"That's the way it's been in town ever since they tore the jukebox down"

The Annotated "Row Jimmy"

An installment in The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics.
By David Dodd
Kraemer Family Library,
University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
Copyright notice
Deadlit topic 83 is about "Row Jimmy." Here are some samples from that topic, on the subject of individuals' interpretations of the song.
"Row Jimmy"
Words by Robert Hunter; music by Jerry Garcia
Copyright Ice Nine Publishing; used by permission

Julie catch a rabbit by his hair
Come back step, like to walk on air
Get back home where you belong
and don't you run off no more

Don't hang your head let the two-time roll
Grass shack nailed to a pine wood floor
Ask the time? Baby I don't know
Come back later, we'll let it show

And I say row, Jimmy row
Gonna get there?
I don't know
Seems a common way to go
Get down, row, row, row
row, row

Here's my half a dollar if you dare
double twist when you hit the air
Look at Julie down below
the levee doin the do-pas-o

And I say row, Jimmy, row
Gonna get there?
I don't know
Seems a common way to go
Get down, row, row, row
row, row

Broken heart don't feel so bad
Ain't got half a what you thought you had
Rock your baby to and fro
Not too fast and not too slow

And I say row, Jimmy, row
Gonna get there?
I don't know
Seems a common way to go
Get down, row, row, row
row, row

That's the way it's been in town
ever since they tore the juke box down
Two-bit piece don't buy no more
not so much as it done before

And I say row, Jimmy, row
Gonna get there?
I don't know
Seems a common way to go
Get down, row, row, row
row, row

"Row Jimmy"

Recorded on

Covered by

First performance: February 9, 1973 at Rose Maples Pavilion, Stanford University. "Row Jimmy" was in the second slot in the first set. Other firsts at this show included "China Doll," "Eyes of the World," "Here Comes Sunshine," "Loose Lucy," "They Love Each Other," and "Wave That Flag."

In an interview in Relix (vol. 5, #2, p. 27), Hunter said:

"I really feel that "Row Jimmy" is happening in New Mexico."

Row Jimmy

Hunter says the title came from a line originally in "Fair To Even Odds" ( Box of Rain, p. 76). (See Gans, Conversations..., p. 29)

double-twist when you hit the air

Compare the lines in the folk song "Sad Condition" (Sharp #263):
"Turn my elbow to my wrist,
I'll turn back in a double twist."

Hunter, quoted in Gans' Conversations..., says

"The main thrust of that is, do you dare jump in the air at all? And if you jump in the air, are you gonna have presence of mind enough to do a trick?" --p. 29

And this wonderful reference found by Alex Allen:

Date: Thu, 01 Jan 1970 00:00:00 GMT
From: Alex Allan

Dear David

I just spotted the lyrics below in Jelly Roll Morton's version of "Winin' Boy"

"Mama, Mama, Mama look at Sis'
She's out on the levee doing the double twist
I'm a Winin' Boy, don't deny my name"

A clear echo of [Hunter's lines].

Best wishes


Alex Allan


the levee

Here's a photo from the American Memory Project of the Library of Congress which shows a farmer's house below a levee of the Mississippi River.


Follow this link for the definition of the Do-Paso as given by Callerlab, the Square Dance Callers' association.


From I Hear America Talking:
"juke -- (via Gullah from Wolof dzug, to misbehave, lead a disorderly life...) 1936, a brothel, cheap tavern, or low dive. 1939--juke boxes."

A photo of a juke joint, from the Library of Congress' American Memory Project.

Interpretations from the Deadlit conference's "Row Jimmy" topic

#1 of 48: Mike Cowperthwaite (mcow) Tue Oct 8 '91 (19:16) 31 lines

The first time I heard "Row Jimmy" in concert was in New Haven, April '83. I just barely knew the song, and had almost none of the lyric memorized. I was tripping at the time, as well; I was with my sisters, who weren't. It was the first show for each of them.

Anyway, the imagery that assembled during that song were rather deeply conceived; I have a very full image of the world being described, but lack sufficient English skills to put them clearly and completely in prose. The sympathetic characters -- Jimmy and Julie -- would be lower-middle- Depression. I had no particular image of what they were doing, because I had no idea what was being sung.

But during the chorus, I got the impression that person saying "Row, Jimmy" was a white man talking to a ferryman on the way across the river -- "Gonna get there?" and Jimmy replies "I don't know." For some reason, there's a tension borne in the air because Jimmy recollects patronizing behavior -- "Seems a common way to go " -- from this man in town, and Jimmy literally has him where he could conceivably want him. This tension is offset by the knowledge that Jimmy is basically not going to hurt this guy; but he plays on the guy's nervousness about the situation and extorts a large tip. Plays the man for a fool.

