“I Know You Rider”—Learn a Dropped-D Acoustic Take on this Grateful Dead Classic

This arrangement takes some cues from the Dead, but uses dropped-D tuning for more low end punch and adds a bunch of flatpicking fun.

The traditional song “I Know You Rider” circulated widely through the 1960s—performed by Joan Baez, the Kingston Trio, the Grateful Dead, the Byrds, Janis Joplin, Hot Tuna, John Renbourn (as “I Know My Babe”), James Taylor (as “Circle ’Round the Sun”), and many more. These versions vary musically and lyrically, but likely all trace back to a song published as “Woman Blue” in John and Alan Lomax’s 1934 book American Ballads and Folk Songs.

Of all the interpretations of “I Know You Rider,” the Grateful Dead’s take was perhaps the most enduring. The song was a staple of the Dead’s repertoire for 30 years, from the band’s earliest days to the end—almost always as a segue from the funky, tripped-out “China Cat Sunflower,” as immortalized on the live album Europe ’72. That song combo is in a way the perfect synopsis of the band: deeply psychedelic and deeply rooted at the same time.

The vast majority of the Dead’s performances of “I Know You Rider” were electric, but the song is a natural for acoustic guitar. My arrangement takes some cues from the Dead, but uses dropped-D tuning for more low end punch and adds a bunch of flatpicking fun. “Rider” is a great group/jam song, but this guitar part also works nicely by itself—even the solo can stand alone without any backing rhythm.


First check out the chord shapes. For the G, you need to grab the bass note at the fifth fret because of the tuning. The F shape shown is technically an F/C; if you want a lower bass note or a root on the bottom of the chord, move your third finger over to the sixth string (and mute the fifth string). In verse 3, for variety, I use an alternate set of shapes higher on the neck. On the D shape at the fifth fret, I sometimes leave the high E string open for a D6 embellishment. The tenth-fret D voicing allows me to play a rhythm riff (on the second repetition of “I wish I was a headlight”) inspired by the Europe ’72 recording.

Dropped D makes it easy to add riffs. The tab shows the riff I use to open the song, plus a D run that’s a dropped-D version of the classic bluegrass G run. Feel free to work in your own bass runs and riffs, especially in the gaps between vocal lines.


The solo stays in open position and is mostly single notes, often outlining the chord shapes, with occasional strums. Usually when the underlying chord changes, you play the root note of the new chord—as on the downbeat of bar 4 in the solo, when the chord changes to C and you play a C note on the fifth string. Hitting the roots like that helps reinforce the chord changes while you solo.

As you can see on the video, in the final chorus I switch to mostly string percussion, before bringing back full chords in the last line and wrapping up with the ending in the tab.

Acoustic Guitar magazine cover for issue 347

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2024 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers
Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers

Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers, founding editor of Acoustic Guitar, is a grand prize winner of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest and author of The Complete Singer-Songwriter, Beyond Strumming, and other books and videos for musicians. In addition to his ongoing work with AG, he offers live workshops for guitarists and songwriters, plus video lessons, song charts, and tab, on Patreon.