Why The Yardbirds and Grateful Dead Needed To Cover ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’
Five Live Yardbirds album cover - german martinez / Youtube
This widespread exposure to blues music in the 1960s allowed several artists to establish themselves as pioneers of the blues scene. By the end of the decade, blues rock had become one of the most popular genres in music, with audiences, especially in the UK and the US giving new life to classic blues songs.
The song “Good Morning, School Girl” is considered a classic in the blues genre. Blues singer and harmonica virtuoso John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson initially recorded it in 1937. Following its original release, a variety of artists have recorded versions of the song, including The Yardbirds and The Grateful Dead.
For starters, The Yardbirds happen to come across this song, but the one they listened to was the 1961 loose version made by RnB musicians Don and Bob. “We remembered this ‘Good Morning Little School Girl’ from a rather obscure R and B artiste—a friend of ours had it on a long-player. So we rushed in and recorded it,” former Yardbirds guitarist Eric Clapton said in The Yardbirds Story (2002). Moreover, Clapton, who had distaste towards the music the Yardbirds were making at this point, fondly remembers that he liked the version they created with this song.
However, the Grateful Dead made it one of their first covers after moving away from their jug band origins. American blues enthusiast and singer Ron “Pigpen” McKernan had heard Williamson’s version of the song before.
This explains why the versions of “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” by The Yardbirds and the Grateful Dead are so distinct, despite sharing the same title and a common ancestor. They’re equally great though, that’s the real deal.