Harrison Marsh looks at the melodic slide style of Middlesborough’s brilliant artist, Chris Rea.
Many people associate Chris Rea with Driving Home For Christmas and Road To Hell but beyond this is a 25-album career, with stadium tours and multi-platinum sales. Superb songwriter and more than accomplished guitarist, Chris Rea came to guitar at the relatively late age of 20, initially influenced by the early blues of Charley Patton and the slide playing of Joe Walsh and Ry Cooder. In 1979 he was Grammy nominated in the US for best new artist, and by 1987 he was supporting Queen and selling out Wembley Stadium. But the biggest breakthough came with number one album Road To Hell in 1989, which went on to become six times platinum in the UK.
Slide has always been a mainstay of the Middleborough born guitarist’s playing. Though best known for driving AOR ballads, since serious Illness in 2001 Rea has concentrated on his blues influences resulting in a change of musical direction, starting with the Down The Stoney Road album that brings his slide playing even more to the fore. The Cooder influence is apparent with wide, tasteful vibrato, and full use of the fretboard (and beyond) a real signature for Rea along with impressive speed and melodic lines. Although his later albums demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of traditional blues phrasing, slide guitar also featured heavily in some of Rea’s biggest hits; Road To Hell and rock ballads like I Can Hear Your Heart Beat show his ability to create single-note slide melodies that complement songs that often break away from the standard I-IV-V chord sequences that feature so heavily in slide guitar. Rea’s intonation when making use of Harmonic Minor lines and subtle semitone phrases is faultless (he says it’s the vibrato that helps ground his intonation).
Rea is most famously associated with a red Strat called ‘Pinky’ but these days often plays slide on his Italia models. Chris has always favoured open E tuning though more recently uses a capo to great effect to explore a range of keys. Equally at home with a fingerstyle approach or a plectrum, sometimes even in the same song, the crying, melodic blues tones here show the decades of practice and immersion in the blues style.
NEXT MONTH Harrison looks at the ever-tuneful style of slide’s First Lady, Bonnie Raitt
chris has always favoured open e tuning though more recently uses a capo to great effect to explore a range of keys
Chris Rea with the gold sparkle Italia he loves for slide