Monday, June 20, 2016

Jerry Garcia Guitar Solos

If you want to plunge into Jerry Garcia's guitar playing, spring 1977 is a good place to base this study.  Jerry's playing was about as pristine, inspired and melodic as it ever got during this period.  Many of the Grateful Dead's best songs were already written by '77 and in the active repertoire.  Last Saturday I put together an ear-training playlist consisting of just the Jerry solo breaks from live recordings of over 30 Grateful Dead songs.  The idea is to have something to listen to, learn from, and play along with.
Jerry Garcia 1977 - photo by Rob Bleestein
The melodies to these Grateful Dead songs are very familiar to me and each one is distinctive and instantly recognizable.  Sometimes I slowed down these snippets to 85% of the speed but didn't change the key.  With a little bit of work I feel as though I could figure out the basic melodies to pretty much any of them, and then start to fill in around that based on things I might take away from what I hear Jerry doing.  The way Jerry fills out an otherwise sparse melody is of great interest to me.
I limited my sources to what is on Spotify with my focus on shows from May 1977.

From the 5/19/77 at the Fox Theater in Atlanta, GA I used China Doll, Looks Like Rain, Loser, Peggy-O, Ramble on Rose, Row Jimmy, and Terrapin Station (the instrumental part after "strategy was his strength and not disaster").  From 5/21/77 at Lakeland Civic Center in Lakeland, FL comes Bertha, Brown Eyed Women, Comes A Time, Fire on the Mountain, Jackaroe, Scarlet Begonias, and St. Stephen (intro).  The 4/30/77 show at the Palladium yielded Deal, GDTRFB and Stella Blue.  By poking around on Spotify I found a few other stragglers such as Franklin's Tower (5/22/77), Friend of the Devil (5/18/77), It Must Have Been the Roses (11/5/77), and Uncle John's Band (9/29/77).

After all that there were some more songs I was looking for that I couldn't find on the 1977 shows available (some weren't written yet) so I had to expand the search.  These include Been All Around this World (1980), Black Muddy River (1989), Crazy Fingers (1975), Deep Elem Blues (1982), Dire Wolf (1973), High Time (1980), Mission in the Rain (1976), Ship of Fools (1974), Sing Me Back Home (1972), Stagger Lee (1978), Standing on the Moon (1989) and To Lay Me Down (1974).
The uniting thing about each of the solos is that they are loose, melodic breaks based on the structure of the songs.  Some of them are traditional songs that the Grateful Dead added their unique touch to, and the rest are originals that seem directly evolved out of traditional music - like taking the same basic folk music concepts and adding one or two new levels to it.  This gives me another option when playing tenor banjo.

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