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Published: 2010/09/19

Phil Lesh and Brian Lesh Build on David Crosby and Ola Belle Reed Originals for New Furthur Songs

Just before hitting the stage last night, via the group’s Twitter feed


Furthur has debuted two new songs over the past two evenings, both of which have the word “Mountain” in the title. Of more significance though is that both are collaborations between Brian Lesh and his father Phil, along with some earlier songwriters. On Friday at the Cuthbert Ampitheater in Eugene, the group performed “The Mountain Song,” in which the Lesh duo worked with a David Crosby original, along with some Robert Hunter lyrics.

Here is what Brian Lesh had to say about the song’s origins:

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.

Then last night at Marymoor Amphitheater in Redmond, WA, the group premiered “High On A Mountain,” which began with an Ola Belle Reed song. Here are Brian Lesh’s comments on that tune:

High On A Mountain is another song that follows in the same tradition as ‘The Mountain Song’. Originally written by Ola Belle Reed, the song has had many incarnations in the country and gospel genres. Knowing how incredibly powerful traditional songs can be (see; I Know You Rider, Long Black Veil, etc.), my dad came up with a beautiful new rendition of the song. However, the one problem was that the song was too short. Ola Belle Reed’s version only had two verses, and the universe doesn’t allow Furthur to play a song under five minutes long. I was given the honor of solving this problem, and soon came up with three new verses. While the original song was something of a sad love story, I aimed for a different type of love, that of brothers. Working on this song was an incredible experience, and I hope you all enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Furthur is off tonight and will next perform on Monday at the Santa Barbara Bowl.

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