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This article was originally published in issue #34
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Robben Ford has taken the Blues into new territory, somehow without losing that essential feel that makes Blues the timeless genre it is.
Robben Ford has taken the Blues into new territory, somehow without losing that essential feel that makes Blues the timeless genre it is. It's a fantastic achievement and one that can be hard for an aspiring guitarist to follow. So who did we ask for a guide? GI welcomes back LickLibrary stalwart, professor Stuart Bull for our Robben Ford masterclass.
Hi everyone, for this issue of Guitar Interactive the pleasure of the Robben Ford Tech Session has been bestowed upon my good self to deliver unto you and I have to say I am very pleased to take it on. First and foremost, approaching this task was a little tricky to say the least as deciding which shade of Mr Ford to present was something that needed some thought, as he's a multi-dimensional Blues character with plenty of harmonic choices up his sleeve. I finally decided on a shuffle feel with some interesting twists and a few Fordisms to hopefully satisfy the fan taste buds. These days being hung live on YouTube because a 12 year old from Grimsby or Gainesville doesn't like the third note of the 6th bar is becoming a futuristic possibility, and one that makes crowd pleasing an almost professional skill set - although killing them would be way more satisfying, not to mention easier! (we think he's joking - Ed)
So let's get on with breaking down this piece, first up the rhythm track. I like a good intro to a Blues piece so I came up with something that would normally be fairly standard so I featured the 9th and flattened fifth a little more to give it a slightly more unusual quality which is something Mr Ford would do. I also made it six beats long, again to make slightly more non-standard. Some of these odd measure ideas within the Blues go back to the songs of Muddy Waters. With the intro out of the way, the main rhythm part takes place and now we are in more standard territory as this is a Blues tune after all's said and done.
We begin with a typical E5 idea also using the top two open strings for some brass section type punctuation. We follow this with the use of the flattened 7th and 6th in a descending fashion to create a nice rolling Blues riff. The riff lasts for four bars stopping on beat one of bar four. At this point the riff starts up again underpinning the tune above. Our E riff runs for four bars and now moves to an A5 and maintains the same scale degrees only now transposed to A, of course this is just a posh way of describing a bog standard Blues shift from E to A - same riff different chord. We stay on the A riff also for two bars then returning to the E riff for two bars again supporting the tune. We now have a total of eight bars for the main section so nothing unusual so far.
At this point we enter very familiar Robben Ford territory. In a Blues such as this, more often than not the five chord is major but to add a different flavour, Robben often makes this chord a Minor 7th. We stay on Bm7th for two bars for the 5 chord then down to Am7 (another typical Robben Ford device) just for 1 bar. We finish off this part of the cycle with two chords taken straight out of a zillion Jazz and Blues standards. This can be known as a six to five turnaround the chords being C9 to B7#9 each chord occupies two beats of one bar. Now we are heading for home as the cycle nears completion. We have one more 4/4 bar of the E riff followed by a 6/4 bar of the E riff and now we have our intro riff appearing once again and finally one more bar of our E riff with a stop on the first beat of the second bar before the cycle starts over. With the aforementioned 6/4 bars we have a 17 bar Blues! I can't say I have ever heard Robben Ford do this specific format but it is representative of the way he takes standard ideas and gives them a nice interesting twist.
Let's take a look at the tune. Nothing really spectacular here; a pretty simple motif that could be sung or played on guitar or whatever. I am mainly using the 6th root and minor 3rd from E. The idea fits nicely over the E and A sections and its simplicity allows for some improvised lines which I apply later on in the piece. When the Bm7 chord appears I use an F# and an A which are the 5th and minor 7th of the chord. For the A minor 7 chord I bend the F# up to G which outlines the Minor 7th. For the C9 and B7#9 chords I play Bb and A which outlines the 7th of each chord. As we complete the cycle I play a very simple Blues lick to take us into the riff which in turn takes us the end of the cycle.
OK it's solo time! Although the Blues is synonymous with improvisation I decided to write this solo. I did this for two reasons, the first being my initial noodlings just weren't cutting it and they didn't really sound anything like Robben Ford. So I refreshed my musical memory and began constructing something more in the RF ball park. The opening lick of the solo demonstrates the tweaking of a standard type Blues lick by using the 9th, in this case F#. This gives the lick a slightly sweeter sound, something that appears frequently in Mr Ford's playing. The lick carries a minor to major 3rd idea and typical moves down to a more major sound at the ninth fret then moving down to E minor Blues scale in the third position adding the flattened 5th the 6th and 9th for some tonal colour. You will also notice the backward or upward raking technique at the end of the 3rd position phrase, something we use to great effect in the second solo. The solo heads back up the neck for some simple phrases which take us to the Bm7 and Am7 chords. I use a Jimi Hendrix/Robben Ford chord segment idea here, ending the solo with a slightly Jazzy simplistic outlining of the C9 and B7#9 chords.
The second solo kicks off with an idea not often used by any guitar player. A run that changes direction before completion, sounds simple enough but this is something you rarely hear. Normally the system is guitar goes up, guitar goes down, so this feature catches the ear and takes it away from standard guitar vocabulary. Now in these next few phrases I may have gone overboard with the raking technique but I wanted to show its effectiveness within a few examples as Robben really uses this device to the max. Pretty standard Blues takes us up to the C9 and B7#9 where I have gone for a more Jazz approach using parts of two scales very often used over these chords. For the C9 chord the Lydian b7 scale is the Jazz player's weapon of choice along with the B altered scale for the B7#9 chord. If you have paid an absolute fortune to go to a music school but have never done a gig you may also refer to these scales as the Lydian Dominant and Super Locrian, your choice.
The piece finally heads for home returning to the tune with a few added licks for good measure. This style addresses a slightly more harmonically shade of blue and one I personally enjoy and I hope you do also.
Good night Blues Men and Women. See you next time, or until G.I. gets a proper writer, regardless of which comes first, I wish you all well.