Terrapin Station

Album: Terrapin Station (1977)
Play Video


  • A terrapin is a North American sea turtle, as opposed to a tortoise (freshwater) or a true turtle (saltwater). The Webster's dictionary entry is "Any of various edible North American web-footed turtles living in fresh or brackish water" - this includes the diamond back turtle. There is a legend that the Earth rests on the back of a turtle or tortoise. The turtle now appears even as a symbol of the entire universe (e.g. in China). >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Laurie - Central, NY
  • Robert Hunter wrote the words, Jerry Garcia wrote the music. Unbeknownst to the other, the musicians were both inspired by a rare lightning storm that lit up the San Francisco Bay Area one evening. Dennis McNally, the Dead's publicist and biographer, told the story in a 2021 episode of the Songfacts Podcast. "Jerry lived in Marin, which is to the west. He had been in the East Bay and he's driving home on the Richmond San Rafael Bridge, and there's a wild storm out to his right on the Northern end of the bay - lightning and just a great, wonderful storm and suddenly he hears a tune in his head, and it's the basic riff of 'Terrapin.' He hears the whole tune in his head," he said.

    "'Terrapin' is, not just because they added a string orchestra in the record, really a small symphony and it's very complex, and he's like, 'This is something.' He jams on the gas and he gets home as fast as he can to turn on a tape recorder to start to get the essential facts of the tune down. He probably fiddled with it for a day, I'm not sure, and after a day or two, he went over to see Hunter. As it happened, Hunter lived on the shore of that Bay and had been sitting, watching the same storm and when he was watching the same storm, he was inspired to start writing. He started with an old English folk tune called 'The Lady of Carlisle' and wrote eight solid typewritten pages of lyrics. Jerry came over and said, 'Wow, I got a good tune,' and Hunter said, 'Yeah, I got some good lyrics.' And Jerry looks at him and he takes page 1, page 2 and half of page 8. So, he took the lyrics, virtually unchanged, and taught the band."
  • Hunter's new journal of September 24, 2001, contains this entry:

    "After dark fell, I sat alone on the roof, fifteen stories high, of a building in Soho commanding a panoramic and unobstructed view of the skyscrapers of midtown Manhattan and the lights of the bridges. I had my guitar in hand and felt moved to sing "Terrapin Station" to the City. While I sang, rain began falling - I stood and edged around to the other side of the roof, still singing, to the corner of the roof facing the World Trade Center, some fifteen blocks away, where the sky is bright with floodlight illuminating the work of the excavation crew. A great plume of smoke continues to rise from the site of the devastation. As I sang, a powerful wind blew up very suddenly - wind so strong it threatened to rip my guitar out of my hands - reminding me of the storm in which I first composed the words I now sang. I wondered if I was involved in some kind of sacrilege, singing like this in the face of all that had gone down - the wind roaring increasingly louder and stronger, as though filled with spirits, as though trying to blow me over, make me stop. I kept singing until the end, repeating the "hold away despair," expressing all the sorrow I felt for the lost loved ones and for the healing of this magnificent and resilient City. I hope it helped. Helped me, anyway."
  • The lyrics contain references to quotes by Vincent Van Gogh, TS Elliot and Lewis Carroll. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Amy - Chicago, IL, for above 3
  • This is based on a traditional folk song called "Lady With A Fan." Many of Hunter's songs have their roots in folk music. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Eli - Birdsboro, PA

