FACE-MELTERS: 5 Huge Performances of “Estimated Prophet”

by Peter Wendel
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A prophet on the burnin’ shore!

Debut: February 26, 1977
Last Time Played: July 5, 1995
Total Times Played: 383+
Songwriter(s): Weir, Barlow

“Estimated Prophet” is all about the power of LSD – and where it can take you.

Psychedelics opened the portal for the Grateful Dead and their fans to interact at the highest levels – starting with the band’s musical contributions to the California “Acid Tests” in the mid-’60s and continuing unabated for some 30 years until the tragic death of frontman Jerry Garcia (aka Captain Trips) in the summer of 1995. “Estimated,” a song the band played nearly 400 times, pays tribute to the Dead’s legions of faithful fans who made the long, strange trip possible.

The Prophecy of LSD


Owsley in 1967

LSD-25 was perfectly legal in the great state of California until October 6,1966. Garcia once said: “We were lucky to have a little moment in history when LSD was still legal and we could experiment with drugs like we were experimenting with music.” And oh boy, did they experiment. Owsley Stanley, the Dead’s resident LSD chemist extraordinaire, produced more than 5 million doses of the psychedelic drug between 1965 and 1967 – and that was just the beginning.

“Estimated Prophet,” a Bob Weir-John Barlow collaboration that debuted in early-’77, offers a wild-eyed glimpse into the heady days of LSD when the drug flowed like wine on tour, and the trips were deep, heavy and often profoundly spiritual (with the potential for powerful visions of grandeur).

We’re standing on the beach
The sea will part before me
(Fire wheel burnin’ in the air)
And you will follow me
And we will ride to glory
(Way up the middle of the air) 

BobWeir7FeaturedIn the book, Grateful Dead: The Music Never Stopped (1983), Blair Jackson writes about the origin of “Estimated Prophet”:

According to Weir, he and Barlow wrote the song from the perspective of a crazy, messianic zealot, a type which one invariably encounters in Deadhead crowds now and again. As Weir explains: ‘The basis of it is this guy I see at nearly every backstage door. There’s always some guy who’s taken a lot of dope and he’s really bug-eyed, and he’s having some kind of vision. He’s got a rave he’s got to deliver.’ In Estimated Prophet, the psychopath claims ‘My time comin’ any day, don’t worry about me,’ and Weir essentially lets him rave.

The Best of “Estimated Prophet”

We’ve gathered some of the top all-time performances of “Estimated Prophet” – in chronological order – from across the Grateful Dead’s illustrious 30-year touring run.

The song features Jerry Garcia’s signature lead guitar sound, which was made possible by a Mu-Tron III envelope filter (not a wah pedal). Other songs that showcase the Mu-Tron are “Shakedown Street” and “Dancin’ in the Streets.”

MAY 22, 1977
The Sportatorium, Pembroke Pines, FL

THE GREATEST PERFORMANCE OF 1977? Tight-and-right, 9-minute version that has to be in the conversation for the best all-around performance from the year considered to be the band’s technical apex. Rich, well-delivered vocals (Donna included), and jubilant play from Jerry. “Estimated” would continuing evolving into ’78 and ’79, which brought extended bridge jams and longer leads from Garcia (never, ever a bad thing!). By the end of ’79, the song could take a full 15 minutes to unwind.

FEBRUARY 3, 1978
Dane County Coliseum, Madison, WI

JERRY STRETCHES OUT! Monster five-star effort with a sweet, extended solo (3:30-4:42) from Garcia. Keith Godchaux shines on the keys (high in the mix), keeping the band grooving along. Spectacular outro jam capped with a towering, super-smooth transition into “Eyes.” Listen at the archive here. Released commercially on Dick’s Picks Vol. 18.

DECEMBER 26, 1979
Oakland Auditorium, Oakland, CA

MASSIVE PEAKKKK!!! Bring your oxygen tank ’cause this one gets way up in the clouds! Jerry takes it to another level. He starts the climb at 3:45, and doesn’t stop ’til he’s at the top of the world. Bobby tries to break back into the vocals at about 5:56, but Jerry ain’t quite done yet. This one loses some of the technical precision of the ’77 versions, but it more than makes up for it in the enormous peak. Absolutely nuts! The post-lyric jam is one of the best I’ve heard with Brent Mydland, who replaced Keith on the keys earlier in the year, showing that he’s fully acclimatized.

APRIL 19, 1982
Baltimore Civic Center, Baltimore, MD

RARE REPRISE! Here we have an inspired well-paced performance of “Estimated” from “The Raven” Space show in Baltimore. Tasty audience recording captures the band laying down a rare and triumphant reprise of the main melody at the end of the post-lyric jam. The crowd loves it! Powerful and totally unexpected! (This wasn’t the only time the band played a reprise, but it was one of the very few.) Bonafide face-melter.

MARCH 29, 1990
Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY

BRANFORD MARSALIS ON SAX! Stellar latter-day performance – from an epic show – adorned with the jazzy lightness of Branford’s sax leads. Bobby can still wail, and Jerry can still stick his leads!

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.