"...out of the river all ugly and green..."

The Annotated "Alligator"

An installment in The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics.
By David Dodd
Library, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
Copyright notice
Words by Robert Hunter and Ron McKernan; music by Ron McKernan
Copyright Ice Nine Publishing. Used by permission.

Sleepy alligator in the noonday sun
Sleepin by the river just like he usually done
Call for his whisky
He can call for his tea

Call all he wanta but he
can't call me

Oh no
I been there before
and I'm not comin back around
there no more

Creepy alligator comin all around the bend
Talkin bout the times when we was mutual friends
I check my mem'ry
I check it quick yes I will
I check it runnin
some old kind of trick

Oh no well I
been there before
and I ain't a comin back around
there no more
no I'm not

[this verse by the Grateful Dead:]
hung up waitin' for a windy day
Hung up waitin for a windy day
Tear down the Fillmore,
Gas the Avalon

[this verse by McKernan:]
Ridin down the river in an old canoe
a bunch of bugs and an old tennis shoe
out of the river all ugly and green
the biggest old alligator that I've ever seen
teeth big and pointed and his eyes were buggin out
contact the union, put the beggars to route
screamin and yellin and lickin his chops
he never runs he just stumbles and hops
just out of prison on six dollars bail
mumblin at bitches and waggin his tail

Alligator runnin round my door (4x)

Alligator creepin round the corner of my cabin door
He's comin round to bother me some more


According to Box of Rain, this was the first Hunter lyric recorded by the band, on Anthem of the Sun. Additional lyrics were added by Pigpen, and Hunter includes those in the published version in Box of Rain.

Musical details:

Also recorded on Dick's Picks, vol. 4.

According to DeadBase VIII, "Alligator" was played 53 times between January 1967 and April, 1971. Statistics are sketchy, but it seems to have been almost always a second set song, and often preceded "Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks)", also a Pigpen tune.

This note on performance practice from a reader:

Subject: "Alligator"
Date: 08 Apr 97 16:37:16 PDT
From: Scott.Hyatt@directory.Reed.EDU (Scott Hyatt)

Hi David:

This isn't really an item referring to the lyrics so maybe it's inapplicable -- maybe you can use it in your general info section on "Alligator" overall. It may also be ridiculously common knowledge, I don't know... Anyway, here goes nothin':

I recently saw in Scott Freeman's book Midnight Riders: The Story of the Allman Brothers Band that Duane first played "Mountain Jam" one night while sitting in with the Grateful Dead (p. 123). The melodic strains of Donovan's "There Is a Mountain" can clearly be heard right at the 09:00 minute mark on the Anthem of the Sun version of "Alligator". Ironic: that one of the ABB's most famous pieces was originally employed as an improvosational springboard by the Dead...

Call for his whiskey / He can call for his tea

A reference to the nursery rhyme "Old King Cole":
Old King Cole
Was a merry old soul
And a merry old soul was he;
He called for his pipe
And he called for his bowl,
And he called for fiddlers three.

Every fiddler, he had a fiddle,
And a very fine fiddle had he;
Twee tweedle dee, tweedle dee, went the fiddlers.
Oh there's none so rare
As can compare
With King Cole and his fiddlers three."

The rhyme first appeared in print in 1708, according to The Annotated Mother Goose, p. 143. The annotation for the rhyme also states that the King Cole being referred to in the rhyme is most likely to have been a third century British ruler.

hung up waitin' for a windy day

This verse, according to Hunter's note in Box of Rain, was written by the band as a whole. Hunter used this line in "Cosmic Charley".

Tear down the Fillmore, Gas the Avalon

Also part of the verse written by the band, according to Hunter. An interesting set of exchanges on rec.music.gdead during October 1995 discussed this set of lines (quoted by permission of authors):
kurzon@ucsu.colorado.edu (Andy Kurzon) wrote:
>Now this caught me by surprise on 2/14/68:
>>During Alligator, listen closely and you hear Bobby:
>"Burn down the Fillmore and gas the Avalon"
>Anyone else?

Absolutely, though the line didn't make it to Anthem of the Sun. This show was towards the beginning of the Carousel's existence, I believe, the Carousel being a venue owned(?) and operated by a few SF bands, the Dead and Airplane among them. The Avalon and Fillmore were relegated to competitor status, and, Weir being Weir, he couldn't resist getting in a little dig at them. Great show, with a really nice early Spanish Jam.

Chris [Perkins]

DeadBase code: [ALLI]
First posted: April 18, 1995
Last revised: April 9, 1997