This Day in ’67: The Grateful Dead’s “Dark Star”

Thursday, December 13, 2018
This Day in Music

51 years ago today, The Grateful Dead delivered “Dark Star” unto a concert audience for the very first time. It would not be the last.


One of the most iconic songs in the Dead’s back catalog (as if they aren’t all iconic in their way), “Dark Star” is arguably known first and foremost by fans for being the first song to feature lyrics by Robert Hunter. As Hunter explained in the liner notes for BOX OF RAIN, he’d been sending songs to the band from his home in New Mexico, and his correspondence led him to be invited to join the Dead as their resident lyricist. Mind you, some of the lyrics he’d sent to them were “China Cat Sunflower” and “Alligator,” so it’s not wonder that they were impressed.


“The trip took six weeks with a surreal layover in Denver,” wrote Hunter. “By the time I hit Nevada I had a dime in my pocket which I put in a slot machine and parlayed into enough to make a phone call and tell the guys I was on my way. I arrived in San Francisco with a case of walking pneumonia and the clothes on my back. The next day I was writing ‘Dark Star,’ feeling pretty much as the lyric suggests.”


The song was quickly accepted by the band, with Jerry apparently saying immediately, “Oh, this will fit in just fine.”  Granted, it evolved a fair amount musically over the course of time, but it didn’t take long for it to become a classic in the Dead’s setlist and secure a place in fans’ hearts.