One of rock's most beloved and enduring songwriters, Grateful Dead lyricist and Jerry Garcia's songwriting partner, Robert Hunter, died on Monday (September 23rd) at his San Rafael, California home with his wife Maureen by his side. No cause of death has been announced for Hunter, who was 78. Dead drummer Mickey Hart saluted his friend, telling The Associated Press, "We loved Bob Hunter and will miss him unimaginably. . . (He was) a visionary wordsmith extraordinaire. There was nobody like Bob Hunter and there never will be. He explained the unexplainable and the words struck deep."

Hunter, a multi-instrumentalist, whose partnership with Jerry Garcia predated the Dead, co-wrote such rock standards as "Scarlet Begonias," "Ripple," "Uncle John's Band," "Sugar Magnolia," "Touch Of Grey," "Tennessee Jed," "Fire On The Mountain," "Eyes Of The World," "Playin' In The Band," "Sugaree," "Shakedown Street," "Friend Of The Devil," "Box Of Rain," "Truckin," "Bertha," "Casey Jones," "Althea," "Jack Straw," "Franklin's Tower," "U.S. Blues," "He's Gone," "China Cat Sunflower," "Ramble On Rose," and many, many more.

Hunter, who released a spate of solo albums between 1974 and 1993, collaborated with others outside of the Dead, most notably with Bob Dylan on his 1988 Down In The Groove collection for "Ugliest Girl In The World" and "Silvio," along with serving as Dylan's primary collaborator on 2009's Together Through Life.

Phil Lesh posted a tribute on Facebook:

I am heartbroken. Last night we lost Robert Hunter. As much as anyone, he defined in his words what it meant to be the Grateful Dead. His lyrics, ranging from old border ballads to urban legend, western narratives and beyond, brought into sharp focus what was implicit in our music. A case in point is "Box Of Rain" -- he heard so deeply what my feelings were when I composed the music, feelings I didn't know I had until I read his lyrics. The lyrics he wrote for Jerry likewise tapped into the very essence of Jerry's heart and soul - drawing forth the music living there. Significantly, the very first lyric Robert wrote for us was "Dark Star." which became the definitive GD exploratory vehicle.

So fare thee well, rh, when my time comes I'll be looking for you and Jer out there in the transitive nightfall of diamonds.


An official tribute to Hunter was posted by the Dead's longtime archivist David Lemieux, which reads:

Fare you well, Mr. Hunter. We love you more than words can tell. . .

For a man who provided us with so many meaningful words, the soundtrack to our lives, he's left us a bit speechless with his passing. For more than 50 years, since his first lyrical contributions to the Grateful Dead in 1967, Robert Hunter has been just as integral a part of the legacy of the Grateful Dead as those who recorded the music to accompany his words, those who walked out on stage to bring his words to life. More than 2,000 times 1967-1995, these six (or five or seven) proud walkers on the jingle bell rainbow, plus countless thousands of times since then by other performers, the Grateful Dead have brought Hunter's words to life in front of all of us as their witness. Not a single day has gone by since 1984 that Hunter's words haven't been a part of my world; I've heard Jerry, Bob and others sing his words literally every day for the past 35 years.

When the final Fare Thee Well show ended in Chicago in 2015, Mickey Hart famously sent us on our way by asking us to "please, be kind," and that lesson along with its lyrical brethren written by Hunter, "ain't no time to hate," and "are you kind?" are some of the truest words to live by. No matter what meaning, solace, lesson you find in Hunter's lyrics, please go out and do some good with them.

Although Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter amassed a wealth of classic material during their years as the Grateful Dead's primary songwriting team, Garcia remained extremely humble about his talents as a songsmith: "For me, it's one of those things, it's like a craft. I don't know if my songwriting rises to the level of art. There's one or two things that I've written -- that Hunter and I have written -- that I think are truly wonderful, but whether anybody else thinks that -- I don't know. And I certainly don't feel that I'm a wonderful songwriter. My output is very small. I'm not prolific by any means. Hunter's output compared to mine; I'd say is, like, I'd say it's about 50-to-one (laughs)."

Bob Weir told us that although Robert Hunter mainly served as the lyricist for Jerry Garcia -- he often collaborated with all the members of the band -- especiallyWeir before his own partnership with the late-John Barlow took wing. Weir recalled how for "Truckin'," Hunter decided to give the lyrics to the band to work on as a collective: "Truckin'' -- he just handed us a page of lyrics, and Jerry, me, and Phil (Lesh) worked that one into a song."

Bob Weir and Robert Hunter clearly had chemistry as collaborators, co-writing both "Playing In The Band" and "Sugar Magnolia." Weir told us that the pairing wasn't quite the hand in glove fit that Garcia and Hunter made: "I tended to take more liberties with his lyrics than he (laughs) could put up with, though we do still work together every now and again. But, I'm probably well advised to just take his lyrics and just use them as they are. Either that, or maybe we should work at the same time in the same place, and that way. . . and that way we won't have any conflicts."

We last caught up with Robert Hunter back in 2015 the night he and Jerry Garcia were finally inducted into the Songwriter's Hall Of Fame. We asked him if there were any still-unreleased Hunter-Garcia compositions that never had seen the light of day: "That's an interesting question. The first song we wrote, we never recorded. 'Black Cat' -- it went, ''Tell you a story 'bout my old man's cat / a cat who's hide was a comely black / fame and fortune and good luck hath / the man that crosses the black cat's path.' We wrote that in our teens."