You may recognize Josh Zee from such bands as Protein, the Mother Truckers, the South Austin Moonlighters, or his current blues band Mojo Rising. If you do, you know him to be a countrified blues-rock badass who combines Van Halen swagger with B.B. King soul. His greatest gift seems to be playing fresh, unusual licks over seemingly run-of-the-mill changes. Let’s dissect how he attacks a I-IV in G. Giddy up.
He starts out with a G major lick based around a seventh-position G grip (the D-shaped triangle one). This sets up the high-energy triplet feel that will permeate and pervade this solo. Lean into that A bend as the IV chord hits. That’s the VI of the C chord and will be a recurring motif. Zee tags the Bb on the pre-bent B string, but I’ve notated it on the E string to let those two notes rub together in a nasty, dirty way. Your choice. (Hint: make it dirty.)
He then launches into a blazing G blues scale series of triplets, and when you get to the Bb on the G string, bend it up—somewhere between a quarter- and a half-step—toward the B. Anytime there’s a pause, like at the end of this phrase, fill it with greasy slides up and down the neck. Hell yeah!
The next section is particularly cool. With a crazy fingerstyle picking pattern, Zee outlines three of the four notes of a C7 chord, but he’s playing them over the G chord. “It basically creates a Gm6 tonality,” Zee explains, “because you’ve got the Bb and the E on top. The E gives it a more major sound, which I really like. I love soloing in major keys more than minor keys, because you can jump back and forth between major and minor much more easily than if you start with a minor scale. It’s got a really cool, ear-bending quality.” This superimposition of a C7 over a G backdrop might not seem like it would work, but it works brilliantly. This is easiest for me if I use a strictly index-finger-and-thumb approach (Zee uses thumb and middle finger), but if you prefer to nail it with pick and fingers, go for it. Lay your first finger across the 12th fret and use your second finger for the C (13th fret of the B string) that anchors the IV chord that follows. This is an incredibly funky lick that will turn heads at your next blues jam, guaranteed.
Zee ends this 16-bar barn burner with another G blues scale lick, this time in the 13th position. “I see that box that’s right behind the standard G blues box as being one of my go-to positions for blues licks,” he says. “It makes that bend from the Bb to the C easier, because you can use your third finger for it.” He finishes it all up by tagging a sweet G major dyad. Check out the accompanying video at guitarplayer.com and get these licks under your fingers. You’ll be glad you did.
This lesson was made possible by the brilliant programs Transcribe (for slowing down the licks) and Sibelius (for notating them).