STEAL MO­TOWN’S TRICKS FOR... Amaz­ing Rhythm

Richard Bar­rett looks at Mo­town’s un­sung guitar heroes with six fully tabbed ex­am­ple pieces, with play­ing tips and back­ing tracks – suit­able for al­most any style.

Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS -

Mo­town’s triple-guitar sec­tion pow­ered 100s of hit tracks. Richard Bar­rett re­veals their tricks of the trade and shows you how to in­tro­duce in­ter­est and move­ment to your own rhythm.

Be­fore we start, it’s worth point­ing out that, al­though this fea­ture is la­belled ‘Mo­town’, these ideas are read­ily trans­fer­able (with per­haps a tweak here and there) to many other styles of mu­sic.

Set up by Berry Gordy in De­troit in 1959, Mo­town kick-started the ca­reer of a long list of artists, in­clud­ing Michael Jack­son, Ste­vie Won­der, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and many more than we have room to list here. How­ever, this ar­ti­cle is more con­cerned with the gui­tarists that played on these discs and how they con­trib­uted to the song.

In the early days, most record­ings from the Mo­town stable were played on by an in-house band of lo­cal mu­si­cians, known in­for­mally as the Funk Broth­ers. This in­cluded gui­tarists Joe Messina, Robert White and Ed­die ‘Chank’ Wil­lis, though it wasn’t com­mon prac­tice to credit mu­si­cians in those days. These play­ers came mainly from a jazz back­ground and this is re­flected in their chord voic­ings and rhythms, their over­all swing as a unit and why these ideas are trans­fer­able back to blues, jazz, coun­try, etc. Check out It’s A Shame by The Spin­ners if you need con­vinc­ing.

As the 1960s drew to a close, Mo­town moved to Los An­ge­les, bring­ing new mu­si­cians into the fold (many of the orig­i­nal play­ers stayed in De­troit). Gui­tarists like Tommy Tedesco, Melvin Ra­gin (aka Wah Wah Wat­son) and David Wil­liams now had the chance to bring in their own ideas – in Wil­liams’ case, the tight funk of Michael Jack­son’s Bil­lie Jean is a notable ex­am­ple.

Through the 70s and early 80s, play­ers like Larry Carl­ton and Steve Lukather also made their mark. Tight, repet­i­tive (al­most sub­lim­i­nal) parts, pro­cessed with cho­rus and com­pres­sion be­gan to ap­pear on tracks like Li­onel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down. The guitar moved from pro­vid­ing chord ‘pads’ and rhyth­mic fills to a more per­cus­sive role.

To nail some of these parts, it’s a good idea to lis­ten closely to where you ‘sit’ in con­text with the rhythm track and see what el­e­ments of your part co­in­cide with the kick drum, snare, hi-hats etc. Al­ter­na­tively, you may find your part slots into a gap in the over­all tapestry of in­stru­men­ta­tion, in which case you’ll need to be su­per aware of when that gap is com­ing – it’s im­per­a­tive to be con­stantly lis­ten­ing and re­act­ing as you play.

This kind of fo­cus and con­cen­tra­tion re­quires stamina, so don’t be sur­prised if some of these ap­par­ently ‘easy’ parts take a bit of get­ting ab­so­lutely right. Our six ex­am­ples are de­signed to give you a broad over­view of the tech­niques and chord voic­ings that give this style its spe­cial sound. They aren’t par­tic­u­larly in chronological or­der, but you will recog­nise that some have the more ‘strummy’ ap­proach, sim­i­lar to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Go­ing On, while oth­ers com­bine this with stac­cato chord ‘chanks’ like The Supremes’ You Can’t Hurry Love.

For some of these, we’ve ar­ranged the guitar to cover both parts in one pass – some­thing of­ten asked of gui­tarists on the cir­cuit these days. Some of the other ex­am­ples are sev­eral dif­fer­ent ideas con­densed into one excerpt, so please bear this in mind when cre­at­ing your own ideas.

Our ex­am­ples will give you An over­view of the tech­niques And chord voic­ings that give this style its spe­cial sound

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