Remembering Robert Hunter

The Songwriters Hall of Fame was saddened to learn of the passing of 2015 inductee, Robert Hunter, a Grateful Dead Collaborator and provider of many of their most vivid and enduring lyrics.

Born Robert Burns in California in 1941, he shared in the creation of such classic Dead fare as “Casey Jones,” “China Cat Sunflower,” “St. Stephen,” “Truckin’,” “Dark Star,” “Friend of the Devil,” “Uncle John’s Band,” “Casey Jones,” “Sugar Magnolia” and “Touch of Grey.”

But Hunter’s partnership with Dead co-founder Garcia dates back to their initial pairing as performers in an early 1960s folk duo. They had met in 1961 in Palo Alto (Garcia’s first concert was with Hunter, with each earning $5), and Hunter also played in several of Garcia's early bluegrass bands. Hunter rejoined Garcia in the Grateful Dead in the fall of 1967, when he wrote the first verse of “Dark Star” at a band rehearsal. The composition is now listed among The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll,” and is also No. 57 on Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time.” “Truckin’,” too, has been singled out, by the U.S. Library of Congress, which cited it as a national treasure in 1997.

“Friend of the Devil,” from the Dead’s 1970 album American Beauty, is another significant Hunter-Garcia copyright in that it has been covered by Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, The Counting Crows, Elvis Costello, Lyle Lovett and John Mayer.

Hunter’s contributions to the Dead’s songs reflected his focus on being a writer and poet—and he went on to publish several poetry books. Though he never played on stage with the Dead, he was indeed a member and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the band in 1994 as the only non-performing band member ever to be included.

Hunter wrote the lyrics to all but a few of Garcia’s songs. He has also has collaborated on songs with Bob Dylan, Jim Lauderdale, Bruce Hornsby, and Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos, as well as the Dead’s Mickey Hart, in addition to releasing his own solo albums.

He is survived by his wife Maureen (whom he married in 1982).