Monday, October 28, 2019

The Folk Process at Work

[I first posted the following in 2010, when this blog and the world were young; I had forgotten two of the three versions of the song featured since then, so for a variety of reasons -- including the fact that I've recently gotten interested in the live tapes of the Grateful Dead recorded before they got their record deal -- I thought it might be worth revisiting. In any case, enjoy if possible. -- S.S.]

From 1966 (but unreleased until 1989) here's The Byrds (at the height of their powers) and a very cool studio version of the venerable "I Know You Rider."

And from a year later, here's land-locked Boulder, Colorado surf band The Astronauts with another perspective on the song.

[Audio Note: This is one of those really weird early stereo mixes -- it sounds horrible on headphones, but just fine on real speakers. Act accordingly.]

And finally, from the Avalon Ballroom in late September 1966, here's the Dead with their take.

The song itself is as old as the proverbial hills, although its first modern appearance dates back to a 1934 John and Alan Lomax folklore anthology; by the 60s, it was pretty much a blues and folkie standard. The Byrds opened their live shows with it for much of 1966-67, but that version was in majestic open-D tuning; the studio track above is in G, the better to emulate (as Roger McGuinn has noted on several occasions) The Beatles then current "Paperback Rider." The Dead also used to play it a lot back in the day; it's no secret I'm not particularly a fan, but I must admit that discovering this version was a bit of an eye-opener. It noodles a little too much for my taste (so what else is new?) but it works up a pretty effective head of steam by the time it sort of collides to a halt.

Actually, on balance I think I kind of prefer the Astronauts' cover. The whole surf thing was of course pretty much passé at this point, and their albums found them trying on whatever current rock styles they thought they could credibly get away with, with often cringeworthy results. But this one has a genuinely authentic folk-rock vibe and the rhythm section really kicks; if the San Francisco hippies in the psychedelic ballrooms the year this was released had actually heard it, I suspect they might even have approved.


pete said...

There was a period of about two years there when the Dead really looked like they were on to something. Then they succumbed to the same malady that did in Big Brother - to wit, not everyone in the band could play or sing well. I'd have turned to heroin, too. Hell, I may yet.

Anonymous said...


Didn't The Hounds have a live version of "Rider" also?

Captain Al

steve simels said...

We stole it from the Byrds live version.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes stealing is genius! Ask Dylan.

Captain Al