Beat It On Down The Line

Beat It On Down The Line

The second track, a Skjellyfetty arrangement of Jesse “The Lone Cat” Fuller’s “Beat It on Down the Line,” is an example of the Dead’s interest in a continuum of music and its roots, and their arrangement continues the adventurous spirit, born perhaps of the struggle with the mundane and the desire to find happiness. Escapism, adventure and the quest for happiness is captured in the Dead’s up-tempo arrangement. The destination for the singer is happiness, so escapism is not for avoidance, but a reverie of somewhere else, somewhere ‘down the line.’ Fuller was an odd phenomenon, known as a one-man-band, and inventor of a foot operated percussion bass named the fotdella by Fuller’s wife. Folk and blues ballads were often the inspiration for the Dead’s selection of songs, and here they draw from a contemporary whose song is reminiscent of the tradition. While a simple tale, it is just simple enough to let the simplicity speak to something as basic and vital as the quest for happiness. It is also a simple tale of an American character and his desire—the urge to escape toil and find love, while universal—Fuller makes an American story, where iconic elements of the railways offer the promise of going home:

Yes and I’ll be waiting at the station when that rain pulls on by,
Bye, I’m a goin’ back where I belong
I’ve gotta sweet love and she’s waiting there for me.
That’s where I’m gonna make my happy home.

“Beat It on Down the Line” is a song that would remain in the Dead’s repertoire for their entire career. It was recorded as the Dead’s jug band incarnation as Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions (recorded in 1964, released in 1998), so in a sense it can suggest the idea that the Grateful Dead are responsible for carrying on with a long standing tradition of music, of honoring the past and continuing to carry the torch. Singing about suffering, toil, misfortune and the quest to find solace and redemption around some corner, along with the adventure of getting there, embodies the Grateful Dead.

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One Reply to “Beat It On Down The Line”

  1. Love BIODTL (how old deadheads would write this song on that paper thing inside the bootleg cassettes we used to listen to, pre-CD and Dick’s Picks). There’s some publication (my extreme deadhead ex-husband had) that compiles statistics (how often the dead opened up with Jack Straw, etc…) that shows how many variations there were in the number of beats that opened BIODTL. If you notice, that number isn’t consistent. Always wondered how they knew (or bobby knew) when to start in with “Well this job I got…..”

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