‘Dear Mr. Fantasy’ Leads Grateful Dead Covers Tournament Upset-Filled 1st Round: Elite 8 Voting Underway

Elite 8 voting is open until midnight on Sunday, March 19.

By Andy Kahn Mar 13, 2023 7:54 am PDT

JamBase’s 2023 March Madness Covers Tournament Round 1 voting is complete. Voting for Round 2 — the Elite 8 — is currently underway and will decide who makes it to the Final Four.

As a reminder, this year’s March Madness Covers Tournament features songs covered by the Grateful Dead going head-to-head in a typical single-elimination tournament. The Team JamBase Tournament Selection Committee chose the 16 covers based on several criteria. Seeding was ranked by the number of times each song was performed in concert by the Dead, with the most played getting the No. 1 seed.

The selection process assured that band members Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, Phil Lesh, Donna Jean Godchaux, Brent Mydland and Vince Welnick each sang lead on at least one song. Along with varied lead singers, with the exception of the all-encompassing “Traditional” credit, no songwriter was covered more than once. In nearly every instance, the selected songs were ones not just covered by the Grateful Dead but that became fully engrained in the band’s live repertoire.

Grateful Dead Covers Tournament Round 1
  • Songs <em>Not</em> Of Their Own: Pick The Best Song Covered By The Grateful Dead

    Songs Not Of Their Own: Pick The Best Song Covered By The Grateful Dead

    JamBase’s annual March Madness Covers Tournament is back and this year’s competition features songs covered by the Grateful Dead.

Round 1 saw the top three seeds “Me And My Uncle,” “I Know You Rider” and “Not Fade Away”/”Going Down The Road Feelin’ Bad” easily advance to the Elite 8. The fourth seed, “Good Lovin'” was upset by the tournament’s lone cover song sung by Mydland, the 13th seed “Dear Mr. Fantasy.”

Other Round 1 upsets included 12th seed “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” knocking out fifth seed “Promised Land,” 11th seed “Cold Rain And Snow” beating sixth seed “Big River” and 10th seed “Morning Dew” out dueling “Turn On Your Lovelight” (which along with “Good Lovin'” took Pigpen off the board). Entries for Lesh (“Broken Arrow”), Godchaux (“You Ain’t Woman Enough”) and Welnick (“Baba O’Riley”/”Tomorrow Never Knows”) did not make it out of the first round.

Round 2 voting is open between now and 11:59 p.m. PT on Sunday night (March 19).

Now Go Vote On Live Music!


1. Me And My Uncle vs. 8. Samson And Delilah

1. Me And My Uncle – John Philips

  • Original Artist/Songwriter: John Philips
  • Grateful Dead Live Performances: 638
  • Lead Singer: Bob Weir
  • First Time Played: November 29, 1966
  • Last Time Played: July 6, 1995

Notes: Sung by Bob Weir, “Me And My Uncle” was the song covered most frequently by the Grateful Dead. Written by the notorious John Philips of The Mamas & The Papas, the mythology around the song is that he spontaneously wrote it during a drunken jam session and only realized he was its composer when Judy Collins, who heard the original drunken performance, included it on a 1964 live album. The mythology surrounding the genesis of the song has been disputed over the years, with contradictory details about when and where it might have happened.

Collins recently recalled the circumstances of her learning the song from Philips in New York City during her first acid trip in an interview with Jesse Jarnow for the Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast podcast. Jarnow also investigated Bob Weir’s claim that “he learned the song from ‘a hippie named Curly Jim.’” Weir was referring to Curly Jim Stalarow, who was close with the Grateful Dead and their extended family and claimed to have been taught the song directly by Philips (learn more about Curly Jim from Jarnow here).

Weir brought it to the Grateful Dead’s live repertoire in November 1966. They played it three times in 1967 but then not at all in 1968. Once it came back in 1969, mostly remained in regular rotation — it was not played in 1976 — while becoming the most-played cover song in the band’s canon. The recording above comes from the Dead’s April 24, 1978 concert in Bloomington, Illinois, which was preceded by a brief “Stayin’ Alive” tease.


8. Samson And Delilah – Trad.

  • Original Artist/Songwriter: Traditional
  • Lead Singer: Bob Weir
  • Grateful Dead Live Performances: 364
  • First Time Played: June 3, 1976
  • Last Time Played: July 9, 1995


“He was my main guitar influence, really, and if you listen to his stuff you’ll see that he took it all from piano, too — all of his parts are stride piano playing adapted to guitar. It’s amazing stuff. He had a Bachian sense of music, which transcended any common notion of a bluesman.“ – Bob Weir regarding the Rev. Gary Davis.

“There was maybe one person, two people, in a hundred that knew they were listening to a Gary Davis tune,” Weir said in 2015 regarding “Samson” and Davis’ “Death Don’t Have No Mercy,” which the Dead also covered. “Probably half of them thought that we had written it.”

