Sunday, October 21, 2012

Friend of the Devil - Grateful Dead Song Review

Got a wife in Chino and one in Cherokee
First one says she got my child, but it don't look like me

This song is extremely well known by Deadheads and even familiar to many non-Deadheads. It was on Skeletons from the Closet and American Beauty (the first two Dead tapes I procured) so I loved this song from day 1 of my Grateful Dead fandom.

The song is really simple and catchy.  It has that kind of reckless spirit to it that glorifies the dark side of humanity (like so many Grateful Dead songs - Touch of Grey, Casey Jones, etc.).  Deadheads seem to love songs about criminals on the run, because frankly many of them are serial breakers of the law.

Robert Hunter delivers another beautiful slice of Americana in this first person tale about a man who is on the run from the law.  We never learn his crime though, but the use of familiar locations (Reno, Chino) are what really make the song great.  I think the genius is that those cities are just so unremarkable - it really helps the song appeal to all of us Deadheads spread around California (and the world).

I did not know until I looked up the credits just now that John Dawson (aka Marmaduke) of the New Riders of the Purple Sage was also credited on the music for Friend of the Devil.

The Slow Live Version of Friend of the Devil

The song was played upbeat for the first few years and then somewhere along the way got slowed WAY down.  I remember reading that Jerry was inspired to do this by some cover version he heard of the song (was it Loggins and Messina? Not sure, I've never heard theirs).

One thing I must admit is that when the slow version comes on tapes, I can't fast forward it quickly enough.  It was great when I saw this song live and was part of the crowd cheering for all the memorable lines, but not so much when I'm listening to show recordings all these years later.  The song is really simple and doesn't leave you much to look forward to.  I think the slow live version must be close to 10 minutes (the original studio version was 3:25).

Friend of the Devil Song Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 9.2

Disclaimer: This is part of my blog that reviews all things Grateful Dead for fun. Music is a beautiful thing because it is so personal and subjective, so keep in mind that this is one man's opinion.

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