"Thought I heard a jug band playin'..."

The Annotated "So Many Roads"

An installment in The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics.
By Rob Meador and David Dodd

(The opinions expressed are those of the author, not of the University of Colorado.) Copyright notice; © 1995-2002, Rob Meador & David Dodd

Interpretive note on the song's structure
"So Many Roads"
Words by Robert Hunter; music by Jerry Garcia
Copyright Ice Nine Publishing; used by permission

Thought I heard a blackbird singin'
up on Bluebird Hill
Call me a whinin' boy if you will
Born where the sun don't shine
and I don't deny my name
Got no place to go, ain't that a shame?

Thought I heard that KC whistle
moanin' sweet & low
Thought I heard that KC when she blow
Down where the sun don't shine
Underneath the Kokomo
Whinin' boy -- got no place else to go

So many roads I tell you
So many roads I know
So many roads --
so many roads --
Mountain high, river wide
So many roads to ride
So many roads
So many roads

Thought I heard a jug band playin'
"If you don't -- who else will?"
from over on the far side of the hill
All I know the sun don't shine,
the rain refuse to fall
and you don't seem to hear me when I call

Wind inside & the wind outside
Tangled in the window blind
Tell me why you treat me so unkind
Down where the sun don't shine
Lonely and I call your name
No place left to go, ain't that a shame?

So many roads I tell you
New York to San Francisco
All I want is one
to take me home
From the high road to the low
So many roads I know
So many roads - So many roads

From the land of the midnight sun
where ice blue roses grow
'long those roads of gold and silver snow
Howlin' wide or moanin low
So many roads I know
So many roads to ease my soul

"So Many Roads"

Not recorded.

First performance: Sunday, Februady 22, 1992 at the Coliseum Arena, Oakland, California. "So Many Roads" appeared in the first set, following "Wang Dang Doodle" and preceding "Queen Jane Approximately." The other first in the show was "Wave to the Wind."

blackbird singin'

Possible reference to "Blackbird," by the Beatles:
"Blackbird singin' in the dead of night"

Bluebird Hill

Reminds me of "Blueberry Hill," by Fats Domino. See the reference under "Scarlet Begonias."

There is also a Bluebird Hill Bed & Breakfast in Utopia, TX, which seems somehow cosmically relative.

whinin' boy

Cf. "Winin' Boy Blues," by Jelly Roll Morton. Also recorded by Hot Tuna, and I have Janis Joplin doing it on a record. (See below for a lyric).

Whinin Boy

This note from a reader:
From dod4@aber.ac.ukWed Jan 31 16:13:49 1996
Date: Mon, 22 Jan 1996 11:33:59 +0000
From: dod4@aber.ac.uk

by the way, I always assumed that "whining boy" in "So Many Roads" was what it means spelt as above.

But having just read leading AfroAmer. playwright AUGUST WILSON's play "The Piano Lesson", I now wonder : here's a character called WINING BOY (no H), who is the one who resolves the family dispute over the piano, by playing it !!! He is a has-been blues recording star, and sure enough has seen many maNY ROADS....

sO NOW i WONDER. Scuse the Cap lock problem... but what a thought ,eh ? Great play, quick read, check it out anyway if you havent already.

Born where the sun don't shine

Lots of references, two more of which I mention below. For here, I chose "Sixteen Tons," by Merle Travis and made famous by Tennessee Ernie Ford:
"Born on a day when the sun didn't shine
Picked up my shovel and I went to the mine."

and I don't deny my name

Lyric from "Winin' Boy Blues":
"I'm a winin' boy, I don't deny my name"

Big Brother also did a song called "Easy Rider," whose chorus was

"Easy rider
don't you deny my name"

Got no place to go

Cf. "No Particular Place To Go," by Chuck Berry

ain't that a shame?

Cf. "Ain't That A Shame," by Fats Domino

KC whistle moanin' sweet & low

Cf. "KC Moan"-- I don't know who wrote it, but Ratdog does it.


