The Early Grateful Dead Song Jerry Garcia Said They “Failed”

“People who like the Grateful Dead are like people who like licorice,” said Jerry Garcia. “Not everybody likes licorice, but the people who like licorice really like licorice.” Along with recognizing that Grateful Dead didn’t gel with all listeners, the late singer and songwriter also had his own criticisms about some of the band’s songs.

When it came to the earlier Dead catalog, Garcia called “New Speedway Boogie,” “a little bit dire,” “‘Doin That Rag” an “unsuccessful” song, and “Cream Puff War”—the only track on the band’s 1967 eponymous debut credited solely to Garcia—“totally embarrassing.”

The title of the latter track had no particular meaning, according to Garcia, and just came to him after he wrote the lyrics. “This is the only song that I claim totally,” said Garcia of “Cream Puff War” in a 1967 interview. “This is mine from beginning to end. We were down in LA, I was writing, I had the changes worked out and the bridge and the first verse. The whole thing was just meandering along. Pigpen [late Grateful Dead keyboardist Ron McKernan] said let’s call it ‘Cream Puff War.’”

Videos by American Songwriter

[RELATED: From “Cream Puff War” to “Terrapin Station”: The 3 Songs Jerry Garcia Wrote Solo for Grateful Dead]

“High Time”

Throughout Grateful Dead’s decades-long catalog, spanning 13 albums, from The Grateful Dead through their thirteenth and final Built to Last in 1989, there were some songs Garcia had harsher opinions about, including the ballad “High Time” from the band’s 1970 release Workingman’s Dead.

Written by Garcia and guitarist Robert Hunter, “High Time” was one of the only love songs within the Dead’s repertoire, but it was one the frontman says could have been better.

“The song that I think failed on [‘Workingman’s Dead’] is ‘High Time,'” said Garcia in 1972. “It’s a beautiful song, but I was just not able to sing it worth a s–t. And I really can’t do justice to that kind of song now. I’m not that good of a singer. But I wish someone who could really sing would do one of those songs sometime.”

“It’s a Better Song Than We Performed It”

By 1977, Garcia’s opinion about the song hadn’t changed much since years earlier. continued, “‘High Time’ is a beautiful song, but I don’t think our performance on the record was very good,” he said. “It’s a better song than we performed it.”

For Hunter, the country-leaning song was more about nostalgia. “For ‘High Time,’ I wanted a song like the kind of stuff I heard rolling out of the jukeboxes of bars my father frequented when I was a kid,” shared Hunter, “probably a subliminal Hank Williams influence, a late-‘40s sad feel.” 

The woeful track follows the story of someone who unintentionally loses a love while they’re having the time of their life.

You told me goodbye
How was I to know
You didn’t mean goodbye
You meant please don’t let me go
I was having a high time
Living the good life
Well I know

The wheels are muddy
Got a ton of hay
Now listen here, baby
‘Cause I mean what I say
I’m having a hard time
Living the good life
Well I know

I was losing time, I had nothing to do
No one to fight, I came to you
Wheels broke down, the leader won’t draw
The line is busted, the last one I saw

Photo of Grateful Dead by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Woodstock and the Final “High Time” Performance

Before it was officially released, the band first performed “High Time” at the Fillmore East in New York City on June 20th, 1969. The song was also part of the Grateful Dead’s five-song set at Woodstock on August 16, 1969.

Throughout the early ’70s, “High Time” wasn’t part of the Grateful Dead setlist until it returned on June 9, 1976, during their show at the Boston Music Hall in Boston, Massachusetts.

The band continued to pepper “High Time” into their setlists from then on through their final performance of the song on March 24, 1995, at the Charlotte Coliseum, Charlotte, North Carolina, just months before Garcia’s final shows with the band in July of that year, and his death on August 9, 1995, at age 53.

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Lainey Wilson Fans Learn Why The Singer Was Trending On Twitter—To the Dismay of the BeyHive

Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name” Becomes Band’s Second Song to Reach 1 Billion Streams on Spotify

“You Give Love a Bad Name” Becomes Bon Jovi’s Second Song Ever to Reach 1 Billion Streams on Spotify