“How Does the Song Go?”, a column dedicated to taking you deeper into the realms of the Grateful Dead’s music than ever before.
By Nate LaPointe
Today we’ll be continuing our look at Jerry Garcia’s guitar solo in the middle of “Scarlet Begonias,” specifically in the summer of 1989, culminating with what I believe to be his best solo, on August 6 at Cal Expo.
If you recall, your assignment was to listen to Jerry’s solo in the middle of Scarlet starting at 3:36. Listen now if you need a refresher.
I’d like to go back and look at how he got to this point, tracking his short-term memory throughout the summer. They played “Scarlet Begonias” five times between June and October. The first version we’ll look at is June 21 at Shoreline in Mountain View, CA. Go listen to his initial idea in the solo.
And now listen to the next version they played that summer, July 7 at JFK in Philadelphia.
Did you hear he started on an E note each time? The lines both have a similar trajectory leading to the next phrase. Next version is July 18 at Alpine Valley. Again, listen to his first idea.
Again he starts on an E note but with slightly less direction at the end of the phrase. Now re-listen to the beginning of the August 6th version from Cal Expo.
You’ll hear he starts on the same E note, but with much more direction to the end of the phrase, taking him up the octave with that F# to E pull off on the A chord. He sounds very confident here. Now let’s see what he does on October 1 back at Shoreline for comparison.
He gets to that E note to start the solo but without clear vision for where to go next.
Ok, now go listen to the second half of chorus one from all five versions. You’ve got: 6/21 Shoreline, 7/7 Philly, 7/18 Alpine.
You can feel him launch with that ending run in both 7/7 and 7/18.
Now 8/6 CalExpo.
And the last version, 10/1 Shoreline…
7/7 and 7/18 end chorus one with similar ideas that ascend and bring energy into the second chorus. 8/6 is more like 6/21 in that he’s gone back down an octave. 10/1 does a similar motion, but again, with far less commitment and vision for what’s next. One could argue that in Jerry’s subconscious memory, he established this idea on 6/21, strayed from it on 7/7 and 7/18, and brought it back for the 8/6 version, aware that his trajectory was three choruses long. We’ll notice later that 10/1 Shoreline continues to be meandering, explaining why maybe he took four choruses instead of the three consistent with the other four versions we’ve been listening to.
Now go listen to chorus two from each of the five solos. Really listen to where he starts and ends this chorus on each version.
So you can hear the idea forming, albeit a tad sloppy. Also, Phil had a dominant voice in that Alpine version, likely lending a hand to the ideas Jerry tends towards.
You really feel the setup for the musical moment coming shortly on the 8/6 version. Hold on to that for a sec and go listen to the 10/1 version from Shoreline.
Again, he’s not quite firing on all cylinders.
So this next chorus is the one that always got me. It’s chorus number three and your assignment is to listen to this 3rd chorus from all five versions listed above. We will talk specifically about this portion plus some bpm’s etc. next week. See you then!