Tennessee Jed

Album: Europe '72 (1972)

Songfacts®:

  • In his book A Box of Rain Dead, Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter recalled the precise moment he wrote this song. Or at least he made up a great story about the precise moment he wrote this song. Hunter wrote:

    "Tennessee Jed" originated in Barcelona, Spain. Topped up on vino tinto, I composed it aloud to the sound of a jaw harp twanged between echoing building faces by someone strolling half a block ahead of me in the late summer twilight.

    As David Dodd points out at Dead.net, the most interesting thing about the Spanish origin story is that "Tennessee Jed" is pure Americana musically and lyrically. It even references a 1940s radio show titled Tennessee Jed, which was sponsored ran from 1945 to 1947 on Wheeling, West Virginia's WWVA radio station. This bit actually went undiscovered until September 2001 when an eBay item caught the attention of Dead historians.

    Tip-Top Bread sponsored the radio, which almost certainly explains the "Tennessee Jed" line "when you get back you better butter my bread."
  • The song is about a man who's on the ropes, having a bad run of things, and just wanting to get home. Perhaps that's how Hunter was feeling that night in Barcelona when he composed the song. If so, the line, "let's get back to Tennessee, Jed," may be Hunter himself wanting not only to get back to the states but back to his childhood when the Tennessee Jed radio show was in full swing. Hunter was born in 1941, so he was four-to-six years old when the show ran.
  • "Tennessee Jed" was never recorded in studio. It first appeared on record as a live performance on Europe '72. The first time the song appeared in public was a bit earlier, October 19, 1971, when the Dead played it at the Northrop Auditorium, University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
  • Levon Helm of the Band recorded a version of the song on his final album, Electric Dirt, in 2009.

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