deadsongs.vue.33 : Candyman
permalink #0 of 4: (alexallan) Thu 11 Sep 03 00:02
w: Hunter m: Garcia
deadsongs.vue.33 : Candyman
permalink #1 of 4: Alex Allan (alexallan) Thu 11 Sep 03 00:03
Lyrics: Robert Hunter
Music: Jerry Garcia

Copyright Ice Nine Publishing; used by permission.

Come all you pretty women with your hair a-hanging down
Open up your windows, 'cause the Candyman's in town
Come on boys and gamble
Roll those laughing bones
Seven come eleven, boys, I'll take your money home

Look out, look out, the Candyman
Here he comes and he's gone again
Pretty lady ain't got no friend
Till the Candyman comes around again

I come in from Memphis where I leant to talk the jive
When I get back to Memphis, be one less man alive
Good morning, Mister Benson
I see you're doing well
If I had me a shotgun, I'd blow you straight to hell


Come on boys and wager, if you have got the mind
If you've got a dollar, boys, lay it on the line
Hand me my old guitar
Pass the whiskey round
Won't you tell everybody you meet that the Candyman's in town


Look out, look out, the Candyman
Here he come and he's gone again
deadsongs.vue.33 : Candyman
permalink #2 of 4: David Dodd (ddodd) Mon 23 Dec 13 14:16
My post for from "Greatest Stories Ever Told," a series I am
writing this year for

To read the post and add your comments, please visit

Someday it would be fun to collect all the songs that mention the city
of Memphis, Tennessee. Surely they would fill a book of their
own—something about the city, with its deep history of being a
birthplace of the blues, resonates with generation after generation of
musicians. The Dead played a number of songs featuring Memphis,
including “The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion),” “Big River,” “New
Minglewood Blues,” and “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues
Robert Hunter doesn’t set “Candyman” in Memphis, but it’s where the
narrator rides in from, and where he plans to return after dealing with
one particular necessary act of justice, or revenge. More about that
in a bit.
The Hunter/Garcia song debuted in an acoustic set in the middle of a
show on April 3, 1970, at the Field House at the University of
Cincinnati. It was played steadily (277 times) throughout the remainder
of the band’s career, although it was only played once between
February 1971 and October 1972, according to DeadBase X. The final
performance took place on June 30, 1995, at Three Rivers Stadium in
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“Candyman” fits perfectly with the set of songs on American Beauty,
released in November 1970. Garcia plays an absolutely amazing pedal
steel solo on the studio recording, ethereal in the same way as his
work on that instrument on his solo album, Garcia, especially on ”The
Wheel.” It’s mixed a ways into the background, so it has a distant
quality, almost ghost-like. His singing is sly and perfectly in
Now, about that act of revenge or justice. It’s not overtly stated,
but it seems likely that the object of the reference to there being
“one less man alive” when the narrator’s current sojourn is done could
well be one “Mr. Benson.” I give a complete reference to the possible
identity of this character in the Annotated Lyrics book, but it seems
likely that Mr. Benson could be the Texas sheriff referenced in the
Leadbelly song “Midnight Special”:
If you ever go to Houston, you better walk right, You better not
stagger, you better not fight Sheriff Benson will arrest you, he'll
carry you down And if the jury finds you guilty, penitentiary bound

Maybe the Candyman has come back to Houston to settle a score with the
sheriff for past mistreatment. At any rate, he is ready to kill, that
seems certain. Hunter commented on this line in an interview with Blair
Jackson, as part of a conversation about crowd reaction to certain
lines in his songs.
“Then there’s the line in ‘Candyman’ that always gets the big cheers:
‘If I had a shotgun, I’d blow you straight to hell.’ The first time I
ran into that phenomenon was when I went to the movie Rollerball and aw
the people were cheering the violence that was happening. I couldn’t
believe it. I hope that people realize that the character in ‘Candyman’
is a character, and not me.”
I might be inclined these days to think that the cheers are less about
the violence than about the anti-authoritarian sentiment expressed in
this, and in other cheer-garnering lines. Others that come to mind
include the line in “Bertha”: “Test me, test me—why don’t you arrest
me?” and from “Tennessee Jed”: “Drink all day and rock all night, law
come to get you if you don’t walk right.” There are others, I’m fairly
sure, and they all have in common a certain attitude of belligerence or
resentment vis-à-vis law enforcement.
The Candyman of the song is a gambler, a drinker, a musician, and a
ladies’ man—that much is certain. He is also, likely, from context and
from the traditional use of the moniker, a drug dealer. So he is on the
wrong side of the law, as is the case with many of the narrator
characters in Grateful Dead songs.
I’ve said before that one benefit of the prevalence of down-and-out,
or even outright criminal characters in Dead songs is an increased
opportunity for empathy with the entire range of human experience; a
means for us to identify with the “other.” We need not be homeless or
on the street ourselves to feel empathy for August West.
But I’ve been coming to think that there is something else about the
placement of so many shady characters in the songs, who are in so many
difficult predicaments with the law or with circumstances. While Hunter
wants it to be clear that he is not the Candyman, he nevertheless
writes about such characters repeatedly. And I think Deadheads, many of
us anyway, tend to feel in some ways that we are societal outcasts, or
that we are challenging society’s norms in any of a number of ways,
and that our heritage belongs with the Beats and the Hippies, with the
Counterculture in general. Or it did at one time. So the cheers
generated by lines such as these come perhaps from a place of
identification with the extremities to which the characters in the
songs are driven.
Whether it’s Mr. Charlie, or Charlie Phogg, or Mr. Benson, or the
sheriff in “Friend Of the Devil,” we find ourselves cheering their
opponents and hoping that they get a comeuppance.
The Candyman seems to have something for everyone. He appeals to the
pretty women, to the gambling boys, to the guys sitting around drinking
and playing music. There are ready consumers, in other words, for all
the vices he is peddling. And if it weren’t for the Mr. Bensons of the
world, we would all be happy—right?
I think of the opening cartoon sequence from the Grateful Dead Movie,
in which the Uncle Sam character, innocently trying to have a good time
and live a life out on the road, riding his motorcycle, finds himself
in jail. What saves him and sets him free? The Statue of Liberty
crashes through his jail cell walls, and the music, “U.S. Blues,” comes
blasting through.
Freedom. Nothing to be taken for granted. And music can help us get
there, or at least remind us of what we may be up against.
I think there may be some stories out there about your experiences
with these issues—please share them if you can.
deadsongs.vue.33 : Candyman
permalink #3 of 4: John Spears (banjojohn) Sat 16 Apr 16 12:44
Nice post, David. 

As an interesting aside, while living in a certain tiny, remote town
in the Appalachians during the late 90's, I met a woman who claimed
to have known Jerry Garcia personally during the 60's, in the
Haight. She was of the proper age and inclination for this to be
possible, but other than that I have no way to confirm her story.
She claimed to have known Mr. Benson, who she claimed to be a known
"dope" dealer(smack) in the hood. Her name was Angie, btw. 
deadsongs.vue.33 : Candyman
permalink #4 of 4: Robin Russell (rrussell8) Fri 1 Dec 23 17:27

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