Me And My Uncle

Lyrics: John Phillips
Music: John Phillips

This is the song the Grateful Dead played more than any other, cover or original, all the way from 1966 to 1995.

Me and my uncle went riding down
South Colorado, West Texas bound
We stopped over in Santa Fe
That being the point just about half way
And you know it was the hottest part of the day

I took the horses up to the stall
Went to the bar-room, ordered drinks for all
Three days in the saddle, you know my body hurt
It being summer, I took off my shirt
And I tried to wash off some of that dusty dirt (note 1)

West Texas cowboys, they's all around
With liquor and money, they're loaded down
So soon after pay day, you know it seemed a shame
You know my uncle, he starts a friendly game
High-Low Jacks and the winner take the hand (note 2)

My uncle starts winning, cowboys got sore
One of them called him, and then two more
Accused him of cheating, well no it couldn't be
I know my uncle, he's as honest as me
And I'm as honest as a Denver man can be

One of them cowboys, he starts to draw
Well I shot him down, Lord, he never saw (note 3)
Shot me another, hot damn he won't grow old (note 4)
In the confusion my uncle grabbed the gold
And we high-tailed it down to Mexico

Now I love those cowboys, I love their gold
I love my uncle, God rest his soul
Taught me good, Lord, taught me all I know
Taught me so well, I grabbed that gold
And I left his dead ass there by the side of the road (note 5)
Notes
(1) it could be "... dust and dirt"
(2) that's how I hear it, but Kevin Sullivan believes it's "... winner stakes the hand" (ie the next hand). There has equally been some discussion about "Hi-Lo Jacks." I had thought this was Hi-Lo poker with a pair of jacks as the minimum opener, but Seth Lipner points out that it may well be another game called Pitch or All Fours, which has points for High, Low, Jack and Game (which goes to the winner of the most 'pips' in tricks taken). Don Otis has pointed me to the Official Rules of Card Games edited by Albert Morehead which has an entry for "All Fours or High-Low Jacks". All this is also discussed on the deadsongs.vue conference on The Well.
(3) in some early versions Bob Weir sang "Grabbed me a bottle, cracked him in the jaw" which is similar to what Judy Collins sang in the original version of the song (see below)
(4) variations included "... that man he won't grow old" and maybe "God damn he won't grow old." Kevin Sullivan argues it should be "I'll dare he won't grow old."
(5) in very early versions, Weir sang "And I left him laying there by the side of the road", also similar to the Judy Collins' version


Grateful Dead Recordings

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

Bob Weir Solo Acoustic Live!

Weir-Robinson-Greene Trio Live!

Scaring The Children Downloads

Other Dead-related Recordings

Background
The song was written by John Phillips of The Mamas And The Papas. According to the liner notes for his (solo) recording on "Phillips 66":
John often used to tell the story behind "Me And My Uncle." Years ago he began receiving publishing royalties from a song on a Judy Collins record with which he was unfamiliar. It was titled "Me And My Uncle." He called Judy to let her know of the mistake because he hadn't written any such song. She laughed and told him that about a year before, in Arizona after one of her concerts, they had a 'Tequila' night back at the hotel with Stephen Stills, Neil Young and a few others. They were running a blank cassette and John proceeded to write "Me And My Uncle" on the spot. The next day, John woke up to the tequila sunrise with no recollection of the songwriting incident. Judy kept the cassette from that evening and then, without informing John, recorded the song for her own record. Over the years the song was recorded by several people, and eventually became a standard of the Grateful Dead. John used to joke that, little by little, with each royalty check, the memory of writing the song would come back to him.
It isn't clear how Bob Weir learnt the song - Blair Jackson in "Going Down The Road" says:
"According to Bob Weir, he learn this John Phillips-penned tune from 'a hippy named Curly Jim' who I can only assume is Curly Jim Cook, onetime member of the Bay Area band A.B.Skhy. ... Judy Collins recorded a slower version of the song on a mid-sixties live album, and that may well be where Weir got it from."
Judy Collins' version has some small differences from Bob Weir's lyrics (differences in italics):
Me and my uncle went riding down
From Colorado, West Texas bound
And we stopped off in Santa Fe
It being the part about half way (note 6)
And besides it was the hottest part of the day

We led our ponies into a stall
Went to a bar, boys, bought drinks for all
Three days in the saddle, my body hurt
It being summer, took off my shirt
And tried to wash off some of that dusty dirt

West Texas cowboys, all over town
With gold and silver, they're loaded down
Just in from round-up, it seemed a shame
So my uncle starts a friendly game
Hi-lo jacks and the winner take the games

