Me and My Uncle
- John often used to tell the story behind "Me and My Uncle." Years ago he began receiving publishing royalties from a song on a Judy Collins record with which he was unfamiliar. It was titled "Me and My Uncle". He called Judy to let her know of the mistake because he hadn't written any such song. She laughed and told him that about a year before, in Arizona after one of her concerts, they had a 'Tequila Night' back at the hotel with Stephen Stills, Neil Young and a few others. They were running a blank cassette and John proceeded to write "Me and My Uncle" on the spot. The next day, John woke up to the tequila sunrise with no recollection of the songwriting incident. Judy kept the cassette from that evening and then, without informing John, recorded the song for her own record. Over the years the song was recorded by several people, and eventually became a standard of the Grateful Dead. John used to joke that, little by little, with each royalty check, the memory of writing the song would come back to him.
The song constitutes a story, told in retrospect by one of the characters. The Narrator and his uncle ride from southern Colorado towards western Texas. They stop in Santa Fe, where, in the heat of the day, they stop into a bar. There, they meet a group of cowboys whose poker game the narrator's uncle joins. After the Uncle plays a few successful rounds, he is accused of cheating, whereupon a gunfight breaks out with the cowboys. In the confusion, the uncle grabs the gold and the pair "high-tails it down to Mexico." Finally, either as a result of wounds received in the fight or perhaps at the hands of the narrator himself (the lyrics are not clear), the narrator, takes the gold and leaves his uncle's corpse on the side of the road.
"Me and My Uncle" was first recorded by Judy Collins at some point in 1964, and performed at The Judy Collins Concert.
It was later heard by the Grateful Dead, who adopted it as one of their standard performances. Bob Weir is reported to have learned it from Curly Jim Cook, a member of the Bay Area A.B. Skhy blues band. According to Deadbase, the Grateful Dead first played the song in late 1966. The earliest commercially released performance of it is from the Electric Theater in Chicago, on April 26, 1969, and is available on Dick's Picks Volume 26. The song continued to be performed regularly until Jerry Garcia's death and the end of the band in 1995. According to Deadbase, it was the most-played song of all in the Dead's long concert career, with 616 performances.
Since the Grateful Dead disbanded in 1995, the song continues to be a staple of the surviving members' performances.