Grateful Dead – Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo

I can imagine listening to this song floating down the river on a warm southern day. How could anyone not like that title? I first heard this song in the 80s from a friend’s brother who was a complete Dead Head.

Hello baby, I’m gone, goodbye
Half a cup of rock and rye

While Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia were writing the song, Garcia had a problem with one particular word in this line: Cueball’s made of styrofoam
and no one’s got the time.

Robert Hunter said that Garcia argued:  “This is so uncharacteristic of your work, to put something as time-dated” or whatever that word would be “as Styrofoam into it.” I’ve never sung that song without regretting I put that line in. Jerry also didn’t like songs that had political themes to them, and in retrospect, I think this was wise because a lot of the stuff with political themes from those days sounds pretty callow these days.”

The song was a popular one in concert…It was performed over 230 times live by The Grateful Dead over the years.

The song was on the Wake of the Flood album released in 1973… but not without its problems. It came three long years after the Dead’s previous studio album, American Beauty. Now, this would be normal but back in the seventies that was a lifetime.

The Dead had just left Warner Bros and were without a record deal. Then manager  Ron Rakow talked to Garcia about starting the label and soon it was agreed. They made a decision to start their own record label like The Beatles and Stones did…except for one thing. They had no one to distribute them. Phil Lesh said: “We already owned our own sound system. Booking and travel were in-house. It seemed as if being our own record company would be worth a try. No one could see a downside.”

Rakow talked for a while about distributing records by ice cream trucks. Yes…fans would place their order through the local ice cream truck vendor and you would pick up your album with… a snowcone I guess. The voice of reason soon prevailed and they eventually got United Artists to distribute their records.

Wake of the Flood was their first studio album released on their new Grateful Dead Records. They did release two singles before that. They had problems after the release. They took a call from one distributor… the copies he’d received of Wake of the Flood sounded so bad, he said, that kids were bringing them back to the stores. The Dead office thought it was a hustle…retailers wanting records sent to them for free until he asked yet another grousing store owner to send him a copy of the supposedly flawed record. What arrived in the mail at the Dead office was a truly fake Wake of the Flood… a cover that amounted to a mimeographed photo of the artwork and an LP with music that sounded as if it had been copied from a cassette, complete with hissing noises. They’d been bootlegged.

One source says the label was told in advance by shadowy figures in Brooklyn that any release on Grateful Dead Records would be bootlegged and that they would have no choice but to go along with it. Soon after that batch, the bootlegs stopped and it was over as quick as it started. The band lost up to 90,000 because of the bootlegs.

Soon after the album’s release, Warner Bros released a greatest hits album called Skeletons in the Closet. Wake of the Flood peaked at #18 in the Billboard Album Charts and #30 in Canada in 1973.

Garcia talked about the line: I lost my boots in transit babe
A pile of smoking leather

“I was in an automobile accident in 1960 with four other guys… 90-plus miles an hour on a back road. We hit these dividers and went flying, I guess. All I know is that I was sitting in the car and there was this… disturbance… and the next thing, I was in a field, far enough away from the car that I couldn’t see it.

“The car was crumpled like a cigarette pack… and inside it were my shoes. I’d been thrown completely out of my shoes and through the windshield. One guy did die in the group. It was like losing the golden boy, the one who had the most to offer. For me it was crushing, but I had the feeling that my life had been spared to do something, to either go whole hog or not at all…That was when my life began. Before that I had been living at less than capacity. That event was the slingshot for the rest of my life. It was my second chance, and I got serious.”

Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo

On the day that I was born
Daddy sat down and cried
I had the mark just as plain as day
which could not be denied
They say that Cain caught Abel
rolling loaded dice,
ace of spades behind his ear
and him not thinking twice

Half-step
Mississippi Uptown Toodleloo
Hello baby, I’m gone, goodbye
Half a cup of rock and rye
Farewell to you old southern sky
I’m on my way – on my way

If all you got to live for
is what you left behind
get yourself a powder charge
and seal that silver mine
I lost my boots in transit babe
A pile of smoking leather
Nailed a retread to my feet
and prayed for better weather

Half-step
Mississippi Uptown Toodleloo
Hello, baby, I’m gone, good-bye
Half a cup of rock and rye
Farewell to you old southern sky
I’m on my way – on my way

They say that when your ship comes in
the first man takes the sails
The second takes the afterdeck
The third the planks and rails
What’s the point to callin shots?
This cue ain’t straight in line
Cueball’s made of styrofoam
and no one’s got the time

Half-step
Mississippi Uptown Toodleloo
Hello baby, I’m gone, goodbye
Half a cup of rock and rye
Farewell to you old southern sky
I’m on my way – on my way

Across the Rio Grand-eo
Across the lazy river
Across the Rio Grand-eo
Across the lazy river

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

13 thoughts on “Grateful Dead – Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo”

  1. The Grateful Dead had their double live album Europe 72 in between American Beauty and Wake of the Flood, so the waiting period for the fans was not awful. Before the car accident Jerry left a party at the Chateau with Alan Trist, local artist Paul Speegle Jr, and Lee Adams and this revelation causes him to choose the guitar over his hobby of painting and drawing. I have never done a post on this song, and I guess that is because these lyrics are so cryptic, thanks for covering it Max. I love when Hunter throws Biblical lyrics into his songs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yea I should have said studio album…
      The song just takes you away. I understand Jerry’s styrofoam comment about it being timeless.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Good tune. And, yep, quite a title. Doing some math here, played 230 times based on the live clip you posted only translates into 2,300 minutes – so lame! 🙂

    When I explored some of the Dead’s music several years ago and jokingly said I had transformed from a bonehead to a deadhead, I spent some time with “American Beauty.” Based on what I heard, I really liked that album.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Quite a good one. when it got towards the chorus, I found it did seem a little familiar, have heard it now and again but didn’t know who it was. Interesting that Garcia was smart enough to think about writing lyrics that were timeless and wouldn’t sound dated a few years on… many artists lack that.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Ahhhh. Right in my comfort zone…
    Never heard the story about Gerry and his shoes, thanks. Diving through a windscreen and coming out relatively unscathed must make you reappraise life; Unless it’s a massive concussion.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thought you would like this one! You put it back on my radar. Just incredible lyrics in this one. The styrofoam comment…I get that… wanting to make the songs timeless. Thanks for reading Obbverse.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes I think I can guess!
      Wake of the Flood, From The Mars Hotel, Blues for Allah, and Terrapin Station are good.

      Terrapin Station leans toward progressive to me so it’s something you might like more than I do.

      Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: