a Project of the Mockingbird Foundation

Performances Song History Lyrics

Viola Lee Blues

Music/Lyrics: Noah Lewis

Vocals: Phil Lesh, Phish

Original Artist: Gus Cannon

Original Album: Victor 38523 (1928)

Debut: 1999-09-17

Historian: Phil Nazzaro

It's a testament to the Grateful Dead that the first song they consistently took to the level we would consider type-II jamming began as a stark, bare bones, blues tune. “Viola Lee Blues” was written by Noah Lewis and originally released by Gus Cannon (with Lewis on harmonica) way back on September 20, 1928. Little did they know that in less than forty years, their country-blues song would be performed as a powerhouse psychedelic trip into another world.

Grateful Dead, "Viola Lee Blues" – 6/18/67, Monterey, CA

Nor could they have known that on 9/17/99 Phil Lesh would join Phish for their encore at Shoreline. It was then that Phil, Page and Trey would relive the thrilling opening number from their three-night stand as Phil & Phriends back in April of that year (4/15/99). While the version from Shoreline doesn’t quite stack up against the pure excitement generated at the Warfield show, it is still an energetic and more then worthwhile performance. It becomes a pulsating force driven by the dual basses of Mike Gordon and Phil Lesh. The bass extravaganza was reprised on 7/12/06 in Essex Junction, VT as Trey and Mike joined Phil in a rollicking version that segued into a bass duet. Then on 10/20/07, Trey joined Phil and Friends for a "Viola" > "Cumberland" > "Viola" > "Cumberland" > "Viola" sandwich in which they proceeded to eat everybody's lunch.

Phil Lesh & Phriends, "Viola Lee Blues" – 4/15/99, San Francisco, CA (Part 1)

Phil Lesh & Phriends, "Viola Lee Blues" – 4/15/99, San Francisco, CA (Part 2)

Phil Lesh & Phriends, "Viola Lee Blues" – 4/15/99, San Francisco, CA (Part 3)

Phil Lesh & Phriends,  "Viola Lee Blues" – 4/15/99, San Francisco, CA (Part 4)

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