"I wanted to develop my own style, and I spent a lot of time working on my strengths, and the things that would make me different,” she says. “Stevie was my gateway to this style of music, but I never wanted the same amp and guitar he had, or to try to sound like him.”
This is abundantly clear on the 12-bar Texas shuffle instrumental, “Wiggle Room,” where Morvan quotes classic Texas and Chicago riffs in the head, but then struts her own stuff in improvised solos with pugnacious double-stops and tightly coiled serpentine runs.
Adding to Morvan’s freshness is her tone, which tends to be far less distorted, and more refined than most of her contemporaries.
“To play cleaner requires more technical proficiency, because you don’t have the overdrive of the amp to sustain notes,” she explains. “I practice a lot with my ’56 reissue Fender Strat unplugged in order to just hear the strings on the guitar acoustically.”
Morvan also uses a hybrid picking style with a flatpick held between her thumb and index finger, in conjunction with her middle and ring fingers.
“Chicken pickin’ feels really natural to me with the coordination I have between my fingers,” she says. “Maybe that’s because playing both drums and flute in high school helped me develop the rhythmic interplay between my hands. If I break a nail on the middle finger of my picking hand, however, I can do the chicken pickin’ just with the flatpick, because I always practice both ways.”
Morvan’s skill at this technique—as pioneered by early hot country pickers such as James Burton in the ’50s—makes an appearance on “Where Are the Girls with Guitars” via fleet Southern-fried licks the late Danny Gatton would have admired.
“I do play with a combination of down and up strokes,” she says, “but I don’t just play rapid-fire, alternate-picked notes. It depends on what you’re trying to get, because sometimes you just need three or four down strokes in a row for a heavier sound.”
When reminded that the late Jerry Garcia once said he practiced so that his up strokes were equal in volume and sound to his down strokes, Morvan replies, “Well, everyone strives for a certain evenness, but the flipside of that is I don’t necessarily want every single note to sound exactly the same. If I did, I’d probably just program some synthesizer to play the part [laughs].”
Morvan also worked on improving her left-hand fretting technique, although not by doing mindless finger calisthenics.
“I think I really got stronger from just playing. For instance, I’ll barre a Bb chord where my index finger is on the 1st fret of the fifth string, and play a Chuck Berry rhythm [strums 5ths and 6ths on the fifth and fourth strings], as it’s a bit of a stretch for me to reach the 5th fret on the fourth string with my pinky. It’s always more fun for me to play a song—or part of a song—rather than some arbitrary exercise.”
With so much emphasis on chops these days, however, Morvan cautions against losing sight of the importance of playing with taste, and telling a story within a solo.
“When you go to an action movie, you don’t have machine guns firing non-stop throughout the whole thing,” she says. “A listener does not want to be assaulted, per se. In the hard rock bands I like—such as AC/DC and Guns N’ Roses—there is an ebb and flow to the solos. It’s very important to step outside yourself, and listen to what you’re playing. Record or videotape your shows, and determine if what you’re playing is interesting or not. Because if you’re bored, that’s a terrible sign!”