Chet Atkins Yakety Axe
Jon Bishop transcribes a ripping version of Yakety Axe by country guitar virtuoso Chet Atkins. This tune is famous for being used in The Benny Hill Show and is both challenging and fun to play.
YaketY axe was recorded in 1965 by Chet atkins, and is a cover of the classic 1963 saxophone frenzy entitled Yakety sax. the original was performed by Homer ‘Boots’ Randolph. It was used for the Benny Hill show on tV, thus cementing it in the minds of the viewers for ever.
For the Chet atkins version (which appropriately substitutes the word sax with axe!), the saxophone melody is reworked to fit onto the guitar. The first stage of this reworking was to change the key to the country guitar favourite of G major. G major allows various open strings to be utilised, and also has the advantage of producing full sounding acoustic rhythm fingerings.
From a harmonic perspective there are only two sections to memorise, and we have labelled these the chorus and the bridge. the chorus features the main melodic theme complete with comedic glissandos, while the bridge section is the progression over which the guitar and harmonica solos are played.
the song changes key to C for these bridge sections and then back to G for the final two choruses. the melody lines from the original saxophone version are delivered with a classic country style guitar tone, and augmented with other country and rockabilly style vocabulary.
the instrumentation for the backing band on the record consists of, drums, bass and acoustic guitar. there is also a brief harmonica solo to provide a different flavour. the drum track has a country ‘train’ style feel with a 4/4 time signature and a speedy tempo. From a structural point of view Yakety axe uses a simple 16-bar form for both sections.
One of the secrets to performing this track the way Chet does, is the addition and use of the thumb pick. the thumb pick adds extra definition to the sound while maintaining the full fingerstyle facility of the picking hand. (see technique Focus for more details).
For the Gt recorded version we have recreated the harmonica solo so you can take a quick rest before the final two choruses. there is no need for a count-in on the backing track as the piece opens with three bars of the band, so when you hit play brace yourself for a