Rock has had a long-standing, somewhat congenial relationship with Old Scratch, at least as a subject for songs. [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]The Rolling Stones[/lastfm] had “Sympathy for the Devil”, while [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Van Halen[/lastfm] went “Running With the Devil.” But Satanic allusions always seemed part-and-parcel of the hard rock crowd. So how is it that the kings of the ultra-mellow blues-based jam band sound, [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]The Grateful Dead[/lastfm], came up with a song entitled “Friend of the Devil?”
“Friend of the Devil” first appeared on the band’s 1970 album, American Beauty. Like the rest of the album, the song is acoustic. Written by Jerry Garcia and John Dawson, the lyrics are by Robert Hunter. Hunter’s words tell the tale of an outlaw, the titular “friend of the Devil.” Pursued by the law, the outlaw appeals to The Devil for aid, only to end up being chased by both the law AND the Devil, in the end. While the song gives the clear indication the making a deal with the Devil probably isn’t a good idea, this didn’t prevent the Dead from being tarred with the same brush as some of the bands who pursued a more aggressive link with Satan in their marketing branding and imagery in the ’70s (yes, we’re looking at you, [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Black Sabbath[/lastfm]).
Originally, the song was relatively up-tempo, but like many of the Grateful Dead’s pieces, it evolved over the years through extensive concert playtime. As it aged, the band slowed it down a fair bit. The version most-often heard played by Phil Lesh these days, however, has returned to the song’s original up-tempo roots.
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