Merry X-mas! The Dead Rip “Run Run Rudolph” (with Pigpen)

by Peter Wendel
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RunRunRudolphDeadXmasMain SongMango.comThe Grateful Dead performed it only seven times ever – all in 1971 and, not unexpectedly, all in December. Pigpen (Ron McKernan) took the lead vocals on this rollicking cover of the Christmas tune popularized by the legendary Chuck Berry, who recorded it back in 1958.

“Run Rudolph Run” is the bad-boy alter-ego of the Christmas standard “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” written by Johnny Marks. Berry gave Rudolph a little edge and attitude in his updated, rock-n-roll interpretation of Rudolph (see lyrics below). However, since Rudolph (unlike Santa) is copyrighted, Berry had to give the publishing rights to Johnny Marks, who wrote the original song.

Chuck Berry – Run Rudolph Run (1958)

If the chord progression sounds familiar it’s because the backbone of “Run Rudolph Run” is 12-bar blues – same as Chuck’s masterpiece, “Johnny B. Goode,” which he also recorded in 1958.

TheDeadSeptember1971 SongMango.com_edited-1

The Dead (September 1971)

As for the melody, “Run Rudolph Run” is an identical match to another Berry classic, “Little Queenie” (1959).

“Run Rudolph Run” has been covered by scads of artists – including The Dead, Keith Richards, Joe Perry (Aerosmith), Sheryl Crow and Los Lonely Boys – sometimes under the name “Run Run Rudolph.”

Here’s The Grateful Dead tearing it up at the Felt Forum inside Madison Square Garden some 40 years ago at Christmas time.

December 7, 1971 – Felt Forum (MSG), New York, NY
A rare holiday treat! The band lights it up with Pigs leading the charge. Nice interplay between Jerry and Bobby, and Keith Godchaux, who had just joined the band a couple of months earlier adds some extra Christmas sparkle on the ivories. There’s nothing like Christmas in New York City – and The Dead just make it that much better.

Here are some other worthy covers of “Run Rudolph Run”:

Keith Richards

Sheryl Crow

Joe Perry 

Lemmy Kilmister, Billy Gibbons & Dave Grohl

Los Lonely Boys

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, folks!

“Run Rudolph Run”
Johnny Marks & Marvin Brodie

Out of all the reindeers
You know you’re the mastermind
Run, run Rudolph
Randalph ain’t too far behind
Run, run Rudolph
Santa’s got to make it to town

Santa make him hurry
Tell him he can take the freeway down
Run, run Rudolph
‘Cause I’m reelin’ like a merry-go-round

Said Santa to a boy
Child “What have you been longing for?”
“All I want for Christmas
Is a Rock and Roll electric guitar”
And then away went Rudolph
A whizzing like a shooting star

Run, run Rudolph
Santa’s got to make it to town, come on
Santa make him hurry
Tell him he can take the freeway down
Run, run Rudolph
Reeling like a merry-go-round

Said Santa to a girl
Child “What would please you most to get?”
“A little baby doll
That can cry, sleep, and wet”
And then away went Rudolph
A whizzing like a Saber jet

Run, run Rudolph
Santa’s got to make it to town
Santa make him hurry
Tell him he can take the freeway down
Run, run Rudolph
‘Cause I’m reelin’ like a merry-go-round

Peter Wendel is a journalist and PR consultant. He's attended hundreds of concerts and festivals, including the Peach, Mountain Jam, the All Good and Lockn'. He's ridden legendary Grateful Dead runs from Ventura County Fairgrounds to Irvine Meadows (CA) from the Nassau Coliseum (NY) to the Boston Garden (MA). Peter is a former U.S. Marine who – after running into trouble with every last one of his commanding officers – received an honorable discharge and a direct order never to return. Born in California and raised in New Jersey, Peter lived in Boston and Joshua Tree (CA) before settling in the nation's capital. Find him on tour at PWendel@SongMango.com.

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