Song Review(s): Grateful Dead - “Scarlet Begonias” -> “Fire on the Mountain” (Live 5/8/77)

Dead Heads do the strangest things.

And Sound Bites is no exception.

Although the famed Cornell University show from May 8, 1977 - almost universally thought to be the Grateful Dead’s best ever - has been widely available in high quality for decades (for free, no less), fans crashed the website when it was announced the show would be made available on a stand-alone CD and as part of a box set called Get Shown the Light.

Did Sound Bites bite?

You bet your sweet bippy he did.

And after listening - loud - to the 26-minute “Scarlet -> Fire” the band offered as a thank-you download until the set’s released May 5, he’s more than positive it was a wise investment.

What would become a warhorse of a combo in the Dead’s performances was still in its infancy during May of 1977. But this twofer is anything but embryonic - it sounds as if they’ve been playing it for years, yet it’s enthusiastic enough to also sound brand-spanking new and exciting.

“Scarlet Begonias” is relatively short and finds Jerry Garcia, pianist Keith Godchaux and his vocalist wife, Donna Jean, the recently reunited Rhythm Devils - hell, the whole goddam septet - at the top of their respective games.

They take their time on the patient “->” that follows; there’s lots of jamming and zero noodling.

“Fire on the Mountain” is similarly adventurous; its newness betrayed only by Garcia’s vocal flubs, which he more than makes up for with a subtle “talkin’ ‘bout” before harmonizing with Donna Jean on one of the longest choruses this song has ever known. He follows up with a lengthy, well-thought-out, wah-wah-heavy solo that plays hide-and-seek with the rhythm section - sometimes leading, other times lagging, but always subtle and always just exactly perfect.

Garcia then fans his guitar as if he’s attempting to douse an out-of-control “Fire” - which in a way, he is - before a short “Scarlet Reprise” brings the ecstatic, nearly half-hour showcase to a punchy conclusion.

Sourced from the original “Betty Board” recording and freed from generational degradation that plagues the versions in circulation, this release finally - finally - puts the 5/8/77 “Scarlet -> Fire” in the aural context it’s always deserved.

Grade card: Grateful Dead - “Scarlet Begonias” -> “Fire on the Mountain” (Live 5/8/77) - A

Read Sound Bites’ previous Get Shown the Light coverage here:


They Love Each Other
  • They Love Each Other
  • Grateful Dead
  • Dave's Picks Volume 16: Springfield Civic Center, Springfield, MA, 3/28/73

They Love Each Other ~ Grateful Dead
March 28th, 1973 | Springfield Civic Center | Springfield, MA

“heard your news report, you know you’re falling short
pretty soon, won’t trust you for the weather
when that ship comes in, you won’t know where it’s been
gotta try to see a little further…”