By Nate Lapointe

Alligator, Wolf, and Tiger Oh My! (part 2 of 2)

Welcome to “How Does the Song Go?” A column dedicated to taking you deeper into the realms of the Grateful Dead’s music than ever before. Today we continue our look into songs that were debuted on Jerry Garcia’s three most iconic guitars. Last week was the Alligator guitar. This week we move on to Wolf and Tiger.

By summer 1973, Doug Irwin was nearing completion of Garcia’s Wolf guitar, named for a sticker of a wolf that Garcia stuck on the guitar near the tailpiece, eventually becoming inlaid as a permanent fixture. The guitar was equipped with three single coil pickups and electronics that were quite similar to Alligator. Around this same time, the Grateful Dead began to develop a sound system that would eventually become known as the Wall of Sound. In addition, Garcia formed a relationship with Merl Saunders, who influenced Garcia by exposing him to more rich harmonies and grooves, often found more in jazz and R&B music rather than the blues and folk that had dominated their sound up until this point. This combination of a new guitar, a state-of-the-art PA system, and more 7th chords led to yet another fruitful period, producing such works as, “Eyes of the World,” “Stella Blue,” “Weather Report Suite,” “US Blues,” and “Scarlet Begonias.” For more reading on this era, go back to the WoN archives and find my “The End of 1973” article.

At 1:25 in this 1974 version of “China Cat Sunflower” we get a great shot of Wolf to accompany the single coil sound we talked about last week in Alligator. 

Comparing his approach to improvisation here in 1974 to the iconic Europe ’72 version, it’s impressive to note how much more explorative and adventurous his lines are. His phrases are longer and use much more in the way of color tones (9th’s, 13th’s, and chromatic embellishments) to expand the flavor of the passages. This is illustrated during the next instrumental section, on the four bars of the E Major chord, 2:42-2:54.

1975-1979 saw Jerry switch between a couple different Travis Bean guitars and the Wolf with various different pickup combinations. On August 4,1979, Jerry takes delivery on another custom Irwin guitar famously known as Tiger. Tiger has humbuckers and single coils, the ability to switch the humbuckers into single coils if desired, and an on board effects loop. Without too much technical jargon, the OBEL allows for much more control of effects such as distortions, envelope filters, and delays by placing the master volume post effects. This configuration of electronics would dominate the sound of the 1980’s and remain on every guitar Garcia would play until his untimely passing in 1995. This distorted sound going back to clean on “West LA Fadeaway” is a great example showing that the effects loop can be turned on or off using the guitar instead of a foot switch.

At 3:15 as he’s ending his solo, you can see him reach down and flick a switch, disengaging the OBEL and going back to a clean tone, much like a Stratocaster.

Songs debuted on Tiger include “Althea,” “Lost Sailor,” “Saint of Circumstance,” “Touchof Grey,” “West LA Fadeaway,” “Hell In A Bucket,” “When Push Comes To Shove,” “Black Muddy River,” and many more throughout the decade.

By New Yea’s Eve 1989, Garcia had yet another Irwin guitar in his hands. This instrument, named Rosebud, was similar to Tiger in many ways including pickups, OBEL, and shape. The main addition to the new instrument was the ability to trigger midi samples by activating a midi pickup that had been installed. This gave Garcia the option to make his guitar sound like a trumpet, a saxophone, or any other sound in the midi library of his choosing.

There are many websites that go into further detail about all of these instruments in which you can dive into the Cripe guitars Jerry used in ’93-’95. 

I always gravitated towards the way they sounded in the music. It’s clear Jerry was always searching for the sound.

Nate LaPointe is a member of Cubensis, SoCal’s premier Grateful Dead music experience. In addition, Nate has worked with many artists including Bobby Womack, Vince Welnick, and Selena Gomez. Nate currently resides in Redondo Beach, CA where he performs, teaches, and records music.