Guitar lesson for

Dead Flowers

by Townes Van Zandt  •  Lesson #79

Video lesson

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Editor’s notes

In this lesson, I’ll teach you how to pick up your guitar and play “Dead Flowers” in the style of Townes Van Zandt – who plays the version you hear in the final scene of The Big Lebowski. This is originally a Rolling Stones song, but I fell in love with Van Zandt’s version and wanted to share how I play it. I cannot quite fingerpick the way way Van Zandt does, so I show a bit of a strummier version – though I do borrow some of his fun acoustic fills. Check it out and enjoy!

Video timestamps:

Lyrics with chords

See my sheet music for the lyrics, chords, and intro tab.

Editor’s notes

This is originally a Rolling Stones song, but my heart belongs to the Townes Van Zandt cover of it heard in the final scene of The Big Lebowski. At the time I learned this song, the Townes Van Zandt version could only be found on YouTube – it isn’t on any of the streaming music services. I implore you to listen to his version to hear the source material I’m trying to emulate.

Note, I cannot play the guitar in the style that Townes Van Zandt can. He’s doing some very intricate Travis-style fingerpicking. I’m doing a bit of a hybrid between strumming and some accented melodic picking (with my pick). So, all my tabs below are based on my attempt to play like him – though again, it’s in that very different style. I wanted to note all of this before getting to the lesson.

Chords needed

You’ll only need C, F, and G for this song. Here are the standard ways to play these chords:

E |–––0–––1–––3––––
B |–––1–––1–––0––––
G |–––0–––2–––0––––
D |–––2–––3–––0––––
A |–––3–––3–––2––––
E |–––––––1–––3––––
      C   F   G

For the F, you have a few additional options to simplify the chord. Do what works for you. I honestly play the Fmaj7 (xx321x) most of the time. This lets you do the main riff hammer-on a bit easier – more on that later. Play what you like.

E |–––1–––––––––––0–––––
B |–––1–––––1–––––1–––––
G |–––2–––––2–––––2–––––
D |–––3–––––3–––––3–––––
A |–––––––––3–––––––––––
E |–––––––––––––––––––––
      F     F   Fmaj7

For the G, you’ll want to be familiar with this position, where the high E string is left open while the B string has a finger pressing the third fret down. Again, more on this later – but in summary, it’ll help you with the main riff.

E |–––0–––
B |–––3–––
G |–––0–––
D |–––0–––
A |–––2–––
E |–––3–––

Chord progressions


"When you're sitting there..."    
C . . . G . . . F . . . C . . .  x4


"Take me down little Susie..."
G . . . G . . . C . . . C . . .  x2

"Send me dead flowers..."
F . . . F . . . C . . . C . . .  x3

"And I wont forget to put flowers..."
C . . . G . . . F . . . C . . .  x1

Main riff

Here’s the very distinctive riff you’ll hear in the intro of this song. This shows the chords you’ll need to play, in addition to the key melody notes you’ll want to integrate into your strumming / plucking / picking. Note, I didn’t learn this as a proper Travis-picking style song (which is how Townes plays it), so had to make do with this simplified arrangement. See my video lesson for reference!

See my sheet music for the intro tab, as played in my video lesson.

Other riffs

There are many of these little flourish riffs heard in the Townes Van Zandt recording of this song – far too many for me to include here. Many of them are clearly improvised and not planned. Below, there are three of the more distinct riffs that I’ve cherry picked and used when I play the song. These can be heard in my video lesson. All of these riffs are played during the chorus, when you’re on C for two full measures and have some time to kill before going back to F (just before each “Send me dead flowers…” lyric).

Transition riff #1

First, you have this one, which is quite circular in sound:

See my sheet music for the tab.

Transition riff #2

Second, you have this one which is basically a quick jump to a F/C, before going back to the C (and then resolving to a full proper F):

See my sheet music for the tab.

Transition riff #3

Third, you have this one, which has a nice walk-down descending sound:

See my sheet music for the tab.

Good luck!

I hope this lesson helped. I had a lot of fun learning this song, and hope you do too.

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