See Steve's Hand-Written Solo Transcription
Nat Martin's guitar solo on:
"House of the Rising Sun"(Bert Martin-Georgia Turner)
This will probably be one of the more curious stories about just how something that, by chance, I happened to hear via YouTube ended-up claiming a spot at KHAN'S KORNER 1. But I suppose that during these very difficult and trying COVID-19 times, anything becomes possible. So, let me do my best to assemble this particular story for those who might be reading this. It was on Thursday, May 21st that I received an e-mail from London trumpeter/arranger Reuben Fowler asking some questions about the never finished/never released Steely Dan tune, "Kulee Baba." That song was one of four that I had played on during the original "GAUCHO" sessions from the late '70s. Sometime ago, I guess that a session rough mix, probably taken home, unethically, by an assistant engineer, had escaped and ended-up on YouTube. A fan sent it the link to me and it immediately brought back a lot of memories about what a wonderful song this was and the thrill of playing it with Jeff Porcaro, Chuck Rainey, and the great Don Grolnick. This little piece of history is made all the more remarkable because of Donald Fagen's really great scratch vocal - which was certainly never intended to be heard by anyone. Reuben had already recorded his big band arrangement of the tune, which sounded really great to me, and had incorporated some of the rhythmic elements that I had played on the 'original' track written for brass & reeds. But Reuben really wanted me to help clarify just what I had played on the rhythm - in some ways, it's not that easy to hear clearly - because the escaped recording probably came from an old cassette.
In my efforts to help Reuben out, I ended-up writing out my own lead sheet for the tune and lots of memories, musical and otherwise, came floating back to me. In his original e-mail to me, Reuben guided me to a one-minute video of the big band recording of his arrangement of "Gaslighting Abbie." A song that I had never heard before. Of all the wonderful musicians in the video and in the big band, the only that I had heard playing before, again via YouTube was guitarist Mike Outram - who is a superb player. But, after some thought, I realized that I knew the playing of both drummer Ian Thomas and bassist Laurence Cottle as well. That left keyboardist Ross Stanley - and so, once again, I went trolling around YouTube to see what I could find. And, lo and behold, there was a video of of Ross and his group, The Vornis Trio live at the Pizza Express in Soho, London. The video is really an edited pastiche of hi-lites. At about the 1:33 mark, I hear this guitarist singing the blues, he sounds really good - just as I remember British blues groups sounding in the '60s - yeah, I know, that was ages ago Steve!!! Then, at about 2:00, Nat Martin began to solo and, as a guitarist, he sounded even better than his singing. He had a great sound, touch, feeling, soul - yes, the whole package. And so, in my mind, I made note of this. And I asked myself the fated question: "Who is this guy?" More research ensued....
Well, this all led me to Nat playing "House of the Rising Sun" as part of bassist Stefan Redtenbacher's Funkestra, which also includes: Stevie Watts(Hammond organ) and David Leisser(drums). Once again, I was struck by Nat's soulful playing and sound, all in just 3:58. I immediately thought of a student of mine, who hails from the U.K. but has lived here in New York with his family for ages - and he's a real blues guitar fans - so I thought that he would love this in addition to the aforementioned Pizza Express video. Of course, my student loved both videos and Nat's playing and sound. So, as we have not been able to have any lessons during the pandemic, I decided to try to help him out some, and I transcribed Nat's 16-bar solo which brings us to why he are gather here now. It goes without saying that I really no longer transcribe anything - it's just too tedious for me at this latter stage of life. And, worst of all, I hate writing out blues or blues/rock or fusion style guitar solos because of all the bent notes and subtleties of taking liberties with the time. As I always do, I try to simply writing out what I thought that the player meant to play, even if it is not notated 100% correctly. Most really great players play with a laid-back feeling - a bit behind the beat - and that is on purpose - and it allows them the flexibility to be more aggressive with the time when needed.
Though there are several other versions of "House of the Rising Sun" that were recorded long before Bob Dylan did it on his debut album in 1962. As Greenwich Village folklore goes, Dylan had heard Dave Van Ronk singing the song and grafted Dave's arrangement and recorded it before Dave would eventually do it in 1964. But, of course, the big hit version was by England's The Animals featuring Eric Burdon in 1964, and Burdon says that he first heard the song being sung by Northumbrian folk singer Johnny Handle. It's interesting how the chord progression has grown and changed, even over short periods of time.
