Listen to this audio clip: (A warning: If you only like “soft music” you may want to turn your headphones down a bit :). And of course all rights belong to BOC and the record company. This is here just for illustrative purposes!)

Aside: Oh and by the way, what’s up with wordpress not allowing mp3 file upload but will allow videos?

It is a guitar solo featured in a famous classic rock song . This is one of my favorite songs in spite of the possible creepy interpretation of the lyrics, and it came on the radio a couple of days ago. For the first time, I started thinking Hmm. This has that feel of a carnatic raga. What raga is this?

I think it is dharmavati although I am not 100% sure. It comes off much darker in mood for some reason. But if it is, that is pretty cool. I mean a really hard rocking band doing a blistering guitar solo in a scale that is very rare in their neck of the woods, and I would say rare even in our carnatic world.

If you listen or have listened to classic rock actively you may recognize it instantly as both the song and this solo are quite popular. For people who don’t – the song is called Don’t fear the reaper by the band Blue Oyster Cult (1976). The song is quite notorious for its lyrics as it seems like a guy telling his lover that they should end their lives together. In fact, that is the popular interpretation and the band was deemed satanic and what not. It seemed to me that they may have played up to that notoriety (judging my some of the album covers) but as far as this song goes – I now see from’t_Fear)_The_Reaper that this was not the songwriter’s intention at all. In fact it is philosophical.

Update #1:
A second thought: I noticed that the guitarist’s name is Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser. Is that a strange coincidence or what :-)? But, I must admit, I still cannot say for sure if it indeed (even loosely) based on dharmavati. Also, for the record, I did not know his name when I first thought it could be dharmavati :-)!

Update #2:
Krish said (see comments) that this is hEmavati/haimavati and not dharmavati and I agreed it is possible. Both differ in one swara – the nishAdamkaisiki i.e. minor seventh for hEmavati, and kAkali i.e. major seventh for dharmavati. After that I did some googling and guitar tabs I could find seemed to indicate that perhaps both are used in different contexts.

I think I understand why it is so after doing some math based on info gathered from the website of the Blue Oyster Cult guitarist Buck Dharma’s site itself:

Before I offer the nutty gritty details which most of you may not be interested, the short answer is that it is a mix of two scales – one of which is indeed dharmavati. The mix of the other does seem to introduce dharmavati plus the other nishAdam 🙂

If you are interested in why/how read on.

The PDF document at the URL says:
Middle Eastern in nature, the guitar solo played over the alternating F minor and G7 tonalities (sic) is more rhythmic than melodic. The scale used over F minor is like melodic minor but with a sharp 4.

The melodic minor scale (see here) is gowrimanOhari. Raised fourth means fourth i.e. madyamam is raised by a semi-tome and hence becoming prathimadhyamam and thus dharmavati 🙂

Basically in western scale, here shadjam/tonic is F and you have F G G# B C D E F

It also says:
Over the G7 chord a scale based on C harmonic minor starting on the 5th scale step is used. Characteristic of this scale are the flat 2nd and the flat 6th scale steps.

Harmonic minor is kIravANi and starting on 5th scale kIravAni starting from pancamam (i.e. the fifth). I think this means grahabedham/tonic-shift from pancamam, since that leads to vakuLabharaNam, which has suddha-rishabam (flat 2nd) and suddha-dhaivatam (flat 6th).

Now since kIravANi based on C is: C D D# F G A B C and such a kIravANi starting from fifth i.e. F is F G A B C D D#

If you compare this with the dharmavati on F, you find D# instead of E, which is the hEmavati nishAdam instead of dharmavati nishAdam. There is also A (antara gAndaram) as opposed G#(sadharaNa gandaram). I am sure it appears somewhere.

The end

PS: Let it be told that never has so much said about something so obscure!