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from Jeff McErlain’s Blues Rock Evolution
Funk comes in many forms, from Parliament/Funkadelic to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but all of it stems from the undisputed king of funk, James Brown. His 20 All Time Greatest Hits! compilation CD features the incredible playing of longtime Brown guitarist Jimmy Nolen. Check out his playing on “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag,” “Cold Sweat” and “Get On The Good Foot” for a lesson in groove, minimalism, and, well, funk.
In the short version of this month’s tune, we are relying on a 12-bar blues progression in B, with a little change-up during the turnaround, making the progression B7, E9, back to B7, A13, back to E7, B7 and then the V chord, which is F#7+9. The voicings used are minimal, just enough to outline the chord, with the B7 encompassing just the middle three strings. Barre the middle three strings with your first finger to facilitate the hammer-ons in measures 1 and 2 of our example. The E9 is played across the top four strings, and be sure to be mindful of the chop with the 9th fret being played on the high E string in measure 3. Use your thumb, over the top of the neck, to help mute the strings that aren’t being played.
Since this is funk, the left hand steers the song, but the right hand is driving. The tune has a constant 16th note feel, being careful to keep it swinging hard to keep things from sounding too straight. Think of a train rhythm, and be sure to accentuate the one.
Since the right hand is moving continuously, the left hand determines when the chords are sounded. Release just enough pressure to mute, but not enough to let any open strings ring out. This tune centers on getting the left and right hands working together. Once you have it down, a whole new world of rhythm playing is at your disposal.
Something we haven’t covered yet is tone. Start with the neck pickup, and play with the volume knob, approaching it as more of a channel switching device, finding the sweet spots for clean rhythm, fat rhythm and fill and lead tones.
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