Box of Rain

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For the book of lyrics by Robert Hunter, see A Box of Rain.
"Box of Rain"
Song by Grateful Dead from the album American Beauty
Released November 1, 1970
Recorded August–September 1970, at Wally Heider Studios, San Francisco, California, United States
Genre Country rock
Length 5:18
Label Warner Bros.
Writer(s) Phil Lesh and Robert Hunter
Producer(s) Grateful Dead and Steve Barncard
American Beauty track listing
"Box of Rain"
"Friend of the Devil"

"Box of Rain" is a song by the Grateful Dead, from their 1970 album American Beauty. The song was composed by bassist Phil Lesh and lyricist Robert Hunter, and sung by Lesh. In later years, the song was a favorite and the crowd would shout "Let Phil sing!" to hear the song.[1]

The song[edit]

  • Key: G
  • Time signature: 4/4 (with an occasional 2/4 measure)
  • Chords used: A, Bm7/A, A4, D, Am, Em, C, G, Bm

"Box of Rain" is a song that is drawn from American folk and country musical roots. This is true of many Grateful Dead tunes, and most of the songs on American Beauty and their other 1970 release Workingman's Dead. As the first song on American Beauty, it was also the first Grateful Dead song released on record to feature Phil Lesh as the lead vocalist.[2][3]

The song also featured two musicians who are not in the band. Dave Torbert played bass, while Lesh played acoustic guitar. David Nelson (of New Riders of the Purple Sage) plays the lead guitar with a Fender Telecaster, while Jerry Garcia plays the piano. While many describe Dave Nelson's Telecaster solo as being performed on a b-bender equipped guitar, the solo was recorded before he owned one, and was performed using traditional bending technique.


According to lyricist Hunter, Lesh "wanted a song to sing to his dying father and had composed a piece complete with every vocal nuance but the words. If ever a lyric 'wrote itself,' this did—as fast as the pen would pull."[4] Lesh practiced the song driving to the nursing home where his father lay with terminal cancer.

Many of the lyrics to this song are reminiscent of the song "Ripple", which opens the second side of the album. Images of water abound in both, as well as references to "broken" or "hand-me-down" thoughts. According to Hunter: "By 'box of rain,' I meant the world we live on, but 'ball' of rain didn't have the right ring to my ear, so box it became, and 'I don't know who put it there.'"[5]

The line "moth before a flame" echoes several proverbs, such as "the fate of the moth in the flame"—Aeschylus, Fragments (Fragment #288). The line "long long time to be gone and a short time to be there" echoes the old-time classic "Little Birdie", which includes the line "I've a short while to be here, and a long time to be gone."

In one of Carl Hiaasen's novels, the main character is in a shelter for children stranded by a hurricane, and in a particularly tender moment, sings Box of Rain to the child.

Performance history[edit]

"Box of Rain" debuted on September 17, 1970, at the Fillmore East in New York City during the acoustic portion of the show. That performance was (perhaps significantly given the song's emotional burden for Lesh) its sole appearance for nearly two years. The Grateful Dead reintroduced it during the Fall of 1972 and played it on and off during 1972 and 1973, then dropping it and only reviving it 750+ performances later, playing it on March 20, 1986, at the Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia. After that, the song was frequently played in response to chants from the audience. Before the death of Jerry Garcia, "Box of Rain" was the last song ever performed live at a Grateful Dead concert, during the final encore at Soldier Field in Chicago on July 9, 1995. Symbolically, it was the first song played at the first Fare Thee Well show at Soldier Field on July 3, 2015, bringing fans full circle. Also recorded by Hunter on his 'Jack o' Roses' LP.


  1. ^ Kindersley, Dorling et al. Grateful Dead, the Illustrated Trip page 124, (2003) ISBN 0-7894-9963-0
  2. ^ Jackson, Blair Garcia: An American Life pg. 197(1999) ISBN 0-14-029199-7
  3. ^ Kindersley, Dorling et al. Grateful Dead, the Illustrated Trip page 121 (2003) ISBN 0-7894-9963-0
  4. ^ Jackson, Blair Garcia: An American Life (1999) ISBN 0-14-029199-7
  5. ^ Dodd, David (accessed 12 January 2008)The Annotated Box of Rain Lyrics An Installment by David Dodd, Library, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs