Terrapin Station

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Terrapin Station
A painting of two terrapins dancing and play tambourines outside of a train station
Studio album by
ReleasedJuly 27, 1977 (1977-07-27)
RecordedNovember 2, 1976 – May 8, 1977 at Sound City Studios, Van Nuys; Automated Sound Studios, New York City; AIR Studios, London; Trident Studios, London; Abbey Road Studios, London[1]
GenreProgressive rock, jazz rock[2]
ProducerKeith Olsen
Grateful Dead chronology
Steal Your Face
Terrapin Station
What a Long Strange Trip It's Been
Professional ratings
Review scores
Allmusic2/5 stars[3]
Christgau's Record GuideB[4]
Rolling Stone4/5 stars[5]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music4/5 stars[6]

Terrapin Station is the ninth studio album by the Grateful Dead, released July 27, 1977. It was the first Grateful Dead album on Arista Records and the first studio album after the band returned to live touring, following a nearly two-year hiatus.

The album reached No. 28 on the Billboard Album Chart and achieved gold album status in 1987, after being released for the first time on CD (by Arista Records) following the release of that year's In the Dark. Terrapin Station was remastered and expanded for the Beyond Description (1973–1989) box set in October 2004.

It was voted number 848 in the third edition of Colin Larkin's All Time Top 1000 Albums (2000).[7]


With the folding of their own record label and a change in management, the Grateful Dead signed with recently founded Arista Records. Label head Clive Davis had been interested in working with the band since his time at Columbia Records and had previously signed their colleagues New Riders of the Purple Sage.[8] He added the Dead to the label with the agreement that they work under an outside producer – something they had not tried on a studio album since 1968's Anthem of the Sun (though 1970's American Beauty had been co-produced by engineer Stephen Barncard). Keith Olsen was chosen to produce and the band temporarily moved to Los Angeles, as he preferred to work at Sound City, where he had recently achieved success producing Fleetwood Mac's 1975 comeback album.[9]

Lyricist Robert Hunter wrote the lyrics for the first part of the "Terrapin Station" suite in a single sitting, during a rare Bay Area lightning storm. On the same day, driving across the Richmond–San Rafael Bridge, lead guitarist Jerry Garcia was struck by the idea for a singular melodic line. He turned his car around and hurried home to set it down in notation before it escaped him. Hunter said "When we met the next day, I showed him the words and he said, 'I've got the music.' They dovetailed perfectly and Terrapin edged into this dimension."[10] He based the lyrics for the "Lady with a Fan" section on a traditional English folk song known variously as "The Lady of Carlisle", "The Bold Lieutenant" and "The Lion's Den". The ballad is No. 396 on the Roud Folk Song Index. It is also O 25 on the Laws list, which synopsizes "The lady decides to choose between two brothers who love her by determining which is braver. She tosses her fan into a lion's den and asks them to retrieve it."[11] Hunter, who was also influenced by Sir Walter Scott, had composed "Terrapin Station" in two parts, the second never recorded or performed by the Grateful Dead.

Drummer Bill Kreutzmann ironed out the arrangement, explaining "We sat down and mapped it out. I said, 'This is how the song goes.' I showed [Mickey] all the parts that I felt worked really well, he added a couple, and that's what the song is today. We went back into the studio the next night and got it right. With the drum parts worked out, everything else snapped together like puzzle pieces."[12]

Rhythm guitarist Bob Weir's "Estimated Prophet" was written in septuple time. His lyrics for the song (finished with writing partner John Barlow) examine a character's delusions of grandeur and California's propensity for false prophets. The song also quotes "Ezekiel Saw the Wheel".[13][14] Drummer Bill Kreutzmann said "It's a great song but when [Weir] brought it to us, something was off. It needed a groove. It was in quick 7
but it didn't swing. Yet. For my homework that night, I combined two fast sevens and played half-time over it. The two sevens brought the time around to an even number – the phrasing is in two bars of seven, so technically the time signature is in 14
. But that's getting technical. In layman's terms, 'Estimated Prophet' suddenly grooved."[12]

"Dancin' in the Streets" is a cover of Martha & the Vandellas' "Dancing in the Street" from the early days of the band, given a new arrangement that prominently features singer Donna Godchaux. For the studio version, a funk-influenced guitar figure was added to a four-on-the-floor disco beat and polished with a commercial production contemporary to the era. The highly orchestrated "Sunrise" was Donna's first singing-songwriting effort for the Grateful Dead. (She and band pianist Keith Godchaux had written the songs for their duo effort Keith & Donna two years prior, on Dead spin-off label Round Records.) The song has been acknowledged as a tribute to the band's recently deceased road manager, Rex Jackson, for whom the Dead's charitable Rex Foundation was later named.[15]

Fortunately we had a chance to play [Estimated Prophet and Terrapin Part I] three times onstage and it made a huge difference ... Then we came back and we knew what the songs were about.

 – Bob Weir[14]

Bassist Phil Lesh's "Passenger" was inspired by Fleetwood Mac's "Station Man". The lyrics were written by ordained Buddhist monk Peter Zimels.[16] However, as Lesh had stopped singing during this period due to vocal cord damage from improper singing technique, Weir and Donna Godchaux sang lead for both the recording and when it was later added to live set lists. Weir's "Samson & Delilah" was a new arrangement of Reverend Gary Davis's traditional song, retelling the story from the Tanakh. Weir had taken several guitar lessons from Davis at his Queens, New York, home prior to his death in 1972.[17]

Olsen had a method for reining in the Dead: "During the cutting of the basic tracks it was pretty hard to get every member of the band in the studio at the same time ... so [Steve] Parish went out to the hardware store and got these giant nails and a great big hammer and as soon as everybody was in, he hammered the door shut from the inside ... we didn't have drifters from the other studios coming in to listen. We didn't have people leaving to go screw around elsewhere. We started getting work done."[18] With Fleetwood Mac, Olsen had a hands-on approach, orchestrating the addition of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks and influencing song choice, arrangements and sequencing. He entered the Grateful Dead project with similar expectations, imagining a concept album or song cycle. Olsen said that Davis told him "I need a commercial record out of them."[18] This caused some friction during the sessions as well as with the end results. Kreutzmann said "He'd have us play the same thing over and over again, and we're not really the type of band that can put up with that. ... Our very identity is based on the opposite principle."[12]


The final overdubs were recorded at Automated Sound in New York City while the Dead toured the region.[19] Olsen then added strings, horns and choirs to the tracks at studios in London, unrequested by the band. For "Estimated Prophet", Donna's vocals were multi-tracked and he had Tom Scott add lyricon and saxophone. In a further quest for commercial potential, he ignored other contributions. Kreutzmann commented

Mickey [Hart] had a cool timbale part that he recorded, with Garcia adding interplay on guitar. But Olsen had another idea. Without telling anyone in the band, he erased Mickey's part entirely and then hired a string section to fill out that passage instead. I was pissed off about it, but Mickey was deservedly outraged. Outraged. ... it was a very stupid thing to do. Mickey wasn't going to be had that easily, though, and so he and Garcia – who sided with Mickey – redid their part. Olsen wasn't going to give up either, so he made sure the strings remained in the final mix. The recorded version of "Terrapin Station" is probably my least favorite version because of that. It sounds really grandiose, like somebody's ego is playing those strings.[12]

Weir likewise felt "All the orchestration and choral stuff was given too much prominence ... so we began this long negotiation, as it were, to put it in a more reasonable perspective. Keith was real stoked – he'd gone over to England and gotten these parts ... I thought it had to be backpedaled considerably. Keith said 'I'm going to bring Tom Scott in' ... I didn't know there was going to be anything added on "Estimated Prophet".[14] Nonetheless, Weir worked with the producer that summer, taking advantage of an offer by Davis to record his second solo album, Heaven Help the Fool, for Arista.


The cover artwork was produced by Kelley/Mouse Studios, who had created several previous works for the band. Though a terrapin appears in the lyrics only as a place name, dancing terrapins feature prominently in the artwork and afterward became part of the large iconography associated with the Grateful Dead. The front cover image takes the idea of a "terrapin station" literally. The back cover features a stylized, one-eyed skull with a crossed bone, feathers and roses, in keeping with the imagery that had evolved around the Dead.

