Sunday, December 11, 2016

Groove 101

Stringer's Groove 101

These are songs that, to my way of thinking, really drive home the concept of "groove", and I think all players, beginner and experienced alike, could learn from studying just how this feel was created in each song.


1. "You Can't Sit Down", 

Phil Upchurch. From the first trumpet screech to the last chord on the B3, this recording JUMPS!!! Everytime it listen to it, I get the same old chill that I got the first time I heard it. It sounds LOUD, and wild and yet extremely well played. I know every player in the band understood exactly what the objective was and did not have to be told how to achieve it. One of the my favorite things about the performance is that after the drum solo, the drums stop and the organ brings that band back in! Great turn around on the cliche.

2. "Honky Tonk", Bill Doggett.

 A masterpiece of understatement. Beginning with the most ubiquitous blues guitar lick of all time (da-DANG-da-DANG...), then a whole chorus of just the organ pumping chords beneath that lick. Billy Butler and Clifford Scott play schorching solos, paradigms of the genre, but the groove never gets in the way... always just drawing you further in. Most musicians lean too hard when they try to cover (or copy) this tune like they're sawing logs in the hot sun, when they should be sittin' on the porch drinkin' a big ol' mint julip.

3. "Hideaway", Freddy King. 

Once again, a masterfull bit of understatement. Drummers -- this is what a back-beat double shuffle should be -- not a bunch of cymbals ringing, nor a snare drum resounding like colliding trains! I love how the piano punctuates, but never takes over the groove, which happens all too easily. And of course, there's the Peter Gunn straight 8's forced over the shuffle. A really brilliant band effort.

4. "Mustang Sally", Wilson Pickett and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section

Overplay can make a song into a cliche. But in my experience, there are few players that can capture the relentless, but subtle groove established by Roger Hawkins ever in the pocket, and never over the top drumming, enhanced by Jimmy Johnson's guitar riffing. I saw Wilson Pickett live several times and though his show had the energy of a tent revival, the traveling band could never quite match the subtle mastery of the Swampers.

5. Love and Happiness, Al Green

A close call here... "Take Me to the River" is a great groove also, but I think this track is carried more by the song structure, whereas "Love And Happiness" stands on just the groove and is harder to reproduce in its delicate balance in tempo, interplay between Teenie Hodges riff, and Howard Grimes drums, smooth as an ice rink. Not technically part of the "groove", Teenie Hodges eight note intro lick, simple and memorable, sets up the whole song. Maybe guitarists should more often ask themselves, "What would Teenie do?"

6. Rip it Up, Little Richard with Earl Palmer

My experience playing this song is the the drummer will start banging on cymbals -- because after all, we're rippin' it up, right. But Earl Palmer on drums is the key to this groove... he does it with his snare drum until, restraining from cymbals until the sax solo. Bassist Frank Fields and guitarist Edgar Blanchard, both Dave Bartholomew alums, pretty much follow Palmer's lead and create yet another relentless, yet restrained groove. Few bands have the discipline to apply themselves as one to create such a memorable groove. "Lucille" is a close challenger for this list, again, largely due to Palmer's incredible New Orleans beat. Also, Little Richard's piano is a strong contributor. Also, interestingly, The Everly Brother's version of "Lucille" is a contender largely due to the incredible ride cymbal pattern -- likely Buddy Harman. In addition, the track is adorned by a pedal steel solo!

7. Cleanup Woman, Betty Wright, Clarence "Little Beaver" Hale

This track is such a great example of dividing the groove. The guitars and bass are rhythmically complex -- so the drums must be simple. I would listen to this groove played without any vocal or horn section for the entirety of the song -- it's that fascinating. Players who have tried covers of "Cleanup Woman" know how difficult it is to hold tempo throughout. If this gets even a tiny bit faster or slower, the dancability is ruined. Guitarists "Little Beaver" and Jerome Smith (KC and the Sunshine Band, believe it or not) establish the groove, but it would become tiresome if the drums didn't hold it down. Interestingly, Betty Wright recorded a lot of material, and though she has a beautiful voice with a 4 octave range, but she never recreated the magic of this track which though associated with her name, was not actually about the vocal, lyrics, etc.

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