Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Yesterday's Papers

Revolution 9

When I first picked up the plank of wood I had the cheek to call a guitar, I hadn’t yet mastered changing from a D to an A and back again before I realised something was missing. I needed something, anything, to disguise the bum notes from the badly-played chords I was trying to strangle out of my instrument at parent-bothering volume through my wee practice amp. That something was the fuzzbox. What a revelation! I could play along to most of The BuzzcocksWhat Do I Get and mangle a passable version of Everybody’s Happy Nowadays, fire off Janie Jones from the first Clash LP and play almost all of The RamonesIt’s Alive LP, riff for riff and legs akimbo, just like Johnny. Look at me, I can play guitar! 1! 2! 3! 4! Gggzzzzzssss! Hey ho and indeed, let’s go. The intricacies of Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others and Blackbird were a long, painful way off, but that fuzzbox was the thing that spurred me on to those greater things.


Nasty Punks, Funk Off

Eventually tired of the fuzz and with ears open to a wider variety of music, that wee pedal was retired from duty, to be ressurected a couple of years later by better musicians. If you listen very carefully to One At A Time on the Trash Can SinatrasI’ve Seen Everything album, that same £20 fuzzbox gets a good workout from Davy Hughes’ bass guitar. Or so they tell me.

But that’s another story for another day. After mastering the complete works of Johnny Ramone and the odd Beatles tune and sickening myself by tying my fat fingers in knots whilst trying to unsuccessfully learn Johnny Marr’s best riffs, I spent a great many hours poring over the guitar parts on James Brown records.

brown nolen

The guys who played the best of them (Catfish (brother of Bootsy) Collins and Jimmy Nolen) were as yet unknown to me, but they were just as vital and exciting and talented as the three Johns. I could sit for hours and listen to I’ll Go Crazy but I’ve never yet quite mastered the fluidity of the riff. Sex Machine was the big one. The one chord groove was a bee aye tee see aitch to learn in those pre-internet days. Starting with the top string and working backwards to the bass, I held down all sorts of permutations of strings and frets until one day the funk planets aligned and my fingers fell on the strings and frets in the correct position. For any technically-minded musicians amongst you, the chord I was playing was an Eb9 (with a hammer-on on the 8th fret), although I was yet to know that. To me, it was the chord that unlocked the funk.


Using the 9th chord, Jimmy Nolen laid the foundation of funk. Stop/start slides from the 4th to 5th fret, pinky hammer-ons 2 frets above, muting the strings with his right hand to get the distinctive chicken-scratch sound, he’s the guitarist who anyone who’s ever played a note of funk guitar owes a debt to. James Brown changed his guitar players as regularly as you or I change our underwear, but from listening to the records you’d never know. All guitarists after Jimmy Nolen followed his distinctive chordings and ryhthm. Got a guitar to hand? Try it! Slide the same chord shape (above/below) up and down the frets and you’ll find all sorts of James Brown songs –  Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag. I Feel Good. Super Bad. Talkin’ Loud & Sayin’ Nothing. Soul Power. Persevere, you’ll find them all.

Get Up (Feel Like Being A Sex Machine)

e|--(start with an upstrum)----6-6----6---8--6----------6-6----6---8--6-----------------|
G|-----------------------------6-6----6-----------------6-6----6------(and repeat!)-----|

Stick on the wah-wah pedal and you can riff your way to funky oblivion like an extra in a 1975 episode of Starsky & Hutch. Sly Stone, no stranger himself to a 3-in-a-bed romp with a wah-wah and a 9th chord, got in on the act. His Sing A Simple Song is an absolute monster of E9 riffing (see tab below. S’easy!). Booker T and The MGs did their own Hammond ‘n 9th-heavy version. And Ike Turner quite blatantly/beautifully ripped it off for his ‘own’ Bold Soul Sister, a young Tina coming across like the less-vulgar wee sister of Betty Davis. I think even Led Zeppelin used it on Houses of the Holy‘s The Crunge, such is the chicken-scratching Jimmy Nolen-ness of it all. The 9th. It’s a well travelled chord. Kick out the jams and play it, brothers and sisters. Now that’s an order.

Sing A Simple Song (Play a simple riff…..)