Weir was one of many noted guitarists to not only be influenced by the Rev. Gary Davis but to take lessons from the renowned blues musician. Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen helped facilitate Weir’s meeting with Davis in Queens, New York prior to the latter’s death in 1972. Though Weir was only able to participate in three or four sessions with Davis, the blind finger-picker forever impacted Bobby’s career. The origin of the song “Samson And Delilah” dates back a late-1920s recording of “If I Had My Way, I Would Tear This Building Down” by Blind Willie Johnson, which strongly resembles the arrangement Davis likely taught Weir.

Which cover should go on to the next round: Me & My Uncle or Samson & Delilah?

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2. I Know You Rider vs. 10. Morning Dew

2. I Know You Rider – Trad.

  • Original Artist/Songwriter: Traditional
  • Lead Singer: Jerry Garcia & Bob Weir
  • Grateful Dead Live Performances: 567
  • First Time Played: January 28, 1966
  • Last Time Played: July 8, 1995

Notes: The traditional “I Know You Rider” was played by the Grateful Dead when they were still called The Warlocks — Phil Lesh believes it was the first song he rehearsed after joining the band. The second most frequently covered song in the band’s live repertoire, “Rider” found a partner in “China Cat Sunflower,” consistently following the Grateful Dead original once they were paired together in late-1969.

The roots of “I Know You Rider” are likely tied to a song called “Woman Blue” that musicologists Alan Lomax and John Lomax included in their anthology of traditional folk songs. Bob Coltman championed the song in the late 1950s and over the subsequent decade, it was recorded and performed with various variations by many prominent folk musicians such as Joan Baez, The Kingston Trio, Judy Roderick and Tossi Aaron. In addition to the Grateful Dead making it their own, “Rider” — under a variety of titles and arrangments — was covered by The Byrds, James Taylor, Hot Tuna, Janis Joplin and dozens of others.

Above is a standalone, acoustic version harkening back to their pre-Dead days from their May 2, 1970 show at Harpur college, and for a sense of its electric improvisation-driving pairing with “China Cat Sunflower” is a sequence of “Jam” > “China Cat Sunflower” > “Mind Left Body Jam” > “I Know You Rider” from the start of their show on June 26, 1974, at the Providence Civic Center.


10. Morning Dew – Bonnie Dobson

  • Original Artist/Songwriter: Bonnie Dobson
  • Lead Singer: Jerry Garcia
  • Grateful Dead Live Performances: 278
  • First Time Played: March 18, 1967
  • Last Time Played: June 21, 1995

Notes: Toronto native Bonnie Dobson wrote “Morning Dew” and recorded it for her 1962 album, At Folk City. Folk singer Fred Neil recorded the song with Vince Martin for their 1964 album, Tear Down The Walls. In 1966, Neil performed with members of The Buzzy Linhart Trio and participated in regular jam sessions at the loft of the group’s drummer Serge Katzan on the Lower East Side of New York City. Among the others believed to have attended the loft jam sessions include Mississippi John Hurt, Donovan, David Crosby, Gram Parsons and Jerry Garcia.

According to longtime Grateful Dead publicist Dennis McNally in his book, Long Strange Trip, it was Laird Grant — Garcia’s childhood friend and an among the earliest members of the band’s crew — who in 1966 introduced Garcia to Neil’s version of “Morning Dew.” Soon after Garcia and the Dead were mesmerizing audiences with powerful performances of the poignant song. Above is another stellar version of “Morning Dew” from the highly regarded May 8, 1977, Dead show at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

Which cover should go on to the next round: I Know You Rider or Morning Dew?

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3. Not Fade Away/GDTRFB vs. 11. Cold Rain And Snow

3. Not Fade Away – Buddy Holly / Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad – Trad.

  • Original Artist/Songwriter: Buddy Holly / Traditional
  • Lead Singer: All / Jerry Garcia
  • Grateful Dead Live Performances: 550 / 301
  • First Time Played: February 19, 1969 / October 11, 1970
  • Last Time Played: July 5, 1995 / July 5, 1995

Notes: The familiar Bo Diddley beat that anchors Buddy Holly & The Crickets’ proto-rock song “Not Fade Away” can still be heard in the parking lots at concerts held by Dead & Company, Phil & Friends and other Dead-adjacent bands. The song’s “You know our love will not fade away” refrain became a way for the band and its devoted audience to share the mutually appreciative experience together. Its frequent encore/end of the second set appearance often led to the audience continuing to sing well after the band left the stage. The traditional “Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad” was regularly the meat of an “NFA” sandwich as there were 120 instances of “NFA” > “GDTRFB” between 1970 and 1983. “Not Fade Away” was released in 1957 as the B-side of Holly’s single “Oh, Boy!” and appeared on the album The “Chirping” Crickets, which came that same year. The Rolling Stones’ 1964 cover of “Not Fade Away” was the band’s first single in the United States and among their earliest hit records.

Much like the traditional “I Know You Rider,” the traditional “Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad” has a rich history and has been performed under different titles and with different lyrics by numerous musicians over the past 100+ years. A 1923 recording of “Lonesome Road Blues” by Appalachian musician Henry Whitter is believed to be the earliest known recording of what is now commonly called “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad.”

Above is the final track on the Dead’s 1971 live album, Skull & Roses, featuring “NFA” > “GDTRFB” from their show at New York City’s Manhattan Center on April 5, 1971.


