Deep Elem Blues

Lyrics: Traditional
Music: Traditional

Played by the Grateful Dead from their earliest days up till 1983 (and subsequently in 2003 by The Dead). It was also played by Jerry with David Nelson in 1962 and with his then wife Sarah in 1963.

Different versions have the verses in different order (note 1), but these are the building blocks:

1.
Well if you go down to Deep Elem, put your money in your shoes (note 2)
Women in Deep Elem got them Deep Elem blues
Chorus
Oh sweet mama, your daddy's got them Deep Elem blues
Oh sweet mama, your daddy's got them Deep Elem blues

2.
Once I had a girlfriend, she meant the world to me
She went down to Deep Elem, now she ain't what she used to be
[chorus]

3.
When you go down to Deep Elem, have a little fun (note 3)
Have that ten dollars ready when the policeman comes (note 4)
[chorus]

4.
Once I knew a preacher, preached the bible through and through
Went down to Deep Elem now his preaching days are through
[chorus]

5.
When you go down to Deep Elem, put your money in your pants
The women in Deep Elem they don't give a man a chance (note 5)
[chorus]

6.
When you go down to Deep Elem, put your money in your socks (note 6)
The redheads in Deep Elem, they'll put you on the rocks (note 7)
[chorus]
Notes (1) the order of verses in various versions is:
Dick's Picks 8:1,2,3,4,5
Reckoning:1,4,6,3,1
Almost Acoustic:3,1,4,2,3
Garcia/Nelson 1962:3,4,5,6,3
Dead Ringers:3,5,4,6,2,1
Good Old Boys:3,6,4,5
Prairie Ramblers:3,2,1,5,4,6
(2) Garcia varies between singing "Well if you go down to Deep Elem" and "When you go down to Deep Elem".
(3) sometimes "got to have a little fun" or "just to have a little fun"
(4) "ten dollars" is the most common. But the Prairie Ramblers and Dead Ringers have "fifteen dollars". And on Almost Acoustic, Garcia sings the first verse with "ten dollars" and the last with "twenty dollars"!
(5) sometimes "The fellas in Deep Elem" and sometimes "won't give a man a chance"
(6) sometimes "... keep your money in your socks"
(7) the Good Old Boys have "Good lookin' women ..." and Dead Ringers have "they will throw you on the rocks"

Grateful Dead Recordings
     Date Album
     18 Apr 1970 Family Dog at the Great Highway
      2 May 1970 Dick's Picks Vol 8
     15 May 1970 Road Trips Vol 3 No 3 (late show)
     17 Nov 1978 Reckoning (note a)
     11 Oct 1980 Reckoning
      7 May 1981 The Tomorrow Show (DVD)
      5 Apr 1982 Road Trips Volume 4, Number 4

Recordings from dead.net Tapers Section

"The Dead" Concert Recordings

Furthur Digital Downloads and CDs

Ratdoglive CDs and downloads

Phil Lesh and Friends Digital Download Series

Weir-Robinson-Greene Trio Live!
 
Jerry Garcia Recordings
     Date Album Recorded By
     28 Feb 1986 Pure Jerry: Marin Veterans Memorial Auditorium Jerry Garcia/John Kahn
     27 Oct 1987 Ragged But Right Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band
     31 Oct 1987 Pure Jerry 2: Lunt-Fontanne Jerry Garcia Band
      5 Dec 1987 Almost Acoustic Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band
 
Other Recordings
     Date Album Recorded By
      1976 Pistol Packin' Mama The Good Old Boys
      1993 Dead Ringers Dead Ringers
     2010 Songs Of The Grateful Dead Jesse McReynolds
     2011 The Wheel: A Musical Celebration of Jerry Garcia Jesse McReynolds, David Nelson et al

Notes (a) additional version issued as a bonus track in the box set Beyond Description (1973-1990)
(b) also on the compilation The Best Of Jerry Garcia

Roots
The first recording of this song is normally credited to the Shelton Brothers in the early 1930s. They started as the Attlesey Brothers, and recorded "Deep Elm Blues" under the name "Lone Star Cowboys" in 1933. They then changed their name to the Shelton Brothers (after their mother's maiden name) and recorded several further versions under the title "Deep Elem Blues." It was subsequently covered by a variety of other artists, including the Prairie Ramblers in 1935, Jerry Lee Lewis in the 1950s, and Frank Wakefield in the early 1960s. I'm not sure whose version Jerry Garcia learnt the song from.

