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Scarlet Begonias 1989, Pt. 3

“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 is the 3rd and final dive into 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.

So I left you with an assignment to listen to the 3rd chorus of each of the 5 solos from that summer. If you need the list again, here it is…6/21 Shoreline, 7/7 Philly, 7/18 Alpine Valley, 8/6 CalExpo, 10/1 Shoreline.   

In 6/21 it’s almost as if his fingers are a tad behind his thoughts. Now check out chorus three from 7/7 in Philly…So when the A Major chord comes, you can hear the first inkling of this musical moment idea that you’ll hear in the CalExpo version. It’s the lick that really contains the energy, the musical moment, the pinnacle of the 8/6 version, born on 7/7 in Philadelphia.

Now listen for the same idea again in the 7/18 version at Alpine. Again, it’s this lick. You can hear he’s going for the same idea but ends up too high within the chord A, basically one inversion too much. Hear it? So now please go visit my 8/6 Cal Expo version, chorus three. Listen for the change to the A chord and how clearly defined his lick is.

There are few moments more magical than that one within the Dead’s history. I clearly remember being there and feeling the crowd hang on every note he played, especially in that third chorus you just heard. Listen to how in October at Shoreline he’s reaching for that same energy and it just doesn’t come to him for whatever reason. He even stretches into a fourth chorus in a separate attempt to find what he had at Cal Expo two months prior.

I believe we could sit here all day and speculate about this. We already talked about the number of choruses and some particular ideas that formulated along the way. Keep in mind also, that the 8/6 version at CalExpo was the fastest version of the summer. Check out my fancy bpm chart:

Date/Venue # of choruses bpm
6/21 Shoreline 3 86
7/7 JFK Philly 3 85
7/18 Alpine Valley 3 82
8/6 Cal Expo 3 91
10/1 Shoreline 4 88

I urge you to go back and listen to them again, form your own opinions and mental road maps for each solo. Have fun thinking about all the factors that MAY have influenced him along this journey during the summer of 1989. 

I’ll catch you guys next week.