Comments: 25

  • Grateful_fred from San FranciscoI think this is one of the single best performances ever by The Grateful Dead or any spin off band from their members... Everything is perfect.. J.K> makes me feel like I'm hearing Jerry if he would still be playing right now...he's the only Jerry that ever made me feel like that besides the real one but he's of course just a little low in thie mix cuz Jerry would have for sure been louder than them all unless he wasnt, ya know....when they have their little jazz battles soloing like jer and brent did a lot when they lock eyes and brent will start laughing eventually before jer even cracks a smile like they were having a staring contest, but were one upping each other with different licks having a blast cuz theirs nothing Jerry couldn't outdo on his guitar no one i mean no one could intimidate Jerry on guitar by 90 or 89 s--t even before that in the 7o's 6-10-73 the parts of the Allmans that joined them for the 3rd set were super intimidated to jam with them because they were so fn good. Jerry had to kinda nudge Dickey Betts to play at first but in true Dead fashion they didnt let ego get in the way and i feel literally soundede more like the Allmans in parts of N>F>A> than the dead, holy s--t i suppose thats what makes that show sp special you have the dead being able to make the same exact sound as the Allmans circa 70 fillmore shows sorta.... but i digress I am not big on dead cover bands but this one is much more special than any other one i've ever heard... its like a reverse dead and co. they have a killer guitar player that can and does sound like what jerry would have with that many more years playing i saw Darkstar in rockford illinois for free in 96 and again in 2000 in Portland OR at the Crystal Ballroom(floating dance floor fn awesome) and J.K. was amazing then and is even better now and Bobbys Key player that guy holy s--t bob has great taste in keys players ive always loved Jeff since 96 when i first did furthur tour with ratdog and hot tuna......i give bobby a lotta s--t and phil now too since ive met him and his crowd of drunk friends....i call phil Count Philcula cuz he's gotta be a vampire...hes like 100 or 120 or so they keep changing his birthday to later i remember when i read he was born in like 36 same as my dad now hes like the youngest member not billy or was it bobby i think billy was 15 in 64or 65... ieven like that pjil song he sings the mountain one its cool too. i really would like it if mickey and bill the drummer would lay down some shows with him bnefore that cant happen.. i get it i cry sometimes cuz i cant tell the difference even on L its even worse then i really have thought fgurthur was really the dead before so idk not any other oguitar player jerry's part hasnt done that for me.
  • Steve Phipps from San Francisco An anthem of and to being alive! Quite sensational within our world of sensing. Hunters only request was to be granted just enough light to pierce the darkness!
  • Gc Pence from San Francisco, Ca, UsaI have a collection of all the original vinyl albums by Greatful Dead. I'm a drummer so I asked Mickey Hart to sign the albums he played on. He did not play on all GD albums.
    He signed the 6 he played on but said he did not play on "Terrapin Station". I turned the cover over to show his name listed.
    He got mad, ripped the cellafane and angrily signed.
    Left me a lasting impression of him.
    Another drummer Kurt Ma played beside him for 30 yrs. With GD.
  • Tommt from Flower Mound Texas1978 I got 15 8 tracks for a penny one of the was Zepplin Houses of the holy, I traded it for Terrapin Station. I was my first dead album and still my favorite album ever by anyone. My mom picked on me saying I was listening to disco. Call it what you will when I am not listen to Stravinsky, Listz, Shumanor Ravel or Mahler, I listen to the hippest symphony ever Terripin Station.
  • Ryan from Boston, MaHey, Grey.... I may be a little slow here but who is jimmy? Anyone...?
  • Jon from North Reading, MaOne of my favorite stories about songwriting comes from Hunter in his notes for the Terrapin suite in "Box Of Rain":

    Robert Hunter said of the song, "I wrote Terrapin Part One" at a single sitting in an unfurnished house with a picture window overlooking San Francisco Bay during a flamboyant lightning storm. I typed the first thing that came into my mind at the top of the page, the title: Terrapin Station."

    "On the same day, driving to the city, Garcia was struck by a singular inspiration. He turned his car around and hurried home to set down some music that popped into his head, demanding immediate attention."

