I’ve been a devoted Ernest Ranglin fan ever since the mid ’90s, when my friend/keyboardist Rob Burger introduced me to A Mod A Mod. This was a landmark experience for me—like hearing “Eruption” or Allan Holdsworth with Tony Williams, or Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant for the first time. Ranglin was born in 1932 in Jamaica, and he has played with Jimmy Cliff, Prince Buster, Duke Reid’s All-Stars, and Bob Marley. Though influenced by Charlie Christian, Oscar Moore, and Django Reinhardt, Ranglin’s style is completely unique—it sounds something like Django, but if Django were born in the Caribbean. Ranglin effortlessly weaves arpeggios, double-stops, and triple-stops with a simple beauty, and all together with a child-like playfulness that is delightful and astonishing.
A Mod A Mod was released on the Jamaican Federal label in 1966, and producer Richard Khouri successfully made a commercial-sounding record of reinvented cover tunes that frames and energizes Ranglin’s Guild guitar and Gibson combo amp. For me, the standout song is “Archie”—a ripping showcase for Ranglin’s right-hand tremolo and sophisticated melodic sense. He also delivers a unique reading of “Spanish Eyes.”
I managed to duplicate a few of Ranglin’s phrases on “Pie Party” that I recorded solo on my 2014 album, Dream Dictionary, as well as on “Awful Pretty, Pretty Awful” from Orange, where I employed ascending and descending thirds and sixths in an “a la Ranglin” style. Although Ranglin offers a wealth of great licks, in the big picture, what I’ve learned from him—and, similarly, Chet Atkins—is to never think I’m “above” a song. Every song has the potential to be great if one explores their artistry and imagination in an open-minded way. Basically, you should never fault the song.