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Arts & Entertainment

Solo Case Study: "The Ghost of Tom Joad"

Tom Morello

Lesson time 12:29 min

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.

Tom Morello
Teaches Electric Guitar
In 26 lessons, Grammy-winning musician Tom Morello will teach you the guitar techniques, rhythms, and riffs that define his signature style.


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. T...

Strike a Chord

Tom Morello is a two-time Grammy winner and one of Rolling Stone’s "greatest guitarists of all time." In his first online guitar class, the co-founder of Rage Against the Machine will teach you the riffs, rhythms, and solos that launched his career and sent his music to the top of the charts. Tom will share his approach to making music that challenges the status quo and teach you how to create your own musical style.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

great class, very informative. well explained

Outstanding course. Tom teaches you how to become an artist through the use of guitar. Ideas and inspiration rule the day here! Thanks Tom!

Tom's class has given me the knowledge and drive to continue with my guitar playing, and hopefully go on one day to create art that others can love as much as I do.

Excellent instruction - honest, practical, beneficial to beginner to intermediate level players, as well I expect some for advanced. An effective balance of craftsmanship and artisty instruction. Thanks to Masterclass and Tom Morello.


Marcio F.

If he says that pedals are not relevant to the playing, why does he use so much?

A fellow student

I've really been enjoying your class, great insights and methods for viewing things at different angles to get the most out of your playing.

Joe K.

have to long have you been wearing those shoes/boots? ha scuffed up. they look like a flooring installers footwear...which is what i am. I am retired from flooring. Played out in local bars and festivals in the early nineties...your Masterclass has helped me in so many ways. I am currently looking for musicians to play with and explore musical ideas...thank you Tom...thank you for the spark...the energy you share...

Michael T.

I watched the entire course, I am making mods to my guitars for killswitches, and I want to join a band and record. It is crazy how freaking motivated I am. This was why I signed up for Masterclass!

Eduardo C.

He surely has his own style, that's what makes an artist. He may not be the fastest or skilled but he definitively knows what he's doing. Really interesting to hear and learn from successful people. Thanks Mr. Morello and MasterClass.


And that made all the hours of practice worth it, arguably one of the top 30 or so moments in rock history. Could be our Gen X equivalent to Hendrix at Woodstock. Scary and motivating at the same time.


Can we pop links in here? I mean Jebus (6:49) my balls just dropped again.

Robert G.

There is more to do for me. I am going to repeat this entire course to capture what is relevant to my own style. This course is very inspirational.