Blues You Can Use: Tough Talk

With the boogaloo still lingering in your ears (October ’15), let’s continue examining the funkier side of the blues.
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With the boogaloo still lingering in your ears (October ’15), let’s continue examining the funkier side of the blues. I had the recent honor to teach alongside Chuck Rainey at his first Rhythm Intensive Bass Camp in Nashville, and his words of wisdom (and music) are still running through my head. One point he emphasized was how he uses the 1–5–1 or 1–5–8 shape as the melodic foundation of his style. He also said he approaches the bass like a “tuned drum,” using Latin rhythms like the baion to create his trademark bouncing funk feel. Coincidentally, this month’s bass line is a perfect example of exactly that. In 1966, Rainey was playing with R&B sax legend King Curtis, and the album Live at Small’s Paradise documents a tightly knit combo performing with energy that can’t fabricated in the studio. On “Tough Talk,” Chuck’s bass is upfront and in the pocket, with the occasional swell of distortion from digging in on his Fender Precision Bass strung with La Bella Flats—probably played through an Ampeg B-15.

“Tough Talk” is a funky boogaloo 12-bar blues with a unique final cadence that grabs your ear while it’s groovin’ you to death. Chuck plays something similar to Ex. 1 for the instrumental melody choruses, using the root to the higher 5th to the lower 5th, with a rhythmically active clave pattern. The pattern’s placement on the fingerboard gives the middle-register notes extra thickness and easy access to the high F on the G string, which is well used here. The basic pattern suggests more than one part: a baion on beats one and two, and a conga-like response on beats three and four. (The feel is highly reminiscent of James Brown’s “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” which was released one year earlier.) The final cadence catches you off guard at first—instead of the predictable V chord, it cuts to the jazz-influenced descending line #IV–IV–bIII–II, creating release when it settles on the V chord and resolves back to the I.

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Example 2 is close to the line Rainey plays under the solos, a mambo-infused pattern that uses the high F on beat two like a high conga, answered by the middle and low drums later in the bar. He plays a major triad over the IV chord in bar 5, but maintains the same rhythm until the final cadence. This performance is a great example of early cross-pollination of blues, R&B, and jazz, and the entire record is a must-listen for any Chuck Rainey fan (which I assume means everyone). It also serves as a perfect segue to the shift in direction this column will now take.

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Blues You Can Use first appeared in the November ’11 issue of Bass Player, and it has ranged from basic blues instruction, to style studies of significant players, important tracks, landmark artists, and a look at some of the myriad variations the genre holds. I haven’t said everything there is to say about the blues or blues bass playing, but I’ve shared what I could from my own years of experience playing the music and teaching. It’s time to move on—but we’re not going far. As of next month, this space will be occupied by R&B Gold, a look at the classic period of rhythm & blues music from the 1940s through the 1970s. The focus will range from practical concerns such as repertoire, technique, and “period correctness,” and we’ll also study the key players, examine aspects of regional feels, and hopefully discover lesser-known players and tracks that I should have known about long ago! See you next time with some R&B Gold.



Ed Friedland plays, writes, and teaches out of his bass base in Nashville.