Sunday, May 3, 2015

Some Problems with Nomenclature, 1973-1976: King Solomon’s Marbles,Stronger Than Dirt, Milkin’ the Turkey, Slipknot, and the Eyes of the World Coda

The Grateful Dead only ever played the stand-alone version of Stronger Than Dirt in public twice, on 3/23/75 and 6/17/75.[1] There are, in addition, more than 25 stand-alone versions of Stronger Than Dirt on the Archive from the Blues for Allah sessions.[2] After 6/17/75, Stronger Than Dirt became the first section of King Solomon’s Marbles, even while it provided the new song with the paradigm for its extemporaneous sections. Of all the performances of Stronger Than Dirt for which recordings are available from the first studio session at which the song appeared [2/28/75: stand-alone] to its final public performance [9/28/75: suite], i.e., its entire lifespan – the most salient features of the song are represented in the following scheme:

Stronger Than Dirt
           Bm                      D           Bm                     A
E -------------------------------------------------------------------
B -------------------------------------------------------------------
G -----------------------------7------------------------------------
D ------9--9---------7h9---------------9--9-------7h9-----7---
A --------------9--------------------------------9------------------
E -------------------------------------------------------------------

Over a bass line very much like this one and rhythm chords quite similar to these, Garcia would play in Bmin Dorian. Though there are other chord changes later in most renditions of the song, these are the basic elements without which the song cannot be identified. This is the fundamental structure of Stronger Than Dirt that is sometimes misidentified elsewhere. If you do not read tablature and would like to hear an example of this line, I suggest that you listen to the first half minute of any of the four live performances of 1975: March 23, June 17, August 13 or September 28. Lesh plays the bass line alone in the first renditions at Kezar, Godchaux joins him on June 17 and the band plays the phrase in unison in the final two, as well as on the album.
The June 17 performance represents the final occasion on which Stronger Than Dirt was played outside of the new song King Solomon’s Marbles. Any and all specimens of the song up to and including the June 17 show at Winterland are examples of Stronger Than Dirt alone. [3] The creative process behind Blues for Allah was a return to the extemporaneous roots of the band and there are several unnamed, unique jams in the Archive tapes of those rehearsals.[4] Those tapes attest to the fact that Stronger Than Dirt was the main improvisational device of an album that was intended to be realized out of the process of improvisation. Garcia said of their process: “We kind of made a ground rule for that record: ‘Let’s make a record where we get together every day and we don't bring anything in.’…. The whole idea was to get back to that band thing, where the band makes the main contribution to the evolution of the material. So we’d go into the studio and jam for a while, and then if something nice turned up we’d say, ‘Well let's preserve this little hunk and work with it, see if we can't do something with it.’ And that's how we did most of the album.”[5] Stronger Than Dirt was present from the earliest Blues for Allah sessions and it was at the very heart of what the band was trying to do with the record.[6]
 The fact that band failed to give the piece of music a consistent title on the official releases renders the song's actual title less clear[7] The initial record release [September 1, 1975] labeled the first section of the song (up to 1:55) King Solomon’s Marbles and called the second half (the final 3:25) Stronger Than Dirt or Milkin’ the Turkey. In 1991, the band’s first commercial release of an entire show [8/13/75: One from the Vault] names the song King Solomon’s Marblesand attributes the song to Phil Lesh. The final word from the band came in 1995 when Blues for Allah was first released on CD, wherein the song was identified as such: King Solomon’s Marbles: Part 1: Stronger Than Dirt [Lesh] (1:55) Part 2: Milkin’ the Turkey [Hart, Kreutzmann and Lesh] (3:25). All of the subsequent re-releases from the band, including one of Blues for Allah on vinyl, have followed suit. This is, therefore, our most reliable source of this information, not only because it is the most recent, but also because it includes the most information, namely, that it includes the original division of the song into two sections (which One from the Vault does not), as well as the additional attribution of Milkin’ the Turkey to the drummers. For these reasons, I follow the CD release’s apportionment of the titles.
              Nevertheless, the identity of Stronger Than Dirt is more complex than this solution implies. Early in the development of Blues for Allah, Stronger Than Dirt was a loose jam lacking in formality. At some point after June 17, that jam became the paradigm for the two improvisational sections of King Solomon’s Marbles. At the same timeStronger Than Dirt became the subtitle of only the first half of the new song, in spite of the fact that the elements that had once epitomized Stronger Than Dirt now also constituted the majority of the second half of King Solomon’s Marbles. By July 7 [the last circulating Blues for Allah session and the only studio session available from the period in between the June 17 show and the September 1 release date], there were two new elements present. The following two musical episodes render an example of King Solomon’s Marbles and not an example of a stand-alone Stronger Than Dirt: 1) a King Solomon’s Marbles theme which Garcia states early in the Stronger Than Dirt section and restates at the close of the Milkin’ the Turkey section; and 2) a Milkin’ the Turkey riff, which functions as an interlude between the two episodes of Bmin Dorian improvisation and which the band plays in unsion. To reiterate, from July 7 onward, the presence of a theme stated by Garcia in the beginning of the Stronger Than Dirt section and restated near the end of the Milkin’ the Turkey section

King Solomon’s Marbles theme (7/7/75 and after)
                                                Bm7 Bm6        Bm7 Bm6        Bm7 Bm6          A5
E ------------------------------------------------------------------------
B --------10-----9---------10----9----------10----9-----------------
G --------------------------------------------------------------9--------
D --7/9--------------7/9--------------7/9------------------------7----
A ------------------------------------------------------------------------
E ------------------------------------------------------------------------
            A9                                                                                                                       Bm
E -------------------------------------14-11-12-----15-14-15-16-17----10h12--10------------------------
B -------------------------14-11-12-------------------------------------------------------11--------------------
G ------------14-11-12-----------------------------------------------------------------------9--7h9--7--------
D ---10-11---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------9-----
A ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------7--
E --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

combines with the presence of a new, exiguous

Milkin’ the Turkey riff
                                    F#                   E          F#              B                     A        B
E -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
B -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
G -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
D ----------------------------------------------------9------9---------7-------9-----
A -------9------9--------7---------9-------------------------------------------------
E --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

and two sections of what was once stand-alone Stronger Than Dirt Bmin Dorian improvisation to create King Solomon’s Marbles: Part 1: Stronger Than Dirt; Part 2: Milkin’ the Turkey. This suite appears in four places only: The July 7 tapes on the Archive; 8/13/75 [One from the Vault]; 9/28/75; and Blues for Allah. The King Solomon’s Marbles theme is played from :20-:39 and 4:20-4:39 on Blues for Allah; from :21-:41 and 5:25-5:44 on One from the Vault; and from :24-:44 and 5:03-5:23 on the Menke AUD of Lindley Park [9/28/75]. The Milkin’ the Turkey riff is played during the following intervals on Blues for Allah: 1:50-2:04 (though the vinyl and CD releases both indicate that the second section begins five seconds later at 1:55); on One from the Vault: 2:34-2:48; and on the Menke AUD of Lindley Park []: 2:12-2:24. I would imagine that Milkin’ the Turkey did not signify anything meaningful other than the brief interludial riff identified in the tablature above. As far as I am aware, there is no controversy as to whether or not Milkin’ the Turkey exists elsewhere in the Grateful Dead oeuvre. The same cannot be said of Stronger Than Dirt, the mistaken identification of which is commonplace in two other places elsewhere in the corpus from 1973-1976: 1) the Eyes of the World Coda of 1973 and 1974; and 2) the Playin’ in the Band of 7/16/76.
Some identify a section of Playin’ in the Band of 7/16/76 as Stronger Than Dirt and let me say at the outset that the jam is certainly Dirtish, even if it fails to reproduce some of the essential elements of the song. Stronger Than Dirt is in Bmin and the bass line Lesh plays on 7/16/76 is in Amin, but that represents an easily superable obstacle. What is significant, however, is that the sequence of notes that Lesh plays – an element essential in any identification Stronger Than Dirt – lacks any meaningful similarity. Also, while the band is comping in Amin, nonetheless, I do not hear any other regular changes. I invite you to compare the following:

