Happy Birthday Robert Hunter: 2013 Americana Music Association Lifetime Achievement Award

Today would have been the Grateful Dead lyricist’s 82nd birthday.

By Andy Kahn Jun 23, 2023 6:00 am PDT

Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter was born on this date in 1941. Hunter’s primary writing partner was late Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia. Among Hunter’s first contributions to the Dead were the lyrics to “St. Stephen,” “China Cat Sunflower,” “Dark Star” and “Alligator.”

Now-classics that followed include “Uncle John’s Band,” “Truckin’,” “Friend Of The Devil,” “Black Muddy River,” “Eyes Of The World,” “Scarlet Begonias,” “Franklin’s Tower” and “Touch Of Grey,” among others. Hunter, fueled by retsina wine, famously wrote the Grateful Dead classics “Brokedown Palace,” “To Lay Me Down” and “Ripple” on the same day in London in 1970.

Hunter and Garcia (posthumously) were recognized for their outstanding body of work with induction into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame in 2015. Hunter was 78-years-old when he died on September 23, 2019. His legacy remains unprecedented in rock ‘n’ roll, which includes induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1994 as a member of the Grateful Dead as the first non-performer to receive the prestigious honor.

In addition to collaborating with Garcia and other members of the Dead, Hunter also contributed lyrics to such artists as Bob Dylan, Steve Kimock, The String Cheese Incident and Jim Lauderdale. Tonight, Lauderdale will appear on the Shakedown Stream pre-show to discuss his longtime songwriting partnership with Hunter, which includes songs on Lauderdale’s upcoming new studio album, Hope.

Lauderdale also hosted the Americana Music Association Awards & Honors ceremony held at The Ryman Auditorium in Nashville on September 18, 2013. Hunter was bestowed the Lifetime Achievement Award that evening, as Lauderdale presented his friend and collaborator with the special recognition.

“There’s a man whose roots run so deep,” Lauderdale said while presenting the award to Hunter. “That it’s almost unfathomable. But there’s a key: his words. His words have so much meaning that they give new meaning to the word. Meaning, by the time his words came out on records, he was already a master. He was there when everything started changing. And he was a big part of that change. He hit peak after peak and he took us to the mountain with him. He took us to new places and old places we’d forgotten we’d been to before. Transported, transfixed, transcended. And what a long, strange trip it’s been. ”

Hunter gave an honest and heartfelt acceptance speech. He ended his brief remarks by sharing with the audience at The Ryman a quote by science-fiction author Ray Bradbury, stating:

“Love what you do and do what you love. Don’t listen to anyone else who tells you not to do it. You do what you want, what you love. Imagination should be the center of your life.”


Hunter then proceeded to perform one of the songs he wrote that fateful afternoon in London, delivering a solo rendition of “Ripple.” The performance was, at the time, Hunter’s first in several years.

Watch Lauderdale and Hunter’s speeches as well as the latter’s performance of “Ripple” at the 2013 Americana Music Association Awards & Honors below:

Robert Hunter
Robert Hunter (See 4 videos)

[Originally Published: June 23, 2021]

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