• Learn how to artfully weave triads over chord changes.
• Create slinky double-stop phrases in the style of Cornell Dupree.
• Understand how to use the major pentatonic scale.
If Al Anderson is on your radar, it’s likely through his tenure as the guitarist in the band NRBQ. (Note: This Anderson is not to be confused with another great guitarist of the same name, who most notably worked with Bob Marley and the Wailers.) He wasn’t the original picker with that eclectic roots-rock band, but played with them long enough—from 1971 into the early ’90s—that many NRBQ fans consider him the definitive dude. Since leaving the quartet, Anderson has been making a name for himself as a tunesmith, penning songs for country artists such as George Strait and Tim McGraw. Bonnie Raitt’s latest record, Slipstream, featured a couple of Anderson’s tunes as well.
Way back in 1972, Anderson released his first album as a solo artist. (He has released five others since.) This self-titled debut features strong guitar playing throughout, though surprisingly few solos. One number where Anderson does take his Tele for a spin is the down-tempo breakup song “You’re Just Laughin’ Inside.” His playing here features yearning faux pedal-steel bends, passing-chord moves reminiscent of gospel piano, and the kind of double-stop fills you might hear Cornell Dupree play on an Aretha Franklin ballad from the early ’70s. It’s somehow uptown and down-home at the same time. The recording of “You’re Just Laughin’ Inside” ends with a long, slow fade, with Anderson playing inspired stuff to the very end. The track is nearly five minutes long—and you’ll almost surely find yourself wishing there was even more.
Anderson’s dry-yet-dulcet tone on this tune sounds like a Telecaster in the middle position most of the way through. He kicks it to the bridge pickup later in the track for an emotional escalation. By virtue of the ample clean headroom, I’d guess he played through a dual-speaker amp with 6L6 tubes—such as a Fender Twin Reverb with the reverb switched off. One more signal-chain thing: Anderson’s guitar is noticeably compressed. There may be a stompbox at work, but this record was released before compressor pedals were commonplace, so it’s more likely that a studio compressor was used on the guitar channel. (These are just my best guesses, to guide you in your quest if you do try matching the guitar tone on this track. Hear something different? Go for it!)
Ex. 1 is like the four-bar I-IV-I-I figure that Anderson plays in the verses. As you can see in the first three measures, triads are the bread-and-butter here. Abbreviated shapes like these are often all that’s needed to outline a song’s chord progression. (Assuming the bassist is doing his/her job, that is.) Check out measure two. The harmony here is a whole measure of Eb—not all that interesting. Anderson sidesteps inertia by insinuating Eb6 in the front half, then resolving to a straight Eb triad in the back half. It’s a subtle move, yet undoubtedly effective behind the vocal. The busily descending double-stop figure (beginning on beat three of the fourth measure) happens between vocal phrases. Try picking this example—and the remaining examples—with a combination of a flatpick (held by your thumb and index finger) and two fingers (middle and ring).
Ex. 2 begins with the kind of stair-step passing chords Anderson repeatedly uses in this song to climb from the I chord to the IV. By breaking the Eb chord into high and low parts, as well as by shifting to the sus4 and back, he again manages to make static harmony feel more active.
Ex. 3 is inspired by some of Anderson’s playing on the long ride-out of this track. (There’s well over a minute of freewheeling guitar after the vocal section of the song has finished.) His playing leans a little toward the blues here, though his reliance on the major pentatonic scale keeps things more sweet than bitter. Both C#s in the first measure should be bent up ever so slightly.