"...and sing me a song of my own"

The Annotated "Black Muddy River"

An installment in The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics.
By David Dodd
1997-98 Research Associate, Music Dept., University of California, Santa Cruz.
See Andrew Stiller's essay, "Black, Mudy River--Line By Line".
Copyright notice
"Black Muddy River"
Words by Robert Hunter; music by Jerry Garcia
Copyright Ice Nine Publishing; used by permission.

When the last rose of summer pricks my finger
And the hot sun chills me to the bone
When I can't hear the song for the singer
And I can't tell my pillow from a stone

I will walk alone by the black muddy river
And sing me a song of my own
I will walk alone by the black muddy river
And sing me a song of my own

When the last bolt of sunshine hits the mountain
And the stars start to splatter in the sky
When the moon splits the southwest horizon
With the scream of an eagle on the fly

I will walk alone by the black muddy river
And listen to the ripples as they moan
I will walk alone by the black muddy river
And sing me a song of my own

Black muddy river
Roll on forever
I don't care how deep or wide
If you got another side
Roll muddy river
Roll muddy river
Black muddy river roll

When it seems like the night will last forever
And there's nothing left to do but count the years
When the strings of my heart start to sever
And stones fall from my eyes instead of tears

I will walk alone by the black muddy river
And dream me a dream of my own
I will walk alone by the black muddy river
And sing me a song of my own
And sing me a song of my own

"Black Muddy River"

Musical details: Recorded on In the Dark.

Covered by Norma Waterson on her Norma Waterson.

First live performance: December 15, 1986, at the Oakland Coliseum Arena. The show also featured the first "When Push Comes to Shove." In the repertoire ever since.

See Steve Silberman's interview with Hunter, "Standing in the Soul," for comments from Hunter about the song.

This note from a reader:

Subject: The penultimate song Jerry sang with the boys.
Date: Fri, 14 Dec 2001 01:57:17 EST
From: Ataraxic42@aol.com


{usual acclaim for such a groovy website goes here}

There is something you may not know and it is difficult to share. It is one of the only things I can think of that I would rather not know. If you listen closely to the Black Muddy from the last show at Soldier Field Jerry actually says "the LAST muddy river" in one of the verses. He emphasizes the word very clearly so there is no doubt that it was not an accident.

I still cry.

J- C--

last rose of summer

A reference to the Thomas Moore song, 'Tis the Last Rose of Summer. The tone of Moore's song is not far from Hunter's in "Black Muddy River."

The line also serves to summon up that most pervasive of Grateful Dead symbols, the rose.

hot sun chills

Compare the line in Stephen Foster's "Oh, Susanna":
"The sun so hot I froze to def..."

can't tell my pillow from a stone

This comment from a reader:
Date: Thu, 09 Nov 95 13:15:20 -050
From: Ray Stell
Subject: Black Muddy River

Thanks for your annotation work on the dead songs. I just made a connection and thought I'd pass it on for your review. The pillow/stone reference in Black Muddy reminded me of Jacob in the book of Genesis, chapter 28.

Genesis 28:

10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran.
11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep.


Jacob and his mother had just deceived Isaac, therefore stealing the blessing from brother Esau. In so doing, Jacob had to run for his life. It was a low point for him, and I suspect he might have said "the hot sun chills me to the bone".

You see, Jacob really loved the blessing and the God of Issac, and would have done anything for it. Esau, on the other hand, had proved that it meant nothing to him. But, now he must leave his father's house and "walk alone".

Jacob had made this bed and now he had to sleep in it. God knows Jacob's heart, if not his actions, are for the Lord and quickly sends the famous "Jacob's ladder" with a message that he will bring him home. Jacob must learn that he God is faithful and will give the blessing. He did not have to steal it. It would have taken care of itself.

Jacob heads down a tough road of purification, and he "will walk alone" just as we all do. And we all have a promise, just as Jacob did. In 1 John 1:9 it states:

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."

That doesn't mean steal and say "sorry" in light manner. It means "walk alone" and "sing me a song of my own" (because no one else can sing it and God made you to sing it) and get purified by the one that said he would purify you. In the end, when "there's nothing left to do but count the years" if you have done so, there will be the promise he made on the ladder:

"I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.
I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you"

In some respects, we "walk alone". Jacob, clearly had to meet up with Laban from whom he would learn (the hard way) about the reality of what he had done. And for all of us, we must "sing me a song of my own". In other respects, God says to Jacob, "I am with you".


Ray Stell       stellr@vt.edu       (703) 231-4109       KE4TJC


Thanks, Ray!


Robert Hunter cannot use the word "ripple" without invoking the song.

Roll muddy river

This note from a reader:
Subject: Annotated lyrics: Black Muddy River
Date: Mon, 03 Feb 1997 09:17:32 +0000
From: alex allan

I came across a reference the other day that may be of interest. A song called "Roll Muddy River" was a hit for the Osborne Brothers in the late 1960s, and starts "Roll muddy river, roll on."

Best wishes Alex

stones fall from my eyes instead of tears

This note from a reader:
From: Bill Gillispie [mailto:bbqshoes@sbcglobal.net]
Sent: Tuesday, October 28, 2003 12:08 AM
Subject: Annotated Grateful Dead lyrics:Black Muddy River

Apologies if youve already got this one, Im kind of surprised no one has noticed it: The last verse in Black Muddy River, stones fall from my eyes instead of tears, can possibly be directly traced back to lines in Shakespeares Richard III...
First Murderer: Tut, tut, my lord! We will not stand to prate;
Talkers are no good doers. Be assured:
We go to use our hands, and not our tongues.
Gloucester: Your eyes drop millstones when fools eyes fall tears.
I like you, lads: about your business straight.
Go, go, dispatch.

keywords: @rose, @river, @water
DeadBase code: [BMR]
First posted: August 1, 1995 (Garcia's 53rd birthday)
Last revised: October 28, 2003