Song Lyric Sunday: Americana – ‘Jack Straw’

On Independence Day, Jim’s theme for Song Lyric Sunday this week is entirely appropriate – any music by an American artiste or artistes.

Even from this side of the Atlantic it’s very clear that one of the most influential groups representing American culture (and, indeed, counter-culture) must be the Grateful Dead. Many of their songs represent a form of nostalgia for a long-disappeared ‘frontier’ America . Almost always, some of these featured in their live performances – usually in the first set, in what I tend to think of as the ‘cowboy’ section, although it’s also often referred to by guitarist Bob Weir (who co-wrote this with Robert Hunter) as ‘polka time’.

‘Jack Straw’ is a perfect example of this ‘wild west’ sub-genre. Weir himself has described it as a ‘little sketch of heartland Americana’; the lyrics even reference the fourth of July.

I have a particularly soft spot for this song as they opened with it at the first (sadly of only two) show I attended, back in October 1990.

The accompanying video is also one of my favourite versions: the energy is incredible.

We can share the women, we can share the wine.
We can share what we got of yours ’cause we done shared all of mine.
Keep on rollin’, just a mile to go;
Keep on rollin’ my old buddy, you’re movin’ much too slow.

I just jumped the watchman, right outside the fence.
Took his rings, four bucks in change, ain’t that Heaven sent?
Hurts my ears to listen, Shannon, burns my eyes to see;
Cut down a man in cold blood, Shannon, might as well been me.

We used to play for silver, now we play for life;
And one’s for sport and one’s for blood at the point of a knife.
And now the die is shaken, now the die must fall.
There ain’t a winner in the game, he don’t go home with all.
Not with all.

Leavin’ Texas, fourth day of July,
Sun so hot, the clouds so low, the eagles filled the sky.
Catch the Detroit Lightnin’ out of Sante Fe,
The Great Northern out of Cheyenne, from sea to shining sea.

Gotta go to Tulsa, first train we can ride.
Gotta settle one old score, one small point of pride.
There ain’t a place a man can hide, Shannon will keep him from the sun
Ain’t a bed can give us rest now, you keep us on the run.

Jack Straw from Wichita cut his buddy down,
And dug for him a shallow grave and laid his body down.
Half a mile from Tucson, by the morning light,
One man gone and another to go, my old buddy you’re moving much too slow.

We can share the women, we can share the wine.

Written by Robert Hunter and Bob Weir

Song Lyric Sunday 4 July 2021

3 thoughts on “Song Lyric Sunday: Americana – ‘Jack Straw’

  1. Bob Weir spent a lot of time on a cattle ranch in Wyoming hanging out in the livery stable with cowhands, so cowboy music is ingrained into him. Nice choice and I love the version of Jack Straw that you chose. I always liked the Dead the best when they had Keith and Donna.

  2. I haven’t participated in this prompt before but when saw the theme today I was moved to post a Grateful Dead song because of their contribution to Americana music and this was going to be my choice because of the mention of 4th. Great post and a great version of the song!

    I’ll give you one back!

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