Like Richard “Hacksaw” Harney in the blues, Cliff Gallup in rockabilly, and Lenny Breau in jazz, Jimmy Bryant was an exceptionally gifted but unsung guitarist. As the late Barney Kessel once commented, “Of all the guitar players I have known, Jimmy Bryant is the fastest and the cleanest.”
John Ivy “Jimmy” Bryant learned the fiddle from his dad, who would lock him in a room and beat him if he failed to practice. He did but one gig with Hank Williams before joining the Army in 1943, where fellow soldier Tony Mottola influenced his switch to jazz guitar.
In 1948, Bryant moved to southern California, where he landed bit parts in Westerns. Meanwhile, Leo Fender had taken note of his blazing solos and had him test out a prototype Broadcaster before presenting him with the first production model. In 1949, Bryant met steel guitarist Wesley W. “Speedy” West.They formed the Flaming Guitars duo and backed acts like Tennessee Ernie Ford, Johnny Horton, Gene Autry and Bing Crosby. The pair also recorded dozens of jazzy country instrumentals, such as “Stratosphere Boogie” and “Pickin’ the Chicken.” In 1967, Bryant cut a solo album, The Fastest Guitar in the Country, but he jarred with producers who asked him to turn down or “play down.”
FIGURE 1 shows a sprightly line similar to those Bryant played with West in their after-hours jams. Derived from the B major scale, it features the b3rd (D) as a passing tone in measure 1, as a grace note in measure 2, and as a blues note in measures 3 and 4.
Some of West’s less speedy licks have been arranged for six-string in FIGURE 2. Dig the hip triple stops relative to the B tonality: F#-C#-B (5-9-1) in measure 1 and its inversion, B-F#-C# (1-5-9), in measure 2. Measure 3 really tickles the ear with a triad quickly bent a half step for that edgy blues vibe.
FIGURE 3 also contains one of West’s pet licks. Notice that the bending of the b3rd (D) to the major 3rd (D#) followed by the root (B) is standard blues fare. Instead of executing this lick on strings 3 and 1, try dropping down one set of strings to create a slightly darker effect.
Bryant airs it out in FIGURE 4 with knuckle-busting 16th notes drawn from the A major scale. Note the subtle removal of the 4th (A) in measure 2, in support of the E major tonality. Let each high E string ring out as a pedal tone, and use alternate picking throughout.
Rake Bryant’s arpeggios in FIGURE 5, and note that flatting the E (the3rd) of the C6 chord to Eb (b7th of F) creates an F7 voicing. The rich 3rds dyads in measures 3 and 4 sound suspiciously like something West would play.