The comment "That's the way it's been in town / ever since they tore the juke-box down / two-bit piece don't buy no more / not so much as it done before" is the narrator sort of shaking his head about the looser moral tone that seems to be coming with the depersonalization blues and the transciency of the material plane. I had a very strong image during this line of Jimmy sitting in the rowboat with a slightly shit-eating grin, as they float in place about fifteen feet away from the dock. The white man is sweating a bit and reaching for his wallet.

#2 of 48: Sr. Bluesaway (tnf) Tue Oct 8 '91 (19:43) 2 lines

Wow. Interesting stuff. A whole different view from the blurry postcard I keep in my mind's back pocket from this song.

#3 of 48: Handsome Cabin Boy (moog) Tue Oct 8 '91 (21:23) 7 lines

The song hasn't made a lick of sense to me in twenty years.

But now that you ask... It just evokes a dream world...gonna get there? I don't care. The whole town is left dreaming about nickelodeons and nostolia.

I guess it still doesn't make any sense to me.

#5 of 48: Doug Everitt (deveritt) Tue Oct 8 '91 (22:51) 4 lines


This may be the ultimate "you hear your own song" lyric, among the first-set songs, anyhow...

#6 of 48: Mike Cowperthwaite (mcow) Tue Oct 8 '91 (23:23) 8 lines

I should note that my image has solidified greatly since I've learned the lyrics. More characters to fill out the verses as I know them. I've got a great picture of a grass shack nailed to a pinewood floor.

FWIW, I've always assumed Hunter meant jumping off the levee to dive into the water below. I'm not sure how to interpret "levee doin' a do-paso" however; a "do-paso" I would guess to be a dance step, but how the levee does it I can't figure.

#7 of 48: Anonymous Wed Oct 9 '91 (06:05) 6 lines

I remember a Relix article in which the writer of the article decided that the song, written in '72/'73 or so, was about Jimmy Carter. Talk about yer misinterpretations....

I've never figured it out but, then again, I'm temporarily sick of it and therefore don't really pay attention when it rolls along.

#8 of 48: Alex Whitney (bltz) Wed Oct 9 '91 (08:35) 1 line

I love Row Jimmy. Always made perfect sense.

#14 of 48: john henrikson (johnlee) Sat Oct 12 '91 (06:06) 9 lines

For me, this song always brings to mind the images and feelings of working through the problems of a relationship, or a marriage. No certainty, much ambivalence as to whether or not we're doing the 'right' thing, whatever that is.. "seems a common way to go".. The lines about "That's the way it's been in town, eversince they tore the jukebox down Two-bit pice don't buy lost passion, of the sadness that comes with a realization of loss.. But this is a perfect example of why a great song means different things to dfferent people...

#28 of 48: Uh...Clem (moog) Tue Oct 22 '91 (22:12) 2 lines Row Jimmy is one of those sometimes the songs are just songs of our own songs

#30 of 48: Anonymous Mon Nov 4 '91 (06:54) 54 lines

It may sound silly, but because my name is Julie, I have always felt a special connection with this song.

When I was first being initiated into the Dead scene, I spent a LOT of time around half moon bay doing LOTS of LSD. The whole world was very alive to me, and there are certain musical works that really remind me of this time. Santana and John Mayall both have album covers that remind me of this time, and Call Any Vegetable and From the Heart of Me world of the unbelieveable. There was one particular time, when I felt like I was losing it (I was terrified over some delusion) and something happened with a jackrabbit. It's a little vague, but that line brings me to a memory of a time when I overcame fear, when I was swimming in enlightenment and confusion, and a time I lived a life where ordinary reality was absolutely suspended and I was able to open passages I cherish now. It was the beginning of a new life for me in many ways. By catching the rabbit.. I grasped an ambiguous and everexpanding indescribable concept. Come back stepping... is how I was transformed. The ability I have to rise above the mundane plane at shows and on other special occasions (when the contributing factors are aligned) can easily be described as walking on air. Getting comfortable with alternative realms happened to me out there between the Ocean and Hwy. 1.

Get back home... speaks to me of straying from a constructive path. Something of paramount importance when you have access to heightened awareness (inherent power).. for everybody's benefit. Deciding to acknowledge the responsibility of recognizing one's own power is a lot like jumping into a place with no visible means of support, initially. (Hitting the air). It takes incredible luck, self control, experience, meditation, guidance, and practice to find a way to deal with this realm (the double twist). It seems the effort is rewarded (the half dollar). But the reward is always token and passing.. for you are never in a place where you can relax and be aforded slack.

Look at Julie down below...

I think of this almost everytime I go by a levee. They are often in beautiful places, of course, being associated with rivers. This line I take very personally. I see myself dancing in a gift to the universe, celebrating life, creation, magic... .

Row Jimmy... a story of the journey of the sage. We all work, supported by water (a powerful liquidity), never knowing, really, how we are doing, or where we are going.

keywords: @river, @levee
DeadBase code: [ROWJ]
First posted: April 10, 1995
Last revised: October 8, 1996