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Chicken Pickin’ Rhythm
from Joe Dalton’s
Big Twang

This month’s lesson is based in part on Scotty Moore’s rhythm on Elvis’ “Mystery Train.” The quintessential rockabilly rhythm riff, this lick has been quoted in many disparate songs and is a useful riff that belongs in everyone’s arsenal. Listen to the late, great Eddy Shaver’s blistering use of the riff on “Georgia on a Fast Train” from his father’s 1993 album, Tramp on Your Street for a glimpse at how far you can take it.

This part centers around an A7 barre chord while hammering up from the flatted third to give the part movement and some blues-approved funk. Keeping the rhythm syncopated also contributes to a sense of movement. The A on the E string can be played with the thumb or while holding a barre with the first finger, but using the thumb helps mute the unused A string, allowing the right hand to concentrate more on feel rather than string skipping. The open A string can also be used here, but makes it more difficult to play the note staccato when needed.

Whichever way you choose to fret the shape, measure 9 moves the part up to D for two measures before moving back to the A in measure 11. Measure 15 moves to the V chord – the E – for two measures which are then followed by a chord stab on the IV and a full measure rest before going back to the I.

The key to nailing this riff is to listen to get a sense for the syncopation as well as the accents. Also, as with most things, the real magic is when you add your own spin – don’t be afraid to play with it. Try playing simple double-stops instead of fuller voicings; play the E in the first position; you could even try it with some dirt.

Once you get it down, fight the urge to use it everywhere. The part originated when drummers weren’t allowed on the Opry – there was plenty of room for rhythmically complex guitar parts. If there is a lot going on rhythmically, lay back. But when the instrumentation is sparse, tear it up!
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