"I can't help you with your troubles If you won't help with mine"

The Annotated "Cumberland Blues"

An installment in The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics.
By David Dodd
1997-98 Research Associate, Music Dept., University of California, Santa Cruz
Copyright notice
"Cumberland Blues"
Words by Robert Hunter; music by Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh
Copyright Ice Nine Publishing; used by permission

I can't stay much longer, Melinda
The sun is getting high
I can't help you with your troubles
If you won't help with mine

I gotta get down
I gotta get down
Got to get down to the mine

You keep me up just one more night
I can't sleep here no more
Little Ben clock says quarter to eight
You kept me up till four

I gotta get down
I gotta get down
Or I can't work there no more

Lotta poor man make a five dollar bill
Keep him happy all the time
Some other fellow making nothing at all
And you can hear him cryin...

"Can I go buddy
Can I go down
Take your shift at the mine?"

Got to get down to the Cumberland mine
That's where I mainly spend my time
Make good money/five dollars a day
Made any more I might move away -

Lotta poor man got the Cumberland Blues
He can't win for losin
Lotta poor man got to walk the line
Just to pay his union dues

I don't know now
I just don't know
If I'm goin back again
I don't know now
I just don't know
If I'm goin back again

"Cumberland Blues"

Musical details: Recorded on

A fairly steady number in the repertoire between 1969 and 1974, it was absent for quite a while, reappearing in 1981, and played a few times a year ever since.

Covered by:

Used as the title of a musical based roughly on a number of Garcia/Hunter tunes, "Cumberland Blues," which debuted in San Jose in June, 1998.


This note from a reader:
Subject: an addition to your motifs and thematic index
Date: Thu, 08 May 1997 16:49:47 -0400
From: Melinda Belleville
Organization: University of Kentucky


I've been wanting to write you for some time to tell you how much I *love* your site. You (and everyone that has contributed) have put an incredible amount of work into this.

I'm just getting around to exploring some of the essays after tearing myself away from following some of the annotations to some of my favorite songs.

I'd like to contribute a small item to your names category. I don't know what your criteria is for listing items in your categories but you might include Melinda from Cumberland Blues.

I was always intrigued how Hunter came to use Melinda not only in CB but also in at least 2 other poems of his. I wondered if he had a long lost love or someone else in his past with the name.

When he first put up his web page and listed his e-mail address, I wrote to him to ask him about it. At that time he was still able to answer his mail and I was quite surprised to get a reply back from him. Alas, no lost love, just someone he knew in high school with that name. He said he always loved the name and thought it was one of the most euphonious(sp?) names he had ever heard. So that is how my name has come to be in a Grateful Dead song. A fact I'm quite proud of, not to mention, it is a song about a region of Kentucky and I'm from Kentucky!

Just thought I'd contribute a piece of information to your wonderful site.

Take care

Melinda L. Belleville
systems programmer/Tech1
Rm. 217 McVey Hall 
University of Kentucky                      JJG
606-257-2240                           8/1/42-8/9/95


A geographical name with a rich history. The Cumberland being referred to in the song is probably the Cumberland Mountains, or, possibly, the county or town (located in Harlan County) of Cumberland, Kentucky. All place names in the region stem from the name of the Cumberland River, which "flows through southern Kentucky and northern Tennessee, 687 miles long," according to The American Places Dictionary. (Also according to this source, the river was in turn named "for the county of Cumberland, England. Name made popular by Prince William Augustus (1721-65), Duke of Cumberland, victor over Highlander Scots at Culloden in 1746." Interestingly, Cumberland County, England, is an important mining region, principally for iron ore, but also for coal!)

Also in the Appalachians is the Cumberland Gap, a mountain pass, which is the title of a folk song.

There are eight Cumberland counties in the U.S., in Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Another song worth a look is "Those Old Cumberland Mountain Farm Blues". [via Digital Tradition.]

This note from a reader:

Subject: cumberland
Date: Mon, 12 May 1997 10:35:28 -0400

Hi, I'm borrowing a friends computer, my email is thedrick@miworld.net. I live in Cumberland, Maryland. Cumberland is the home of the first national road the "cumberland road". The city was originally Fort Cumberland, and George Washington was stationed here in his younger days. Approximately nine miles from the city are several hundred coal mines, some of which continue to be mined today. Cumberland also has traditionally been a very pro-labor union area. Don't know if this is of interest as it relates to the Grateful Dead song, but thought I would share it.
thank you, a friend of the devil...
Jeff Hedrick

Little Ben clock

Close to an actual brand name of an alarm clock, the Westclox Baby Ben, used as a facetious take-off on Big Ben, in London. Big Ben, according to Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, is
"The name given to the large bell in the Clock Tower (or St. Stephen's (!) Tower) at the Houses of Parliament. It weighs 13 1/2 tons, and is named after Sir Benjamin Hall, Chief Commissioner of Works in 1856, when it was cast."

Cumberland Mine

An infamous coal mine in Nova Scotia. Sing Out! magazine makes this note about the song by Peggy Seeger, "The Springhill Mine Disaster":
"Peggy Seeger wrote this song after reading about the terrible mine disaster in Spring Hill, Nova Scotia, in the latter part of 1958. This was the world-famous tragedy in which a number of trapped miners were miraculously rescued after eight days of entombment." (--The Collected Sing Out Reprints, v 1-6, p. 202)

keywords: @work, @blues, @union
DeadBase code: [CUMB]
First posted: August 24, 1995
Last revised: February 4, 2003