New Furthur song debuted! The Mountain Song

Campfire to campfire or porch to porch, many folk songs have been passed down orally from older generations to younger ones. As they get passed down, the songs change with each new performer, and ownership of that song dissolves from a singular into a collective.

‘The Mountain Song’, as played by Furthur, is a great example of this tradition. It began, as far as I know, on the outtakes of David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name, which featured a song called ‘Mountain Jam’*. It was a simple, repetitive song stretching eight or nine minutes, with only one repeated lyric (‘Gonna make the mountains be my home…’). Even so, the progression, melody and the passion of the musicians on the album made the song so hauntingly beautiful that it stuck with me from the first time that I heard it.

I play in a band called Blue Light River, a group for which I write the songs.  My good friend and bass player, Scott Harvey, one day suggested that I find an old Dylan bootleg and write another ‘Wagon Wheel’. (For those that don’t know, Old Crow Medicine Show’s massively popular ‘Wagon Wheel’ is only half written by them: the chorus is actually a Bob Dylan song called ‘Rock Me Mama’ that can be found on the Genuine Bootleg Series Vol. 1, Disc 2). The idea stewed in my brain for a couple of weeks, until one day ‘Mountain Jam’ came up on shuffle on my iPod. I immediately set to work, and soon the Blue Light River song ‘Mountain Town’ was born. Using David Crosby's refrain as a chorus I wrote three verses and just like that, another incarnation of the song was born. It was a song that strongly represented the folk tradition; it used the original music to create something new that simultaneously respects and builds on that original.

It was that same tradition that created the song that Furthur plays, ‘The Mountain Song’. After hearing Blue Light River’s song, my mom, Jill, did some research and found lyrics written by Robert Hunter that were meant to be added to David's original composition. Seeing the potential, she brought them to my dad, Phil, and me, and together we came up with a third incarnation of the song. Using David's chorus, my arrangement and music for the verses and Hunter’s lyrics, we built a new song that pays homage to and builds upon my song, which in turn was built upon the original.

I’m guessing that the journey for this particular tune is far from over. Just because Furthur plays the song one way and Blue Light River plays it another doesn’t mean that there can’t or shouldn’t be a fourth or fifth incarnation of the song. Music isn’t meant to be inert, it is meant to grow and change. That is why ‘The Mountain Song’ is so special, because it is the product of at least seven different musicians that has developed for over 40 odd years.

-Brian Lesh

* The song was originally created collaboratively, as part of an ongoing cluster jam involving members of Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, all of whom happened to have been recording at Wally Heider studios in San Francisco at the time (1970). The results came to be known as the P.E.R.R.O. (Planet Earth Rock n' Roll Orchestra) sessions, and one of the participants, Paul Kantner of the Airplane, later released an album of that name, which included a version of "Mountain Song " with Paul's lyrics.

Mountain Song

Walkin' in the Mountains - D.Crosby

I went walkin' out last summer
Tryin' to find a breath of air
I went walkin' on the mountain
A friend had told me I'd find you there

Mountain Town - D.Crosby/J.Garcia/B.Lesh/R.Hunter

Built a fortress on a hill
I built a castle in the sky
I built a lean-to in the village down below
A fountain where the land was dead and dry
I built a palace overlooking seven seas
I built a church upon a stone
Gonna let my pastures go to seed
And let the mountain be my home

Gonna make the mountains be my home
('Cause the sky above me is gold)
Gonna make the mountains be my home
(The river is dark ...)
Gonna free my soul to roam
(The river is dark ... down to the sea)
Gonna make the mountains be my home
('Cause the sky above is gold)

A monument of marble raised
Against the day I die
And on the capstone just one word
And that one word is "why?"
Gonna leave my dusty bones
By the path on which they fall
Halfway up some mountain trail
Where the timberline stands tall

Gonna let the mountains be my home
(I'm going to move)
Gonna let the mountains be my home
(I want to breathe)
Gonna free my soul to roam
(I'm going to move on)
Gonna make the mountains be my home
(I think I put on my saddle and ride)

I hear the golden eagle's
Disappearing cry
Wings of beaten lightning flash
From skies beyond the sky.
God writes testament in stars
Believe no word you read
Until you see what action
Has been mothered by the deed
The mountain makes no promises
A thing I understand
Rather look down from the height
Than up here from the land

Gonna let the mountains be my home
(Such a long time)
Gonna let the mountains be my home
(I want to breathe)
Gonna free my soul to roam
(I'm gonna move mountains)
Gonna make the mountains be my home
(I'm gonna move)
Gonna make the mountains be my home
Just got to breathe...