Saturday, September 12, 2009

FSOTD #20/China Cat Sunflower (1969)

It was only a matter of time. I guess I'm a little surprised it took twenty songs for the Grateful Dead to become a first song of the day. But, ya know, I haven't been listening to the Dead so much in recent months. Barely at all, really. So it was a pleasant surprise when I woke up with "China Cat Sunflower" bopping through my head. I was even more pleasantly surprised by the nuggets I turned up doing my research for this post.

"China Cat Sunflower" first appeared on vinyl as part of the Dead's 1969 album Aoxomoxoa. Pronounce it how you will, and then rack your brain for any other album titles that are palindromes. But is it really a palindrome if it's not a word in the dictionary? Webster's defines palindrome as a "word, verse, or sentence that reads the same backward or forward". There's no definition for aoxomoxoa. Yeah, it's an esoteric point, but then, we're talking the Grateful Dead here.

In a time where, generally speaking, albums were promoted by concerts, the Grateful Dead more often approached it the other way around. Remember the Dead's 1987 radio hit "Touch of Grey"? The first time it was ever played live was 9-15-82 at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland. In the case of "China Cat" (as it was casually known), my trusty old Deadbase VIII lists its first concert appearance as 1-22-68, but it was quite possibly played prior to that. Many of the setlists from the 1960's are lost to time, including a string of shows at the end of 1967.

Wading through the pages of Deadbase for the first time in quite some while spawned an idea. Instead of making and including some sort of playlist with "China Cat Sunflower", I'll find a Grateful Dead setlist with the song, and if possible, it'll be from a show played on today's date, September 12th. And so, while the first four or five Sep 12 shows I perused did not include "China Cat", I finally found one from the early 80's that did. And wouldn't you know, it was not just any ol' show, but one I actually attended. And not just any show I attended, but the very show that I have always identified as the one where I became a Deadhead. For real...I'm not making this up.

It was Saturday, September 12, 1981 at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley. I was with one of my many friends named Michael, and I believe it was my 6th Grateful Dead show. He and I had just done our first Dead road trip a few weeks earlier, driving from northern California to a pair of shows in Long Beach. And how about this for a longtime friend update: He and I met up in New York this past April and caught two Dead shows, the first at the Nassau County Coliseum followed the next night by THE show of the tour at Madison Square Garden. Bully for us.

Here's the entire 9-12-81 show...

Set I
Shakedown Street>Greatest Story Ever Told Friend Of The Devil>El Paso Bird Song>Cassidy Tennessee Jed>Looks Like Rain China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider

Set II
Scarlet Begonias>Fire On The Mountain>C.C. Rider Estimated Prophet>Eyes Of The World>
Drums>Not Fade Away>Wharf Rat>Around & Around>One More Saturday Night

E1: Brokedown Palace E2: Good Lovin'

For those unfamiliar, the ">" symbol indicates where one song either jams or segues into the following song. Usually, there was much more of that in GD second sets, so much so that I was surprised to see all those arrows in 9-12-81's first set. In the case of "China Cat Sunflower>I Know Rider", it indicates one of the band's most consistent and classic jams, one that had been worked out many years prior and was a perennial crowd favorite. You very rarely heard "China Cat" without "I Know You Rider" hard on its heels. China Cat Sunflower > I Know Your Rider. The first "China>Rider", according to Deadbase VIII, was played on 9-30-69.

So there ya have it - the first ever FSOTD featuring The Grateful Dead. And no Wikipedia!

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