    "When we met the next day, I showed him the words and he said, "I've got the music." They dovetailed perfectly and Terrapin edged into this dimension."
  • Jon from North Reading, MaI am pretty sure the "soldier who lost at love" is the same guy from "Peggy-O", especially since Hunter loves to weave his own narratives in & out of folk tales.
  • Sean from Barrintgton, NjTerrapin Station is the song that turned me on to the Dead. Then "the bus came by, and I got on. That's when it all began."
  • Todd from Utica, MiAnyone who claims to be a major deadhead and has never heard this song is FOS. Its one of the most common dead tunes of all time.
    Its one of my favorite studio tracks from the boys and equally as amazing live on a good noght
  • John from Ashley, InThere is also a soldier mentionned in the song, (who came through many fights, but lost at love). Artists in the 60's era had to consider the Vietnam war raging, and also the wake of it. An Army helmet from that era (WWII to Vietnam) looks much like a Terrapin. Think of it as a slow methodic trek from chaos to rationality.
  • Keith from Centerport, Nyoops sorry, but remember, I am a Deadhead, and have mucho herbal (and then some)experiences. anyway, we want to hear more. The end part is about dying and facing the possibilities, ie. heaven or whatever..I can't figure out if its the end or beginning...Is life over, or is a new form of existence here? but its happeneing. we all do whatever we can to get to heaven. some climb, etc.Terrapin is heaven....whatever the case, it is a most awesome song lyrically and musically. the first time I heard it live was at an outdoor venue in Englishtown NJ (one of Dicks Picks).
  • Keith from Centerport, NyFirst, as a deadhead, who joined the deadheads from the note in the double skeleton album, I am shocked that anyone could even consider themselves a part time deadhead and not be familiar with Terrapin. Hunter wrote for us, so here is my take. the first parts are autobiographical. Robert being the storyteller, who believes his job to make us think "shed light" and to understand. He gets payed off in gold, because we so love his Shaharazad like stories
  • Anthony from Perkiomenville, Pato the above..donna does not suck. yes she had her off times but so did the dead. there are plenty of shows where she was on top of it and i enjoyed hearing her voice.
  • Kevin from Reading , PaThis is a well-crafted, complex and arefully arranged song by the Dead. The care they took with it is not always evident in their studio albums, especially the later ones. The album of the same name also features one of Weir's best songs, "Estimated Prophet." Unfortunately, this is really the only Garcia/Hunter composition on the album (albeit it takes up an entire side) and the rating the of the album as a whole suffers accordingly.
  • Dave from Ocala, FlThe traditional folk song is not Lady With a Fan (that's the opening part of the suite) - the song is Lady of Carlisle," and Robert Hunter sings that as well on his Jack O' Roses album. Dylan has sung "Lady of Carlisle" as well.
  • Butch from Boonsboro, MdI like the sentiment expressed in Tasso's comment. Very true.
    This song is now being played in it;s entirety by Ratdog, Weir's band. Complete with all the jams from the album, Transit, Flyer ALL OF IT !!!
    Love this song. No Major Deadhead has never heard it. I guess you can be a major "metallica Head" and not know a few of thier songs but in the realm of deadheads...you can't get by not knowing Terrapin and simultaneously call yourself a deadhead so,,,hurry up and go listen to it so you can proudly declare yourself a "MAJOR DEADHEAD" !!! OK ?
  • Marlon from Mckinleyville, CaEven though I'm not a major deadhead, I've heard this song live at least a half a dozen times.
    That main riff haunts me.
  • Andy from Custer, SdSteven, you are no longer allowed to call yourself a major deadhead unless you get a live copy of Terrapin Station and listen to it within the next five minutes.
  • Steven from Anaheim, Caalthough i am a major deadhead, i've never actually heard this song. I've only seen the album cover and i love it. Couldn't tell you why
  • James from Edinburgh, ScotlandThe Grateful Dead are the greatest under-rated band ever. The whole make-up of the band easily out-does most of the garbage that goes around today.
  • Jason from Salem, MoThe Grateful Dead...hell of a band
    (Phil Lesh is the Greatest Bassist ever)
  • Barry from New York, NcThe studio version was produced by Keith Olsen, the Fleetwood Mac's producer at the time, and some of the members of the GD (such as Mickey Hart) were not thrilled with how he added and subtracted parts from the original recording. Olsen wanted it to sound like mainstream pop
    (by 1977 standards) although a lot of the arrangements seem a bit dated now.
  • Grey from Knoxville, Tnacid..truly incredible..to bring phil, bobby, bill, mickey, jerry, jimmy, hunter, and keith(donna sucks, sorry) together in something honestly beyond this realm of thinking
  • Tasso from Tampa, FlRobert Huntr is the Heart and soul behind The Grateful dead legend, Jerry was an inspiration and allowed the world to see Robert Hunter as truly a great poet
  • Mike from Mountlake Terrace, Washington - UsaGreat information on this song! Very cool!!
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Victoria Williams

Victoria WilliamsSongwriter Interviews

Despite appearances on Carson, Leno and a Pennebaker film, Williams remains a hidden treasure.


MelanieSongwriter Interviews

The singer-songwriter Melanie talks about her spiritual awakening at Woodstock, "Brand New Key," and why songwriting is an art, not a craft.

Martin Page

Martin PageSongwriter Interviews

With Bernie Taupin, Martin co-wrote the #1 hits "We Built This City" and "These Dreams." After writing the Pretty Woman song for Go West, he had his own hit with "In the House of Stone and Light."

Rush: Album by Album - A Conversation With Martin Popoff

Rush: Album by Album - A Conversation With Martin PopoffSong Writing

A talk with Martin Popoff about his latest book on Rush and how he assessed the thousands of albums he reviewed.

Bill Medley of The Righteous Brothers

Bill Medley of The Righteous BrothersSongwriter Interviews

Medley looks back on "Unchained Melody" and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" - his huge hits from the '60s that were later revived in movies.


LecraeSongwriter Interviews

The Christian rapper talks about where his trip to Haiti and his history of addiction fit into his songs.