Grateful Dead Releases ‘Terrapin Station’ On This Date In 1977
On July 27, 1977, the Grateful Dead released their studio album, Terrapin Station. Side A featured “Estimated Prophet,” “Dancin’ In The Streets,” “Passenger,” “Samson & Delilah” and “Sunrise.” The entire Side B was devoted to the band’s Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter-written opus, the seven-part title track “Terrapin Station.”
Written by Bob Weir and John Perry Barlow, the album’s opening track, “Estimated Prophet,” made its live debut on February 26, 1977, at the Dead’s show at Swing Auditorium in San Bernardino, California – the same night “Terrapin Station” made its debut. Producer Keith Olsen brought in Tom Scott to perform a solo on the electric woodwind instrument known as a lyricon for the Terrapin Station version of “Estimated Prophet.” A staple of the Dead’s live shows, “Estimated” was played by the Dead over 385 times, providing Garcia an opportunity to employ his Mu-Tron III envelope filter pedal.
One of two covers on Terrapin Station, “Dancin’ In The Streets” was written by Marvin Gaye, William Stevenson and Ivy Jo Hunter. The Dead covered the song regularly between 1966 and 1970, but after only being played once in 1971, it was shelved for several years. Brought back during the late-1970s “Disco Dead” era, Arista Records head Clive Davis chose it to be the Terrapin Station lead single. Olsen added uncredited horns to the radio edit, but “Dancin’ In The Streets” failed to achieve radio success. Later digital releases of the album contained the horn-embellished version of the track.
Phil Lesh‘s sole songwriting credit on Terrapin Station was “Passenger,” which the bassist co-wrote with Peter Monk. Lesh composed the instrumentation while Monk, a former member of the U.S. Navy and ordained Buddhist monk named Peter Zimels, wrote the song’s lyrics. Because of Lesh’s vocal chord damage at the time Terrapin Station was recorded, “Passenger” was sung by Weir and Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay. The song, rarely played live and abandoned after 1981, bears a strong sonic resemblance to Fleetwood Mac’s song “Station Man,” which appeared on their 1970 album, Kiln House.
“Samson & Delilah,” the other cover on Terrapin Station, was brought to the band by Weir after learning it from his one-time mentor, the legendary guitarist Rev. Gary Davis. Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, also a student of Davis, arranged a meeting between Bobby and Davis in Queens, New York, shortly before the latter’s death in 1972. Weir and the Grateful Dead also covered Davis’ “Death Don’t Have No Mercy,” and performed “Samson & Delilah” over 360 times between its live debut in 1976 and its appearance in their final set at Soldier Field in Chicago on July 9, 1995.
One of two originals credited to vocalist Donna Jean Godchaux during her tenure as a member of the Grateful Dead, “Sunrise” was the final song on the record’s Side A. Written with the encouragement of Garcia, Godchaux was inspired by sunrise services led by Native American medicine man Rolling Thunder. One sunrise service was conducted by Rolling Thunder in the backyard of the Tiburon, California home where Donna lived with her husband, late Dead keyboardist Keith Godchaux. Donna based “Sunrise” on that experience, which was done in honor of longtime Grateful Dead road crew member Rex Jackson, who died in 1975. The band’s charity organization, the Rex Foundation, was named after Jackson. First played live in New York City on May 1, 1977, “Sunrise” was performed only 30 known times, including a final time during the band’s trip to Egypt in September 1978.
Terrapin Station was the Grateful Dead’s first album released on Arista Records. The aforementioned label head Clive Davis wanted the band to work with an outside producer for the first time since their 1968 LP, Anthem Of The Sun. Chosen more for his access to Studer recording equipment and a Neve recording console at Sound City studio in Van Nuys, California than for his familiarity with the Dead’s music, Keith Olsen was tapped to produce Terrapin Station. Olsen’s contributions to the record were controversial, even among members of the band.
Drummer Mickey Hart called Olsen “disrespectful” for replacing a timbal part in “Terrapin Station” recorded by Hart with strings. Additional controversy-causing orchestral and choral parts performed by The Martyn Ford Orchestra and The English Choral were added by Olsen at various parts of “Terrapin Station.” Fellow drummer Bill Kreutzmann had his own issues with the additions made by Olsen, whom he called a “megalomaniac,” stating that the final track sounded, “really grandiose, like somebody’s ego is playing those strings.”
“Terrapin Station,” with a scaled-down arrangement largely differing from the orchestrated studio version that would come out five months later, made its live debut as the Dead opened their show on February 26, 1977. Their concert on March 18, 1977 was among the closest performances by the band to the version that appeared on Terrapin Station. Six of the seven sections of the suite were performed that night, including what is thought to be the only attempts at “Terrapin,” “At A Siding” (without lyrics) and “Terrapin Flyer.” Often segueing out of “Playing In The Band” and later “Space,” the Grateful Dead visited “Terrapin Station” over 300 times, with a final appearance coming during their second-to-last show on July 8, 1995.
In 2017, to mark the 40th anniversary of the release of Terrapain Station, JamBase produced the Inspiration: Celebrating 40 Years Of Terrapin Station video series featuring covers of each of the songs on LP. Side A was covered by a group of musicians JamBase brought together at High Sierra Music Festival for a Terrapin Station 40th Anniversary Playshop. The band was anchored by guitarists Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz and Stu Allen, bassist Murph Murphy, keyboardist Jordan Feinstein and drummer Ezra Lipp, along with featured vocalists Paige Clem and Lesley Grant and keyboardist Kirby Hammel.
Side B, the seven-part “Terrapin Station” medley was recorded by several bands and musicians in various locations. Each part was then edited together into a single seamless performance video featuring Railroad Earth, moe., Stanley Jordan, Strangefolk, Moonalice, The Mountain Goats, Lebo, Jake Peavy, Holly Bowling, Poor Man’s Whiskey, Grahame Lesh & Kirby Lee Hammel, Eric DiBerardino and others.
Head here for links to the Inspiration 40th anniversary covers of Terrapin Station, and watch the collaborative “Terrapin Station” medley and the other videos below: