Playing Technique

 

Scotty Moore once released a solo album called "The Guitar That Changed The World" - a pretty pretentious title for anyone other than the man who built the foundation for rock and roll guitar style in those early Sun and RCA Elvis tunes. He describes his playing as an "invention" and what he did on those seminal tracks as his "first opportunity, without knowing it, to really mix it up". A conglomeration of diverse, seemingly incongruous elements, it is a mixed bag indeed combining old blues and R&B licks, some country and western in the form of Merle Travis picking and Chet Atkins polyphony and a handful of swing and jazz ideas borrowed from Barney Kessell, Les Paul, Tal Farlow and the big bands of the 40's. It all came together in the legendary Sun sessions. The skeletal trio instrumental setting (Scotty's electric guitar, Bill Black's upright bass and Elvis' acoustic rhythm guitar) and the anything-goes atmosphere of the moment resulted in an unprecedented freedom encouraging Scotty to draw from these musical influences spontaneously and without restrain and synthesize them into something new, different and very powerful. Truly the guitar that changed the world.

The instrument he chose to change the world with was an all-gold Gibson ES 295 hollowbody electric; essentially, a jazz guitar. Later he moved up to Super 400's and L-5's -- top of the line Gibson hollowbody electrics. These were strung with heavy guage strings (with a wound third) and played through a small Fender and Ampeg tube amps in the early days. Later he employed a custom-made (by Ray Butts) Echo-sonic amp which was equipped with a unique built-in tape echo unit. This produced the familiar slap back echo effect so characteristic of rockabilly and early rock and roll guitar sound as heard on "Mystery Train" and "Baby, Let's Play House". Scotty played with a Merle Travis/Chet Atkins-inspired thumb-pick and fingers technique which accommodated both his chordal fingerpicking and single-note lines admirably.

Scotty Moore's solo, tight and well-constructed, is a model of what early rock and roll and rockabilly guitarwork is all about.  He mixes idioms skillfully in the first phrase, throwing in country and pop ideas in the form of tasty similar motion diatonic thirds and a strutting walking-bass pickup line both based on A major.  The walking bass pickup line is a familiar fixture of rockabilly guitar style heard often in Scotty's playing as well as in the work of Carl Perkins, James Burton and even George Harrison (check out the solos to "All My Loving" and "I'm A Loser" for two cogent examples).   These are contrasted by a momentary shift to A Mixolydian in bars 7 and 8 toughening up the first phrase with a blues inflection.  At 0:57, Scotty's interpretation of Merle Travis' fingerpicking style is heard on a D9 chord.  This is continued and elaborated on over the E chord at 1:01.  Here, the sharp-nine (#9) is added to the basic open chord sound to good effect.  

Wolf Marshall

Guitar solo audio clip  .mp3   .wma   .wav

The tablature, description and audio clip is presented here with Wolf Marshall's permission.   For an excellent in-depth analysis of Scotty's playing style and to learn a lot of the signature riffs and licks check out "The Guitars of Elvis" by Wolf Marshall

 

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