If you've ever ended up jamming with a group or playing a gig with band that does one or two "Grateful Dead" songs, chances are you've found yourself playing the song "Franklin's Tower". It's one of the more popular "Dead" tunes people like to jam on, and for good reason. One of those reasons is definitely because it consists of only three chords. However, as easy as it may seem on the surface to solo over this three chord song progression, it's a safe bet to say you'll probably run out of ideas quickly, especially if you're expected to take extended guitar solo, as Garcia often would.
Over this 3-part series, I'm going to take a look at the intro, first, and second guitar solos from the studio album version of "Franklin's Tower". Although it may not seem very hard to improvise over this quintessential Mixolydian progression, few guitarists accurately emulate Jerry's beautiful, yet elusive style when taking their turn at it. By examining these three solos (24 measures), we can begin to see how Jerry would approach playing over this classic progression.
One of the cornerstones of Jerry's playing was chromaticism. The amount of chromaticism Jerry would use would depend on a number of factors, but on nights Jerry was feeling extremely adventurous, he would use hefty amounts of chromaticism, rivaling that of any Avant-garde jazz musician. This isn't surprising considering Jerry's musical tastes were highly varied, and that he was heavily influenced by Jazz. In this opening solo, we can find examples of chromaticism in bars 1, 5, and 7. In bars 1 and 7, Jerry includes the major 7th (G#), not found in the key of A Mixolydian (A B C# D E F# G), as a leading tone for the root note (A). In bar 5, Jerry is based out of the A major pentatonic scale, and uses an F natural as a passing tone between the F# and the E (ex.1). Study these two examples and really get them under your fingers. Adding chromaticism is a great way to transform your most basic pentatonic licks into beautifully fluent lines that flow seamlessly off the fretboard.
It's important to point out Jerry's use of triads in this intro solo. The key of A Mixolydian contains three major triads: A major, G major, and D major. As we will see, Jerry makes great use of all three of these triads. In bar 2, we see a D major triad (2nd inversion) over the underlining D chord. Jerry hangs onto a G natural from the bar before, and then descends a 2nd inversion D major triad beginning on the "&" of beat one in bar 2 (ex. 2).
Beginning on beat four of bar 3, and continuing through beats one and two of bar 4, Jerry utilizes all three major triads. He begins by ascending a 2nd inversion A major triad over beat four of bar 3. He then descends a 2nd inversion G major triad on beat one of bar 4. Finally, he descends a 1st inversion D major triad on beat two of bar 4 (ex. 3). Pay special attention to the rhythm, as he uses the same rhythmic pattern on each triad. This continuity helps to establish a familiarity in the listeners ear.
Once again in bar 8, Jerry makes extensive use of a D major triad over the underlining D chord. Jerry descends then ascends a D major triad in 1st inversion over the first three beats on bar 8. Notice how he approaches the root of the triad from a half-step below, giving the line some extra momentum (ex. 4).
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