Inspiration: Celebrating 40 Years Of Terrapin Station – ‘Sunrise’
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 featuring lead vocalist Lesley Grant of the album’s fifth track “Sunrise,” as well as background on the writing and recording of the song follows below.
A full five years into her tenure as a member of the Grateful Dead, vocalist Donna Jean Godchaux was given the spotlight on the final song on Side-A of Terrapin Station, the ballad “Sunrise.” Other than perhaps the title track, the version of “Sunrise” that appears on Terrapin Station is most representative of mainstream producer Keith Olsen’s now controversial orchestral additions.
A recent inductee into the Alabama Music Hall Of Fame, the Florence-native born Donna Jean Thatcher began her career as a backing vocalist in nearby Muscle Shoals. She appeared on hit 1960s records such as “Suspicious Minds” by Elvis Presley and “When A Man Loves A Woman” by Percy Sledge and contributed to other recording sessions at the renowned FAME Studios. Though Godchaux had previously written songs for the Keith and Donna Band featuring her husband and former Dead keyboardist Keith Godchaux, “Sunrise” marked the vocalist’s first original contribution to the band’s songbook.
“Once I got into the Grateful Dead, Jerry [Garcia] actually encouraged me,” Donna told Grateful Web in 2008. “He said, ‘You need to be writing song to put on a record.’ Which I did. I was greatly encouraged by his encouragement. I really started getting back into songwriting at about that time. I think the first thing I wrote for the Grateful Dead was ‘Sunrise.’ It’s on Terrapin Station. I’ve been writing ever since, growing musically.”
Donna spoke with Honest Tune in 2008 and described the inspiration behind “Sunrise,” stating:
“Sunrise” is a lyrical interpretation of three or four sunrise services that I went to performed by Rolling Thunder. So a lot of that song is based on the memorial service that Rolling Thunder did in mine and Keith’s backyard in Tiburon, California. So a large part of that was based on Rex Jackson’s memorial service.
Rolling Thunder was a Native American medicine man born John Pope in Oklahoma to Cherokee parents. Following a career as a Southern Pacific Railroad brakeman, in 1975 Rolling Thunder and his wife Spotted Fawn established the spiritual community Meta Tantay near Carlin, Nevada. Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart visited Meta Tantay and named his 1972 solo Rolling Thunder, which features the controversial medicine man on the record’s opening title track.
Rex Jackson was a longtime member of the Grateful Dead’s road crew. He was the group’s road manager when he tragically died on September 5, 1976 at the young age of 31 following a car accident. In 1983 the Grateful Dead established the Rex Foundation, their charitable organization which was named after their late assistant.
“Sunrise” made its live debut at the Grateful Dead’s May 1, 1977 concert at the Palladium in New York City. Donna led the group through a total of 30 known public performances, culminating with a final offering on September 16, 1978 during the band’s trip to Egypt. “From The Heart Of Me,” the other Donna original performed by the Grateful Dead and recorded on their 1978 LP Shakedown Street, appeared in 26 setlists between mid-1978 and early-1979.
Currently residing in her hometown, Donna remains active with the Donna Jean Godchaux Band featuring her husband David MacKay on guitar. Donna has also joined her former band mates that perform in Dead & Company on a number of occasions.
Watch the previously shared Inspiration: Celebrating 40 Years Of Terrapin Station covers of “Estimated Prophet,” “Dancin’ In The Streets,” “Passenger” and “Samson And Delilah” here: