Listen: The Dead’s Best “Loose Lucy”

by Peter Wendel
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Jerry debuted “Lucy” at the first show of 1973

So why did The Grateful Dead experiment so freely with “Loose Lucy” in the early-’70s and then abruptly shelve it for more than 15 years before breaking it back out to frenzied, deafening applause on March 14, 1990?

“Loose Lucy,” an early Garcia-Hunter collaboration, occupies a special place in The Grateful Dead’s repertoire as a song that, historically speaking, has a beginning and an end, but no middle. No time for the band to nurture and shape the song, as it was kept off the set list for a decade and a half.

The Dead broke out “Lucy” for the first time at the very first show of 1973 – February 9th – on their home turf in Palo Alto, CA. “Loose Lucy” would be one of seven brand-new songs The Dead played that night, including “Eyes Of The World,” “China Doll,” “Here Comes Sunshine” and “Row Jimmy.” They would play “Lucy” regularly for two years – 33 times to be exact – 21 performances in 1973 and 11 in 1974. October 19, 1974, at Winterland in San Francisco is the last time the band played it (listen below) – then nothing until the spring of 1990.

LooseLucyGarcia2 SongMango.comBy that time, Jerry had become much grayer and rounder at the age of 47 – many would say past his glory days of chasing “friendly” young ladies like Lucy down dark back allies. (Heroin addict, yes. Sex addict, no.)

Even back in the early-’70s when Jerry was roguishly handsome (and better dressed), “Loose Lucy” still seemed an unlikely choice for a Rock star who was – or at least seemed – unburdened by sexual distractions (like the rest of us). Jerry was above all that hormonal stuff, like a big, bearded Tibetan monk with a guitar. He was perfectly content (thank god) to leave the iconic, testosterone-laden strutting to the bare-chested, tight-jeaned rockers of the time, like Jagger and Plant.

“Lucy” is brawlin’, sex-stoked Rock-N-Roll, which doesn’t quite seem to fit with Garcia’s teddy-bearish persona. Right from the opening line, the messenger is ill-equipped to deliver this particular message:

Loose Lucy is my delight
She comes a runnin’ and we ball all night

PigpenDead SongMango.comHell, The Grateful Dead hadn’t sounded that perverse since Pigpen – a hot, red-blooded American male in every sense – belted out “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” back in the late-’60s:

Good morning little schoolgirl
Can I come home with you?
Tell your mama and your papa
I’m a little schoolboy too

Great song, but borderline creepy when you get into the lyrics. Jerry’s “Lucy,” the song tells us, is also underaged just like Pigpen’s schoolgirl (see full lyrics at bottom):

I like your smile but I ain’t your type
Don’t shake the tree when the fruit ain’t ripe

The best-known line of the song – Thank you…for a real good time! – has become a widely embraced motto for fans to convey their appreciation to Jerry and the band rather than anything sexual. Those lyrics would appear on a variety of popular Dead merchandise, like bumper stickers, t-shirts, banners and flags.

Related: The Dead’s Best “Deal”


Dead ’73: No Mickey Hart

The Dead would experiment with “Loose Lucy” throughout ’73 and ’74, and the versions would vary wildly in tempo and feel with a backbone of Jazz, Blues or straight Rock-N-Roll. You never knew what you were gonna get when they played “Lucy” in the early days.

It could be as loose as a hooker on two-dollar night (excuse my crassness), or as tight as a bug’s butt stretched over a the top of a jelly jar. Listen to the major differences (audio below) between the original studio version off the June 1974 album, From The Mars Hotel and an alternate take, recorded August 7, 1973 (released as a bonus track on the album’s 2004 reissue). “Lucy” also appeared on the B-side of the “U.S. Blues” single. Note: All early-era versions of the song were played with a single drummer, Bill Kreutzmann, while Mickey Hart was on hiatus from February 1971 to late-October of 1974. His father, Lenny Hart, had disappeared with a sizable amount of the band’s cash while serving as their finance manager.

The super-tight, super-quick studio version

The alternate track slows it way down

February 9, 1973 – Roscoe Maples Pavilion, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA
Here’s the band playing the first ever “Lucy,” and they kill it. Some Heads even go so far as to say it all went downhill from here. Thank goodness they’re wrong. Though it is a spectacular debut, the song would shake out in a variety of ways over the next 20 months (and again in the ’90s) that would produce some other stellar renditions. Crisp, fiery vocals from Jerry, and a rock-solid solo. It’s got a great old-school, minimalist feel. Although The Dead would play in Palo Alto with some regularity in the ’80s, the band only played once at the 7,392-seat Roscoe Maples Pavilion, where the Stanford basketball team plays. Listen (archived track 8).