I hear Dave Van Ronk playing it, in another key, as:
I hear Bob Dylan playing it as:
Years later, The Animals played it as:
For this particular solo by Nat Martin, because the tempo is slow-ish and leaves room for what appears to be a lot of notes (though Nat's solo never really feels that way), I decided to write it out using only 2-bars per system. Normally I would try to always adhere to writing 4-bars per system. But here, I feel that this is the best way, the best look for this particular kind of stylized playing.
On the version we are speaking about today that features Nat Martin's great guitar playing, his actual solo is only 16-bars in length, if you count the 1-bar pick-up, but jam-packed with great ideas - and the bluesy feeling never leaves. The agreed upon chord progression for this version is a bit more sophisticated than the previous interpretations mentioned with the only really curious moment being in bar 7 when bassist Redtenbacher plays a 'G' which, at least to me, makes no sense at all. He follows that note by going up a 1/2-step to G#, which does make some sense as it is the 3rd of E7. Normally, this is where the chords would be: Am - E7 and back to Am turning the verse around for a 2nd go at it. Fortunately, it doesn't kill the whole performance - but, it was strange hearing that moment.
Nat Martin's solo begins with a classic solo blues break of 1 bar. For the 1st 3 beats of the pick-up, he is playing using the A minor blues scale[A, C, D, Eb, E, G] but on beat 4, he outlines a simple E7 arpeggio with the key note being G#(3rd) to set-up heading back to A minor and the beginning of the chorus. Because of the nature of this particular chord progression over our im chord, you would not expect to see any F-naturals [A Aeolian] or F#'s [A Dorian] played, over this chord, in this setting, other than as a passing tone or neighboring tone, they just would not sound good. However, over the 2nd chord, which Stevie Watts colors by making a C7(9sus) sound, which is usually written in musician's shorthand as Bb/C, and this sonority, does open itself up to brief touches of G Dorian [G, A, Bb, C, D, E, F]. And you can see/hear that Nat draws notes from that mode. In bar 2, instead of D or D7 to F, they are inserting a V7 of V, in this case, B7(#9) to E7, and over the B7 chord, Nat is back to the blues in Am. Over the E7 chord, once again, playing that G# clearly defines the harmony from the linear point-of-view. Then he comes right down the scale: E-D-C-B to land on A on the downbeat of bar 3.
At bar 3, over Am7, he continues in an A-blues area though with a scalar touch. This time, now over C7, he is back to using G Dorian on beat 3, but on beat 4, he goes right up a Gm7 [G, Bb, D, F] arpeggio. This takes him to the next chord change, Fmaj7 and here you could say that the nicest notes are going to be drawn from using the A minor pentatonic [A, C, D, E, G], which is hardly a stretch from our home base of A-blues. Over the E7 chord in the 2nd half of the bar, I really like Nat's usage of chromatic lower neighbor, D# to E which gives the phrase some real character. In bar 5, he takes a breath on beat 1 and then, via an A minor arpeggio he vaults upward to land on an F-natural as the Bb/C sonority arrives again. But from there, the common tones between G Dorian and A-blues taking him through to B7(#9), in bar 4, where we hear his first bent note, from C to D-natural, and then a nice grouping of 6-notes over the E7(#5). Notice how his phrasing is especially laid-back and behind the beat here - but I mean that comment in a most positive way. If it was played exactly as I wrote it out, it would feel very stiff and would not be 1/2 as expressive as it is.
In bar 7, Nat is climbing into his upper register, topping out at his high A-natural on the E-string, and this is precisely the moment where you hear Stefan playing that rather strange G-natural in the bass. To observe the E7/G#, Nat plays a line that present both the #9(G-natural) and the 3rd(G#). In bar 8, where the band gives us their little Am7-D7 turnaround played on beat 1 and the and-of-2. As the bar comes to close, notice that, over the D7(9), he plays his high G-natural down to F# and back up to A-natural. Because of the D7 chord, this is the moment where, to me, A Dorian [A, B, C, D, E, F#, G] does apply.
As the 2nd-half of this rather short chorus begins in bar 9, he uses a nice octave leap down from his high A, and when he goes back up, notice the nice hammer-on from D to E. These hammer-ons have been occurring, and they're all important phrasing touches, but this is the 1st one that I have pointed-out. But, all of the others are no less meaningful. Over the Bb/C, he begins a nice little motivic sequence using the 3rd and 5th of each chord that he is implying with his lines, even if the chord indications might be slightly different. So you have, Am7 - Bb/C - B7(#9) - (Bb/F) and then E7. In the 2nd half of bar 10, where you hear him continue the sequence down a 1/2-step and alluding to Bb7, which is, after all, the b5 substitute for E7. In a heartbeat, that E7 is right there, and the sequence concludes by outlining an E triad.
