As the 1960’s progressed, the Grateful Dead evolved from a psychedelic novelty to a legitimate force of songwriting and musicianship. The turning point came in the form of two studio albums released in 1970, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, each showcasing the Dead’s ability to create lasting music. While Workingman’s Dead was a more blues and folk based effort, American Beauty saw the Dead really come into their own as artists.
Songs from those two albums would ultimately remain in the Dead’s repertoire for their entire career, and are still played regularly by Grateful Dead members and other artists whom they influenced. Among the many hits from Workingman’s Dead comes “Cumberland Blues,” a peppy blues number written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter. With its iconic choppy guitar and Phil Lesh bass intro, “Cumberland” is always a fan favorite, bringing smiles to crowds everywhere.
The song made its live debut on November 8th, 1969, in a slightly rawer form than it would later take. The song evokes the rich folk tradition; even the word Cumberland alone connects to storied locales in American history. With themes of hard work, mining and more, “Cumberland Blues” speaks to the American spirit, and does so triumphantly.
Listen to the Dead’s debut of “Cumberland” streaming below.
Here it is just a few months later, in its fully polished studio format.
And a great live version from Europe ’72!