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Ginseng Sullivan

Ginseng Sullivan has not been seen in 31 Phish shows.
It was last played: 2017-08-02.
It was played at 4.39% of live shows.
It has been performed live 78 time(s).

Music/Lyrics: Norman Blake

Original Artist: Norman Blake

Original Album: Back Home in Sulphur Springs (1971)

Vocals: Mike

Debut: 1993-08-11

Historian: Dan Mielcarz (ColForbin)

"Ginseng Sullivan" is a tale of woe concerning a man searching for his big break in the ginseng industry so he can return to his “muddy water Mississippi Delta home.” Possibly the most popular of the bluegrass covers due to its references to the touring ethos, it enjoyed a steady spot in the rotation since its 1993 debut until the hiatus. 



Phish’s cover contains a number of lyrical changes to the chorus. Norman Blake’s version is: “It’s a long way to the Delta from the North Georgia Hills/And a tote sack full of ginseng won’t pay no travelin’ bills/And I’m too old to ride the rails or thumb the road alone”; Phish changes it to “It’s a long way from the Delta to the North Georgia hills/And a coal sack full of ginseng won’t pay no travelin’ bills/And I’m too old to ride the rails off on the road alone.” Given that the protagonist of the song is wistfully longing to get back to the Delta from Georgia, the “from/to” switch is a fairly big mistake. The following video features Norman Blake explaining the origin of the song, and playing the outstanding original version:



Watch Ginseng Sullivan on YouTube Norman Blake, “Ginseng Sullivan”



The debut of "Ginseng" on 8/11/93 and a later appearance on 8/20/93 (and possibly others) featured Trey on amplified acoustic guitar and Fish on the Madonna washboard with Page and Mike on their normal instruments. Later that month, on 8/25/93 in Seattle, the band played an all-acoustic version, followed by an all-acoustic version of "Nellie Kane." This acoustic trend continued in spring/summer 1994 (4/13/944/23/94, and 6/16/94, for example). The 10/10/94 version includes Steve Cooley as a guest on banjo.



Watch Ginseng Sullivan on YouTube Phish, “Ginseng Sullivan” - 2/16/97 Cologne, Germany



Following 1994, "Ginseng" has been played electric, and most versions are similar. As such, a “Ginseng” fan should seek out versions from shows that have other reasons to recommend them, like The Great Went, or 11/29/97. If you are interested in hearing Mike flub the vocals, check out 7/21/99.  "Ginseng" has been played much less frequently since the hiatus, appearing only on 4/17/04, and then remaining in limited rotation after its first appearance following the breakup on 11/21/09.


Albums: Star Lake 98, Live Phish Downloads 6-20-1995, Amsterdam

Lyrics:

(Norman Blake)
© Nannor Music, BMI

About three miles from the Battelle yard
The river curves on down
Not far south of the town depot
Sullivan's shack was found
Up on the higher ground

You could see him every day
Just walking down the line
With his old brown sack across his back
Long hair down behind
Speaking his worried mind

It's a long way from the delta
To the North Georgia hills
A tote sack full of ginseng
Won't pay my traveling bills
I'm too old to ride the rails
Or bum the road alone
So I guess I'll never make it back to home
My muddy water Mississippi delta home

The winters here, they get too cold
The damp it makes me ill
Can't dig no roots in the mountain side
With the ground froze hard and still
Gotta stay at the foot of the hill

But next summer, things turn right
The companies will pay high
I'll make enough money to pay my bills
Bid these mountains goodbye
Then he said with a sigh:

It's a long way from the delta
To the North Georgia hills
A tote sack full of ginseng
Won't pay my traveling bills
I'm too old to ride the rails
Or bum the road alone
So I guess I'll never make it back to home
My muddy water Mississippi delta home

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