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We continue with our analysis of Jack Straw

Deeper into the realms of the Grateful Dead’s music than you’ve ever gone before
by Nate LaPointe

We continue this week with our analysis of Jack Straw, specifically when Jerry took over the verses from Bob in the middle of the Europe tour of 1972. To recap, we know the official released version is from 5/3/72 in Paris. The vocals, however, are overdubbed, which is why you hear Garcia singing his verses. He actually took over on May 10th in Amsterdam. 

Here’s WHY they changed to this format and kept it for the duration…

Following the storyline and the three voices that we mentioned last week, you know that the song starts with the narrator saying, “We can share the women we can share the wine.” This line is harmonized, as are ALL narrator lines throughout the song. Shannon, sung by Garcia, comes in with, “I just jumped the watchman.” Jack Straw, sung by Weir, adds, “Hurts my ears to listen, Shannon, it burns my eyes to see,” and continues after the first jam with, “we used to play for silver, now we play for life.”

The narrator comes back in with, “Leavin’ Texas, Fourth day of July.” Shannon chimes in with, “Gotta go to Tulsa.” And again Jack Straw responds with, “There ain’t no place a man can hide, Shannon,” in true dialogue fashion. They do another jam and the narrator comes back in with the conclusion of the story, “Jack Straw from Wichita cut his buddy down,” harmonized, of course.

For a particularly interesting listen, go check out the version from Eugene on 8/22/93. You’ll notice it’s a very long version due to the second jam being exceptionally drawn out. Talking to folks who were at the show and listening back to the tapes, Bob Weir’s guitar goes out early in that second jam. The band continues to jam while Weir works out what seemed to be a wireless pack issue or possibly a broken string. Garcia peaks numerous times until Weir’s guitar comes back. The vocals commence soon thereafter and it adds up to about a nine minute “Jack Straw.” I highly suggest you go find it. It exists.

Another fun version is from Oakland on 7/24/87 during that Dylan and the Dead tour. “Jack Straw” opens the show but not after some traditional Italian music warm-ups while Weir gets his guitar sounding right. He appears to pick something up that looks like a tuner and throw it out of frustration. So they finally get into “Jack Straw” and during the jam, Weir is trying to cue the band back into, “Jack Straw from Wichita,” but Garcia keeps playing. I highly suggest you go find it. It exists.

Let’s close by listening to another complete version, this one from May 15, 1980 and can be found on the official release entitled, Go to Nassau. Enjoy!