BY BLAIR JACKSON AND STEPHEN INGLIS | FROM THE SUMMER 2022 ISSUE OF UKULELE
One the most loved and covered Grateful Dead tunes, “Friend of the Devil” actually started life as a song for the Dead country-rock spinoff group New Riders of the Purple Sage (which in its first serious incarnation in 1969–70 included Jerry Garcia on pedal steel, bassist Phil Lesh, and drummer Mickey Hart). A peppy, bluegrass-flavored number about a desperate fellow on the run who makes a deal with the devil, the song was mostly written by the Dead’s lyricist, Robert Hunter, with music by New Riders leader John “Marmaduke” Dawson.
As Dawson, who died in 2009, told me in a 1996 interview, “Hunter came over to the house with the germ of what became ‘Friend of the Devil.’ He had that great opening guitar part, but that’s as far as he’d gotten. I came up with the melody for the hook [“Set out runnin’ but I take my time,” etc.]. We thought we had a finished song. But he took it home to Garcia’s house, where he was also living, and played it for Jerry and said, ‘Well, what do you think?’ Jerry said, ‘It’s nice, but it needs a bridge.’ So Hunter got busy and scribbled out some more words and Jerry wrote the bridge [“Got two reasons why I cry,” etc.]. Garcia ended up liking the song so much that he immediately put it in their set. [The first 1970 versions were acoustic.] That was fine with me, because he sang it well and the song I’d helped write had grown up and found a nice home.”
The Dead’s studio recording appeared on their magnificent American Beauty album in the fall of ’70, and eventually became a concert staple—though electrified and played at a much slower tempo than the brisk original. Even so, the original faster arrangement has thrived through countless versions by acoustic (and electric) bands through the years, including numerous bluegrass groups. It’s practically become a “standard.”
For this ukulele version, I called on Oahu-based guitarist and ukulele player Stephen Inglis to come up with an arrangement of the song. Inglis has a long relationship with the Dead’s music, and even put out an amazing album a few years ago called Cut the Dead Some Slack, which featured his slack-key guitar and guitarlele arrangements of more than a dozen Dead tunes. (He previously did the uke arrangement for Dennis Kamakahi’s “Koke’e” in the Winter 2021 issue.) Folks who only know the American Beauty version of the song will notice an extra verse at the end (“You can borrow from the devil,” etc.). This was actually part of Hunter’s original song, but for whatever reason, Garcia chose not to sing it. Since his death in 1995, however, that verse has become an accepted part of the song in nearly every post-Garcia band featuring former members of the Dead.
Here are a few playing tips from Inglis (and be sure to check out the video):
For the intro (see notation in the Fall 2022 issue), I do a simple thumb, then down-up strum pattern, accentuating the melody motif by lightly hammering the notes on selected strings. I keep this pattern going, albeit harmonically simplified, throughout the verses and chorus.
On the bridge, I move to a higher voicing of the V chord (D) with some hits. For the lines “…first one’s named sweet Ann Marie” and “If he catches up to me” I change the texture to a fingerpicking pattern.
On the instrumental section (also shown in the notation), which occurs over the basic verse chord changes, I stay the on melodic motif of the intro an octave higher. Note the use of syncopated pinches throughout—in these instances, use your thumb on the fourth string and middle finger on the first. For the last bridge, verse, and chorus, I return to the same strumming pattern, before using a sustained D7 chord to end the song.
Due to copyright restrictions, we are unable to post notation or tablature for this musical work. If you have a digital or physical copy of the Fall 2022 issue of Ukulele magazine, you will find the music on page 52.