By all measures, 1977 was a banner year for the Grateful Dead. The year featured some of the most storied and time-tested performances in the band’s decades-long touring career, with the ’77 spring tour alone including some of their best performances before Jerry Garcia‘s death. Books have been written, films made, and countless words exchanged discussing the group’s Cornell University’s Barton Hall performance on 5/8/77, the near-consensus most famous show the band ever played. Then there’s the following evening’s incredible show at War Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo (5/9/77), which is frequently used as an argument as to why Barton Hall is actually overrated (i.e. “Cornell ’77 wasn’t even the best show that week, man”). The two shows that preceded Cornell—at Boston Garden in Boston, MA (5/7/77) and Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum in New Haven, CT (5/5/77)—have also reached hallowed ground in the Grateful Dead archives. And the Dead’s historic year on stage in 1977 extends far beyond that single magical week in early May. Just listen to their 5/22/77 at The Sportatorium in Pembroke Pines, FL. Or the San Francisco shows at the Winterland Arena in June. Or the Chicago shows on 5/12/77 and 5/13/77. Or their show at Raceway Park in Englishtown, NJ that Fall. The list goes on and on.
And then, of course, there’s the Grateful Dead’s 1977 studio masterpiece, Terrapin Station, the band’s first album after their mid-70’s hiatus and arguably the most impressive and far-reaching album of their career. The songs and imagery established on Terrapin Station went on to become central pieces of live shows and Dead culture. The dancing turtles with tambourines from the album’s cover now adorn t-shirts, bumper stickers, breweries, venues, and the like. Tunes like Bob Weir original “Estimated Prophet,” performed in a complex, irregular meter, showcase the band’s hard-won rhythmic superpowers. The title medley that makes up the LP’s entire B-side (originally dubbed “Terrapin Part 1,” but frequently referred to as the “Terrapin Suite”) is easily the band’s most significant composition, with iconic melodies and lyrics that came to Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter in separate jolts of inspiration on the same day during a Bay Area lightning storm. The Terrapin Suite’s first three parts were reworked as a live number behind drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart‘s rhythmic arrangement and went on to become the most precious of jewels in the Dead’s live crown, the emotional centerpiece of any set in which it appears. Whatever your personal connection is to Terrapin, if you are a fan of the Grateful Dead, it’s more than likely that this album has moved you brightly in one way or another.
[LOCKN’ photo via Joshua Timmermans]
This summer, in celebration of Terrapin Station‘s 40th anniversary, Weir will reunite with founding bassist Phil Lesh and his Terrapin Family Band, as well as vocalist Nicki Bluhm, to recreate the album in its entirety at LOCKN’. With the LP’s milestone birthday and this one-time-only performance by Phil and Bobby rapidly approaching, we talked to some of our favorite musicians—including Warren Haynes (Gov’t Mule), Grahame Lesh (Terrapin Family Band, Midnight North), Vinnie Amico (moe.), John “Barber” Gutwillig (Disco Biscuits), Neal Casal (Circles Around The Sun), Marcus King, and “Scrambled” Greg Ormont (Pigeons Playing Ping Pong)—about Terrapin Station, its legacy, and its influence on them as musicians.
What comes to mind when you think of the Grateful Dead’s Terrapin Station, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year?
[Neal Casal photo via Jay Blakesberg]
Neal Casal (Circles Around The Sun, Chris Robinson Brotherhood): “Terrapin Station reminds me of that great mid-to-late 70’s period when musicianship, technology, and songwriting all came together to turn record making into high art. The bar was so high at that point in terms of the way records were performed, engineered, and mixed. It’s a truly classic record that has aged beautifully and still sounds fresh today.”
Warren Haynes (Gov’t Mule): “The song ‘Terrapin Station’ is probably my favorite Grateful Dead song. Very infectious and completely unique—it defies categorization. I also love ‘Estimated Prophet.'”
Grahame Lesh (Terrapin Family Band; Midnight North): “I mostly just think of the amazing songs that fill that album and how under-appreciated the entire thing seemed before this big anniversary. The entire band was at the top of their game when they made Terrapin Station, and despite anything the band members might say about not being a studio band, this is one of many ridiculously great collections of songs that they put out—highlighted by the ‘Terrapin Suite,’ of course.”
[Marcus King photo via Phierce Photo by Keith G.]
Marcus King (The Marcus King Band): “When I think about ‘Terrapin Station,’ my first thought is turtles with tambourines—mainly because I love turtles.”
Vinnie Amico (moe.): “I’m old! Time flies. Also, that is one of my, if not my favorite, Grateful Dead studio records.”
Greg Ormont (Pigeons Playing Ping Pong): “‘Terrapin Station’ always makes me think of my dad because it’s his favorite Dead album. The song itself is damn near perfect. Once you hear the opening chords, you know you’re in for a wild ride for the next 15-30 minutes, which is rare these days.
What particular songs/sections/aspects of the album stand out to you and why?
[Warren Haynes photo via Joshua Timmermans]
Casal: “The ‘Terrapin Suite’ is just an absolutely masterful piece of composition and performance, the likes of which no one is even coming close to these days. It boggles the mind how they put the whole thing together and how long it must have taken to perfect it. I’ve always wondered how long it took for them to learn it and what the process of recording it was like. It must have been incredibly intense.”