In bar 11, we have more blues-based material over the Am7 chord, and then, over the C7 chord, he vaults up again through a beautiful Gm7 arpeggio played in a grouping of 6 which lands him perfectly, as the chord changes to Fmaj7 in bar 12 on E-natural which was surrounded by both consonant neighboring tones, F and D-natural. Once again, the notes are derived from A minor pentatonic. But, once he has played that G#, which anticipates the arrival of the E7 chord, he's really just playing A-blues over E7 - which, of course, is going to sound great! After all, it IS a blues, right?
Nat hits bar 13 hard with a bent note up to A-natural that produces a great octave overtone that makes one think that it was somehow an octave higher than it actually is. This time, over the Bb/C chord in the 2nd-half of the bar, he continues to play in A-blues territory, made especially evident by the presence of that Eb. This is always where 'the blues" language enters into an inexplicable area where there can be some notes that, intellectually speaking, shouldn't sound great, and yet they do. It's pointless to try and figure out "Why?" It just is this way and has been for a long, LONG time!!! In bar 14, over the B7(#9) chord, he ascends using a B7b9 arpeggio: D#-F#-A-C up to a D-natural, while the bass note passes chromatically down through a Bb, on its way to A7(alt.). There is a nice Jazzy touch over this V7 chord and because of the notes: C#-Bb-A-G, you could say that Nat was implying one of two linear strategies going from V7 to i minor, those being: A altered dominant scale [A, Bb, C, C#, Eb, F, G] or D harmonic minor [D, E, F, G, A, Bb, C#]. The 2nd option is something that we might associate more with classical music, Bach for example. It just depends upon how the players views just where he plucking those 4 notes from.
From the theoretical side of things, and I have written about this on countless occasions here @ Korner 1, when one is playing over V7(alt.) to i-minor, your options for a linear approach over the V7 chord are a bit less than they would be if you were headed towards a Imaj7. The reason is this, going to minor, you want to avoid the natural 6th and the natural 9th of the scale. Here, heading towards Am over E7, you want to avoid playing F#'s and C#'s. That means this, generally speaking, you would not want to whole-tone scales: [E, F#, G#, Bb, C, D] or diminished scales: [E, F, G, G#, Bb, B, C#, D]. With regards to that C#, it's not a very pleasing sounding note when you are resolving to Am7, which contains a C-natural. The major 3rd can sound really awful just before resolution. However, in sharp contrast to that - I have heard players like George Benson and Michael Brecker use the diminished scale in such harmonic situations, but they blow through the chord change so fast that you almost don't notice that damn natural 6th or 13th!!! The way to know for sure, and you don't have to believe or trust in me, is to just play it and see what it sounds like!!! Your ears should tell you!!!
Bar 15, which is the last bar of this wonderful solo, lands us on a Dm7/A and because there are no B-naturals or Bb's it is not easy to define what the modality might be. But, I don't think that it would be the worst thing to describe it as D Dorian [D, E, F, G, A, B, C]. The final phrase over E7/B, again because of the notes: B-A-G#-F-E-D and the presence of that A-natural, I would that, this time, he is using A harmonic minor [A, B, C, D, E, F, G#]. No matter it's a very effective touch. From here, I scribbled out a reprise of their Intro [I2], here it is 4 bars long, which brings us back to restatement of the melody. If you're watching the video, don't quit on it after the solo and the melody, the ride-out contains some really great playing too. Don't miss it!
If Nat's guitar, as seen in these photos, and the video, does not look all that familiar to you, it's a Music Man(Ernie Ball) guitar from their Axis Series, probably their version of some kind of a bastardized Telecaster. I can't be certain as to whether or not Nat changed the pick-ups to hotter versions, but, I could be wrong about that too. His amp head seems to be some kind of Mesa Boogie head, and, after some consulting with my gear-hound friends, I learned that the speaker cabinet is Victory cabinet with 1 12" Celestion speaker - unless Nat had it customized and managed to squeeze in 2 of them? Whatever these tools might be, they sound great - PERIOD!!!
In the blurb for the YouTube video, it states the following: "I think guitarist Robben Ford was looking over our shoulder putting this one together." Well, even if Robben has been a big influence for Nat Martin - to me, Nat sounds like himself, and attacks the instrument and the blues the way one should do it. I can only send him a big salute, and one huge, "BRAVO!" from across the pond. Hoping that everyone continues to STAY SAFE & HEALTHY during these most difficult times.
[Photos: Nat Martin]