Inspiration: Celebrating 40 Years Of Terrapin Station – ‘Passenger’
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 third song “Passenger,” featuring vocalist Paige Clem and keyboardist Kirby Hammel, as well as background on the writing and recording of the song follows below.
Bassist Phil Lesh composed the music to “Passenger,” the third track on Terrapin Station, the band’s Keith Olsen-produced 1977 debut LP for Arista Records. A former member of the U.S. Navy and ordained Buddhist monk named Peter Zimels, listed as Peter Monk, was credited as the song’s lyricist.
Zimels was a friend of the Grateful Dead and later conducted the 1981 wedding between Jerry Garcia and Mountain Girl (Carolyn Adams) under the backstage stairs at the Oakland Auditorium during the band’s New Year’s Eve concert. Outtakes from February 1977 studio sessions revealed Zimels wrote additional lyrics to “Passenger” that were ultimately cut from the album. Dead & Company has performed the previously axed verses during their performances of the song which they debuted at Bonnaroo in 2016. The additional lyrics were also performed this year by Bob Weir and The Campfire Band at a show in New Orleans.
“Passenger” is the lone Grateful Dead original credited to Zimels, though he co-wrote “Blind John” with C.J. Stetson which appeared on drummer Mickey Hart’s 1972 solo album Rolling Thunder. Stetson was a pseudonym used by 13th Floor Elevators manager Curly Jim Stalarow, who is believed to have taught Weir the often covered John Phillips favorite “Me And My Uncle.”
Backed by “Terrapin Station” – a three minute edit of the album closing suite “Terrapin Part 1” – the Dead issued “Passenger” as the LP’s second single following “Dancin’ In The Streets.” Despite the push by Arista Records label head Clive Davis for radio success, neither of the singles impacted the Billboard charts.
“What’s weird about that song is I sort of did it as a joke,” said Lesh in an interview that ran in issue #28 Dupree’s Diamond News. “It’s a take on a Fleetwood Mac tune called ‘Station Man.’ I just sort of sped it up and put some different chord changes in there”
Fleetwood Mac released “Station Man” as part of their 1970 Kiln House LP and there are clear resemblances between the pair of songs. When the Grateful Dead went into the studio in early 1977 to record Terrapin Station, Lesh, who at the time was suffering from vocal chord damage, handed singing duties over to Weir and Donna Jean Godchaux just as when the song made its live debut at a show in St. Louis on May 15, 1977.
After Godchaux and her husband, keyboardist Keith Godchaux, departed the group in 1979, the latter’s replacement Brent Mydland accompanied Weir vocally on subsequent live performances. Though it spent a mere four years in the band’s repertoire, just under 100 Dead shows featured “Passenger” before it was retired for good following a final performance on December 27, 1981 in Oakland.
Watch the previously shared Inspiration: Celebrating 40 Years Of Terrapin Station covers of “Estimated Prophet” and “Dancin’ In The Streets” here: