"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
"Chinatown Shuffle"
Words and music by Ron McKernan

"Chinatown Shuffle"

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.

"(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 including swing..."

The Dictionary goes on to point out the plethora of song titles which have contained the word "shuffle." These include:
First posted: November 6, 1995
Last revised: