Mortality has never been far from the surface of frontman Dave Matthews' lyrics, since his sister was murdered by her husband in 1994. This song's lyrical content took on greater meaning for the band after the tragic death of their sax player LeRoi Moore, as a result of injuries sustained in an ATV accident on his farm.
Dave Matthews told Relix magazine: "This song is definitely about death. The whole thing of 'When my ghost takes me from you, you will remember the fool that I am, so don't cry, baby don't cry.' The urgency of living, I think, is very present in this song. We played it once in [the initial group improv sessions in] Charlottesville, and Roi said, 'I love that jam.' The horns on that particular song are from that first time we ever played it, before it was really a song, before it had a chorus or any bridges; from that, we have Roi's performance."
Matthews told Relix that he named the album before he wrote the lyrics to this song. He said: "I like the fact that we had come up with Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King before I wrote the lyrics to that song, so I was able to include it. We were trying to think of names for the record, and GrooGrux was a name that Roi and Carter and Tim and some other musicians before our band used to call each other. But it stuck with Roi. He used to call Carter and Tim 'Grux,' but they both called him that, and I might have called him that sometimes, too - so it sort of stuck to him. Roi would always say, 'My name is King' -that's what he would say about himself. There's not too much meaning in it - I just liked the sound of GrooGrux King. It's a mouthful, though. Then we were out at this photo shoot and there was this guy stumbling around, playing harmonica. He'd play something and then say, 'I need a big whiskey!,' trying to get some money to go get a little more hammered. And Fonz gave me a $20, and I stepped off the shoot and gave it to the guy. He glanced at the $20 like it was a single, and he said 'I said I need a… I said I need a… Oh. That is a big whiskey!' And then he walked off to go and get his buzz. But while he was screaming that, Rashawn, our trumpet player, said 'That's a good name for the record.' I really liked Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King because it sounds sort of like a fairytale, more like an old story."
Matthews told Rolling Stone that the idea of Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King was to build songs out of improvised grooves. He explained: "We were recording all the time. We limited each other. Only a few minutes. Once you find a groove, you can only do it for a couple minutes. Nobody wants to prove how good their chops are. No solos, f--k you. We were finding these feels, finding these moods, so we got quite a few of those."