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Happy Birthday Mickey Hart: The Evolution Of The Grateful Dead’s ‘Fire On The Mountain’

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Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart celebrates his 77th birthday today. With fellow drummer Bill Kreutzmann, Hart formed one-half of The Rhythm Devils, keeping time for the Dead between 1967 and 1971, rejoining in 1974 and remaining through 1995. While Hart largely left songwriting duties to his band mates, he did contribute to one of the Grateful Dead’s signature songs, “Fire On The Mountain.”

Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter wrote the words to “Fire On The Mountain.” In Hunter’s book of lyrics, Box Of Rain, he described the circumstances surrounding the writing of the song, which sound strikingly similar to the current situation in parts of California and surrounding states. Hunter wrote:

Written at Mickey Hart’s ranch [in Novato, California] in heated inspiration as the surrounding hills blazed and the fire approached the recording studio we were working …

The official Grateful Dead website, Dead.net, further describes the early stages of “Fire On The Mountain,” explaining:

Hart, credited with the music for the song, recorded a proto-rap version of the song for an unreleased album entitled Area Code 415, recorded in 1972 and 1973. It was also included on a Mickey Hart album entitled Fire On The Mountain, recorded in 1973-74. It appeared as an instrumental entitled “Happiness is Drumming” on Hart’s 1976 studio album, Diga. And it finally began showing up in the Grateful Dead repertoire, sung by Jerry Garcia, in 1977, undergoing a number of variants of the lyrics until it settled into the form that was eventually recorded and released on Shakedown Street, in November 1978.

A recording of the “proto-rap” version recorded by Hart with Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia (who also contributed to “Happiness Is Drumming”), can be heard below:

The evolution of Mickey Hart performing “Fire On The Mountain” can be explored through the JamBase Live Video Archive (JBLVA). There are over 100 videos of Mickey Hart playing “Fire On The Mountain” live with the Grateful Dead, Dead & Company, Sat. Streamand other groups available in the JBLVA. Watch Hart performing “Fire On The Mountain” with those bands and in other projects over the years below:

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April 25, 1977 | Grateful Dead

“Fire On The Mountain” debuted at the Grateful Dead’s concert on March 18, 1977 at the Winterland Arena in San Francisco. Like it would nearly 250 times, “Fire” followed “Scarlet Begonias” that night. This video is of the fourth known live performance of “Fire On The Mountain” by the Grateful Dead from their concert on April 25, 1977 at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey.


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September 16, 1978 | Grateful Dead

A notable performance of “Fire On The Mountain” took place during the band’s famed concerts at the Gizah Sound And Light Theater in Egypt in September 1978. After opening the second set of their third and final show in shadows of the Great Sphinx and pyramids with Egyptian musician Hamza El Din performing “Ollin Arageed,” the band segued into “Fire On The Moutain.” Watch that version of “Fire” above.


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October 20, 1989 | Grateful Dead

The sound of not only “Fire On The Mountain” but the entire Grateful Dead evolved in the late-1980s when Garcia began to incorporate MIDI synthesized sounds into his guitar effects. In this video, Garcia can be seen playing his at-the-time newly MIDI outfitted guitar “Wolf” on the band’s Fall Tour 1989, using the retired instrument in public for the first time in years. Coming out of “Scarlet Begonias,” watch the footage from the Spectrum in Philadelphia above and listen for guitarist Bob Weir coming in early on one of the refrains.


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July 2, 1995 | Grateful Dead

The final “Fire On The Mountain” performed by the Grateful Dead happened on July 2, 1995 at Deer Creek in Noblesville, Indiana. The night is notorious for the gate crashing at the back of the venue’s lawn that occurred during the first set. The storming of the venue by ticketless attendees led the band to cancel the following night’s concert in a sternly worded letter written to Deadheads. Watch the last “Scarlet/Fire” played by Hart with the rest of his Grateful Dead band mates above.


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July 24, 1999 | Mickey Hart & Planet Drum

”Fire On The Mountain” continued to burn after Garcia’s death and the Grateful Dead’s end. In 1999, Mickey Hart & Planet Drum performed at the disastrous Woodstock 99 festival in New York. The version of “Fire On The Mountain” performed by Planet Drum featured Hart delivering his “proto-rap” styled lyrics.


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July 29, 2010| The Rhythm Devils

In 2010, Hart and Kreutzmann performed together with their “Rhythm Devils” ensemble featuring percussionist Sikiru Adepoju, bassist Andy Hess and guitarists Keller Williams and Davy Knowles. This footage of “Fire On The Mountain” is from the 2010 Gathering Of The Vibes festival. Keller Williams, who attended many latter-era Grateful Dead shows including the aforementioned 1995 Deer Creek show that he documented in his song “Gate Crashers Suck,” handled lead vocals on The Rhythm Devils’ version.


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July 3, 2015 | Fare Thee Well

Though they only shared the stage for five shows, the collective that came together for the Grateful Dead 50th anniversary Fare Thee Well concerts were no less historic in the history of the band and its members. Hart, Kreutzmann, Lesh and Weir played together for the final time over the course of two shows in Santa Clara, California and a three-night run in Chicago. The “core four” was joined by Chimenti, keyboardist and one-time Dead member Bruce Hornsby and Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio. The shows in Chicago, held at Soldier Field where the Grateful Dead played their final two concerts, began on July 3, 2015. The second set that night began with the classic “Scarlet/Fire” coupling with Anastasio singing lead on “Scarlet” and Hornsby on “Fire.”


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January 19, 2020 | Dead & Company

”Fire On The Mountain” unsurprisingly carried over to Dead & Company’s live repertoire when that band debuted in 2015. Performed many times over the past five years, Dead & Co. gave bassist Oteil Burbridge lead vocal duties for their live performances. Watch the most recent Dead & Co. performance of “Fire On The Mountain” from January 2020 at their Playing In The Sand destination event in Mexico.


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JamBase Live Video Archive
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