Haynes: “I really like the way the songs take the listener on a journey through different musical sections, some of which are very unexpected. That’s something I enjoy doing in my own music as well.”
Lesh: “It changes each time I listen! I still think that version of ‘Estimated Prophet’ stands out as another highlight—there aren’t many great, hooky songs like that in 7/8 time signatures, and even fewer where the time signature helps it be that great instead of being a gimmick. The entire ‘Terrapin Suite’ is amazing to me as well because of its completeness. It’s rare to hear the whole thing performed, but when it is, it’s pretty stunning to think about the ambition that brought the entire Suite into the world.”
King: “‘Estimated Prophet’ is a tune that comes to mind often when thinking about drum sounds for the studio. There is a presence about this particular record that lets you know exactly where you are.”
Amico: “‘Estimated Prophet,’ ‘Samson & Delilah,’ ‘Passenger,’ and ‘Terrapin Station’ all stand out to me as great songs. ‘Estimated’ is in an odd meter, which makes the song very interesting to play and listen to. ‘Samson’ has a great drum groove and ripping solos by Jerry. ‘Passenger’ also has a great Jerry riff, and ‘Terrapin’ (the whole suite) is one of the prettiest yet most complex compositions that the Grateful Dead ever wrote in my opinion.”
[Greg Ormont photo via Phierce Photo by Keith G.]
Ormont: “I’m a big fan of any opening lyrics that truly set the mood, and there’s just something about “let my inspiration flow in token rhymes suggesting rhythm” that I absolutely love. I guess it’s the calm before the storm.”
John “Barber” Gutwillig (Disco Biscuits): “It makes me think about my ex-girlfriend. Whenever I’ve sang this song, she was always the lady with a fan. And she never forgave me for hesitating. ‘Which of you to gain me, tell, will risk uncertain pains of hell? I will not forgive you if you will not take the chance.'”
What do you feel is the significance of Terrapin Station in the canon of the Grateful Dead and in American music as a whole?
[Barber photo via Stephen Olker]
Casal: “It’s one of the great rock records of all time, no question about it, if just for the Terrapin Suite alone. I’d say it holds a very high place on the list of great Dead records, and it’s a master class in songwriting and record-making for any young musician to study.”
Lesh: “I’ll leave that to the musicologists! I know that I love this album, and I’m not alone, obviously, since we’re celebrating its 40th birthday.”
Amico: “I think it is one of the prettiest songs that the band has ever written and was a staple in their live performances since it came out. I always enjoyed the show when they played ‘Terrapin.'”
Barber: “It feels like the epic culmination of years of making great music by those guys. I feel like the Grateful Dead really made American folk music, and this is a kind of obscured and metaphoric accomplishment in that sense.”
In what ways has “Terrapin” (either the album or the song, either live or recorded) affected you as a musician and/or music fan?
[Vinnie Amico photo via Jay Blakesberg]
Casal: “The song and record have affected me greatly, both as a musician and a fan. It’s taught me to strive for the highest level of beauty and creativity I can achieve, no matter what I’m doing. That’s what the best pieces of art do for us. They inspire us to aim higher and find the poetry in our own lives and pay it forward.”
Lesh: “This happens with every Dead song I learn, but figuring out each and every one of these tunes has really been a learning experience for me. For example, the ‘Terrapin Suite’ is long and complex, but the ‘simpler’ part—’Lady With A Fan’—teaches you a lot about modes and melody. You can play the same scales over each chord. And learning to sing Estimated Prophet is a master course in vocal phrasing!”
Amico: “The album and the song were both very influential on my drumming. ‘Estimated’ is one of the songs that taught me how to groove and improvise in odd meter. ‘Samson & Delilah’ embodied the rhythm section and really showed how well two drummers could work together to form such a driving groove. And ‘Terrapin Station’ was such a beautiful song, and so well written that was integral in my ability to arrange songs.”
Barber: “As a musician, it sets the bar very high, especially in a melodic sense and in epic scope. As a fan, it’s an easy choice when wondering what to listen to.”
Do you have any comment on Bob Weir and Phil Lesh reuniting to perform Terrapin Station in its entirety at LOCKN’ this summer?
[Grahame Lesh photo via Doug Clifton]
Casal: “I’ll be there with bells on, can’t wait to hear it! We’re fortunate that Phil and Bob are still here with us to perform this historic music.”
Amico: “I wish I were going to be there to see it. I hope they kill it.”
Ormont: “Needless to say, I’m really excited to see that set, but I’m probably not as pumped as my dad!!”
Barber: “It makes me happy that I’m playing LOCKN’ this year too 🙂 [with the Disco Biscuits].”
Lesh: “Well, it’s pretty freaking cool that I’ll get to be on stage with them! I can’t wait. No other comment, but it’s going to be a great set for sure!”
Tickets for LOCKN’ 2017, set to take place August 24th – 27th in Arrington, VA and featuring the special 40th-anniversary Terrapin Station performance by Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, and the Terrapin Family Band (with Nicki Bluhm) are now available. To purchase passes, check out the full lineup or find any other information you may need about the event, head to the festival’s website.