Jerry Garcia

Bird Song

Composed by Bill Kreutzmann / Jerry Garcia / Robert Hunter

Song Review by

Although “Bird Song” was initially issued on Jerry Garcia’s guitar/vocals 1972 self-titled debut long player, he never performed it with anyone except the Grateful Dead. The same was true of the other Garcia/Robert Hunter (lyrics) collaborations featured on the album. The studio version is quite good considering it was recorded by the multi-instrumental Garcia and Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann. However, it by no means comes anywhere close to matching the level of sonic exploration that the full ensemble brought to it. In Box Of Rain, his 1991 collection of lyrics, Hunter explains that the song’s heartfelt sentiment was inspired by and dedicated to Janis Joplin. His words are quite affective (“All I know is something like a bird/Within her sang/All I know she sang a little while/Then flew off”). They speak of her death as a release from the loneliness and pain she had endured in life (“Don’t cry now/Don’t you cry/anymore/Sleep in the stars/Don’t you cry/Dry your eyes on the wind”). When the Grateful Dead first began performing “Bird Song” in early 1971, it contained much of the same easy, laid back and unencumbered melodic charm found on Garcia. It didn’t take them long to stretch it out and in effect allow the song to drive the musicians. By the following year it had become an unfettered psychedelic vehicle on par with “Dark Star” or “Playing In The Band”. The Dead retired “Bird Song” in 1973 for seven years, reviving it during their 15th anniversary series of acoustic sets in October of 1980. Although somewhat tempered, it remained an intricate component in Dead shows and was always an enthusiasts favourite. Garcia added the track upon occasion to his acoustic solo sets as well as with the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band -- which performed on Broadway in 1987. There are several easily obtainable live recordings available. Among them are the acoustic rendition featured on Reckoning (1981) as well as seminal psychedelic renderings on volumes 11 and 23 of the Dick’s Picks series of archival performances. Two equally inspired readings from the ‘80s incarnation of the band are respectively included on Without A Net (1990) and the multi-disc So Many Roads compilation. There are also numerous cover versions, notable among them is Bob Weir’s (guitar/vocals) post-Dead rendering on Live At Roseland (2001) from his band Ratdog.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Garcia 1972 Rhino 4:26
All Good Things: Jerry Garcia Studio Sessions 2004 Rhino 4:26
The Very Best of Jerry Garcia 2006 Rhino 4:26
blue highlight denotes editor's pick