Though the heavy sound production was of its time, it was unusual for a Grateful Dead album and a departure from their earlier, edgier psychedelic albums or their more recent americana or jazz-blues efforts. Garcia said Olsen had "put the Grateful Dead in a dress". Unhappy with the string sections and choirs on the title suite, he complained "It made me mad. He and Paul Buckmaster had an erroneous rhythmic sense; they changed it from a dotted shuffle to a marching 4
time."[20] Lesh said "The orchestral and choral sweeteners added to the title sequence by Olsen and Buckmaster were a classic example of gilding the lily."[9] Reaction to the production from both fans and critics was similar, with a more positive response to the songs themselves.

A vehicular accident involving drummer Mickey Hart prevented a summer tour supporting the release of Terrapin Station, and while Weir returned to the studio with Olsen, Garcia focused on exhibiting The Grateful Dead Movie, and the Jerry Garcia Band and Cats Under the Stars. All of the songs on the album were played live, with "Terrapin Station", "Estimated Prophet" and "Samson and Delilah" staying in concert rotation until the dissolution of the band, usually as part of the second set. After its reappearance, "Dancin' in the Street" was played frequently while Donna Godchaux remained in the band, after which it was performed sporadically until 1987. She also sang "Sunrise" during the rest of her tenure. "Terrapin Station Part 1" was never performed live in full. The first three sections (known live as "Terrapin Station") remained on set lists, with the third generally extended into a climactic focus of the second set. The most complete performance included versions of the "Terrapin Transit", "At a Siding" (without lyrics), and "Terrapin Flyer" sections. It was performed only once (March 18, 1977 at Winterland, San Francisco). Conversely, one performance skipped the "Lady with a Fan" section – that of May 22, 1977 at Hollywood Sportatorium in Pembroke Pines (see Dick's Picks Volume 3).

Two singles were released from the album. Davis selected "Dancin' in the Streets" as the first, in a different mix featuring a horn section that Olsen had wanted to add to the album mix. The second single featured "Passenger". Both singles were backed with "Terrapin Station", an excerpt of the album's "Terrapin Part 1" featuring the second section and part of the third (i.e. "Terrapin Station>Terrapin"). Domestic CD copies substitute the album version of "Dancin' in the Streets" with the single mix.

Terrapin Station was first released on CD in 1986. In 2004 it was expanded and remastered for the Beyond Description box set. This version was released individually in 2006. Included in the bonus selections is one track from the May 8, 1977 show at Cornell University. The highly collected concert has been called one of the band's best-ever.[21] Initial releases did not list time lengths for individual sections of "Terrapin Part 1", though the sections were apparent by style and authorship. Various CD releases break the song down into individual track sections, albeit some with nebulous track boundaries.

Track listing[edit]

Side one
No.TitleWriter(s)Lead singer(s)Length
1."Estimated Prophet"Bob Weir5:35
2."Dancin' in the Streets"
  • Bob Weir
  • Donna Godchaux
  • Bob Weir
  • Donna Godchaux
4."Samson & Delilah"Trad., arranged by WeirBob Weir3:30
5."Sunrise"Donna GodchauxDonna Godchaux4:05
Side two
No.TitleLead singerLength
6."Terrapin Part 1"
  • "Lady with a Fan" (Garcia, Hunter) – 4:40
  • "Terrapin Station" (Garcia, Hunter) - 1:54
  • "Terrapin" (Garcia, Hunter) - 2:11
  • "Terrapin Transit" (Hart, Kreutzmann) - 1:27
  • "At a Siding" (Hart, Hunter) - 0:55
  • "Terrapin Flyer" (Hart, Kreutzmann) - 3:00
  • "Refrain" (Garcia) - 2:16"
Jerry Garcia16:23
Bonus tracks on 2004/2006 reissue
8."The Ascent" 1:59
9."Catfish John"4:43
11."Fire on the Mountain"
  • Hart
  • Hunter
12."Dancin' in the Streets" (live at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, May 8, 1977)
  • Stevenson
  • Gaye
  • Hunter


