"Jack-a-Roe" is one of many traditional folk tunes that the Grateful Dead adapted and made their own. It tells the story of the daughter of a wealthy London merchant who's in love with "Jack the Sailor". Despite having many worthy suitors, she disguises herself in men's attire so that she can follow him off to war. She's able to trick her way over to where this war is taking place, arriving at the turmoil of a horrific battle. She's able to find her love, and with the help of a doctor, heal his wounds. The song ends with the couple getting married, and the narrator of the song proposes marriage to the listener.

The song can be categorized as a legend historians call "The Main Warrior", and is most likely two or three centuries old and derives from the troubadours of the British Isles. The song's history in North America is equally as vast, and there are versions spanning states with such diverse folk traditions as Missouri, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Virginia.

The Dead first played "Jack-a-Roe" on May 13, 1977 in Chicago, and it's last performance was on July 8, 1995 at the band's penultimate show (also in Chicago). The song was performed 115 times, and almost always in the first set (or part of the 1980 acoustic sets), only once being played in the second set.


There was a wealthy merchant, in London he did dwell
He had a beautiful daughter, the truth to you I'll tell
Oh the truth to you I'll tell

She had sweethearts a plenty and men of high degree
But none but Jack the sailor her true love e'er could be
Oh her true love e'er could be

Jackie's gone a sailing with trouble on his mind
He's left his native country and his darling girl behind
Oh his darling girl behind

She went down to a tailor's shop and dressed in man's array
She climbed on board a vessel to convey herself away
Oh convey herself away

Before you step on board Sir, your name I'd like to know
She smiled all in her countenance 'they call me Jack A Roe'
Oh they call me Jack A Roe

I see your waist is slender, your fingers they are small
Your cheeks too red and rosy to face the cannonball
Oh to face the cannonball

I know my waist is slender, my fingers they are small
But it would not make me tremble to see ten thousand fall
Oh to see ten thousand fall

The war soon being over, she went and looked around
Among the dead and wounded her darling boy she found
Oh her darling boy she found

She picked him up all in her arms and carried him to town
She sent for a physician who quickly healed his wounds
Oh who quickly healed his wounds

This couple they got married, so well they did agree
This couple they got married, so why not you and me
Oh why not you and me

Solo Transcription (5/5/82)

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