In this month’s column Stuart Ryan discovers that electric blues icon and pop superstar John Mayer has a more subtle, acoustic folk side!
Stuart Ryan looks at the acoustic side of electric blues star and pop icon: John Mayer
When I last covered John Mayer for GT way back in GT127, I focused on his complex, groove-based fingerstyle as found in tracks like Neon. At this time Mayer was heavily influenced by San Francisco eight-string jazz guitar legend Charlie Hunter and his fingerpicking featured deft, contrapuntal lines the likes of which had rarely been seen in the mainstream pop-rock sphere. Alongside this he showcased a deep knowledge of chords that resulted in memorable and creative strumming based tracks like his break-out hit No Such Thing.
Although it’s common to focus on Mayer’s electric guitar style and the influence of BB King, SRV and Hendrix on this side of his playing, the acoustic side has always run parallel to this from album tracks to allacoustic EPs like his debut release Inside Wants Out and The Village Session, both essential listening if you want to hear Mayer in pure acoustic mode.
By the time he released his smash album Continuum the electric guitar was well and truly at the fore, but even here you start to hear a development of his acoustic style – the fiery showboating of a track like Neon is replaced by song-focused acoustic parts that demonstrated his enviable mastery of fingerpicking technique.
Fast forward to 2012 and the Bay Area jazz sound has been replaced by pastoral tinged fingerpicking that bears the hallmark of a strong Crosby, Stills and Nash, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and James Taylor influence – in essence, the great Californian songwriters of the 1960s and 70s. However, whether deliberate or not, you’ll also hear evidence of players like Jorma Kaukonen in the more complex passages. The folk sound is still in evidence on follow-up Paradise Valley and represents a deliberate shift in musical tone by Mayer that was led by his acoustic guitar-focused writing. Mayer’s parts on these albums are great – fantastic groove, melodic
the showboating on tracks like neon was replaced by acoustic parts that demonstrated his fingerpicking
ideas and that consistent timing that is always in evidence with his picking hand. However, when learning these parts it’s a good idea to go to the source and immerse yourself in the artists listed above (plus, of course, Bob Dylan!) so you’ll get a greater idea of how he is building the acoustic parts that are at the forefront of his playing these days. And, finally, let us not forget that most difficult aspect of fingerstyle – tone. Mayer plays with a great attack and articulation and this is something to really work on when playing these parts.
John Mayer: more than just a great electric blues guitarist