From the beginning, uncle starts to win
Them Texas cowboys, they was mad as sin
Some say he's cheatin', but that can't be
'Cause my uncle, he's honest as me
And I'm as honest as a Denver man can be

One of them cowboys, he starts to draw
I grabbed a bottle, slapped him on the jaw
I shot another, he won't grow old
In the confusion uncle grabbed the gold
And we high-tailed it down to Mexico

Now God bless cowboys, and God bless gold
God bless my uncle, and rest his soul
He taught me well, boys, taught me all I know
Taught me so well, that I grabbed the gold
And I left him laying there by the side of the road
Notes
(6) the Twiliters recording from a couple of years later has "That being the town just about half way," and Joni Mitchell sang "That being the place just about half way." So you can take your pick of "part," "place," "town" or "point" as the 'true' lyrics

John Phillips' own version, recorded years later, follows the Judy Collins version but with some differences:
Me and my uncle went riding down
From Colorado, West Texas bound
And we stopped off in Santa Fe
That being the point that's about half way
Besides it was the hottest part of the day

We led our ponies into a stall
Went to the bar boys, bought drinks for all
Two days in the saddle, my body hurt
It being summer, I took off my shirt
Tried to wash off some of that dust and dirt

West Texas cowboys, all over town
With gold and silver, they're loaded down
Just back from round-up, did seem a shame
So my uncle starts a friendly game
Called hi-lo Jack and winner take the gain

From the beginning, my uncle starts to win
Them cowboys, they're mad as sin
Some say he's cheatin', but that can't be
'Cause my uncle, he's honest as me
And I'm as honest as a Denver man can be

One of them cowboys, he starts to draw
I took a bottle, cracked him on the jaw
I winged another, doubt he'll see old
In the confusion, my uncle grabbed the gold
And we high-tailed down that road to Mexico

So here's to cowboys, and here's to gold
Here's to uncle, God rest his soul
He taught me well, boys, taught me all I know
Taught me so well, that I took his gold
And I left him laying by the side of the road
And I left him laying by the side of the road
And I high-tailed down that road to Mexico
Non-Grateful Dead recordings
ArtistAlbum
Judy Collins"The Judy Collins Concert" (1964) [Elektra EKS 7280 - LP only]
Judy Collins"Judy Collins, Vol 3-4" [Wildflower 1301]
The Twiliters"The Twiliters In Concert" (1966) [RCA CAM-117 - LP only]
Dino Valente"Dino Valente" (1968) [Epic BN-26335 (LP); Koch 7930 (CD)]
Mike Wilhelm"Wilhelm" (1976) [Zig Zag 1 - LP only]
Mike Wilhelm"Characters" (1997) [Cold Call 302212])
Mike Wilhelm"Live In Tokyo" (1997) [PSFD-85]
Mike Wilhelm"New Rose Story" (2000) [Last Call 306231]
Mike Wilhelm"Junko Partner" (2002) [Last Call 422394]
Rory McNamara"Still Got That Look In His Eyes" (1984) [Kicking Mule KM 323 - LP only]
Texas Lone Star"Desperados Waiting For The Train (1995?) [BCD 15-692]
John Denver"The Wildlife Concert" (1995) [Legacy 480694-2]
John Denver"Live At The Sydney Opera House" (1999) [RCA 67731]
John Denver"The Harbour Lights Concert" (2002) [RCA 65113]
Michael Longcor"Dangerous Heroes" (1996) [Firebird 100312]
Craig Chambers"The Cowboy's Conscience" (1998) [W.R.Records]
Bob Cook"Love Is A Verb" (2000) [Orchard 2521]
Katy Moffatt"Cowboy Girl" (2001) [Shanachie Records]
John Phillips"Phillips 66" (2001) [Eagle Records]
There is also a recording of the song in circulation by Joni Mitchell from a performance on the CBC television show "Let's Sing Out" on 4 October 1965 (Joni was known at the time as Joan Anderson). It's pretty similar to the Judy Collins' version and it seems likely that Joni Mitchell learnt it from Joan Collins either directly or from the LP.


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 David Dodd's discussion of this song on dead.net see Greatest Stories Ever Told
For online chords and TAB see www.rukind.com
For sheet music, see:
          Grateful Dead Authentic Guitar Classics Volume 2 (guitar TAB)
          Hundred Year Hall songbook (guitar TAB)

 


Home | Find words/phrases| Find Song lyrics| Dead originals| Dead covers|