Robert Hunter Biography

Robert Hunter is a writer and lyricist chiefly known for the songs he has written for the Grateful Dead.


Robert Hunter met Jerry Garcia before he was 20 years old, and the two played in several bands together before the Grateful Dead was formed. Hunter joined the Dead in 1967 as essentially a behind-the-scenes band member, writing songs. He penned some of the most well-known Dead songs, such as "China Cat Sunflower," "Friend of the Devil" and "Truckin'," which contains what might be the band's signature lyric: "What a long, strange trip it's been." After the Dead broke up in 1995, Hunter moved on to other projects, among them writing his own songs and poetry.

The Grateful Dead

Robert Hunter was born in San Luis Obispo, California, in 1941. He met Jerry Garcia in Palo Alto, California at the start of the 1960s, and the two began playing gigs at local establishments together as a bluegrass duo.

Although Hunter played bass and mandolin and sang vocals, he always considered himself a writer, and he would find his stride toward the end of the decade. A couple of years after meeting Garcia, Hunter volunteered to be a test subject in government experiments with LSD and later wrote songs while under the drug’s influence. One such song was the first he wrote for the Grateful Dead, "China Cat Sunflower/The Eleven."

In 1967, Hunter joined the band, chiefly as a lyricist, soon penning the classic "Dark Star." Hunter's songs and influence were so strong that over the years Jerry Garcia would refer to Hunter as the member of the band who never appeared on stage.

The songwriting collaboration between Garcia and Hunter thrived through the end of the 1960s and into the next decade, with such memorable songs as "Friend of the Devil," "Truckin'" (which contains the line that many consider emblematic of the band itself: "What a long, strange trip it's been"), "Ripple" and "Sugar Magnolia," all in 1970. He would also be responsible for the lyrics in the Dead's "comeback" song, 1987's "Touch of Grey," which would be the band's only commercial hit.

Later Years

After the Dead broke up in 1995, Hunter continued to write for other musicians, including former member of the band Mickey Hart, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Hornsby, while also writing songs as a solo artist. As a co-writer of the majority of Grateful dead songs, when the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, Hunter was inducted as well, the only nonperforming artist to receive such an honor. Robert Hunter has also published some of his own poetry and translated the poetic works of Rainer Maria Rilke.

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