"Forty-nine sister states all had Alabama in their eyes"

The Annotated "Alabama Getaway"

An installment in The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics.
By David Dodd
Research Associate, Music Dept.
University of California, Santa Cruz
(The opinions expressed are those of the author, not of the University of California.)

Copyright notice
"Alabama Getaway"
Words by Robert Hunter; music by Jerry Garcia
Copyright Ice Nine Publishing. Used by permission.

Thirty two teeth in a jawbone
Alabama cryin for none
Before I have to hit him
I hope he's got the sense to run

Reason those poor girls love him
Promise them anything
Reason they believe him
He wears a big diamond ring

Alabama getaway
Alabama getaway
Only way to please me
Turn around and leave
and walk away

Majordomo Billy Bojangles
Sit down and have a drink with me
What's this about Alabame
Keeps comin back to me?

Heard your plea in the courthouse
Jurybox began to rock and rise
Forty-nine sister states all had
Alabama in their eyes

Alabama getaway
Alabama getaway
Only way to please me
Turn around and leave
and walk away

Why don't we just give Alabama
rope enough to hang himself?
Ain't no call to worry the jury
His kind takes care of itself

Twenty-third Psalm Majordomo
reserve me a table for three
in the Valley of the Shadow
just you, Alabama and me

Alabama getaway
Alabama getaway
Only way to please me
turn around and leave
and walk away

"Alabama Getaway"

Recorded on

First performance: November 4, 1979, at the Civic Center in Providence, Rhode Island. "Alabama Getaway" opened the second set, and was followed by "Greatest Story Ever Told." It remained in the repertoire through June of 1989, then was revived in 1995 for several shows.

Bob Dylan covers the song extensively. For details see the Dylan cover site entry on the song.


The State name seems to be used here as both a personal name and the name of the state-- see the line "forty-nine sister states all had Alabama in their eyes." This is reminiscent of the line in Neil Young's song "Alabama": "you've got the rest of the Union to help you along." (This song provoked the wonderful response from Lynyrd Skynrd in "Sweet Home Alabama," in which the band tells off Neil Young.)

Billy Bojangles

Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, May 25, 1878-Nov. 25, 1949. Excerpts from his entry in The Dictionary of American Biography (Supp. 4):
"The publicity that gradually came to surround him included the creation of his famous "stair dance," his successful gambling exploits, his prodigious charity, his ability to run backward at great speed and to consume ice cream by the quart, his argot--most notably the neologism "copasetic" [used so nicely in "West L.A. Fadeaway"]-- and such stunts as dancing down Broadway in 1939 from Columbus Circle to 44th Street in celebration of his sixty-first birthday.
"...blacks and whites developed differing opinions of him. To whites, for example, his nickname "Bojangles" meant happy-go-lucky, while the black variety artist Tom Fletcher claimed it was slang for "squabbler."
"Robinson died of a chronic heart condition,...His body lay in state at an armory in Harlem, schools were closed, thousands lined the streets waiting for a glimpse of his bier, and he was eulogized by politicians, black and white--perhaps more lavishly than any other Afro-American of his time."

The line which refers to "Majordomo Billy Bojangles" may be alluding to the role Robinson often played in films, as the head of staff for ante-bellum estates, particularly in the Shirley Temple movies.

Many of us know the name from the famed 1968 song by Jerry Jeff Walker, "Mr. Bo Jangles (Bojangles)."

Jerry Garcia's namesake, Jerome Kern, also wrote a song, with Dorothy Fields, entitled "Bojangles of Harlem," for the 1936 Fred Astaire movie, "Swing Time."

Twenty-third Psalm, and Valley of the Shadow

Two references to the 23rd Psalm. See reference in "Ripple".

Also compare "John Silver", from Hunter's Eagle Mall Suite:

"...through the Valley of the Shadow ran he"

keywords: @geography, @law, @psalm 23
DeadBase code: [ALA]
First posted: November 4, 1995
Last revised: January 24, 1997