Tuesday, June 14, 2011

How to SOUND like Chuck Berry

Actually, you can't.

But I have tried, in a lame way, for 35 years. And about one year ago I stumbled on a chord whose twang struck like a message from God.

Chuck Berry is mostly known for his double string lead guitar. Most people who play "Chuck Berry" simplify this style into oblivian, emphasizing the bluesier aspects and missing all the major scale and rhythmic complexity of Chuck Berry's best work. Check out the Johnny Carson interview below. The guy wanted to play in big bands. He listened to T-Bone Walker and Elmore James for sure, but he also listened to Charlie Christian, Illinois Jaquette and Tommy Dorsey.

But beyond the "lead" guitar, he does wonderful, weird rhythm work. One of my favorite bits in his live performances is a chord he uses to punch out rhythms, often while trading beats with a drummer. He alternates between the low and high notes of the chord-- boom-cha, boom-cha, boom-cha-boom-boom-cha, cha. (Again, kids, learn music notation. Otherwise, you get stuck writing gibberish that means absolutely nothing.) I used to copy it in a weird, weak way using strings on different frets, but I knew it wasn't right. Then I saw this chord in a book, hit it once, and knew. Sure enough, saw Chuck do it on youtube!

This is for the key of C- the key for most of Chuck Berry's guitar jams on Johnny B. Goode, etc. Throw it in sometimes instead of the regular C.

But you still won't sound like Chuck Berry. Ah well.

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