October 4

Alabama Getaway



Alabama Getaway

On the surface, “Alabama Getaway” sounds like a standard, Chuck Berry-esque 12 bar blues. However, the song is anything but standard, and instead of being a 12 bar blues, it follows an 8 bar blues form with a couple of twists.

"Alabama Getaway" was first performed by the Grateful Dead on November 4, 1979, at the Civic Center in Providence, Rhode Island. It became a concert perennial in the early 80s before slowly dropping out of the band's repertoire in June 1989, only to be revived in 1995 for a total of 4 shows.

The Dead played "Alabama Getaway" a total of 141 times, with 88 of those occurring in its first three years (1979-1981). In 1980 alone, they played it during 50 of their 86 performances that year.

The studio recording of "Alabama Getaway" that appears on "Go To Heaven" opens with a 4 bar guitar solo which the Dead dropped when they played the song live. In this lesson, I’ve given 3 variations of the intro (2 solos and one “rhythm only” intro as they would play it live). We’re also going to take a look at the way Jerry approached rhythm guitar on this tune.



Let's begin by looking at Jerry's intro solo from the album version (Go To Heaven) of "Alabama Getaway."

Intro - Go To Heaven

The first thing you should notice are the chords. We have a typical V-IV movement for our turnaround, but the IV chord (D) lasts for two bars, and instead of going to the I chord (A), the band plays a riff together - one that is repeated throughout the entire song. 

The opening 3 notes are characteristic of Jerry's style. Instead of playing the minor third of E (G), Jerry opts for the major third (G#). When playing the pick-up (first 3 notes) and the first bar of this solo, it could help to visualize the following diagram. This is the so-called "Mixolydian Pentatonic" and occurs when you take a minor pentatonic scale, and substitute the minor third for the major third. Jerry would use this a good deal, and it's also a favored pentatonic of Jeff Beck and Eric Johnson.

E Mixolydian Pentatonic

In bar 2, over the IV chord (D), Jerry plays right out of the A minor pentatonic scale (which is the minor pentatonic scale starting of the root of the song's key signature), with the inclusion of the 2nd (B). In bar 3, Jerry continues playing over the IV chord (D), and includes a minor to major third move (F - F#), which he often employs. In bar 4, Jerry ends his solo by playing the "riff" along with the rest of the band.

Solo Variation

Since Jerry never played an intro solo when the band performed "Alabama Getaway" live, there aren't many examples of an opening solo outside the album version. However, we do have one studio outtake of "Alabama Getaway" from 1979 that was included as bonus material for Jerry's solo album "Run for the Roses." Let's take a look at the opening solo Jerry plays on this recording.

Alabama Getaway Intro 2
Alabama Getaway Intro 2

This solo uses very traditional blues vocabulary that would be equally at home on a T-Bone Walker, Eric Clapton, or even Stevie Ray Vaughan album. Jerry begins by approaching the major third of the E chord by its minor third (G - G#). He then plays the following intervals 5 - 6 - 5 - b7 - 6 - 5 over the E chord. He then plays the exact same phrase over the IV chord (D). Playing the same phrase you played over the V chord over the IV chord (a whole step down) is a great way to follow the chord changes while using repetition to create a coherent melody. Jerry then plays the major 3rd of D (F#) again before landing of the fifth of D (A) in bar 4. He then alternates between the A (5th fret of the 1st string) and G (8th fret of the 2nd string), before playing a variation of the "riff."

Live Dead

Whenever the Dead played "Alabama Getaway" live, instead of an intro solo, Jerry opted to play a rhythm part over the opening turnaround.

If you've ever playing Johnny B. Goode (or similar blues tunes), this rhythm pattern should be very familiar to you.  On the second bar of the IV chord (bar 3), note that Jerry moves up to the 10th fret of the fourth string. It's quite a stretch, but again, a very common move in the blues, so it's worth taking the time to get comfortable with this stretch.

Now, let's take a look at what Jerry plays over the verse of "Alabama Getaway."

For the verses, our 8 bar form looks like this: 4 bars of the I chord (A), 1 bar of the IV chord (E), 2 bars of the IV chord (D), and our riff for bar 8.

A quick note about the riff - You'll notice the letters N.C. above bar 8. This stands for "no chord." I've seen some people label this bar as a C chord, but that's not what I hear when I listen to it. Instead, I hear the whole band playing some variation of this riff, a riff that gravitates towards the root of the I chord (A). I think it's more appropriate to say there really isn't a chord here, but instead, a riff, or rhythmic figure that everyone plays.

Let's take at the chorus.

For the chorus of "Alabama Getaway" we begin with 2 bars of the I chord (A), then 2 bars of the IV chord (D), 1 bar of the V chord (E), 1 bar of the IV chord (D), and then our riff twice. 

The last section of "Alabama Getaway" is the solo section. 

Solo Section
Solo Section

The solo section is nearly identical to the chorus, but instead of playing the riff twice, the same turnaround used for the verse is played. When the Dead brought "Alabama Getaway" back for 4 shows in 1995, it seemed that Jerry would play this solo section instead of the chorus (meaning he would only play the riff once during the chorus). 

That's it. This should give you everything you need to play "Alabama Getaway." Now, try playing along with the backing track I created for this song.


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