By Nate Lapointe

Wheel To the Storm and Fly

Welcome to “How Does the Song Go?” A column dedicated to taking you deeper into the realms of the Grateful Dead’s music than ever before. Today we will contrast and compare versions of “Cassidy” ten years apart from one another. The first version will be from 1980 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. As you may be aware, this run of shows featured an acoustic set plus two electric sets, culminating in two live albums, Reckoning and Dead Set. 

Listening to this version during the research phase of this article, I was reminded at just how brisk they kept the tempo, a moving 161bpm. You’ll notice when we listen to the electric version from 1990 in a few moments that the tempo is considerably slower, weighing in at a mere 150bpm. 

The form structure of the two versions is identical during the main vocal section, including the brief instrumental that utilizes the chords from the verse. Brent is very loud in this mix and is dominating the soundscape, but it’s fun to lean your ear towards the Bob Weir guitar part, a part which he’s clearly worked at and defined. They return to a short vocal interlude, “Fare thee well now, let your life proceed by its own design. Nothing to tell now, let the words be yours I’m done with mine.” What follows is the open instrumental jam which does not utilize the verse chord changes. Instead, they use a peculiar tonality, an E+4 or E Lydian tonality. Those armed with some music theory knowledge would know that in a normal E Major tonality, we would have an A natural. However in Lydian, this fourth note is raised up a half step making it an A#. Brent even implies an F# Major triad over top of the E chord, giving us that A# note. This singular note change gives the jam a more mysterious and flavorful feel. Think of it as adding some fresh garlic to your pasta sauce. They keep with this flavor for only about 50 seconds until at 4:05 they return to the “Flight of the seabirds” refrain to conclude the piece. 

You just heard the electric version from Shoreline on 6/16/90. A considerable drop in tempo, now down to 150bpm as we mentioned earlier. The electric instruments add more clarity to the overall sound. In addition, Bob Weir’s guitar is panned to the left and Brent’s keyboard is over in the right channel, adding definition. Enjoyable is the instrumental section (2:17) over the verse changes as you remember the Bob Weir guitar part from the acoustic version. Not only is it easier to hear his part, but you can also hear that Jerry has developed a counterpoint part over the last ten years to compliment Bob’s. The video work on this version is masterful and is a great addition to the sonic painting being presented by the boys and sound crew alike.

When we get to the open jam, we are transported to another dimension with the E Lydian tonality, this time going more than twice as long (3:28-4:30) until Weir cues an F# chord which has already been predetermined to last for eight bars. From this change until the vocal refrain it’s all new arrangement material since the 1980 version. 

Now a return to the E Lydian mode, but for a shorter period, until Weir again cues the F# chord (5:07) for another eight bars. Now they ascend to a G# minor chord for eight bars (5:20) which slingshots us back into the vocal refrain and guitar hook to end the song. These additions add a considerable amount to time (two minutes) and explorative possibilities to the song, making it a contender for the jam in a first set.

Most modern Grateful Dead tribute acts maintain this 1990 arrangement unless they are performing a Dead show setlist and have done their homework. Having been through nearly three years of columns with me, I present to you a pair of challenges:

  1. Go back and listen to different versions of Cassidy throughout the years and see if you can spot when these additions take place. I’ll give you a clue, the 1976 versions don’t even have the Lydian mode yet, it’s just an E7 tonality, one that’s found in many Grateful Dead jams.
  2. When you hear “Cassidy” at Skull & Roses – Ventura this April (and you WILL), try to notice which arrangement version you’re hearing and wait for the cues from the “Bobby” in the band.

See you next week, happy listening!

Nate LaPointe is a member of Cubensis, SoCal’s premier Grateful Dead music experience. In addition, Nate has worked with many artists including Bobby Womack, Vince Welnick, and Selena Gomez. Nate currently resides in Redondo Beach, CA where he performs, teaches, and records music.