Black Muddy River

Lyrics: Robert Hunter
Music: Jerry Garcia

Recorded on the album In The Dark. In a 1992 interview with Steve Silberman, Hunter said:

Hunter: The black muddy river is a dream that I've had maybe three or four times over my life, and it is one of the most chilling experiences that I've had. It's enough to turn you religious. I've burrowed under this incredible mansion, gone down into the cellars, and I find myself down at this black, lusterless, slow-flowing Stygian river. There are marble columns around, and cobwebs. It's vast and it's hopeless. It's death, it's death, with the absence of the soul. It's my horror vision, and when I come out of that dream I do anything I can to counter it.

Silberman: And yet, in "Black Muddy River" you're not saying flee the banks of this dark place. You're saying walk along the banks, and sing a song of your own making.

Hunter: Right. And what's on the other side of it is . . . whatever it is. It's a bit of whistling in the dark. I'll face whatever it is, because I wouldn't have any choice, would I? So, you might as well go for it.
When the last rose of summer pricks my fingers
And the hot sun chills me to the bone
When I can't hear the song for the singer
And I can't tell my pillow from a stone

I will walk alone by the black muddy river
And sing me a song of my own
I will walk alone by the black muddy river
Sing me a song of my own

When the last bolt of sunshine hits the mountain
And the stars seem to splatter in the sky
When the moon splits the south west horizon
And scream of an eagle on the fly

I will walk alone by the black muddy river
And listen to the ripples as they moan
I will walk alone by the black muddy river
Sing me a song of my own

Black muddy river
Roll on forever
I don't care how deep and wide (note a)
If you got another side
Roll muddy river
Roll muddy river
Black muddy river, roll

When it seems like the night will last forever
And there's nothing left to do but count the years
When the strings of my heart start to sever
And stones fall from my eyes instead of tears

I will walk alone by the black muddy river
And dream me a dream of my own (note b)
I will walk alone by the black muddy river
Sing me a song of my own
And sing me a song of my own
(a) Hunter's handwritten lyrics have the lines here as "All the tears that lovers cry/Will fill you by and by"
(b) Hunter's handwritten lyrics have these lines as "And remember when [?] were [?]" - I can't read the missing words.
(c) Hunter's handwritten lyrics also unclude a version of what became the chorus to Silvio

Grateful Dead Recordings
     Date Album
     (studio) 5 Dec 1986 In The Dark   (note 2)
     (studio) Jan 1987 In The Dark   (note 1)
      3 Apr 1989 Download Series Vol 9
     12 Jul 1989 RFK Stadium 1989 Box
     14 Mar 1990 Spring 1990 (The Other One)
      2 Apr 1990 Spring 1990
(Plus live recordings by The Dead, Furthur, Dead & Company, Ratdog, Phil Lesh & Friends etc not listed here. See Grateful Dead Family Discography for a full list.)
Other Recordings
     Date Album Recorded By
     1996 Norma Waterson Norma Waterson
     1997 Fire On The Mountain Vol 2 Reggae Celebrates The Grateful Dead (Israel Vibration)
     1998 Heart Of England Volume 2 Waterson: Carthy (note 3)
     2000 Might As Well The Persuasions (note 4)
     2000 Wake The Dead Danny Carnahan et al
     2000 Crazy Fingers The Grass Is Dead
     2000 Here Come The Noisemakers Bruce Hornsby
     2001 Gifts From The Dead Gifts From The Dead
     2002 Live: Aug 2 2002, Asheville NC Bruce Hornsby (note 5)
     2003 Ukelele Summit 5 Various (Mark Cass & Uke Topia)
     2003 Guitar Harvest Vol 1 Joel Harrison
     2003 All Together Now Danny Kalb
     2005 Bee Speed Bee Speed
     2005 Hell Or High Water Andrew Murray
     2006 Faces Blueground Undergrass
     2006 The Kingsmill Valley Na Mara
     2007 Stories Misty River
     2008 Tesseract³ Tesseract³
     2008 Songs I Grew Up To Siobahn O'Brien
     2010 Songs Of The Grateful Dead Jesse McReynolds
     2011 The Wheel: A Musical Celebration of Jerry Garcia Jesse McReynolds, David Nelson et al
     2013 Harpin' On The Dead Anela Lauren
     2014 Aug 23 2014, San Rafael CA Anders Osborne (note 5)
     2015 Oct 29 2015, Phoenix AZ Greensky Bluegrass (note 5)
     2015 The Promised Land Sagol 59 & Ami Yares
     2015 Songs Of Their Own Anders Osborne & Luther Dickinson
     2016 Day Of The Dead Bruce Hornsby and DeYarmond Edison
     2016 Wolf (single) Stephen Kellogg
     2016 Zen-rhymed songs of Grateful Dead vol. 1 Warlocks of Tokyo
     2017 Southern Blood Gregg Allman
     2018 Grateful Dub Roots of Creation

(1) also on the compilations The Arista Years and The Best Of The Grateful Dead.
(2) rehearsal issued as a bonus track in the box set Beyond Description (1973-1990)
(3) I think it is this version which is also on the Watersons' Box Set "Mighty River Of Song." A different live Waterson:Carthy recording (from July 2000) was released on a German compilation "Tanz & Folkfest Rudolstadt." There's also what I think is a different live Waterson:Carthy version on "Cool As Folk" from the Cambridge Folk Festival.
(4) also on the compilation "Stolen Roses." And re-released in 2011 on "Persuasions of the Dead"
(5) The list above includes only one illustrative example of the series of live recordings by these artists. For a full list see the Grateful Dead Family Discography.

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 2 (piano arrangement)
          Built To Last Songbook (piano arrangment)
          Garcia/Hunter Songbook (vocal line and chords/TAB)


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