MILLIONS OF AMERICANS SAW AL BONHOMME
accompany iconic country singer Dwight Yoakam on
The Tonight Show a few years back. Similar numbers
of people have also heard Bonhomme’s playing
on two of Yoakam’s recent albums. The Los Angeles based
guitarist’s most profound impact, though, may
be on the hundreds of students he teaches each year
at Musicians Institute in Hollywood. A master of
many styles (“everything from country to Western,”
jokes Bonhomme), the popular and never-too serious
GIT instructor teaches young guitarists to
land on their feet no matter what style they play.
Here, Bonhomme shares ten must-know approaches
every guitarist should have down if he or she harbors
any dreams of being able to play that blazing
style known as hot country.
Great guitar parts have been at the core of
country music since cowboys first began roaming
the prairies of Texas. And in this modern
age of green hair, nose rings, and tattoos on
your tattoos, little has changed. Any country
song you hear will have acoustic guitars strumming,
cool electric rhythm parts chiming, and,
more often than not, a blazing guitar solo played
by the likes of Brent Mason, Dan Huff, or Brad
Paisley, or a similar caliber guitar slinger.
When you get a gig in a typical country
bar, the song list can run the gamut from old
standards to the new rockin’ sounds of today’s
young artists. The guitar styles are so varied
and different, you’ve got to be on top of your
game to keep up. So when the bandleader
gives you the nod, you want to be able to rip
it up a little and turn a few heads on the dance
floor. To help you out a little bit in that
endeavor, here is a grab bag of hot country
licks you can use to survive the night in your
favorite honky tonk bar.
Ex. 1 Here is a bluegrass-stained idea in open position that you can use over an up-tempo two-beat kind of tune. Make sure your pull-offs are strong, even, and
distinct. Tip: It’s okay for some of the notes to ring into each other, as this creates a satisfying dissonance. The lick can be played with a pick, or, to get a little
more of that greasy clucking chicken sound on some of the notes, using a hybrid pick-and-fingers pick/pluck approach. Work this one up to breakneck speed,
and use it to impress the metalheads down at your local guitar store.
Ex. 2 Any country player worth a roll
of chicken wire has an arsenal of steelguitar
licks at his or her disposal. One
important thing that gives a steel guitar
its distinctive sound is the way one
note stays constant while another is
bent against it. This example is your
basic steel-guitar bend lick. Use your
ears to check your intonation on the
bends. You’ll need this move. Don’t
think for a second that you can survive
a night in a honky tonk without it.
Ex. 3 This is a variation on the previous
steel guitar lick. Hold the first bend
with your 2nd finger until it is released.
In bar 2, lift your 3rd finger off the
string to get the staccato ghost note.
The lick can be played slowly, or at a
faster chicken pickin’ pace. Ah, there
simply isn’t one great melody out there
that’s not worth “steeling”!
Ex. 4 Holding a lower note while bending a higher one can be a blood-curdling proposition for your fingers. In this example, use your 1st finger to bend the third
string while you hold notes on the fourth and fifth strings. The last bend is done with your 2nd finger while two lower notes are held. Make sure it all stays in tune.
This technique may take some getting used to. (Tip: Like all steel-inspired licks, it works best on fixed-bridge, non-trem guitars.) Also, you may have to experiment
until you find a way to get the right grip on the neck. To make it sound authentic, play this line at a slower tempo, and take your time on each bend so you
can squeeze every last teardrop out of it.
Ex. 5 This swampy sounding lick also makes use of your 1st finger for some funky bends. To get the most pop out of the notes, use hybrid picking, kick up the
tempo, and get greasy with that chicken pickin’ sound. It sounds great on a Tele plugged into a cranked up Twin—stir up that classic tone recipe, and even the line
dancers may listen to you on this one.
Ex. 6 This is your basic cascading lick in the key of G—a harp-like Gmajor
pentatonic scale, in this case. The idea is to use open strings whenever
you can and let the notes ring into each other whenever and as much as
possible. You will likely have to lighten up on your picking-hand attack
a little to avoid plucking the strings out of tune. Wanna be able to play
it super fast? (Correct answer: Yes.) Then start practicing it nowusing
Ex. 7 Like the previous example, this lick makes use of some cascading
effects, but ups the sonic ante by injecting some dissonance. Let the
open strings ring against the other notes. Work it up to a brisk tempo
and use it over a two-beat feel. Don’t hurt yourself on this one!
Ex. 8 How do you like your chicken done? This lick makes use of a classic chicken pickin’ effect that I call the Pick and Roll. You
pick the lower note, then roll your middle and ring fingers over the next two strings, and then you pick the low note one more
time. Play the notes staccato, muting the middle note of each triplet with the 2nd finger of your fretting hand. Good news: You
can play this one at a blistering tempo and actually sound like you know what you are doing!
Ex. 9 Here is another Pick and Roll idea; this
time over A7. It has you rolling over various
parts of an A7 (A9, to be more specific), intermingling
open strings and fretted notes. You
can play the notes smoothly, or with a staccato
effect; over a swinging rockabilly groove
or a jazzy tune.
Ex. 10 The use of double-stops—particularly
the Jerry Reed-inspired swampy kind—are a
natural on the guitar. They lay well on the fingerboard
and add a whole new funky, harmonic
dimension to the ears. As with everything you
learn on the guitar, make sure you transpose
ideas to different keys and registers. The idea
is to learn an idea and then morph it into your
own style and music. Remember, taking one
lick from somebody is stealing. Taking all their
licks is called research!