"I set out running but I take my time..."

The Annotated "Friend of the Devil"

An installment in The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics.
By David Dodd
1997-98 Research Associate, Music Dept., University of California Santa Cruz
Copyright notice
Topic # 30 on the WELL's Deadlit conference is about "Friend of the Devil."
"Friend of the Devil"
Words by Robert Hunter; music by Jerry Garcia and John Dawson
Copyright Ice Nine Publishing; used by permission

I lit out from Reno
I was trailed by twenty hounds
Didn't get to sleep that night
Till the morning came around

I set out running but I take my time
A friend of the Devil is a friend of mine
If I get home before daylight
I might get some sleep tonight

I ran into the Devil, babe
He loaned me twenty bills
I spent that night in Utah
In a cave up in the hills

I set out running but I take my time
A friend of the devil is a friend of mine
If I get home before daylight
I might get some sleep tonight

I ran down to the levee
But the Devil caught me there
He took my twenty dollar bill
And he vanished in the air

I set out running but I take my time
A friend of the Devil is a friend of mine
If I get home before daylight
I might get some sleep tonight

Got two reasons why I cry
away each lonely night
First one's named sweet Anne Marie
and she's my heart's delight
Second one is prison, baby
the sheriff's on my trail
If he catches up with me
I'll spend my life in jail

Got a wife in Chino, babe
And one in Cherokee
First one says she's got my child
But it don't look like me

I set out running but I take my time
A friend of the Devil is a friend of mine
If I get home before daylight
I might get some sleep tonight

"Friend of the Devil"

Hunter has posted the manuscript of an early draft of the song in his archives.

Recorded on

The song has been covered fairly extensively:

First performance was on February 28, 1970, at the Family Dog at the Great Highway, in San Francisco. The show featured a brief acoustic set sandwiched between two electric sets, and "Friend of the Devil" was in turn sandwiched between "The Monkey and the Engineer" and "Black Peter." It has remained in the repertoire ever since. The version played by the band in later years was a slow, stately one, inspired, according to Garcia, by a Kenny Loggins version of the song.

Bob Dylan covers the tune in concert.

Tom Petty and his band also covered FOTD, on January 20, 1997, at the Fillmore Auditorium. Anyone have a tape of this?

Hunter, in an interview in Relix, said:

"I like 'Friend of the Devil'; I thought that was the closest we've come towhat may be a classic song." --Vol. 5, #2, p. 25.

And in Behind the Hits, he describes the process of writing the song, on page 47.

Hunter's online journal entry of February 23, 2006, gave his recollections of the origins of the song:

Buddy Cage called last night and we had a good rave about plans to revive the Riders. He doesn't want to call it a reunion since, as he pointed out, half the guys are dead. He wants to call it a renaissance. Why not?

I was just remembering how Friend of the Devil got written. First off I wrote these four verses one afternoon back in 1969.

image of handwritten lyrics of Friend of the Devil

I was living in Madrone canyon with the Garcias. The NRPS had asked me if I wanted to play bass with them and it seemed like a good idea at the time. So I worked up that song on bass, added a few verses plus a chorus and went over to where David Nelson and John Dawson were living in Kentfield and taught them the tune. The "Sweet Anne Marie" verse which was later to become a bridge was only one of the verses, not yet a bridge. The chorus went:

I set out running but I take my time
It looks like water but it tastes like wine
If I get home before daylight
I just might get some sleep tonight.

I'd changed the fourth verse, about parlaying the twenty dollars into five thousand and, except for the all important Friend of the Devil hook, the lyrics were pretty much as they stand today minus a fifth verse which goes:

You can borrow from the Devil
You can borrow from a friend
But the Devil give you twenty
When your friend got only ten

We all went down to the kitchen to have espresso made in Dawson's new machine. We got to talking about the tune and John said the verses were nifty except for "it looks like water but it tastes like wine" which I had to admit fell flat. Suddenly Dawson's eyes lit up and he crowed "How about "a friend of the devil is a friend of mine." Bingo, not only the right line but a memorable title as well!

We ran back upstairs to Nelson's room and recorded the tune. I took the tape home and left it on the kitchen table. Next morning I heard earlybird Garcia (who hadn't been at the rehearsal - had a gig, you know) wanging away something familiar sounding on the peddle steel. Danged if it wasn't "Friend of the Devil." With a dandy bridge on the "sweet Anne Marie" verse. He was not in the least apologetic about it. He'd played the tape, liked it, and faster than you can say dog my cats it was in the Grateful Dead repertoire.

Although I learned all the tunes, I never did play a gig with the NRPS, who were doing strictly club dates at the time. For one reason or another I never quite fathomed, though I have my suspicions, I got shut out. Either that or I misread the signs and wasn't inclined to push. Nothing was ever said. In any event, a fellow named Dave Torbert showed up about that time. Just as well. One dedicated songwriter in the band was enough.


