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Sunday, May 8, 2011

The solo—improvise or compose?

In the next session we’ll be recording a rumba blues version of Hound Dog that I’ve played for years. Whenever that swampy groove starts up, people smile. It’s a good-time break from all the heavy subject matter I tend to write!

Whenever I play it, I usually solo on slide for a few verses and just go nuts. These solos can descend into hilarious sloppiness or rise to profound levels of slide Nirvana—and it’s always a blast.

I am aware, however, that playing this live is one thing and having a permanent recording of fun-but-sloppy crap is another! I decided that instead of doing take after take and wearing the band out, I’d look for another way.

Some famous solos have been written in advance and are an integral part of the entire composition. Examples are, “When My Guitar Gently Weeps,” by the Beatles, solo by Eric Clapton; the finale of “Hotel California” by the Eagles, solo by Don Felder and Joe Walsh; “Something,” by the Beatles, solo by George Harrison; “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin, solo by Jimmy Page. I will often do this if the song calls for it, but Hound Dog is different. It needs to be free—but with form.

As an experiment, I created a verse-long drums and bass loop and soloed over it for about an hour. As I played, a dynamic structure emerged that carried the solo cohesively from beginning to end. My playing became more inventive and some really interesting ideas started to pop up.

I intend to do this every day, and when the session arrives, I sense that the solo will have organically found shape in the midst of freedom.

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