Reissue production credits

  • James Austin – production
  • Hugh Brown – design, art direction
  • Reggie Collins – annotation
  • Dave Devore – engineering
  • Jimmy Edwards – associate production
  • Sheryl Farber – editorial supervision
  • Tom Flye – mixing
  • Cornelius "Snookey" Flowers – photography
  • David Gans – liner notes
  • Joe Gastwirt – mastering, production consultancy
  • Robert Gatley – mixing assistance
  • Robin Hurley – associate production
  • Eileen Law – research
  • David Lemieux – production
  • Mary Ann Mayer – art coordination
  • Richard McCaffrey – photography
  • Hale Milfgrim – associate production
  • Robert Minkin – photography
  • Scott Pascucci – associate production
  • Ed Perlstein – photography
  • Cameron Sears – executive production
  • Peter Simon – photography
  • Steve Vance – design, art direction

Charts and certifications[edit]


Year Chart Position
1977 Pop Albums 28[22]

RIAA Certification

Certification Date
Gold[23] September 4, 1987


  1. ^ "The Grateful Dead – Terrapin Station". Discogs. Retrieved September 28, 2018.
  2. ^ Richardson, Peter (2015). No Simple Highway: A Cultural History of the Grateful Dead. St. Martin's Press. p. 232. ISBN 1250082145. Terrapin Station was a major departure from their earlier efforts—more symphonic, and with a progressive, jazz-rock overlay...
  3. ^ Planer, Lindsay. "Terrapin Station". AllMusic. Retrieved September 28, 2018.
  4. ^ Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: G". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 089919026X. Retrieved February 24, 2019 – via robertchristgau.com.
  5. ^ The Grateful Dead Album Guide Archived 2011-06-28 at the Wayback Machine, Rolling Stone
  6. ^ Larkin, Colin (2007). Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-0857125958.
  7. ^ Colin Larkin (2006). All Time Top 1000 Albums (3rd ed.). Virgin Books. p. 262. ISBN 0-7535-0493-6.
  8. ^ Browne, David (2015). So Many Roads: The Life and Times of the Grateful Dead. Da Capo Press. New York, NY. p. 248. ISBN 978-0-306-82170-7.
  9. ^ a b Lesh, Phil (2005). Searching for the Sound. Little, Brown & Co.; New York, NY. Chapter 18. ISBN 978-0-316-00998-0.
  10. ^ Hunter, Robert (1990). Box of Rain. New York, NY: Viking Penguin. p. 310. ISBN 978-0140134513.
  11. ^ Laws, G. Malcolm (1957). American Balladry from British Broadsides. The American Folklore Society. ISBN 9780292735033.
  12. ^ a b c d Kreutzmann, Bill (2015). Deal. St. Martin's Press, New York, NY. Chapter 13. ISBN 978-1-250-03380-2.
  13. ^ Smith, Lans. The American Book of the Dead. Fireside; New York, NY. p. 99. ISBN 0-684-81402-1.
  14. ^ a b c Gans, David (2002). Conversations with the Dead. Da Capo Press. p. 11. ISBN 0-306-81099--9.
  15. ^ Dodd, David. "The Annotated "Sunrise"". The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics. Retrieved February 2, 2017.
  16. ^ Dodd, David. "Greatest Stories Ever Told - Passenger". Dead.net. Retrieved February 1, 2017.
  17. ^ http://www.alanpaulinchina.com/2011/01/from-archives-bob-weir.html
  18. ^ a b Jackson, Blair (1999). Garcia: An American Life. Penguin Books; New York, NY. p. 282, addition. ISBN 0140291997.
  19. ^ Jackson, Blair (1999). Garcia: An American Life. Penguin Books; New York, NY. p. 286. ISBN 0140291997.
  20. ^ Jackson, Blair; Gans, David (2015). This is All a Dream We Dreamed: An Oral History of the Grateful Dead. Flatiron Books. NY, NY. p. 260. ISBN 978-1-250-05856-0.
  21. ^ Richardson, Peter (2015). No Simple Highway: A Cultural History of the Grateful Dead. St. Martin's Press. New York, NY. ISBN 1250082145.
  22. ^ "search 'Grateful Dead'". Billboard.
  23. ^ "RIAA Gold & Platinum database – Terrapin Station". Retrieved February 9, 2017.

External links[edit]