25 February, 2010

Alvin Lee

There's this really good video of Ten Years After doing their unique version of the classic song Good Morning Little Schoolgirl on YouTube (just watch it, it's great). I've been learning [this version of] this song, and I was hoping to get some hints on how to do the solo, which I'm pretty helpless about. I'm not good at picking things up strictly by ear (one of the primary reasons I've never considered myself a real musician), and I have a hard time working things out just by watching someone play, unless I can get a good look at what they're doing (and they're not going too fast). Unfortunately, live videos, as great as they are, aren't real good for musicians trying to pick out their individual parts. It would be boring if the camera just focused on the guitarist's fretboard, but if you want to figure out what he's playing, it doesn't help looking at his face, or at the drummer, or what the bass guitarist is playing.

Anyway, the performance of the song I linked above is nice and tasty. It's crisp, and concise. Alvin Lee is often criticized for "noodling", although noodling has always been a good thing in my book. There's a difference between noodling and meandering, by the way. The Grateful Dead meanders. Alvin Lee noodles. Granted, if you're not a big fan of the electric guitar (gasp!) I can imagine it getting kind of boring. Like those dragging drum solos (although I think I at least enjoy them more than the average listener, maybe because I'm a musician, even if not a drummer). But to me, a huge fan of electric guitar, I think noodling is exciting.

Still, it's hard to copy. It's a hell of a lot to tab out, and as much [deserved] respect Alvin Lee gets as a guitarist and among guitarists (and enlightened rock fans), he and the great band Ten Years After are not super popular, and tabs are sparse. Of course, you could take an Alvin Lee solo from the perspective (as "real" musicians undoubtedly do) of an improvisation in a certain key (or scale or whatever), in the Alvin Lee "style". Every [good] guitarist has their unique style, which, in the context of guitar solos, generally indicates certain types of licks that come up often. The more guitar solos I'm learning, the more I'm coming to understand this, and it's quite fascinating. Alvin definitely has his style, and I've learned some of those licks off of the tab of the intro to I'm Going Home that I scrounged up a while back.

But still, I'm not real keen on improvising a bunch of semi-accurate licks. If I was a much better player, and could pull it off impressively, I'd do it, but I'm not. At this point, it's akin to the ever-popular "hand-waving" technique in physics lectures. That's where you sort-of-explain a concept in vague terms because you don't really understand it yourself, but it's just enough to fool the people you're explaining it to. That's what it would be like to fake my way through a solo well enough to trick people into thinking it was effective. But it still wouldn't be on the level of an Alvin Lee solo. And I'm not interested in tricking people, I'm interested in getting better and learning how to play as well as the players I admire.

Coming back, yet again, to the video I linked above, what's nice about it is that - although I'm not bothered with noodling to start with - it is, as I said, concise. It's robust, and it's got everything it needs, including a nice 2:30 long solo, but it doesn't really have anything extraneous tossed in. And the solo just sounds great. It doesn't drag at all, it's just one melodic lick after another. And those are the licks I really want to learn. That's the kind of solo I'd love to be able to play on that song. Just like Alvin himself.

I don't know if there's even any chance of me figuring out what he's playing there. But I really want to.

No comments:

Post a Comment