February 14

Dire Wolf Lesson – Jerry Garcia Acoustic Guitar Solo (Video Lesson)



In this lesson, we are looking at the Jerry Garcia guitar solo from the acoustic version of "Dire Wolf" that appears on the 1981 live album, "Reckoning". 

The 1981 live Grateful Dead album "Reckoning" features songs from the band's Warfield Theatre run in the fall of 1980, and the opening track "Dire Wolf" is the subject of this lesson. The version of "Dire Wolf" that appears on that album was taken from their October 11, 1980 show, and features an energetic solo from Jerry Garcia that beautifully mixes his bluegrass and jazz influences.


The inspiration for "Dire Wolf" apparently came when Hunter and Garcia were watching The Hound of the Baskervilles on TV and speculating on what the ghostly hound might turn out to be. Hunter recalls quickly writing the lyrics the follow morning, and later that afternoon Garcia set them to music.

The song (as well as the rest of the material for Workingman's Dead and American Beauty) was a departure from the kind of songs the band had been recording up to that point and instead reverted back to their bluegrass and folk roots. The song was originally played and recorded in the key of A, but was later changed to the key of C (in which key it appears on "Reckoning").

In typical Garcia fashion, the solo closely follows the chord changes, and is a wonderful solo to learn. In this solo Jerry blends together elements from both bluegrass and jazz to create a highly melodic solo chock-full of brilliantly phrased lines. Let's take a closer look at what's going on.

Solo Analysis

Target Tones

Whether playing over a chord progression that is completely diatonic (all chords are derived from the same key), or playing over a chord progression that has chords outside the key (as in this example), target tones are a very handy soloing device. Target tones are when you play a strong chord tone over the chord your playing. Fig 1. illustrates the first four bars of Jerry's solo on "Dire Wolf". Notice in bar 1 Jerry targets the B (the 3rd) when playing over the G chord. By playing a strong chord tone when the chord changes, the listener can  really hear the chord change within the lead line. Now look at bar 3 when the chord changes to a Bb chord. Jerry lands on a Bb (the root) over the Bb major chord. The target tone really helps the listener hear the chord has changed to a Bb (which is a non-diatonic chord in the key of C). It's also important to note that Jerry anticipates the chord a beat early. On beat 4 in measure 2 he plays the b3 followed by the major 3rd of Bb (he's anticipating the chord change) and then lands on the root of the chord as soon as the chord changes occurs on beat 1 on bar 3.


Take a look at bars 1-2 of Fig. 1 and bars 1 and 4 of Fig. 2. You'll notice Jerry makes abundant use of sixth intervals. Not only is the sixth a pleasing interval to the ear, it can also target strong chord tones over the chord your playing. In Fig. 1, bar 1, Jerry starts with a sixth interval in which the 3rd of G (B) is on the bottom and the root (G) is on the top (again, notice how Garcia approaches the 3rd of G from the b3). He then plays another sixth interval, this time with the 5th of G (D) on the bottom and the 3rd (B) on top. In the last beat of bar 2 and the first beat of bar 3, Garcia once again plays a sixth interval, this time targeting the 3rd of Bb (b) on the bottom and the root (Bb) on top.

In bar 1 on Fig. 2, Jerry plays 2 sixth intervals over the F chord. The first note in the second sixth interval (A) is once again approached from a half step below giving us the b3 to 3rd move that is a Garcia favorite. In bar 2 of Fig 2., Garcia uses a common bluegrass flavored run over the F chord which lands on the first fret of the second string in bar 3 (C - the 5th of F). The first two beats of bar 3 toggle between the 5th (C) and 3rd (A) of an F chord before ending in a nice chromatic run (D-Db-C-B).


Triads are another hallmark of Garcia's improvisational vocabulary.  In bar 4 of Fig. 1, you'll notice that Jerry descends a second inversion F major triad over an F major chord. In Fig. 3, bar 4, Jerry once again descends an F major triad over an F chord, but this time the triad is in root position. Try exploring triads in different inversions in your improvisations. You don't have to limit your self to play the triad of the chord you are playing over and can use diatonic triads over any chord within a key (see my analysis on "Franklin's Tower" for an example of this).

Chord Tones

Take a look at bars 1-2 in Fig. 3. You'll notice Garcia would often use chord tones in his improvisations. Again, these are the strongest notes in the chords and always a good choice to emphasize. Garcia often used chromaticism in his playing, as well as other scale tones, but he would always place emphasis on chord tones to ground his playing.

Solo Transcription

You can download the complete solo transcription below. I've also included Jerry's intro from the "Reckoning" album as well as a chord chart for the entire song. If reading this style of chord chart is something new to you, check out my two posts on rhythm charts.

Download the transcription

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  • This is great! Thanks for putting time into getting these transcriptions of this wonderful music out there for all to enjoy! Keep the music alive bro!

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