A city in Nevada, county seat of Washoe County. According to The Illustrated Dictionary of Place Names, Reno was named for
"Reno, Jesse Lee (1823-1862), Virginia-born Union general killed at the Battle of South Mountain during the Antietam campaign of the Civil War. He had previously served as an ordinance officer during various Western surveys, including those in Utah territory."

It's interesting to note that Reno was originally in the Utah Territory, which makes the character's one-day run from Reno to Utah seem a little more believable. However, this condition existed for only eleven years (1850-1861), after which Nevada became its own territory, then its own state (1864).

trailed by twenty hounds

A note from a reader:
Subject: Friend of the Devil
Date: Mon, 04 Oct 1999 09:15:39 PDT
From: "Ann Mary Quarandillo"

David -

I was reading your entry on Friend of the Devil and wanted to see what you think on "I was trailed by twenty hounds."

I always thought this was a reference to the "hounds of hell" who work for the Devil chasing down escaped souls or sinners and dragging them back to Hell.

Also could relate to Robert Johnson's "Hellhound on my Trail" - the image is of a person who is unable to stop running, to eat or to sleep at night because the hellhounds will invade his dreams and take his soul to hell while he sleeps.

Hellhound on My Trail (Robert Johnson)

I got to keep movin'
I got to keep movin'
blues fallin' down like hail
blues fallin' down like hail
Umm mmm mmm mmm
blues fallin' down like hail
blues fallin' down like hail
And the days keeps on worryin' me
there's a hellhound on my trail
hellhound on my trail
hellhound on my trail

If today was Christmas Eve
If today was Christmas Eve
and tomorrow was Christmas Day
If today was Christmas Eve
and tomorrow was Christmas Day
spoken: Aow, wouldn't we have a time, baby?

All I would need my little sweet rider just
to pass the time away, huh huh
to pass the time away

You sprinkled hot foot powder, mmm
mmm, around my door
all around my door
You sprinkled hot foot powder
all around your daddy's door, hmm hmm hmm
It keep me with ramblin' mind, rider
every old place I go
every old place I go

I can tell the wind is risin'
the leaves tremblin' on the tree
Tremblin' on the tree
I can tell the wind is risin'
leaves tremblin' on the tree
hmm hmm hmm mmm
All I need's my little sweet woman
and to keep my company, hey hey hey hey
my company

Or - could be none of the above!

Thanks for a great site - Ann Mary

The Devil

Here's an interesting comment from Eliade:
"Devils: The definition and derivation of the term devil need to be carefully delineated. This need for care in defining devil arises from the fact that the very class of creatures being designated as malign may have been originally benign or may be capable of acting in either a benign or malign way."

A friend of the devil is a friend of mine

The folk singer Bill Morrissey, in his song "Car and Driver" on his album Standing Eight, has a wonderful couplet:
"Well I've just airbrushed my Econoline
A friend of the devil is a friend of mine"
The song is about equating cars with their drivers, and pokes fun at many segments of society--not singling out Deadheads... His work is highly recommended.

Another reference to this line comes from Don McLean's "American Pie". The following comes from the Annotated American Pie:

'Cause fire is the devil's only friend

It's possible that this is a reference to the Grateful Dead's "Friend of the Devil".

An alternative interpretation of the last four lines is that they may refer to Jack Kennedy and his quick decisions during the Cuban Missile Crisis; the candlesticks/fire refer to ICBMs and nuclear war.

For a wonderful alternate take on the possible relationship between "Friend of the Devil" and "American Pie," see Ed Chapin's A Piece of the Pie. (Now only available on the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine.)


45th State of the Union, admitted 1896.
"Utah. From the Indian name Ute... variously defined as "in the tops of the mountains", "high-up", "the land of the sun", and "the land of plenty"." --Illustrated Dictionary of Place Names.

Utah was a territory whose span embraced what is now Nevada, which, as noted above in the note for "Reno," makes the protagonist's run from Reno to Utah in a day somewhat more explicable.


"Chino, Calif. (San Bernardino Co.) From a land grant called Santa Ana del Chino. Chino is Spanish for a person with mixed blood; probably the landowner was a chino." --Illustrated Dictionary of Place Names.

Also the location of a prison in the California system, mainly for the criminally insane.


There are several Cherokee's in California:
  1. Cherokee, CA: Butte County, California (06007); Location: 39 38 47 N, 121 32 14 W
  2. Cherokee, CA: Nevada County, California (06057); Location: 39 22 13 N, 121 02 31 W
  3. Cherokee, CA: San Joaquin County, California (06077); Location: 38 09 31 N, 121 14 32 W
  4. Cherokee, CA: Tuolumne County, California (06109); Location: 37 58 54 N, 120 14 48 W
(Source: U.S. Gazetteer: formerly a link to the Geographic Name Server at the University of Michigan, which no longer seems to exist.)

There are also towns named Cherokee in Alabama, Iowa, Kansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Texas.

keywords: @crime, @devil, @levee, @geography
DeadBase code: [FOTD]
First posted: May 3, 1995
Last revised: February 27, 2006