Roots of the Grateful Dead

Why this site?

Randy Jackson collected and wrote all of the information presented in this web site. In 1996, he created a site to house this valuable information that is still (Dec. 5, 2022) accessible here:

In order to preserve Randy's original research, I migrated his content over to this web site.  I've touched his original text lightly, only correcting minor typos, and perhaps adding a few links to newer content.

From: Randy Jackson, 1996


For some time I have been researching the origins of the many cover songs that the Grateful Dead have performed over the years. I have collected quite a bit of material on that subject and thought it was time to organize it and make it available. This site is an attempt to do that and to solicit input from others who are also interested in this area of research.

I am not a professional writer nor do I have any formal training in ethnomusicology, I've basically been making it up as I go along. All of the original written content contained herein is copyright © Randy Jackson.

Skeleton and Roses, Illus. by Edmund Sullivan"Oh, come with old Khayyam
and leave the Wise to talk;
one thing is certain, that Life flies;
One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown forever dies."

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyamm
Quatrain #26
Translated by Edward Fitzgerald, 1913
Illustrated by Edmund Sullivan

Stanley Mouse found Sullivan's illustration in an old copy of The Rubaiyat and included it in a poster for a show at the Avalon Ballroom in 1966.

Here's an article in the Washington Post about it.

Edmund Sullivan was an illustrator active around the turn of the 20th century, a time which saw many innovations in the print industry.  These innovations made possible more rapid reproductions and easier printing, which in turn made possible the explosion of illustrated magazines at the time. 

Sullivan illustrated a translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam by Edward Fitzgerald in 1913.  It was Sullivan’s illustration of the Skeleton with Roses that Alton Kelley and Stanley Mouse colored and added lettering to in 1966, which became one of the most recognized icons of the Grateful Dead.

The Rubaiyat itself is a collection of quatrains written during the course of Omar Khayyam's life - May 31, 1048 to December 4, 1131. Khayyam was a Persian poet, mathematician, and scientist. The original illustration depicts Fitzgerald's translation of Khayyam's quatrain number 26.

I recently purchased a copy of Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat on E-bay from a seller who sent me the following remarkable note:

"The book has a special feel in some unique and difficult in words to explain way. I suppose it's ordinary looking like any other book, but somehow does have an energy I sense when holding it. Dealing with books quite often, every once in awhile, one comes along that seems to have a soul, or a life of it's own. It's just something unseen that I can sense is there. This happens to be one of those rare special volumes. I assure you that you will find this book quite interesting."