Andy Saphir tunes his session radar into the styles of legendary rock ‘n’ roll guitar players.
I’d love to have been around in the 1950s when rock‘n’roll established itself as the music that spoke for a generation. Legions of kids were listening to records that their parents disapproved of, while others were influenced to take up the oh-so-cool guitar. Some of these would eventually go on to achieve iconic status themselves, as axe-men extroadinaire! I’d like to think that some of GT’s current readers were around in those days and can remember first-hand who their favourite guitar players were. I’m sure that names like Scotty Moore, who played guitar for Elvis Presley, Cliff Gallup, guitarist for Gene Vincent, and Chuck Berry (I wonder how many guitarists have ever learned Johnny B Goode!) would crop up more than a few times. Although nostalgic nowadays, the hits of those days were fresh, new, and exciting and regularly featured the electric guitar playing a solo in the instrumental section of the tune. This contributed hugely to the development of the role of the instrument as we know it today. The sounds and production techniques back then might be basic by today’s standards, but the energy that can be felt by listening to many of those old rock ‘n’ roll songs even now is palpable. And the skill and imagination of the players doesn’t diminish over time.
There might of course be many GT readers who are unfamiliar with the style of songs and guitar techniques used in the music of that era. So like any style at which you want to improve, it’s vital to do lots of ‘listening homework’ in order to get a feel for the genre. The kind of techniques and approaches that are used are often similar to those used in country guitar, such as using hybrid picking or thumbpick and fingers, as the alternating bass and fingerpicking technique known as ‘Travis picking’ (named after Merle Travis) is often utilised (Scotty Moore used it a lot). Double-stops, 3rds, triads, simple bends and sometimes a jazzy influence can be heard. In my opinion, the overall feel of an authentic sounding solo in this style is perhaps less about technical perfection, making sure every note is perfectly in time and ‘glitch’ free, than it is about capturing the spirit of the performance. That said, this is not an easy style to play and the techniques need to be studied properly so they can be played musically, and used confidently and spontaneously to create a catchy and imaginative solo.
Our piece this month is based around a famliar rock’n’roll 12-bar chord progression in the key of E. I’ve deliberately included many of the approaches already mentioned, and which you’ll need to get down if you are to sound convincing. When looking at the music and tab, you’ll see quite a lot of bars in which there are effectively ‘two parts’ written on one stave. This is in fact just the one guitar, but using the ‘Travis picking’ technique. The notes with their stems pointing downwards need to be played with pick downstrokes (or thumbpick), and the notes with their stems pointing upwards are played with the fingers (see performance notes for more guidance).
This is a great style to play. It’s also an important one to learn for any guitarist who wants to be versatile, as to be able to play authentically in a genre is not only rewarding to you as a player, but will make you a much more hireable commodity to boot!
The hits of the day were fresh, new and exciting, and regularly featured an electric guitar playing a solo in the instrumental section.
Young Elvis Presley and his jazz meets country guitarist, Scotty Moore