Inspiration: Celebrating 40 Years Of Terrapin Station – ‘Samson And Delilah’
In celebration of the 40th anniversary of the release of the landmark Grateful Dead album Terrapin Station, this week JamBase presents the Inspiration: Celebrating 40 Years Of Terrapin Station video series featuring covers of each of the songs originally issued on July 27, 1977. JamBase hosted a High Sierra Music Festival Terrapin Station 40th Anniversary Playshop featuring a band made up of guitarists Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz and Stu Allen, bassist Murph Murphy, keyboardist Jordan Feinstein and drummer Ezra Lipp. Footage of the collective’s cover of the album’s fourth track “Samson And Delilah” as well as background on the writing and recording of the song follows below.
“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.
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.
In a recent interview on the Marc Maron hosted WTF podcast, guitarist and Grateful Dead collaborator David Bromberg – also a Davis student – discussed the Reverend’s influence and style. Bromberg revealed the royalties from a 1962 recording by Peter, Paul & Mary of “If I Had My Way” (a variation in title for “Samson And Delilah”) credited to Davis helped the veteran bluesman move from the Bronx to a house in Queens.
More overtly biblical than the Terrapin Station opening track “Estimated Prophet,” the LP’s fourth song, as the title implies, is based on the Old Testament story of the mighty Samson and his love Delilah. Attributed on the album to “Trad. Arranged by Bob Weir,” both the song’s lyrical content and the tale from the Book Of Judges revolve around the betrayal of Delilah, who cut off Samson’s strength-giving hair, leading to his capture.
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. This same era also saw recordings of “If I Had My Way I’d Tear The Building Down” by Rev. T.E. Weems, “Samson And The Woman” by Rev. J.M. Gates and “If I Had My Way” by Rev. T. T. Rose. Additionally, a 1920s recording by the Paramount Jubilee Singers of “My Soul Is A Witness For My Lord” features similar lyrics.
“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 led the Grateful Dead through their debut live performance of “Samson And Delilah” on June 3, 1976 at the Paramount Theater in Portland, Oregon. Weir revealed to David Gans he felt a “little weird” about the subsequent studio version that ended up on Terrapin Station.
“I thought it could have had a lot more life,” Weir told Gans. “It fairly roars and snarls on stage, and on the record it sounded a little stiff.”
Never falling out of rotation after its pre-album release debut, more than 360 additional live renditions of “Samson And Delilah” followed, culminating with a final offering as the second song of the band’s final set held on July 9, 1995 at Soldier Field in Chicago.
Watch the previously shared Inspiration: Celebrating 40 Years Of Terrapin Station covers of “Estimated Prophet,” “Dancin’ In The Streets” and “Passenger” here: