Music & Entertainment

From Tom Morello's MasterClass: Solo Case Study: "The Ghost of Tom Joad"

Written by MasterClass

Apr 23, 2019 • 3 min read

MasterClass Video Lessons

Tom Morello Teaches Electric Guitar

Using his solo in Rage Against the Machine’s cover of Bruce Springsteen's “The Ghost of Tom Joad” as an example, Tom illustrates how a solo can defy convention and transcend genre.

Topics include: Deconstructing the Solo


Preview of Solo Case Study: "The Ghost of Tom Joad"

This is an excerpt from Tom Morello's MasterClass.

I'm a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. And not a casual Bruce Springsteen fan, a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. He's the only musician that I've ever played with that I subscribed to a magazine about. So it was quite an honor in 2008 when Bruce asked me to play the song "Ghost of Tom Joad" with the E Street Band.

At the time, the song existed in two forms. One was the acoustic version on his "Ghost of Tom Joad" record, a kind of a minor key, plaintiff ballad, and the Rage against the Machine version, which was a Black Sabbath-y, scream, rocking jam. So I ran into Bruce over at Henson Studios one day. And he said, you should come play with the E Street Band sometime, Tom. And I said, I will go home and look at the calendar right now and see when you are in the area.

So I went down to Anaheim. Bruce said be there. He said, let's play "Ghost of Tom Joad." I said, should we do it acoustic or electric? He said, learn both. I said fine.

So I nervously planned and had the chords and the singing. Bruce has seen a few Nightwatchman shows. He asked me to sing the song as well, which heightened my nervousness. And I learned the songs, and there I am, a half hour before I'm supposed to go rehearse it at soundcheck with the E Street Band. Well, what I didn't know was Bruce was going to change the key of the song, and he was going to raise it eight steps. So now my baritone voice, which I'm practicing down in catering by myself, I can no longer sing the song credibly. And also, I'm having trouble transposing the chords, which are now a whole new crossword puzzle scramble of chords.

So I get up on stage, and I'm sweating. And we go through the song, and it doesn't go great. I'm having some trouble singing it, not able to play at the same time. Little Steven's very helpful. He is trying to talk me through it. He realizes this is not my best moment. It doesn't look like it's going great.

However, there's a reason they call that guy the boss. Bruce Springsteen puts his hand on my shoulder, says, we're going to do it in this key, and it's going to be great. I was like, OK, OK. So what I've decided to do is-- and the first time we play it together, I play no rhythm guitar. There's like 17 people in the E Street Band. They know the chords. I'm not going to worry about that at all. They know the chords.

What I know I can do is sing a song about social justice passionately. And what I can do is play a guitar solo. But what I don't do during that soundcheck rehearsal is give away the guitar solo that I'm going to play. I just sort of Chuck Berry my way through it. And you know, like I don't want to give it away.

So that night, I come onstage. And it's me, my guitar, and about a half bottle of Jameson and me to find the courage to do that. I step on stage, and we do a version of "Ghost of Tom Joad" that was very special. And I've had the honor and the great pleasure to play that song and some other songs with Bruce Springsteen through the years.

Reviews for Tom Morello's MasterClass

I didn't know Tom Morello when I started this class, but I had heard of Rage—and I probably had heard some of their music—and didn't like it. Forget that! This guy is a terrific and motivating teacher. I started practicing more, and I completed my first two music videos during this class. Will they go viral? I doubt it. But I'm having a ball. What else matters? - Jonathan S.

This was a great course. It really inspired me to experiment with different sounds and to find my own voice on the guitar. Tom is an inspiring lecturer. Two thumbs up! - Jonathan B.

It helped me find a better version of myself while playing guitar Thats something I really couldn't do without this masterclass. - Monica M.

Tom is amazing guitar player and equally and more so an exquisite person. Thank you. - Todd W.