On first blush, funk music, when compared to jazzy and soul blues, appears to share few characteristics with their common ancestor—the blues. Rhythmically, this could not be truer as funk, “invented” in the early 1960s by James Brown and his prime guitarist, Jimmy Nolen, shifted the emphasis to the “1” from the “2” and “4” backbeats. Nonetheless, JB classics like “I Got You (I Feel Good)” from 1964 and the monumental “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” a year later are based on 12-bar I, IV, and V changes. Nolen, who previously had a modest career as a West Coast blues guitarist in the 1950s, had a rhythmic and harmonic concept that complemented the “Godfather of Soul,” who likewise sang blues and R&B in the same era. Albert Collins, the great Texas blues guitarist, was quite fond of funk and perpetuated it in tunes like “Ice Pick” from 1978 and “I Got That Feeling” and “Cold Cuts” from 1981.

Example 1 utilizes a classic octave bass line that shouts “funk” as the “bass-is” for measures 1–8 of the I and IV chord changes. Bass player extraordinaire, Larry Graham, from Graham Central Station, who is credited with “inventing” slap bass, employed the move to great effect as have all who have followed in his snapping and popping wake. It is derived from the A and D minor pentatonic scales and comprises a two-measure “call” that allows for beats 3 and 4 of measures 2, 4, 6, and 8 to be filled with a “response.” Observe how they all contain various degrees of harmony with double stops and triple stops, save for measure 6 of the IV chord that features a popular blues bend that nails the D major tonality. A particularly groovy fill occurs in measure 8 of the I chord as an arcing double-string bend that creates surprising musical tension leading to the V chord in measure 9. Dig the hip 7#9 chords for the V and IV changes in measures 9 and 10, respectively. A fave of funketeers, Jimi Hendrix famously used E7#9 as the I chord in “Purple Haze” in 1967.

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The guitar in funk and funk blues often imitates the sound of a horn section as it previously did to a somewhat lesser extent in R&B and soul music. Example 2 contains two of the main horn-type riffs characteristic of the genre. On beat 2 of both the I and IV chords in measures 1–8, a half-step slide or gliss (from glissando) from the E7 and A7 triple stops to Eb7 and Ab7 and back is the essence of harmony found in the music. Be aware that sliding into notes or chords from above or below is a hallmark of the “organic” nature of the blues and related genres. Similarly, the sliding 6-9 forms on beat 4 of measures 1–8 also impart sensuous harmonic movement often played by horn sections in the “funk.” As a consistent happening in almost all 12-bar blues, measure 9 of the V chord is a critical juncture where the forward motion, inherent in the I–IV changes of measures 1–8, reverses direction back to eventual resolution on the I chord in measure 11. Consequently, measure 9 consists of a B major, walking bass line combined with a classic double-stop blues lick further confirming the major tonality of the chord change. Measure 10 of the IV chord follows with a descending, walking bass line from the A Mixolydian mode with the added F note that leads logically into E at measure 11. Notice the absence of a turnaround in order to keep the groove “on the good foot,” percolating “on the 1.”

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Power Trio Blues Guitar