Stronger Than Dirt
           Bm                      D           Bm                      A
E -------------------------------------------------------------------
B -------------------------------------------------------------------
G -----------------------------7------------------------------------
D ------9--9---------7h9---------------9--9-------7h9-----7---
A --------------9-------------------------------9------------------
E -------------------------------------------------------------------
Dirt Jam: 7/16/76
E ------------------------------------------------------------------
B ------------------------------------------------------------------
G -----------------9-----------------------------------------------
D ------------10-----10--12--10--12--10----------------------
A -------12------------------------------------12-----------------
E ------------------------------------------------------------------

There is one superb comment on the Menke AUD of 7/16/76 []: “Jeez... One of the best Playin’ > Milkin’ I've ever heard.” The original poster had titled the track of the upload “Stronger Than Dirt or Milkin’ the Turkey,” so the commenter can’t be blamed entirely for mislabeling the song Milkin’ the Turkey, though the affinity is clearly to Stronger Than Dirt instead. [I should add here that there are no elements unique to King Solomon’s Marbles to be found in the Playin’ in the Band of 7/16/76.] But the notion that the poster so casually implies – namely, that there are other transitions from Playin’ in the Band to Milkin’ the Turkey of which this particular version compares favorably – is risible. It would be more accurate to call the jam of 7/16/76 a one-off Dirt-type improvisation, or at least to admit that Playin’ in the Band is a fertile space for improvisation. But however inexact an imitation of Stronger Than Dirt the jam in Playin’ in the Band at the Orpheum in 1976 is, it is nevertheless closer to Stronger Than Dirt than is the riff played during the coda of Eyes of the World in 1973 and 1974.
What many on the Archive and elsewhere call Stronger Than Dirt in live versions of Eyes of the World in 1973 or 1974 is instead a repeating, alternating riff in Emin pentatonic. “The Eyes Coda Riff,” to give it a name – which I will hereafter dispense with in preference to the abbreviation “ECR” – contains four pairs of alternating phrases:

The Eyes Coda Riff = ECR
E ------------------------------------------------------------                                                 
             B -------------------------------------------------------------
G -----------8--6-----------------------8--6----------------           
D --------8--------8--6h8----------8--------8--6--5------
A -6--9----------------------6--9---------------------------           
E ------------------------------------------------------------
                        [Play this figure 4x = 1 ECR.]

The ECR, if played, was always played more than once in any performance, but the actual number played varied in actual practice [from two to five ECRs, but usually in a series of three] and in how the ECRs were distributed within the Eyes Modal Jam [early; late; three early, one late, etc.]. The Eyes Modal Jam in 1973 and 1974 (an entity which is independent of the ECR, but which usually includes the ECR) is a series of jams that alternate between Emaj7, G♯min, and Emin and, when the ECR is present, Dmin, with changes in mode occurring between Emaj7 (major) and the others (Dorian).[8]
While the Eyes Modal Jam almost always includes the ECR, there are noteworthy exceptions. The Eyes Modal Jams of 2/9/73 (the debut) and 2/21/73 do not include the ECR, though the jam is the same modal jam, i.e., it alternates between Emaj7, G♯min and Emin.[9] On 11/14/73, they reach a regular signpost in the modal jam (which I call Slipknot phrasing and explain below) and choose that moment to segue (back) into The Other One. The hiatus version from 8/13/75 concludes with a similar modal jam sans ECR and then segues into drums, before going into King Solomon’s Marbles. This version actually presents one with the only opportunity to hear the Grateful Dead play Stronger Than Dirt in close proximity to the Eyes Modal Jam.[10] And finally, the introductory sections of the first five post-hiatus versions are examples of Eyes Modal Jams, but again, without the ECR. The ECR is not played in any version after 10/20/74 and the Eyes Modal Jam is not performed after 6/28/76.
I can only speculate as to why many mislabel the ECR Stronger Than Dirt. As of May 1, 2015, on the website, for example, on the Eyes of the World page, I find Stronger Than Dirt identified at least 15 separate times. The word “coda” does not appear, but “outro” does at least 12 separate times. But even two of those then identify Stronger Than Dirt parenthetically as one and the same. One connection between the ECR and Stronger Than Dirt is that both involve runs that move from the A-string to the D-string to the G-string. Although to some extent movement from one string to another is simply a function of playing a stringed instrument, this A>D>G-string run is one similarity also shared in common with the Dirt Jam of 7/16/76. Here are the A>D>G-string runs that may be a source of the confusion for some:

The Eyes Coda Riff = ECR: See 9-8-8 below.
E ------------------------------------------------------------                                                 
             B ------------------------------------------------------------
G -----------8--6-----------------------8--6----------------           
D --------8--------8--6h8----------8--------8--6/5--------
A -6--9----------------------6--9---------------------------           
E ------------------------------------------------------------

Dirt Jam: 7/16/76: See 12-10-9 below.
E ------------------------------------------------------------------
B ------------------------------------------------------------------
G -----------------9-----------------------------------------------
D ------------10-----10--12--10--12--10---------------------
A -------12------------------------------------12-----------------
E ------------------------------------------------------------------

Stronger Than Dirt: See 9-7h9-7 below.
                       Bm                      D           Bm                      A
E -------------------------------------------------------------------
B -------------------------------------------------------------------
G -----------------------------7------------------------------------
D ------9--9---------7h9---------------9--9-------7h9-----7--
A --------------9--------------------------------9-----------------
E -------------------------------------------------------------------

I would add three other things exacerbate the problem: 1) both Stronger Than Dirt and the ECR are repeated, alternating pentatonic phrases [that is, they are built on pairs of lines that are identical except for their final notes: 8-6h8, 8-6/5 in  Eyes and 7h9-7 in Dirt]; 2) the nomenclature of King Solomon’s Marbles: Stronger Than Dirt or Milkin’ the Turkey is inconsistent; and 3) the Dead stopped playing the ECR just before Stronger Than Dirt was born. The former was last played on 10/20/74, whereas the latter began to be played only four months later, on 2/28/75.[11]
Let me also say a few things about the relationship between The Eyes Modal Jam and 
Slipknot here. Garcia plays certain sequences of notes reminiscent of a particular run in 
Slipknot before a change from Emin into Emaj7 in The Eyes Modal Jam. But Garcia 
never plays these notes in the same sequence twice and reproducing any version exactly is 
prohibitively difficult for a person with a skill level like mine. These sequences, in which
Garcia deploys what I will call “Slipknot phrasing,” usually last between 15 and 30 seconds, 
though there are outliers as little as 5 seconds and as long as 55 seconds in length.[12] Some 
refer to these sequences as Slipknot “teases,” but Slipknot did not exist to the extent that 
Garcia could allude to it in 1973. It would be more accurate to say that Garcia regularly
improvised along a sequence of arpeggiated diminished seventh chords during one
of the Emin sections of The Eyes Modal Jam. As the band played the song more and more 
(and they played it a lot – 49 times in 1973), Garcia increasingly built dramatic tension before 
one change from Emin to Emaj7 by playing the diminished seventh arpeggios, usually in a 
manner possibly described by the term incalzando (“chasingly”). There is only ever one of 
these episodes of Slipknot phrasing per Eyes Modal Jam. Although the arpeggios played 
during these sections could not be described as Slipknot or proto-Slipknot, Slipknot itself 
may have developed from Jerry’s deployment of these sequences in the Eyes Modal Jam
That is one conclusion to draw from the two pieces of music that are easily recognizable as 
proto-Slipknot that immediately follow Eyes of the World on 6/20/74 and 10/20/74.[13]

A sequence of notes representative of what Garcia frequently plays reminiscent of Slipknot:

E ----------------------12--------------------------------------------
B ----------11--14----------14--11---------14--11---------------
G -------12---------------------------12--------------12------------
D ---14----------------------------------------------------14--11---
A ----------------------------------------------------------------------
E ----------------------------------------------------------------------

The above is a sequence of notes actually played in Slipknot. But to keep this in perspective, 
the above tablature on some level simply depicts a series of runs in diminished sevenths. 
Anyway, I plan to write more about Slipknot, hopefully by June 17, the 40th anniversary of 
its first appearance as the linking section between Help on the Way and Franklin’s Tower.

jdarks. ? “Eyes of the World.” 4.1.2015:
Light Into Ashes. 2009. “Brief Guide to 1975 Studio Rehearsals.” 4.1.2015:
Malvinni, D. 2013. The Grateful Dead and the Art of Rock Improvisation. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow.

Mercer, K. 2013. “Eyes of the World: A Field Guide.” 4.1.2015:

[1] There are, to be clear, two renditions of Stronger Than Dirt on 3/23/75, separated by drums.
[2] I count 37 tracks on the Archive, but some are repeats and a few are just “jams,” not Stronger Than Dirt.
[3] Many of the Stronger Than Dirt studio takes on the Archive which predate 6/17/75 do not include Garcia and/or Godchaux, and many of those same sessions include Ned Lagin and/or David Crosby. I call the versions prior to 6/17/75 Stronger Than Dirt, but one could really pick any title since the band does not say. I chose Stronger Than Dirt and I believe that choice is easily defensibleIt is significant that all four live versions start with the bass and rhythm scheme which I depict in the first  tablature found in this essay. The band only weighs in on the official releases which versions all postdate 6/17/75 and are therefore versions of King Solomon’s Marbles: Part 1: Stronger Than Dirt; Part 2: Milkin’ the Turkey, for reasons which I explain further below.
[4] An excellent account of the Blues for Allah sessions is here:
[5] I do not know where “Light into Ashes” (the principal author of found this quote, but I found it on his/her excellent collection of essays:
[6] The importance that the song Stronger Than Dirt played during the embryonic stages of the Blues for Allah session, or perhaps its ubiquity during those sessions, has caused some on the Archive to label other unrelated pieces Stronger Than Dirt.
[7] Again, the song(s)’ entire lifespan is, as far as I am aware, 2/28/75-9/28/75.
[8] The third jam in Eyes of the World starts out in Emaj7, then alternates with G♯min for a time. Lesh’s bass solo often ends just before the band makes the first change into G♯min. (Later in 1974, Lesh and Garcia trade back and forth between Emaj7 and G♯min respectively three or four times.) After Garcia has played in G♯min and Emaj7 a few times, a new alternation between Emaj7 and Emin begins. At some point during one of the Emin sections, the ECR is played, usually three times. The end result of any ECR is a jam in Dmin. Playing another ECR requires another change to E, albeit a short one that ends, on average, fifteen seconds later with the return to D. The ECR only ever occurs in the Eyes Coda, that is, when the modal jam is a true outro jam. In 1976, modal jams (without the ECR) are present in the first five versions, but only as the introductory sections of those renditions, and therefore not a part of a Coda. For a musicological discussion of the modal jam, see Malvinni 2013, 156-8. The ideal audience for Malvinni’s book would be someone with a better background in music theory than me, but I really enjoyed his book and was able to follow along, even though I am only a hobbyist. If you have read this blog far enough to get to this footnote, I would encourage you to purchase Malvinni’s book.
[9] The modal jam on 2/9/73 is unique among all Eyes Modal Jams. The idea of alternating between these keys and modes is present, but the jam doesn’t take shape until the second performance on 2/15/73. The jam in the debut stays in G♯min for several minutes, rather than alternating more quickly as it does later.
[10] It’s actually the only time they ever play both songs during the same show.
[11] Perhaps as much as a month earlier, depending on when the Blues for Allah sessions began.
[12] I found many instances that lasted exactly 18 seconds, particularly in versions after September 1973.
[13] Proto-Slipknot does make at least three other 1974 appearances, which you may find collected here:

1 comment:

  1. Great article! I'm happy to see this issue addressed in such a clear and thorough manner.