Sugar Magnolia

Lyrics: Robert Hunter/Bob Weir
Music: Bob Weir

In an interview with Alan Paul in 2001, Bob Weir explained the the background to this song:

“That was my take on Southern Rock, inspired by hanging out with Delaney and Bonnie. I also incorporated ideas from Cajun fiddle music. The song fit right in with what Jerry and Hunter were doing on Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty. We sort of forgot our roots during our psychedelic era, but as soon as we stopped taking psychedelics with any absurd regularity and put our feet back on the ground, our love of American music took back over and those albums resulted.”
Sugar Magnolia, blossoms blooming
Head's all empty and I don't care
Saw my baby down by the river
Knew she'd have to come up soon for air

Sweet blossom, come on under the willow (note a)
We can have high times if you'll abide
We can discover the wonders of nature
Rolling in the rushes down by the riverside

She's got everything delightful (note a)
She's got everything I need
Takes the wheel when I'm seeing double
Pays my ticket when I speed

She comes skimming through rays of violet
She can wade in a drop of dew
She don't come and I don't follow
Waits backstage while I sing to you

She can dance a Cajun rhythm (note a)
Jump like a Willys in four wheel drive
She's a summer love in the spring, fall and winter (note b)
She can make happy any man alive

Sugar Magnolia
Ringing that bluebell
Caught up in sunlight
Come on out singing and I'll walk you in the sunshine
Come on honey, come along with me

She's got everything delightful (note a)
She's got everything I need
A breeze in the pines and the summer night moonlight (note c)
Lazing in the sunlight, yes indeed

Sometimes when the cuckoo's crying
When the moon is half way down
Sometimes when the night is dying
I take me out and I wander around
I wander round

Sunshine Daydream

Sunshine daydream
Walk you in the tall trees
Going where the wind goes
Blooming like a red rose
Breathing more freely
Light out singing
I'll walk you in the morning sunshine
Sunshine daydream
Sunshine daydream
Walking in the sunshine
[etc] (note d) (note e) (note f)
(a) these verses by Bob Weir
(b) these are the lyrics in "Box Of Rain." But Bob Weir often sings "She's my summer love ..." (thanks to Marty O'Hare for pointing this out)
(c) the songbooks all have this line as "... and the sun and bright moonlight" but I think that's a mistake. Hunter in Box of Rain has it as "summer night moonlight"
(d) thanks to David Gans for pointing out that on 26 March 1972, Bob Weir sang
Take a great notion
Sunshine daydream
Rollin' like the ocean
Sunshine daydream
(e) Bob Weir often varied what he sang. For example, he sang "Rolling over sweetly" in place of "Breathing more freely". And "Roaming more freely", "[unclear] more easily", etc. As well as "Come on over daydream", "Sweet flowing daydream" etc etc. (thanks to Todd Prusin)
(f) on June 20 1983, Bob Weir added this (spoken) oddity into Sunshine Daydream:
You know, way down, way down under
The people they call the aborigines
They think that dreams are the real side of life
They think this side is the dream side
So what do you think about that?
The BBC TV documentary "Classic Albums: Anthem To Beauty" includes a shot of what I assume are Robert Hunter's handwritten lyrics to Sugar Magnolia. These are not in Hunter's online list of handwritten lyrics, and are very different to the final version - which is ironic given that they are shown during a segment when Bob Weir is talking about how Hunter was writing the end of the lyrics in the studio during the recording of the song, and Bob took them and sang them straight off the paper.
Fallen Carolina hooker, Ave Marie
No I can't be taking you here with me
Don't want you there for my mama to see
But here's 10 to see you through Saturday
(Soon you wait down under the magnolia tree)

Sugar magnolia, the blossom is bare
Haven't got a thought about it, that's all I care
Chugging locomotive manicure my line
Wrote a note to tell you everything is fine

[the next two lines are crossed out - the question mark is Hunter's]
Only one thing that troubles my mind
? don't grow in the wintertime

Sugar magnolia
Remember I told you
You can't go casting notions
With no string on the line

Sugar magnolia
Recall what I said
You can't indulge your nation
If you ain't got no bread

Sugar magnolia, you better beware
One of these days you look I'm gonna be there
Kindly remember I meant what I said
Catch you foolin' round I'm gonna lay you down dead
In an interview in March 1978 with Denis McNamara for 92.7 WLIR-FM Garden City, New York for the "Sunday At 9:00" program, Robert Hunter illustrated the development of the song by singing a fragment from the version above:
Sugar magnolia, the blossom is bare
Haven't got a thought about it, that's all I care
Chugging locomotive manicure my line
Wrote a note to tell you everybody is fine

Sugar magnolia
You can't bear to beware
You can't go casting notions
With a hook in the air
That interview contains some interesting comments by Hunter about how the song was written:
"That's a song that went through a lot of transitions ... the thing started with some kind of ... I had a melody for it [takes up guitar and sings the fragment above]

"Then I passed that on to Weir and it turned into the monster that it is. He just worked to death on it. And Weir's a hard task-master - he wants everything to be just the way he wants it. So we went around and around and around. And he'd go off and work on it some more, and bring it back and demand more lyrics or better lyrics. And then when it was all done, he wanted some extravaganza to cap it all off. So I wrote that Sunshine Daydream thing for it right in the studio. I just went out and wrote it down. And it turns out [Bob said] that's just fine, and tacked it on.

"I do think that's a monster. The first time that song ever came off was in Chicago. They had been playing it a lot but the audience had only reacted very mildly to it. So Bob Matthews was at the soundboard at that time, and he went off into the audience or backstage or something like that, and there was nobody there at the sound-booth. So I zipped in there, and Weir starts singing it, and I just cranked his vocal up. 'Cause there was a thing that everything should be at the same level including the voices which tended to get lost, so I just cranked it up, and the audience just sat up, and then they had the reaction to it at the end that they've had ever since. So from that point, that vocal got turned up - Matthews came running back and smacked my hands."

Grateful Dead Recordings

Other Recordings

Further Information
For an online discussion of the lyrics to this song see the deadsongs.vue conference on The Well.
For more information on recordings see Matt Schofield's Grateful Dead Family Discography
For information on references in the lyrics see David Dodd's Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics
For David Dodd's discussion of this song on see Greatest Stories Ever Told
For online chords and TAB see
For sheet music, see:
          Grateful Dead Anthology Volume 1 (piano arrangement)
          Grateful Dead Authentic Guitar Classics Volume 1 (guitar TAB)
          Grateful Dead Songbook Volume 1 (piano arrangement)
          Hundred Year Hall songbook (guitar TAB)
          Very Best Of The Grateful Dead (guitar TAB)


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