We’re not Talkin’ Bout A Revolution in guitar playing but Tracy Chapman’s style is a lesson for budding fingerpickers, says Stuart Ryan.
Stuart Ryan jumps talks about a revolution as he jumps in a fast car with Tracy Chapman.
Born on March 30 1964 in Cleveland, Ohio, Tracy Chapman started her musical life at the age of three when her mother bought her a ukulele. Five years later she took up guitar and also started writing her first songs. As she became older Chapman became highly politicised and socially aware, not least thanks to the juxtapositions in her own life from growing up in a poor neighbourhood to winning a scholarship to an exclusive boarding school.
Although she is often labelled as a ‘folk’ or ‘protest’ singer Chapman prefers to draw from the bigger musical picture as opposed to falling back on the influence of the classic protest singers like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Her early influences came from the country genre and included artists like Charley Pride, Dolly Parton, Glen Campbell and legendary country guitarist Buck Owens. Alongside that she also grew up on soul, gospel and jazz but, interestingly, not folk.
As with many performers of her generation she started out performing on the coffee house circuit and busking while at university. She got her big break via a fellow student whose father worked in music publishing. After an introduction and audition he helped her broker a deal with Elektra Records, which led to her debut album, Tracy Chapman, being released in 1988. This album contains the tracks that made her a star: Fast Car and Talkin’ ’Bout A Revolution among them. The opportunity to perform Fast Car at the Nelson Mandela birthday tribute concert on June 11, 1988 gave her sudden exposure to a worldwide audience and this was followed by Fast Car reaching the Top 10 of the American Billboard 100.
Chapman’s guitar style is not difficult but she is another great example of how an acoustic guitar part can fit into a track from several perspectives. She uses simple fingerpicking patterns from the typical folk style to bolster the vocals – to basic strumming patterns to fill out the rhythm section.
Embellishing common chord progressions is another hallmark of her style and in this month’s study we’ll see how a basic I-V-II-IV (D-A-Em-G) chord sequence can be brought to life with a series of uncomplicated hammerons and pull-offs that add colour to the chords. Factor in a broken or arpeggiated picking-hand pattern and you can see how the fingerstyle player can breathe new life into otherwise over-used chord ideas.
THE OPPORTUNITY TO PERFORM FAST CAR AT THE NELSON MANDELA BIRTHDAY CONCERT GAVE HER INSTANT EXPOSURE
Tracy Chapman: worldwide hits with Fast Car and ...Revolution