As the evening sun goes down
The Dealer shuffles into town,
Makes a note of what's afloat
And spinning 'round he'll cut your throat.
In the time it takes to heal
The Dealer's made another deal.
When he plays, he plays for keeps
And sweeps the spinning roulette wheel.
Like the mighty ocean's roar
He gets all his share or more
Mexican right to the core
And very proud.
If you cross him I’m for sure
He'll get even with the score
Leave your wife a weeping widow
On the shore.
Between the desert and the dove
Money is his only love.
Feeling nothing deep inside
His mind is governed by his pride.
In a smoky little room
Shadows moving in the gloom.
Someone turns a running flush
And breaks the deathly quiet hush.
Jim Capaldi’s Spanish guitar playing in Dealer is accompanied by cowbells, flute, and electric bass played way up front. The instrumental part of the song is unusual, and quite a shift for psychedelic music. Though Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass influenced Alone Again Or by Love, released Christmas Season 1967, might be considered the first Spanish sounding psychedelic record in this collection, Dealer is rooted in a Mexican lyric rather than suggesting Los Angeles. The Doors’ Spanish Caravan, released in Summer 1968, could also be included in psychedelic’s attempts at a Latin theme. That would just about wind up this little foray into “South of the Border” music until the real thing, Carlos Santana, in his band’s first album release in Summer 1969, made a real fusion of Chicano rock in the album Santana. For psychedelia, the Spanish tone seemed to be used primarily to demonstrate the guitarist’s ability to master an acoustic guitar technique as a bit of exotica. For Santana, of course, the Spanish tone was essential.
My guess is that the lyric followed after the tune in Dealer, and therefore lacks its own integrity. There’s ambivalence in the lyric whether it is about a drug dealer or a card dealer, without making a simile out of the two. [I find “running flush” in the lyric especially ambivalent. Instead of a running flush in cards, we seem to have drugs being flushed down the toilet.] A lot is made of harsh retribution for deals gone bad, the Mexican character’s pride and his tendency toward violence. In fact, to contemporary ears, the lyric sounds racist. Though the term "Dealer" hadn’t been used before in psychedelic music, the seller of drugs had occasionally appeared as benevolent character in its lyrics, most notably in Donovan’s The Fat Angel (“He will bring happiness in a pipe. / He'll ride away on his silver bike. / And apart from that, he'll be so kind / In consenting to blow your mind") and the Beatles’ Dr. Robert (“If you’re down he’ll pick you up”). Both of these songs date from 1966. In the Spring of 1967, the Jefferson Airplane would complain in 3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds that “sometimes it buys for 65 dollars / Prices like that make a grown man holler / 'Specially when it's sold by a kid who's only 15.” But only now was the Dealer starting to get a bad name. It would get worse. By the Summer of 1968, Steppenwolf would be singing the hard rock song The Pusher, with the refrain “Goddamn the Pusher Man”.