concert about peace, the riverside is the ideal setting. The phrase "by the riverside" is one that brings up solace, mourning, reflection, finding of peace, letting go of burdens, laying down of weapons. It is made even more universal by including the phrase "playing to the tide" - which brings the river that much closer to the ocean, and connecting the experience to the ocean as well as the river.
- In the folk song "Down by the riverside" where we ain't a gonna study war no more.
- The river image is very old, in the song By the rivers of Babylon "there we wept as we remembered Zion;" Zion represents a familiar place as opposed to "a strange land," a reference to Abraham, who as stranger in a strange land was the progenitor of Islam as well as Judaism.
- In "Shout Halleluja" the "we're heading cross the river, sins wash away in the tide" - in some religious traditions, one casts bread upon the water to throw away one's cares - an idea that ties in Robert Hunter's poetic "Ripple" which he wrote not long after Uncle John's Band.
The riverside is also a low watery place, for the Grateful Dead, a haven away from its opposites at the time - the ever present Vietnam War and Altamont the dreadful concert where the Dead would not play.
I've included some words today about the song Uncle John's band on Java Skyline to invite people to take solace and comfort in this time of strife and mourning, and I put in a couple references to your annotation Web site.
See: Java Skyline and on Java Skyline News.
Regards and best wishes,
"Caw, caw, one little story that the crow told me:
Caw, caw, in a hickory tree."
This note from a reader:
From email@example.comMon Apr 3 08:17:33 1995
Date: Mon, 03 Apr 95 03:39:18 -2400
From: Bob Aldrich
I've come upon your incredible work annotating the Dead's songs. Interesting stuff. I have a link to something else you might be interested in. In Uncle John's Band, the song talks about the "same story the crow told me..." In 1960, Johnny Horton, a popular singer, did a song called "Sink the Bismark" that rose to number 3 on the pop charts. The flip side (B side of the single) of the 45 rpm was a song called "The Same Old Tale the Crow Told Me." I had the record as a kid and the song is a novelty number whose first verse goes like this (if my memory from 35 years ago holds):
A Tom cat was sittin' on a bale of hay
A bull dog was sittin' on the ground
I went and pinched the bull dog's tail
And they went around and around and around
They went around and around.
It's the same old tale that the crow told me
Way down yonder by the sycamore tree
It's the same old tale that the crow told me
Way down yonder by the sycamore tree
So, not only do you have an old bluegrass number that you referenced, but this song (which was the flip side of a very popular song in the early 60s) is also out there in the cosmos. At least it came to my mind when I first heard Uncle John's Band.
Keep on truckin'
And this note from a reader:
Subject: Uncle John's Band
Date: Sat, 16 Nov 1996 21:49:53 -0500
I'm a big dead fan and I love the Annotated Grateful Dead web site. Iwas looking at the text of Uncle John's Band and I realized somethingabout the line "It's the same story the crow told me(him?) it's the only one he knows". This could possible allude to Poe's "The Raven." In "The Raven" the raven tells the man he will see Lenore "nevermore". He only knows the one word, "nevermore". The line following it goes "like the morning and sun you come and like the wind you go". Birth like the morning and sun is predictable but death like the wind is not. Just a thought.
And this note:
Subject: the same story the crow told me
Date: Thu, 11 Nov 1999 01:47:41 -0800
From: Andrea Jean Patten
I have only just discovered your site recently and I have found it to be among the most thought-provoking that I have yet come across.
About the crow: I am familiar with two classical references that refer to crows who tell stories. In the version of Apollodorus, Apollo fell in love with Coronis, made love to her and conceived Aesclepius. She, however, preferred Ischys and married him. Apollo learned of her betrayal from a crow; in his rage, he cursed the crow and turned it black (the crow had previously been white). In the version of Ovid, it is the raven who delivers this story to Apollo, and he is warned in advance by the crow who has had a similar experience. According to the crow, Minerva hid the child Erichthonius in a chest and delivered it to three girls to watch over but warned them not to open it. One girl, Aglauros, opens the chest to discover the child lying with a snake stretched out beside him. Having observed Aglauros' betrayal from an elm tree, the crow immediately informs Minerva, who casts out the crow and adopts the owl as her bird in its place. In concluding, the crow tells the raven, "My punishment should warn all birds, Keep out of trouble, and be silent!"
So much for gossiping birds.
Another note on this line:
In late 1969 I eagerly awaited the release of Workingman's Dead. I had seen the Dead several times at that point and this was the first new release of recorded material since I had become a fan. Of course, as you know, there was no internet, no information on the Dead really at all back then except in Rolling Stone. I still remember buying the record, rushing home, tearing the plastic off and placing it on the turntable. Imagine my surprise when "Uncle John's Band" started resonating from the speakers! I had expected some wild psychedelia, rock and roll, and was, at first, completely turned off. I was like, "Wtf?" Then, after several listenings, the magic of the songs overwhelmed me - I got it. Anyway, accolades for the site.
I've drifted in and out of the Dead's music since I got clean and sober in 1981, but for the past several years it's about the only stuff I play - mainly their 60's and 70's stuff. And "It's the same story the crow told me" is one of the first things I felt I understood from Workingman's. When I clicked on the line in your Annotated Lyrics, I didn't see anyone published that had my take on it. I always took it to be a reference to the crow (who was actually Castenada) in Carlos Castenada's book "The Teachings of Don Juan - A Yacqui Way of Knowledge." The book features a crow on the cover. I was a disciple of psychedelics then, reading everything I could on the topic and Castenada's book fascinated me. Castenada traveled around the desert with Don Juan and experimented with peyote, mushrooms and jimson weed in an effort to achieve varying "states of non-ordinary reality." Castaneda said he saw giant insects, learned to fly, grew a beak, became a crow and ultimately reached a plateau of higher consciousness, a hard-won wisdom that made him a "man of knowledge" like Don Juan despite never being able to push past the "fear." In his writings, there are many references to having the courage to push past the "fear" of taking a large dose of psychedelics and gaining insight, or spiritual deliverance, or whatever you want to call it. Despite Don Juan's best efforts, Castenada never could. I've always taken the many fear references in the Dead's music to be Castenadaesque as well.
Subject: Uncle John's Band
Date: Thu, 14 Oct 1999 09:13:39 +1300
From: Tom Parsons
I enjoyed your annotated lyrics site, for which many thanks. I was surprised not to find [The Rubaiyat of] Omar Khayyam mentioned as a possible source, or an ur-source:
Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same Door as in I went.
With them the Seed of Wisdom did I sow,
And with my own hand labour'd it to grow:
And this was all the Harvest that I reap'd-
I came like Water, and like Wind I go.
The water and wind references here may be multiple entendres referring to physiology as well as abstractions like unpredictability and spirit. At least I always enjoyed the densely compressed extreme contrast between the very earthy and the sublime meanings expressed in the same words.
Subject: Dickinson in UJB?
Date: Tue, 09 Dec 1997 23:14:19 -0600 (CST)
From: "Aaron Bibb, Somewhat Translucent Bead"
[Emily] Dickinson's #478:
"I had no time to Hate -
The Grave would hinder Me -
And Life was not so
Could finish - Enmity -
Nor had I time to Love -
Some Industry must be -
The little Toil of Love -
I thought -
Be large enough for Me -"
"Ain't no time to hate, barely time to wait..." maybe :)
but I digress... constantly.
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