Kat Dyson

“Those are drum rudiments,” says Kat Dyson, as the action-packed chase music of her HBO soundtrack piece “Catch Me” pours forth from her MySpace page. No, Dyson’s not a drummer. The rudiments in question are in her adrenaline-soaked guitar part. And, as her regular work with Prince, Ivan Neville, Sheila E., Ziggy Marley, and other legendary groovemeisters would suggest, Dyson is one guitarist who can lock with the most slammin’ rhythm sections in mainstream music.

“Though it almost never happens, I love being put next to the hi-hat, because, in a funk situation, it gives me everything I need,” says Dyson. “But one problem we guitarists face on stage is that they often put us so far away from the drums, we can hardly feel the groove. That’s why I teach my students rudiments—it helps them stay solid no matter what the situation.”

For Dyson, a good pocket is “all about the accents.” For instance, fret the ordinary E9 chord in Ex. 1, and then launch into Dyson’s meaty, James Brown-style 12/8 pattern in Ex. 2. While a predictable down-up-down-up-down-up strumming pattern might be tempting, Dyson strums the triplet-sixteenths using the drummer-like down-up down, down-up-down pattern. In the case of this groove, the “accents” are the strums of the top three strings (first two eighth-notes of beats one through three). The non-accented notes are the muted strikes of the lower strings. A simpler demonstration of Dyson’s use of accents is the super-fly 4/4 octave strumming in Ex. 3, based on “Catch Me.”

“If you’re a guitarist, you really need to know how to hold it all together when the band drops out,” says Kat, who plays Ex. 4 to demonstrate her meaning. “This is based on Freddie Stone’s famous breakdown on [Sly and the Family Stone’s] ‘Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).’ I love this thing; it’s the best thing out there. It’s not clean—it’s sloppy and funky, and he just pounded that guitar—but everything you need is right here in this one lick.”

Of course, while intense, greasy grooves are indeed part of the Kat Dyson experience, the dynamic guitarist should not be pigeonholed as a funk player. The steel-string and slide tracks Dyson played on Cyndi Lauper’s The Body Acoustic are just one reminder of how numerous and deep her guitar talents are. “I still practice like crazy,” says Dyson, who has just formed an all-female group called C.O.E.D. with Rhonda Smith, Sheila E., and Cassandra O’Neal. “I like a wide range of music. I’m one of those girls that can eat Italian today, Indian tomorrow, sushi the next day, and be quite happy.”