Related: Sign The Petition For More Dead “Farewell” Shows

February 26, 1973 – Pershing Municipal Auditorium, Lincoln, NE
The guitar work (2:54) sounds a little like a dirty version of Chuck Berry – on windowpane. Filthy and funky. No doubt, Lucy would be proud. Relaxed, in-command vocals from the Jerry. The pace and feel is as smoky and slinky as a corner booth at a seedy, red-light lounge. Pass the bourbon, please. Released commercially on Dick’s Picks Vol. 28.

July 31, 1973 – Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, NJ
This one features Jerry’s filthiest “Lucy” solo on record (check 3:09). That alone is worth the price of admission. Hand-clappin’, foot stompin’, ass-shakin’ Blues-infused raunchiness. The recording sounds like the band is playing at a roadside biker bar, and the whiskey is flowing. Jerry sings like he’s 10-feet tall – and like he’s itching to ball all night. He and Godchaux trade some steamy leads. Listen (archived track 27).

November 11, 1973 – Winterland, San Francisco, CA
Another amazing performance from Winterland. One of the most beautiful, soulful versions of “Loose Lucy” you’ll ever hear. Listen (archived track 13).

LooseLucySquare SongMango.comJune 18, 1974 – Freedom Hall, Louisville, KY
Here’s a funked-up, ass-kickin’ 2nd set opener. The tempo is much quicker than the ’73 versions, giving it more of a bar-brawl brazenness to match the lyric arc. Check Jerry’s delivery on the line: “Don’t take much to get me on the ground.” Sounds like he’s had a few shots of whiskey and a bump or two at a meth biker bar. This version would be in the top three but Jerry muffs a few lines. The lyrics he does get right are packed with strained attitude, and raw as a rusty nail at a few points. Jerry’s solo (2:32) teases and sleazes just like Lucy herself. It’s not hard to imagine a long deep-space bridge jam. Phil plays with plenty of big-bombed attitude. Released commercially on Road Trips, Vol. 2 No. 3.

Winterland: So many great shows


October 19, 1974 – Winterland, San Francisco, CA
This would be the last performance of “Lucy” for nearly 16 years. Half of the ’70s and all of the ’80s would soar by before the band dusted off “Lucy” and broke her back out. This one charges right out of the gate – super tight and funky. Despite one muffed line, Jerry’s vocals are strong and clean, and the backup singing is top notch. The show was recorded by the legendary Owsley Stanley (aka “Bear”), The Dead’s early sound engineer and LSD “cook” extraordinaire. Listen (archived track 5).

March 14, 1990 – Capital Centre, Landover, MD
The big break out! A little rust aside, you’d never know they hadn’t played it in more than 15 years. Of course, the crowd goes berserk, and Jerry loves it (video at 1:30). Despite the long hiatus, he nails the vocals, throwing in a couple of nice flourishes toward the end. It’s a moving moment between Garcia and his people (the crowd). He’s thanking them “for a real good time” while the audience is thanking him right back. Jerry seems humbled by the appreciation. In true form, Brent Mydland dives in head first, without any hint that he’s never performed the song live. He and Garcia have some fiery exchanges (video 2:57).

Related: The Dead’s Great Adventure in Amsterdam

October 31, 1990 – Wembley Arena, London, England
Across the pond, the band gives it hell.

September 9, 1991 – Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
MSG brings out the best in the band. The dual-keyboardist format, with Vinny and Bruce, lends a sparkling complexity to the song that wasn’t there in the relatively spare early-era performances. It should also be noted that all versions from the ’70s were performed with a single drummer, Bill Kreutzmann, while Mickey Hart was on leave from the band.

December 16, 1992 – Oakland Coliseum, Oakland, CA
Great group effort, including Vince Welnick on keys. Definitely one of the best late-era versions. Jerry’s vocals are nearly flawless – raspy, warm and strained but clean as a whistle and warm as the morning sun. His solo (03:08) is tight with just enough attitude and dirt to make Lucy feel at home. Released on Dick’s Picks Vol. 27.

“Loose Lucy”
Music by Jerry Garcia & Lyrics by Robert Hunter

Loose Lucy is my delight
She comes running and we ball all night
Round and round and round and round
Don’t take much to get me on the ground
She’s my yo-yo, I’m her string
Listen to the birds on the hot wire sing

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Singing thank you, for a real good time

I got jumped coming home last night
Shadow in the alley turned out all my lights
Round and round and round and round
Don’t take much to get me on the ground
Loose Lucy, she was sore
Says I know you don’t want my love no more

Singin’ yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Singing thank you, for a real good time

Bebop baby, how can this be
I know you’ve been out a cheating on me
Round and round and round and round
Don’t take much to get the word around
Cross my heart and hope to die
I was just hanging out with the other guys

Singin’ yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Singing thank you, for a real good time

Went back home with the two black eyes
You know I’ll love her till the day I die
Round and round and round and round
Don’t take much to get the word around
I like your smile but I ain’t your type
Don’t shake the tree when the fruit ain’t ripe

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Singin’ yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Singin’ yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Singing thank you, for a real good time

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