Joe Dalton’s Big Twang
Chicken Pickin’ Rhythm
This month’s lesson is based in part on Scotty Moore’s rhythm on
Elvis’ “Mystery Train.” The quintessential rockabilly rhythm riff,
this lick has been quoted in many disparate songs and is a useful
riff that belongs in everyone’s arsenal. Listen to the late, great
Eddy Shaver’s blistering use of the riff on “Georgia on a Fast
Train” from his father’s 1993 album, Tramp on Your Street for a
glimpse at how far you can take it.
This part centers around an A7 barre chord while hammering up
from the flatted third to give the part movement and some blues-approved funk. Keeping the rhythm syncopated also contributes
to a sense of movement. The A on the E string can be played with
the thumb or while holding a barre with the first finger, but using
the thumb helps mute the unused A string, allowing the right
hand to concentrate more on feel rather than string skipping. The
open A string can also be used here, but makes it more difficult
to play the note staccato when needed.
Whichever way you choose to fret the shape, measure 9 moves
the part up to D for two measures before moving back to the A in
measure 11. Measure 15 moves to the V chord – the E – for two
measures which are then followed by a chord stab on the IV and a
full measure rest before going back to the I.
The key to nailing this riff is to listen to get a sense for the syncopation as well as the accents. Also, as with most things, the real
magic is when you add your own spin – don’t be afraid to play with
it. Try playing simple double-stops instead of fuller voicings; play
the E in the first position; you could even try it with some dirt.
Once you get it down, fight the urge to use it everywhere. The
part originated when drummers weren’t allowed on the Opry
– there was plenty of room for rhythmically complex guitar parts.
If there is a lot going on rhythmically, lay back. But when the
instrumentation is sparse, tear it up!