The title "Deep Elem" originates from Elm Street, which was the red-light district in Dallas. The song is known variously as "Deep Elm Blues", "Deep Elem Blues" and "Deep Ellum" blues.

Several early blues luminaries spent time in and around Deep Ellum. Blind Lemon Jefferson moved there as a street musician around 1917, and met and played with Leadbelly there. Lightning Hopkins also played with Blind Lemon there. But it doesn't seem that any of them had a hand in writing this song (even though Blind Lemon Jefferson is sometimes cited as the author).

The recording by the Shelton Brothers shows how this was the origin of most of the verses Jerry sang:
When you go in Deep Elem, to have a little fun
You better have your fifteen dollars when that policeman comes
Oh sweet mama, daddy's got them Deep Elem blues

Once I had a sweetheart, who meant the world to me
But she hung around Deep Elem, now she ain't what she used to be
Oh sweet mama, daddy's got them Deep Elem blues
Oh sweet mama, daddy's got them Deep Elem blues

When you go down in Deep Elem, keep your money in your shoes
'Cause the women in Deep Elem's got the Deep Elem blues
Oh sweet mama, daddy's got them Deep Elem blues

When you go down in Deep Elem, keep your money in your pants
'Cause the redheads in Deep Elem never give a man a chance
Oh sweet mama, daddy's got them Deep Elem blues
Oh sweet mama, daddy's got them Deep Elem blues

Once I knew a preacher, preached the bible through and through
But he went down in Deep Elem, now his preaching days are through
Oh sweet mama, daddy's got them Deep Elem blues

When you go down in Deep Elem, keep your money in your socks
'Cause the women in Deep Elem will throw you on the rocks
Oh sweet mama, daddy's got them Deep Elem blues
Oh sweet mama, daddy's got them Deep Elem blues
The closest antecedent appears to be "Georgia Black Bottom" recorded by the Georgia Crackers (including the Cofer Brothers) in 1927. The tune is the same, and several of the verses are the same (apart from the change from "Black Bottom" to "Deep Elem"):
If you go down in Black Bottom, put your money in your shoe
The women in Black Bottom got them Black Bottom blues
Oh good mama, daddy's got them Black Bottom blues

If you go down in Black Bottom, let my [hog] ride along
Don't begin to [?] take you to that [driver's home]
Oh good mama, daddy's got them Black Bottom blues

If you go down in Black Bottom, just to have a little fun
Have sixteen dollars ready when that police wagon come
Oh good mama, daddy's got them Black Bottom blues

Once I had a good little woman, and I taken her to the fair
She would have won that premium but she had bad hair
Oh good mama, daddy's got them Black Bottom blues

The billy goat drown in Black Bottom just to get a drink of booze
But now he's in the chain gang wearing broken shoes
Oh good mama, daddy's got them Black Bottom blues

The [cooper] goes down in Black Bottom, just to get a drink of booze
But now he's in the chain gang wearing them broken shoes
Oh good mama, daddy's got them Black Bottom blues

If you got a good little woman, better keep her by your side
'Cause that old cooper's gonna take your baby for a ride
Oh good mama, daddy's got them Black Bottom blues
There are several songs with similar or related titles. These include "Elm Street (Woman) Blues" by Ida Mae Mack, and "Deep Elm (You Tell 'em I'm Blue)", recorded in 1925 by Willard Robison. These seem to be unrelated to the song Jerry sang. Similarly, there are a number of "Black Bottom Blues" that are unrelated to this song.

"Deep Elem Blues" is sometimes linked to "Deep River Blues". But although the chorus "Lord, Lord, I got them Deep River blues" is somewhat similar, the rest is very different in both music and lyrics. It is possible (not yet checked) that the music for "Deep Elem Blues" is related to the fiddle tune "Coal Tipple Blues."

[Thanks to Eric Levy and Matt Schofield for their help in drawing up this information]


Futher Information
For an online discussion of the lyrics to this song see the deadsongs.vue conference on The Well.
For more information on recordings see Matt Schofield's Grateful Dead Family Discography
For online chords and TAB see www.rukind.com
For sheet music, see:
          Jerry Garcia Songbook (vocal line and chords)

 


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