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Grateful Dead - China Cat Sunflower (Night at the Family Dog 1970)

Checking for Matches…

Whimsical Wizards practicing Magic in a Mindfield

1970 has to be considered a peak Dead year by anybody’s reckoning.  And here they are at the historic Family Dog Ballroom out on the Great Pacific Coast Highway with their friends the Jefferson Airplane and Santana on the same show.

China Cat Sunflower is a song no other band could have written –– a uniquely Grateful Dead blend of jazz and rock n roll with a lilting Caribbean feel, a quirky polyrhythmic beat and Alice in Wonderland lyrics.  In fact the words were in the very first envelope of lyrics that Robert Hunter mailed Garcia from New Mexico in 1967 that began their lifelong collaboration.  And China Cat would remain one of the few songs from their eariiest days that the band would consistently play all the way through their 30-year run.

That opening guitar riff has raised millions of arms and voices, and set millions more feet to dancing and skirts to swirling.  This is a punchy, funky and joyous song.  It’s harmonic, uplifting, and transportive.  Note Pigpen on congas, Garcia physically rocking out like he’s playing Johnny B. Goode in an encore, and the trio’s studio-ready harmonies on I Know You Rider.

And this is all the more extraordinary when you dig the band had just been “Busted –– down on Bourbon Street” five days earlier;  Tom Constantan had just left the group the same week;  and Garcia’s first child, Annabelle, was born two days before this show.  In the next month they’d discover Mickey Hart’s father was stealing from them, Mickey went into a tailspin and exile, and the band went into the studio to record what would be their first “hit” album, Workingman’s Dead.

But all's rockin’ right here in the third eye of the hurricane storming the California coastline. 

For sure also check out the closing jam from this classic San Francisco summit with the Airplane and Santana right here.

Retrieved from Wikipedia:
China Cat Sunflower on Wikipedia
"China Cat Sunflower"
Song by Grateful Dead from the album Aoxomoxoa
ReleasedJune 20, 1969
GenrePsychedelic rock, acid rock
LabelWarner Bros.
Writer(s)Robert Hunter
Composer(s)Jerry Garcia
Producer(s)Grateful Dead
Aoxomoxoa track listing

"China Cat Sunflower" is a song performed by the Grateful Dead which was first recorded for their third studio album Aoxomoxoa. The lyrics were written by Robert Hunter and the music composed by Jerry Garcia. The song was typically sung by Jerry Garcia. The first live recording of this song appeared on Europe '72, paired (as was typical) with "I Know You Rider". Lyrically, this song has many literary references, including Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, George Herriman's Krazy Kat, and Dame Edith Sitwell's "Polka".[1]

Live performances

The Grateful Dead first performed "China Cat Sunflower" on January 17, 1968 at the Carousel Ballroom in San Francisco, CA, and played the song well over 500 times in concert. During the first year after its introduction into the band's set list, the song was played by itself or often in the middle of an extended jam between the songs "Dark Star" and "The Eleven" - a position more familiarly (to Deadheads) filled by "St. Stephen".[2] Four instances of this arrangement have been released on official recordings, the first on the compilation album So Many Roads (1965–1995), the second on Dick's Picks Volume 22, and the other two on Road Trips Volume 2 Number 2.

In late 1969 the Grateful Dead began segueing "China Cat Sunflower" into "I Know You Rider" during live performances. Over the next 26 years they would pair these songs together over 500 times, most often as a second set opener. Only twice during this extended period was "China Cat Sunflower" played without this pairing.[2]

In popular culture

The song is featured in the Rock Band video game series as downloadable content, along with 17 other Grateful Dead songs.

In the 2009 Ang Lee film "Taking Woodstock," the version of the song from Europe '72 is used in the part of the film showing everyone arriving to Woodstock, 1969.


  1. ^ Dodd, David. "The Annotated 'China Cat Sunflower'", UCSC's Division of the Arts
  2. ^ a b Scott, John W.; Dolgushkin, Mike; Nixon, Stu (1995). Deadbase IX. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 1-877657-19-0. 

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