Dead Best: 5 Monster Performances of “Mississippi Half-Step”

by Peter Wendel
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Keith Godchaux

Debut: July 16, 1972
Last time played: July 6, 1995
Total times played: 234
Songwriter(s): Hunter & Garcia

“Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” brings out the best in Jerry Garcia, both vocally and instrumentally, but the real star of the band’s top performances of the song is boogie-brazen keyboardist, Keith Godchaux.

If you’re a Godchaux fan (and so many of us are), you can’t help but love “Half-Step.” Keith and Jerry would join forces to build the towering peaks and sweet, soft-spoken valleys that make “Half-Step” one of the most treasured tunes in The Dead’s live songbook.

We’ve assembled some of the all-time hottest performances of “Mississippi Half-Step” for your listening pleasure. You’ll notice that all of the versions we’ve selected are from the “Godchaux Era” (no offense, Brent, but this was Keith’s baby).


December 2, 1973
Boston Music Hall, Boston, MA

Here’s an early BURNER that showcases Keith’s glorious work on the grand piano. Although 1977 was the year for “Half-Step,” this totally unique version from ’73 stands tall among the best of all time. This show at the Boston Music Hall is considered one of the highest quality gigs of 1973. In addition to the magnificent performance of “Half-Step,” be sure to check out the jaw-dropping “Playing In The Band” and extraordinary “Mind Left Body Jam.” The audio is a rough-but-right audience recording.

May 7, 1977
Boston Garden, Boston, MA

This one is top-5 material (or better) – performed a day before the “perfect show” at Barton Hall. Garcia is flawless with syrupy-smooth leads and vocals. Keith kills it all the way through. The band is tight and right in Boston.

May 25, 1977
The Mosque, Richmond, VA

MASTERPIECE!! Pound for pound, this one gets my vote for best of all time. It’s the perfectly complete package: enormous emotion and power – with immaculate, tight-ass execution (indicative of ’77). Jerry’s solos are stunning (goose bumps) and Keith’s breezy fills will make you shake your head at how damn good he is. Enjoy the ride!

September 3, 1977
Raceway Park, Englishtown, NJ

WARNING: Listening to this may make your head explode. Biblical in magnitude? I’d say so. An epic 13-minute “Half-Step” from an epic show. You won’t hear a version with more energy. Period. You’ll have to pick your jaw up off the ground after the close. Talk about burning the house down. WOW! (Does he say, “Santa sat down to cry”?) It was released commercially on Dick’s Picks Vol. 15.

April 15, 1978
William & Mary College, Williamsburg, VA

MONSTER show-opener! Big and badass. Jerry comes out swinging right from the start (that is, as soon as they get his mic working right). I love the extra edge to his vocals in this version, and the finish could be the biggest of all time. Hot shit.


Lyrics by Robert Hunter/Music by Jerry Garcia

On the day that I was born
Daddy sat down and cried
I had the mark just as plain as day
Which could not be denied
They say that Cain caught Abel
Rollin’ loaded dice
Ace of spades behind his ear
And him not thinking twice

Mississippi Uptown
Hello baby, I’m gone, goodbye
Half a cup of rock and rye
Farewell to you old southern sky
I’m on my way – on my way

If all you got to live for
Is what you left behind
Get yourself a powder charge
And seal that silver mine
I lost my boots in transit babe
A pile of smoking leather
Nailed a retread to my feet
And prayed for better weather

Mississippi Uptown
Hello, baby, I’m gone, good-bye
Half a cup of rock and rye
Farewell to you old southern sky
I’m on my way – on my way

They say that when your ship comes in
The first man takes the sails
The second takes the afterdeck
The third the planks and rails
What’s the point to callin shots?
This cue ain’t straight in line
Cueball’s made of styrofoam
And no one’s got the time

Mississippi Uptown
Hello baby, I’m gone, goodbye
Half a cup of rock and rye
Farewell to you old southern sky
I’m on my way – on my way

Across the Rio Grand-eo
Across the lazy river
Across the Rio Grand-eo
Across the lazy river

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