"Before you start falling, get ready to fall..."
The Annotated "Chinatown Shuffle"
An installment in The Annotated
Grateful Dead Lyrics.
By David Dodd
Library, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
Words and music by Ron McKernan
First performance: December 31, 1971, at Winterland in San
Francisco. "Chinatown Shuffle" appeared midway though the first set
between "El Paso" and "Tennessee Jed." "Big
River" was also played for the first time at this show. The song
was played heavily during the band's European tour, but never made
it to disk. I've never heard the entire show, but why didn't the
band include "Chinatown Shuffle" and "Two Souls in Communion" on
the Hundred Year Hall recording, as these songs were
part of the concert? Maybe they just weren't up to par... (Not that
I don't love the disk!)
Bernard P. Wong, in his book Chinatown: Economic Adaptation and Ethnic Identity of
the Chinese (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1982), gives a good background for the
development of Chinatowns throughout the United States. He says
"...active prejudice and harassment stemming from mainstream American racism and fear of
economic competition has resulted in the tightening of internal bonds within the
minority group and the development of protective associations of one kind or another.
The internal cohesiveness thus developed became the distinguishing characteric of the Chinese American
communities in cities like San Francisco and New York. ..."
There are lively and vital Chinatown districts in many U.S. cities, including
New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Oakland, Boston, Philadelphia, San Jose, Honolulu,
and Los Angeles.
Web sites having to do with various Chinatowns:
According to The New Grove Dictionary of American Jazz:
"Shuffle (1) A dance step of indefinite southern black-American origin, perhaps
dating from the 18th century, in which the feet are moved rhythmically acorss the floor
without being lifted.
The Dictionary goes on to point out the plethora of song titles which have contained the
word "shuffle." These include:
"(2) A rhythm derived from the dance step. The tern is onomatopoeic, "sh" describing its characteristic
smoothness (and especially its sound when played on the snare drum). The alternation of long
and short syllables (shuf-fle, shuf-fle,...) evokes its distinguishing rhythm, a
subdivision of the beat into uneve triplets which is more specific than the fundamental
swing or boogie-woogie rhythm only in that it is usually played legato and at a relaxed
tempo. The shuffle rhythm is generally confined to earlier styles of jazz, up to and
- "Showboat Shuffle," by King Oliver
- "Riverboat Shuffle," by Frankie Trumbauer
- "Syncopated Shuffle," by Duke Ellington
- "Futuristic Shuffle," by Jan Savitt
- "Boogie Stop Shuffle," by Charles Mingus
- "Boneyard Shuffle," by Hoagy Carmichael and Irving Mills
- "Harlem Shuffle," by Bob Relf and Earl Nelson
- "Shuffle Along," by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake
- "Shuffle Off to Buffalo," by Al Dubin and Harry Warren (see note under "Truckin'")
- "Shufflin' Sam," by P.G. Wodehouse and Jerome Kern
- "Soft Shoe Shuffle," by Spencer Williams and Maurice Burman
First posted: November 6, 1995