Robert Hunter, the reclusive, genius lyricist behind many of the Grateful Dead‘s most well-known songs, died on Monday at the age of 78. There was no official cause of death included in the announcement shared by Rolling Stone early Tuesday afternoon.
A statement shared to go with the announcement on Tuesday reads:
“It is with great sadness we confirm our beloved Robert passed away yesterday night. He died peacefully at home in his bed, surrounded by love. His wife Maureen was by his side holding his hand. For his fans that have loved and supported him all these years, take comfort in knowing that his words are all around us, and in that way his is never truly gone. In this time of grief please celebrate him the way you all know how, by being together and listening to the music. Let there be songs to fill the air.”
Born as Robert Burns in California in 1941, Hunter would ultimately go on to become close with Grateful Dead co-founder Jerry Garcia in the early 1960s prior to the formation of the famous rock band. Hunter would continue as Garcia’s songwriting partner throughout the decades as he would help pen the lyrics for some of the band’s most beloved tunes including “Dark Star”, “Lady With A Fan”/”Terrapin Station”, “Brokedown Palace”, “Casey Jones”, “Truckin'”, “Friend of the Devil”, “Jack Straw”, “Playing in the Band”, “Ripple“, “Scarlet Begonias”, “Sugaree”, “Sugar Magnolia”, “Touch of Grey”, and many more.
Watch Hunter discuss the inspirations for how “Truckin'” was written in the video below.
Robert Hunter American Beauty Lyrics Interview
[Video: MECA PD CHANNEL II]
Hunter’s “Long Strange Trip” really began in the early 1960s when he was a volunteer test subject for the Government-sponsored drug testings of substances like LSD at Stanford University near where he and Garcia spent their teen years into their early-20s. It was also around that time when both he and Garcia began to perform together around Palo Alto, CA in a folk/bluegrass outfit known as Hart Valley Drifters. The band was made up of a collection of college-age friends who would go on to help expose the Americana genres to a legion of new listeners as Garcia’s path ultimately led to the formation of the Grateful Dead.
Both Hunter and Garcia were inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in February 2015. Watch Hunter’s beautiful and poetic acceptance speech from the 2015 ceremony below.
Robert Hunter & Theresa Garcia – Class Of 2015 Songwriter’s Hall of Fame Acceptance Speech
[Video: Songwriter’s Hall of Fame]
Hunter also played a small role in Amir Bar Lev‘s Long Strange Trip documentary which chronicled the history of the Dead.
“Hunter was Jerry’s partner on every level,” Dead biographer and former publicist Dennis McNally said of the prolific poet in the 2017 film. “They were close enough and went back far enough that Hunter could be the source of the word and Jerry could be comfortable singing them.”
An audio clip featuring Garcia also offers an insight into his close friendship and partnership with Hunter in saying, “I can’t get on stage a sing a song that doesn’t have some kind of emotional reality for me. Hunter is very good about writing into my beliefs. He understands the way I think.”
Hunter was infamous for safely guarding his anonymity as much as possible throughout the latter part of the Grateful Dead’s journey as other members of the band were forced into mainstream popularity.
Another interview with Dead singer Donna Jean Godchaux in Long Strange Trip perfectly summed up how the mystery behind Hunter from the fan’s perspective was key to the magic that fueled the band for all those years.
“Hunter would just kind of appear or he would disappear whenever he wanted to. That’s who the guy is, and that’s why his lyrics suggest ‘I’m anywhere you want me to be, you can’t catch me.’ The lyrics are worded in such a way that anybody who hears a Grateful Dead song can interpret it so that it becomes meaningful to their own life. It is so personal to each and every person who listens to it. It belongs to you, honey. It’s yours.”
Watch Hunter’s moving performance of “Ripple” at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium in 2013 below.
Robert Hunter – “Ripple” – 9/18/2013
[Video: Robert Hunter]
Fare thee well, Hunter. Thank you for your words, your poetry, and the songs which felt so personal to anyone and everyone who ever had the adventure in them to turn on, tune in, and listen.
[H/T Rolling Stone]