Writers: Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter
Producers: Bob Matthews, Betty Cantor, and the Grateful Dead
Recorded: February 1970 at Pacific High Recording Studio in San Francisco
Released: June 1970
|Players:||Jerry Garcia — vocals, guitar
Bob Weir — vocals, guitar
Phil Lesh — bass, vocals
Ron “Pigpen” McKernan — keyboards, vocals
Bill Kreutzmann — drums
Mickey Hart — drums
|Album:||Workingman's Dead (Warner Bros., 1970)|
“Uncle John's Band” was the first single released from the Grateful Dead's Workingman's Dead album.
Due to conservative radio programming at the time, Warner Bros. pulled the word “goddamn” from the song's lyric.
The “Uncle John” of the song's title was John “Marmaduke” Dawson, a good friend of singer-guitarist Jerry Garcia's and a country songwriter and musician with whom Garcia formed another group, the New Riders Of The Purple Sage.
The Workingman's Dead album was originally planned to be a song cycle called Eagle Mall, for which Robert Hunter planned to write all the lyrics.
The album instead metamorphosed into an acoustic-oriented exploration of American roots music such as the blues, country, and folk, a radical shift from the electric psychedelia represented on previous Dead albums such as Aoxomoxoa and Live Dead.
Workingman's Dead was influenced by two strains of rock at the time — the country-rock movement of Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers, and the harmony-oriented sounds of Crosby, Stills & Nash (CSN). Dead drummer Mickey Hart recalled that prior to Workingman's Dead, “We were improvisationalists. We'd play for two or three hours, sing for 45 seconds — off-key — and play for another hour. We were not one of your better vocal groups. Then Crosby, Stills & Nash came along and changed us tremendously. (Stephen) Stills lived with me…for three months around the time of the first (CSN) record, and he and (David) Crosby really turned Jerry and Bobby (Weir) onto the voice as the holy instrument. You know, 'Hey, is THAT what a voice can do?' That turned us away from pure improvisation and more toward songs.”
Ironically, the early versions of “Uncle John's Band” were electric and psychedelic. Hunter wrote the song's lyrics based on that arrangement and a tape that featured 45 minutes of improvised music.
Workingman's Dead was the group's most successful album to that point. It was their first Top 30 album, peaking at Number 27 on the Billboard 200, and their first million-seller.