11. Cold Rain And Snow – Trad.

  • Original Artist/Songwriter: Traditional
  • Lead Singer: Jerry Garcia
  • Grateful Dead Live Performances: 255
  • First Time Played: March 25, 1966
  • Last Time Played: June 19, 1995

Notes: “Rain And Snow,” as performed in 1916 by Mrs. Tom Rice in Big Laurel, North Carolina, appeared in the 1917 compendium, English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians that was compiled by folklorists Cecil Sharp and Olive Dame Campbell. Identified as “Cold Rain And Snow,” the Grateful Dead played it live in concert for the first time in March 1966, one year before it was included on their 1967 self-titled debut album and miscredited to the band’s all-encompassing pseudonym “McGannahan Skjellyfetti” (later editions corrected the credit to “Traditional”). “Cold Rain And Snow” was brought to the band by lead singer Jerry Garcia. In March 1967, Garcia was interviewed by radio DJ Larry Miller, and detailed his history with “Cold Rain And Snow”:

“Yeah, the song is a traditional song…it’s a [framework] ballad taken from Obray Ramsey, and earlier from Rufus Crisp I think. Like I say, it’s only a frame, it’s not a complete ballad. A lot of our material is traditional because we use the words as a format, is all, and the words are nice, those traditional lines are really nice; and we just do the arrangement and the melody and so forth. Also we haven’t copywritten any of the words in these things – the things that are traditional, we’ve left them traditional. Things that were authored previously, even if our version is somewhat different, we give credit to the people who were doing it.”

“Cold Rain And Snow” was frequently selected to open Dead concerts, as it was in the version above from February 4, 1978 in Madison, Wisconsin.

Which cover should go on to the next round: Not Fade Away/GDTRFB or Cold Rain And Snow?

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12. It’s All Over Now Baby Blue vs. 13. Dear Mr. Fantasy


12. It’s All Over Now Baby Blue – Bob Dylan

  • Original Artist/Songwriter: Bob Dylan
  • Lead Singer: Jerry Garcia
  • Grateful Dead Live Performances: 146
  • First Time Played: January 7, 1966
  • Last Time Played: February 19, 1995

Notes: Bob Dylan wrote more songs covered by the Grateful Dead than any other songwriter. According to the endlessly valuable data compiled by JerryBase, “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” is the Dylan song played most by the Dead, eking out “When I Paint My Masterpiece” by a single performance. Dylan’s songs were sung by Weir, Lesh and Garcia, the last of whom sang lead on “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue.” Recorded on January 15, 1965, and released in April of that year on Dylan’s album, Bringing It All Back Home, “Baby Blue,” was played live for the first time by the Grateful Dead on January 7, 1966.

Sporadically played over subsequent years — at times going years between performances — “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” came into its own as a go-to encore song starting in 1981 and continuing through its final appearance. The recording above is of the bust-out “Baby Blue” from the encore on February 24, 1974, which was its first appearance since 1972 and only until it returned to regular rotation in 1981.


13. Dear Mr. Fantasy – Traffic

  • Original Artist/Songwriter: Traffic
  • Lead Singer: Brent Mydland
  • Grateful Dead Live Performances: 60
  • First Time Played: June 14, 1984
  • Last Time Played: July 21, 1990

Notes: Brent Mydland was the Grateful Dead’s longest-tenured keyboardist, whose contributions included not just an ever-growing array of keyboards that incorporated new sounds but also a distinct and soulful singing voice. Mydland’s harmonizing with Garcia and Weir enhanced many of the band’s classic songs. Mydland also wrote and sang lead on several original songs, many of which were co-written with Weir’s longtime lyrical writing partner John Perry Barlow. Along with harmonizing and singing lead on his originals, Mydland was the primary singer of just a few covers, including “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” which appeared on Traffic’s 1967 album, Mr. Fantasy. Written by Traffic’s Jim Capaldi, Steve Winwood and Chris Wood, a nearly 11-minute version was recorded by the British psychedelic rockers for their 1971 live album, Welcome To The Canteen.

“In June 1984, the Grateful Dead performed ‘Dear Mr. Fantasy’ for the first time, at Red Rocks,” Dead archivist David Lemieux explained. “A year later, also at Red Rocks, they added Dear Mr. Fantasy by including the Hey Jude coda to the Traffic classic. And then we waited. Finally, in winter 1988, the Dead brought back Hey Jude, again attached to Fantasy, and it would remain this way for a couple of years, until Brent left the building in July 1990.” Though the Dead stopped playing “Dear Mr. Fantasy” after Mydland’s untimely death, Garcia sat-in on performances of “Dear Mr. Fantasy” when Traffic opened for the Dead in 1994. The above video comes from the Grateful Dead’s July 2, 1989 concert at Foxboro Stadium.

Which cover should go on to the next round: It's All Over Now Baby Blue or Dear Mr. Fantasy?

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[Many thanks to Jerrybase.com, Whitegum.com, Deaddisc.com, Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast and Archive.org for data, media, song information and other resources.]

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