The Grateful Dead were well into the second major chapter of their “Long Strange Trip” by the time they performed on “Saturday Night Live” for the first time on this day back in 1978. The counterculture staples were still relatively passed-over by mainstream audiences at the time, but the new sketch comedy show was already a staple in weekend schedules for Americans TV viewers by the time it began its fourth season in the fall of that year.
The band started off their first appearance at the storied Studio 8H at 30 Rockefeller Plaza the fan-favorite “Casey Jones” from their 1970 album, Workingman’s Dead. They would also return later on in the episode to play “I Need A Miracle” and “Good Lovin'” from their then-forthcoming Shakedown Street LP, which would be officially released just a few days later on November 15th, 1978. Looking back at the comedy show’s equally long and wild history, it’s only fitting that the first lyrics Jerry Garcia would ever sing on the show be, “Driving that train/High on cocaine.”
The Dead served as the official musical guest for the fifth episode of the show’s fourth season, hosted by none other than the infamous serial ‘SNL’ host Buck Henry, who co-wrote the screenplay for “The Graduate” in 1967. At that time, the show still boasted an impressive roster of early cast members including Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, John Belushi and Bill Murray, just to name a few. The show’s wildly fun cast of comedians mixed in with the Dead’s Weir, Kreutzmann and Garcia surely must have made for quite the memorable wine and cheese party backstage. Presumably, hilarity ensued. Sadly for audiences, Belushi didn’t cartwheel his way up to the microphone to join them in singing the chorus as he was known to do from time to time back then.
Video of the band’s performance can be seen below with Garcia playing his famous “Wolf” guitar while Bob Weir strums alongside him, making use of his slide. Speaking of Weir, shoutout to Bobby for showing off his pants-tucked-into-socks look for national television. Looking fresh Bobby! Footage of the old episode looks and sound pretty good, even for 70s television standards. You can watch “Casey Jones” from the Grateful Dead’s first SNL appearance below:
Grateful Dead – Saturday Night Live – 11/11/1978
[Video: Dr. Shrimp Puerto Rico]