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This article was originally published in issue #15
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Billy Gibbons has always been one of my favorite guitarists. The tone, the songs; the voice, the vibe. Steeped in the rich tradition of the blues Billy has taken his early influences of Jimmy Reed, Eddie Taylor, Robert Johnson, Elmore James, Muddy Waters, BB King, etc. and developed his own unique blend of Texas rock’n blues.
Their landmark ‘Tres Hombres’ album turns 30 this year and sounds as fresh and lowdown as ever. A lot of the licks we’ll be learning today are influenced from this recording.
Although Billy is mostly known for the classic combination of his beloved Les Paul ‘Pearly Gates’ and a Marshall amp cranked to 10, he is a huge connoisseur of guitars and amps so one can never quite be sure! On recordings he will often combine a Les Paul ‘humbucking’ sound with a cleaner Fender style tone. Listen to ‘Jesus Just Left Chicago’ or ‘Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers’ through a pair of headphones and you’ll see what I mean.
In general I would say a humbucking pickup and a good amount of distortion from the amp will put you in the ballpark. Boost the mids, the bass and turn down the presence and treble.
The backing track is a 12 bar blues in the key of A with a La Grange style rhythm. This groove is influenced by John Lee Hooker’s 1962 hit ’Boom Boom’.
I’m treating each chord as minor which means I can stay in A minor the whole time. In fact all of the licks us the A minor pentatonic or blues scale.
The first part of this lick follows the drum groove- so keep it swinging.
The next part is a descending group of 3 from the A minor pentatonic scale.
These are phrased in triplets which means 3 notes per beat.
This lick starts with a repetitive rock lick followed by some bluesy swing.
Here we start with a repetitive lick-always a good idea. If we repeat ourselves we must mean it!
Once again we start with a repetitive phrase. This time the lick features some fast picking on the same note.
A Billy Gibbons classic-the pinched harmonic. The technique is to pinch the string with a combination of the pick and
the side of your thumb. Rumor has it Billy used a Mexican peso as a pick. Can be done with a good ol’ Fender style as well.
Our last lick uses open strings. These pull offs work great in A and it’s an easy way to get in the groove with the rhythm section.
When playing rhythm guitar, Billy Gibbons often uses a right hand combination of pick and fingers which is often referred to as
hybrid picking. The idea is simple: hold the pick as you normally would and then add other strings with your middle finger and ring finger. In general, the lower (thickest) string gets the pick while the others are played with the fingers.
Take it nice and slow if this technique is new to you. Once you can play the first measure you should be able to negotiate the entire 12 bar pretty well as each of the riffs are very similar.
Listen to ’La Grange’ or ’Cheap Sunglasses’ to hear this technique in action.