This batch of licks comes from the swing jazz and jump blues era of the late 1930s and early 1940s. In this period there was a much closer relationship between jazz and blues. Horn-driven big bands were the popular medium of the time and predominately used acoustic guitarists to provide a strictly accompanimental, rhythm guitar role—that is, until Charlie Christian appeared on the scene. Christian played innovative melody lines on the newly-marketed electric-Spanish (ES) guitar, a hollowbodied Gibson ES-150. His mix of earthy Oklahoma and Texas blues and swinging, sax-inspired phrases marked the formal emergence of the electric guitar in blues, pop, jazz, and later rock music. His work with the Benny Goodman Sextet set the standard for early combos with electric guitars; the electric guitarists who followed in the 1940s were under the spell of Charlie Christian and sought to emulate his sound and style. Many of his licks were heard in the subsequent wave of electric swing and jump blues guitarists operating in the 1940s and 1950s. Christian’s licks also influenced blues-based rock ’n’ roll players of the 1950s like Scotty Moore and Chuck Berry. You will no doubt notice several commonalities such as extensive use of the sixth degree of the scale (the characteristic dissonance of the swing era), tritone double stops, and a consistent swinging eighth-note feel.
To maintain sonic authenticity, I played these licks on a Gibson ES-175D with heavy-gauge flatwound strings. The neck pickup was used exclusively and the tone control was rolled down slightly (around 7 or 8). The tone of the amp was set for a warm and moderately clean sound with a hint of tube overdrive. Tube amps are a must for this music—solid-state guitar amplification hadn’t been invented yet.