The Grateful Dead’s “Ripple” Played By Musicians Around the World (with Cameos by David Crosby, Jimmy Buffett & Bill Kreutzmann)

Poet and Grate­ful Dead lyri­cist Robert Hunter penned some of the band’s best-known songs. Even if you’re only casu­al­ly famil­iar with the Dead’s vast cat­a­logue and even vaster labyrinth of live record­ings, you can prob­a­bly sing along to clas­sics like “Casey Jones” or “Box of Rain.” Both came about dur­ing the most pro­lif­ic phase of Hunter and Jer­ry Garcia’s col­lab­o­ra­tion on the coun­try-folk mas­ter­pieces Workingman’s Dead and Amer­i­can Beau­ty, released one after the oth­er in 1970.

Among these col­lec­tions of time­less tunes, one stands above the rest: “Rip­ple” is “per­haps the quin­tes­sence of both the band’s del­i­cate stu­dio mag­ic and the Garcia/Hunter part­ner­ship,” writes Jim Beviglia at Amer­i­can Song­writer. Hunter him­self, when asked about his favorite lyric, answered, “’Let it be known there is a foun­tain / That was not made by the hands of men.’ That’s pret­ty much my favorite line I ever wrote, that’s ever popped into my head. And I believe it, you know?”

The line popped into his head in Lon­don in 1970. Jer­ry Garcia’s melody arrived short­ly there­after. “We were in Cana­da,” says Hunter, “on that train trip [the Fes­ti­val Express, 1970] and one morn­ing the train stopped and Jer­ry was sit­ting out on the tracks not too far off, in the sun­rise, set­ting ‘Rip­ple’ to music. That’s a good mem­o­ry.” They debuted it right away, “in an acoustic set at the Fill­more West on August 19, 1970,” notes David Dodd at the offi­cial Dead site, “along with first per­for­mances of ‘Broke­down Palace,’ ‘Oper­a­tor,’ and ‘Truckin’.’”

What’s so great about “Rip­ple”? Where to start. “The Dead had damn near per­fect­ed the har­monies they used heav­i­ly on Workingman’s Dead,” Beviglia writes. “The ensem­ble voic­es on ‘Rip­ple’ pro­vide com­fort when the words evoke hard­ship.” Such is the bal­ance struck by the most beau­ti­ful­ly bit­ter­sweet of Amer­i­can folk songs, from “You Are My Sun­shine” to “Will the Cir­cle Be Unbro­ken.” The lyrics them­selves “evoke cos­mic wis­dom and seren­i­ty with­out ignor­ing the dark­ness on the fringes of even the most blessed lives.”

C’mon, the cho­rus is a freakin’ haiku…

“Each of us has our own indi­vid­ual path, for our steps alone,” Dodd writes of the song. “That might seem like a fright­en­ing thought, but I find the uni­ver­sal­i­ty of it a com­fort: we’re all in the same boat.” This truth is inescapable, whether we approach it philo­soph­i­cal­ly, con­tem­pla­tive­ly, or Bib­li­cal­ly, as the song’s vers­es seem to do (with allu­sions to William But­ler Yeats). What bet­ter illus­tra­tion of this theme than a col­lec­tion of musi­cians from around the world—some famous some obscure—playing the song alone togeth­er in Play­ing for Change’s excel­lent col­lab­o­ra­tion video above?

Among the famous names we have Jim­my Buf­fett, David Cros­by, David Hidal­go of Los Lobos, and Bill Kreutz­mann him­self. The joy this song evokes is unmis­tak­able on the faces of the musi­cians: no mat­ter who sings it, “Rip­ple” is a song that brings peo­ple togeth­er by remind­ing us that exis­tence is much vaster than our indi­vid­ual lives. Play­ing for Change has pre­vi­ous­ly brought togeth­er inter­na­tion­al musi­cians for oth­er clas­sic sing-along songs from the Amer­i­can (and Jamaican and Cana­di­an) pop­u­lar song­book. See more in the links below.

Relat­ed Con­tent:  

Icon­ic Songs Played by Musi­cians Around the World: “Stand by Me,” “Redemp­tion Song,” & More

Musi­cians Around the World Play The Band’s Clas­sic Song, “The Weight,” with Help from Rob­bie Robert­son and Ringo Starr

Musi­cians Around the World Play “Lean on Me,” the Uplift­ing Song by Bill With­ers (RIP)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (9)
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  • Dawn Gutierrez says:

    Thank you for shar­ing this arti­cle and video.

  • Steve says:

    Nice piece about a great song. One small error. Jer­ry Gar­cia didn’t co-write “Box of Rain.” Hunter wrote it with Phil Lesh.

  • Briso K. Poole says:

    I always thought that Phil Lesh co-wrote this also but ” don’t real­ly care ” it could have been a col­lab­o­ra­tive effort after a long strange trip !
    Some­times some of the lines pop into my head while watch­ing Har­ry Pot­ter movies which keeps me com­pa­ny when I’m all alone…

  • Briso K. Poole says:

    Or see­ing dou­ble which some­times hap­pens in my world but not behind the wheel any more Thank God! I did find it inter­est­ing that the fes­ti­val express played a part in the Birth of Rip­ple that with all of the unrest going on at the con­cert sites to know that Jer­ry heard / wrote the music while sit­ting on the track while the train was tak­ing on sup­plies or what­ev­er…

  • Susan Hubbard says:

    Love this! Can you tell us when it was made? Obvi­ous­ly before social dis­tanc­ing became the rule

  • I could listen to this all day thank you so much says:

    Was intro­duced to The Dead when I was 29, I fell in love with the music, the spirt of the mes­sage and fell in love with the man that took me to win­ter­land. In San Francisco.i was in awe of the whole expe­ri­ence. We had 20 years of crazy love, and mar­riage, and the music was with us through­out .Thank you so so much.
    There was an album we had that I went crazy over ‚by jer­ry called Sweet Steal of him play­ing a steal gui­tar? I ve looked for it and inquired about it, my sweet man is no longer on this earth . I know we had lots of days that were slight­ly fog­gy, I know that album was real. Do know what I talk­ing about???

  • Nicole says:

    I believe it was 5 years ago

  • Serena says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Won­der­ful arti­cle. The world musi­cians are mag­i­cal, and I’ve been lis­ten­ing to that and the orig­i­nal you includ­ed for 3 days now.

    One cor­rec­tion: the cho­rus does­n’t appear to be a haiku. A haiku is three lines of 5 syl­la­bles, 7 syl­la­bles, and 5 syl­la­bles.

    The “Rip­ple” cho­rus is three lines of 6 syl­la­bles, 7 syl­la­bles, and 4 syl­la­bles.

    Again, thank you.

  • Serena says:

    Gosh. If you count the word “in” in the cho­rus as 2 syl­la­bles, then the first line is 7 syl­la­bles.

    Again, in a haiku, the first line has 5 syl­la­bles, then 7, then 5.

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