From "No Particular Place To Go," by Chuck Berry:
"No particular place to go,
So we parked way out on the Kokomo"

This note from a reader:

From: Ed Brown [mailto:ebrown@amexwb.com]
Sent: Thursday, June 20, 2002 10:49 AM
Subject: "So Many Roads" - Refrence to KOKOMKO

I love the "The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics" and feel this should be added for "So Many Roads"

During the 4 month hiatus in 1986 (Aug-Dec) while Jerry was recovering from his Diabetic coma, Billy and Brent toured the East Coast in Sep. and Oct. using 2 different names for the band they had formed with some friends. The first swing through saw them call themsevles "KOKOMO" and they played The Ritz and I believe The Lone Star Cafe in New York City. The 2nd time through, in Oct. they reffered to themselves as "GO AHEAD" and played the Capitol Theater in Passaic, New Jersey on Halloween. At the Ritz show as KOKOMO they played a Dark Star, Casey Jones and a full Hey Jude (according to notes on the back of my ticket stub) among other Dead tunes and in October, Billy sang a distinct version of Minglewood Blues along the lines of "...I was born in a whore house and was raised a slave..." boy was he drunk! Just a note about a little known band with an interesting name!



Too many road songs to mention, but "Going Down the Road Feelin' Bad," and "On the Road Again" leap to mind.

Mountain high, river wide

Cf. "River Deep, Mountain High" by Ike and Tina Turner.

jug band

Hopefully no one needs the concept of a jug band explained!

"If you don't--who else will?"

This reminds me of Doctor John's "Such a Night":
"If I don't do it, somebody else will"

All I know the sun don't shine

Cf. "In the Pines," an old folk tune:
"In the pines, in the pines, where the sun never shines"
and "Dark Hollow," another standard bluegrass tune:
"I'd rather be in some dark hollow, where the sun don't ever shine"

and you don't seem to hear me when I call

Cf. "Can't You Hear Me Calling," by Bill Monroe (The Father of Bluegrass):
"Sweetheart of mine, can't you hear me callin'"

New York to San Francisco

Reminds me a little of "Promised Land," by Chuck Berry.

to take me home

"I Will Take You Home," by Brent Mydland, came to mind. Returning home is a major theme in old-time and bluegrass music.

From the high road to the low

Cf. "Loch Lomond," quintessential Scottish song:
"you take the high road and I'll take the low road and I'll be in Scotland afore ye"

midnight sun

Compare line in "China Cat Sunflower."

Also, this note from a reader:

Subject: So Many Roads lyrics
Date: Thu, 26 Sep 1996 20:06:10 -0400
From: AGaylon@aol.com

I stumbled across your page just now and I love it. I easily got lost with all those links, but that was the fun! Anyway, "So Many Roads" being my favorite, and really enjoying your annotation, I thought I'd ask your opinion. A friend recently informed me that Norway is actually refered to as "the land of the midnight sun." Although I've never heard this, he is Norwegian and I've never been there, so I have to take his word for it. Any thoughts on this as a possible reference?

Take care,

Good point! And it makes sense, since it stays light around the clock in summer there, right? And here I am a Norwegian myself, and didn't think to put this in. Thanks, Alisa.

And this note from yet another reader on the topic:

Subject: So Many Roads lyrics
Date: Sun, 19 Jan 1997 14:44:40 -0500
From: jill zarazinski

I was just reading over your comments about Norway being the land of the midnight sun and had to give you this. I recently came across an old poster which showed Alaska and refered to it as the land of the midnight sun. With Alaska also being extremely cold, this could have some reference to the ice blue roses. I could be wrong though and it wouldn't be the first time.

ice blue roses

See the poster for the closing of Winterland. Also reminiscent of "Dark Star":
"ice petal flowers revolving"

Howlin' wide or moanin low

This reminds me of old spirituals like "Rock-a My Soul":
"So wide you can't get over it
So low, you can't get under it"

There's also an old gospel number standard in bluegrass, "Don't You Hear Jeruselem Moan".

"Moanin' Low," (possibly by Howard Dietz and Ralph Rainger, 1929) was a song done in the 30s by Billie Holliday.

A few other little notes

On "So Many Roads," I see two main music genres represented, blues and old-time country. It can be argued these two are the stuff rock and roll was made of. The song has two sets of verses divided by a chorus and a guitar solo. The first starts off:
"Thought I heard a blackbird singin'
up on Bluebird Hill"
The lines that follow seem to suggest a bunch of blues and early rock and roll songs and artists.

After the chorus, the second set of verses suggest old-time country music:

"Thought I heard a jug band playin'"
The lines which follow suggest more old-time, folk, and bluegrass songs.

Of course I could be thinking about this waaaaaay too much!

Keywords:@home, @rose, @birds, @New York, @San Francisco, @rain
DeadBase code: [SOMA]
First posted: May 21, 1996
Last revised: December 16, 2002