Thursday, May 26, 2011

10 Solos...

... that made me want to quit playing guitar. (But then ultimately inspired me)
As I was progressing on the guitar through junior and senior high school and later in college, there were often times of great triumph, times of leaps and bounds and inspired moments of musical ability that gave me hope of all I could do. And then there were the times of great tragedy, (ie: band breakups), times of plateaus and inspired moments of someone else's musical ability that made me ask myself, "will I ever get there?". But those times didn't kill me (or make me quit playing guitar) they just made me stronger. Stronger as I resolved to figure out those solos, study those guitarists, continue taking guitar lessons and learn more about music. 
Now keep in mind in the list below I avoided classic solos, like the solos from Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Steve Vai and other generally accepted "gods" of the guitar. The ones below are solos that blew me away and made me cry and made me call out for my mommy. OK, I know, TMI. These are mostly from the late 70's and early 80's which were very formative years for me. I'm sure you would create a very different list. Feel free to post yours in the comments.
In no particular order...
1. My "need for speed" came directly from one guitarist who came up in the 1970's, Al DiMeola. Discovered at Berklee School of Music by Chick Corea, he played with Chick's band Return to Forever for a couple of records and then on to a solo career. The album that reprioritized my studies in the guitar was Elegant Gypsy, and particularly the song "Race with the Devil on a Spanish Highway". Al favors minor keys, phrygian, locrian, melodic and harmonic minor scales that are a new challange for the fingers.
Elegant Gypsy
Race With Devil On Spanish Highway
2. George Benson's Breezin' album was clearly a watershed record for me. However two albums later he released a live recording, Weekend In LA, which featured a song, "Ode to a Kudu", the outro of which made me seek counseling. I'm kidding. However the fluidity with which he plays is astounding. Especially considering he is playing clean, not with massive amounts of distortion, which is more exposed, and thus more difficult.
Weekend in L.A.
Ode To A Kudu (Live Album Version)
3. A sometime Los Angeles studio guitarist but more often sideman Robben Ford bleeds LA cool on his solo on the song "Imperial Strut" from the self-titled first Yellowjackets album, a band he wasn't credited as being a member of and yet he's all over their first two releases. Just learning the tune's melody is a serious challange. Now he fronts his own blues band and has released some serious records of his own.
4. All of these guitarists inspired me greatly, but Larry Carlton was one of the guitarists who led me to decide to move to Los Angeles to become a studio guitarist. I envisioned myself in the studio working for Quincy Jones or Steely Dan laying down solos that guitarists all over the world would later be trying to learn themselves. This hasn't really happened, so much for me being a prophet. Larry's solo on "Kid Charlamange" off the Steely Dan's Royal Scam CD is a standard must know. The way he weaves triad substitutions over the chord progression is pure genius. Probably one of his best solo's ever!
The Royal Scam
Kid Charlemagne
5. A remake of the song "Strawberry Letter 23" from the album Right on Time by The Brothers Johnson, two brothers who did a lot of studio work themselves, was a hit during the disco craze of the 70's. The syrupy groove alone makes this a tune to listen to, but LA session regular Lee Ritenour's take on Shuggie Otis' original solo is an otherworldly, echo/phaser-laden, triplet-16th note escapade that jumps out of the tune an into outer space. An excellent example of how effects can help make an "effective" solo. Lee's rhythm percolations are too coo as well.
Right on Time
Strawberry Letter 23
6. Jay Graydon was another session ace that influenced me. He did the classic solo on "Peg" from Steely Dan's Aja. Rumor has it that the duo of Fagen/Becker had already had most of LA's and New York's session aces in for a shot at "improvisational immortalization" When Jay, who they knew little of, walked in, sat down and played that gem on the first pass! Eventually he got involved in producing in the 80's and is best known for giving Manhattan Transfer and Al Jarreau their hit records. It's from one of those records that one of the most jaw-dropping solos I'd ever heard was recorded. On the song "Twilight Tone" from the Manhattan Transfer's Extensions album is a tribute to the 50's/60's television show Twilight Zone, he composes an astounding triple-tracked guitar solo that combines more than the stock stacked thirds Eventide Harmonizer type harmonies. He uses unisons, seconds, thirds, fourths and fifths, to bring the song from a subdued instrumental bridge back into it's percolating chorus.
Twilight Zone/Twilight Tone
7. The 80's saw a changing of the guard in the LA studio scene. While Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenour pursued solo careers, Steve Lukather (of Toto fame) became the go to guy. I bought some of the crappiest albums simply because Steve's name was on the credits. I transcribed and learned dozens of his solo's with Earth, Wind and Fire, Boz Scaggs, Olivia Newton-John (remember "Let's Get Physical"?), Quincy Jones and others. When I transcribed his solos I would often write "The Chaotic Stylings of Steve Lukather" at the top of the page, as if I was doing a dissertation. "Chaotic" was the best way to describe his style, especially for me as I was approaching his solos from a more traditional jazz/classical background. The solo that seems to epitomize his style the most was the modest hit by The Tubes "Talk to You Later". Many of the solo's lines are on played vertically up the neck, using only one or two strings at a time. At times you swear he's falling off a cliff! I talked to him about this solo at the NAMM show one year. He said it was the first pass but he wanted to do it again because the last note is out of tune. But they wouldn't let him. His advice to me? The same advice Carlton had given him, "Don't think, play."
Best of
Talk To Ya Later
8. I almost gave my life to the smokey Holiday Inn circuit because of one guitarist, Joe Pass. His album rightfully called Virtuoso features him and only him playing live. I thought "this is perfect, no more band squabbles", assuming I didn't become schizophrenic. His solo arrangement of the standard "Night and Day", well, let's see, I'm running out of superlatives here. Oh well, let's face it, it rocks! 
Night And Day
9. Albert Lee's record Hiding featured a song that later Ricky Scaggs had a hit with called "Country Boy". With the aid of an echo unit he creates a sell-all-your-gear- and-go-back-to-college solo. Eventually I nailed it out (in my 30's I think). I even had the audacity to play it for him a the NAMM show a few years ago to see if I had it right. There wa no amp handy so he had me play his guitar and he put the headstock to his temple to hear it. I was so nervous and didn't want waste his time so I played it about 20 ticks too fast. He smiled at me said, "I think you've got it."
Hiding/Albert Lee
10. I was working in a record store in Indy called aptly, The Record Company, when Christopher Cross' self titled record hit the shelves. Since I was planning on moving to LA to become the next Larry Carlton or Jay Graydon, it caught my eye since Larry and Jay both had two solos each on it. Before I'd heard even one tune on the radio I had it home and spinning. Nice solos by Larry and Jay, and Chris himself even did a respectable job on "Ride Like the Wind". However the solo that really caught my ear was the recording debut of some kid named Eric Johnson on "Minstrel Gigolo". His smooth style is unmistakable even as a kid. Didn't hear from him again for almost 10 years!
Christopher Cross
Minstrel Gigolo


  1. Hello, enjoyed your article! Any chance you have the Twillight Tone solo written down in tab or other notation? I'd really appreciate it!


    Christoffer Christensen, Denmark

  2. I don't sorry. I did see it years ago in a Jazz magazine. I may have it, if so I'll scan and post it.