If you’ve ever been humbled by the effortless speed and harmonic fluency of our string-slinging siblings south of the Mason-Dixon line, you’re in good company. So universal is the admiration among shred masters for their flatpickin’ and fingerpickin’ brethren that country-inflected radio rock tunes like Van Halen’s Finish What Ya Started comfortably share iPod space with the striking industrial-country fusion of players like John 5. Then there are the bona-fide switch hitters like Eric Johnson and Steve Morse, whose dual citizenship in roots and rock essentially moot the question. Suffice it to say that a healthy fear of country skillz is an integral part of the shred psyche.
Such fear was instilled in me at a young age, when a chance guitar magazine purchase produced a small floppy 45rpm insert containing a recording of Albert Lee’s Fun Ranch Boogie. This was a fearsomely funky uptempo barnyard shuffle that, for all my accurately mimed Van Halenisms, I simply couldn’t touch. Who was this guy? Of course by that point Albert was already a first-call name in industry circles, having toured with everyone from the Everly Brothers to Emmylou Harris. But earning one’s notoriety as a sideman, and a British-born rockabilly and country sideman at that, was not necessarily the fast lane to a poster on my teenage bedroom wall.
Nevertheless Fun Ranch Boogie quickly made the rotation as a warmup exercise, albeit one I was reluctantly never capable of nailing. Years later, the floppy record and its accompanying tablature are long gone, but I can actually play the thing — or, more correctly, what I remember as the first two verses of the thing. I actually own a copy of Albert’s Warner Brothers instructional video Highlights, which features a live performance of the full song. But I’ve become content enough in my own impressionistic rendition that I’ve resisted the urge to tab out the real McCoy. I also suspect that FRB is an improvisational effort for Albert as well, making my own reworking of the piece spiritually if not sonically faithful.
The tab below reflects the way I play the tune in the accompanying video, which is merely one of the many of ways I’ve worked it out over the years. For this lesson, I played through the verses a couple of times, settled on a collection of phrases that seemed to work, and hit record on the camcorder. What you see above, and here below, is that rare species of improvisation — a first-take recording. Duly forewarned, sink your picks into the raucous recollection of countryisms I think of as Fun Ranch Boogie:[tabdiv soundcloud=”https://soundcloud.com/troygrady/20-funranch” editor=”false”]
options space=50 font-size=12 font-face=Georgia font-style=italic
text .0, Apologies for the missing tabs — translation to new and improved versions in progress…, , , , , , , , |
We could do a note-by-note analysis of FRB, but that would be missing the point. Most likely, what you really want to know is how to compose or improvise solos in countrified Lee-like fashion. And sometimes, focusing the scanning electron microscope on every pickstroke can obscure that bigger picture. So let’s proceed by identifying the standard ingredients of hot country pickin’ as exemplified by this particularly smokin’ example. Thanks to the fairly structured nature of FRB, and country playing in general, this is easier to do than you might think.