Thoughts on crosspicking and blues licks


#1

So, I was thinking about this the other night - when I joined CtC, I didn’t know it, of course, but my picking approach was a rather rough mashup of cross-picking and probably a bit of upwards slanting/escaped downstrokes. One of the common threads around here is you tend to unconsciously solve a lot of problems that you spend a lot of time trying to play, so it would stand to reason that if I had any aptitude at all at crosspicking, however bad, then it must have been because I was playing things where that was the most reasonable solution.

And sure enough, I remember being kind of dumbfounded when I saw this closeup of Jimi’s playing, because there’s a very standard Jimi/SRV/Albert King blues lick he plays here that I was surprised to see he was sweeping - I’m not going to tab it, but in E it would be a full step bend on the 14th fret, followed by the 12th on the B and then 12th on the E, and then usually something else afterwards - for Jimi, then bending the 15th on the B as a unison against the 12th E would be common (think “Highway Chile”) or maybe a 15th pulled off to 12th on the B for a repeated whirlwind-y sort of lick (all over the place in his playing).

Video in this thread:

I really got my start playing blues as a teenager before I got into shreddier stuff, so I spent a LOT of time playing variations on this motif, and that three note 4-bent-to-5, 5, octave motif is still something that’s all over the place in my playing. And I was aware that SRV in particular did a lot of raking in his playing, so looking at it as a raked pattern was definitely something I’d tried at one point, but I think I can remember feeling like I never felt all that good about the timing on that and it was always too loose. So, this is something that I would always try to alternate pick.

The irony is that now that I can see Jimi is raking or sweeping this, it clearly sounds better and “flows” better with a sweep than three picked notes - it’s a little looser, but hey, this is blues, and it’s not supposed to be about machine gun precision. But, I suspect all that time trying to play this picked kinda forced me to develop a double-escaped pickstroke, even if I was never all that good at it.

Anyway, I think this kind of stuff is interesting - what you can or can’t do today can provide interesting insight into what you prioritized in the past, in ways that aren’t always readily obvious. Just figured I’d share some musings…


#2

That pattern, which really does need to be given a proper name because of its ubiquity, can be played with two way escapes, down stroke on the bend on the G string, and then what used (or still is) to be called two way pickslanting on the single notes, inside picked, generally with a pull off on the 15 to 12 fret on the B string.

If you sweep or not you always have the choice whether to let the notes on the G, B and E strings ring together or mute them with the left hand.

It’s variations on that pattern which Stevie Ray Vaughan plays on Scuttlebuttin’, which is hybrid picked with open strings.

I think Jimi Hendrix would have played alternate picked and swept versions, because there is a long recording of Red House where he play this lick twice very quickly and it sounds to me with the level of attack he gets that he is alternate picking, really digging into the strings to get that the maximum thwack.

If you want a variation of this to try (and you don;t already know it), bend the 14th fret G string up a step, then holding that bent note play the 12 fret on the E string and the 15 fret on the B string, all ringing together, then let the third string bend slowly be released, all the notes still ringing together.


#3

Yeah - I mean, I’ve always alt-picked this, but the overall feel seems more Jimi-like if I rake/sweep it.

And I couldn’t count the number of variations on this motif I’ve played over the years - I’m not really a big “lick” guy so I tend not to play fixed, repeatable groups of notes while playing but rather string together whole long lines out of little smaller chunks, and that three note chunk is one I definitely get a lot of mileage out of. That, the pedal steel variation where you fret both the 15ths, something I picked up from a harmonica solo I worked out on a Tom Waits tune where you’re playing the 15th on both the G and B and bending the G a little sharp, a whole bunch of SRV-inspired variations, ending with a bent 15th on the E and letting it scream as it works up to the G# before biting it off stacatto… Doing variations of the same motif but on the lower strings (I actually really like the “Sky is Crying” motif SRV does on the low strings, bending the 4th sharp on say the A string and then hitting the root on the D).

Never tried this hybrid, but I’ll give it a look. Which version of Red House are you thinking of, if you can point me to it? I’d be curious to check it out. :+1:


#4

The pattern I put on above I’m told is a favourite of Keith Richards.

The Hendrix version I’m thinking of, which I hope I’ve remembered correctly and it contains the piece I recalled it containing, is from the 4 CD set The Jimi Henrix Experience, disk three track seven, Red House recorded live at San Diego Sports Arena May 25th 1969.

I don’t think there is anything on this blog site looking at rakes as opposed to sweeping. There is a moment on Robben Ford’s Rig Rundown where he is about to explain how he changed from one way of raking to the other but then his sound engineer and interviewer interrupt him and the conversation goes elsewhere. That version of Red House above has one phenomenally abrasive rake near the beginning, and if anyone has anything to say about the best way or ways to play raked notes, pick slant, tilt, force and whatever, chip in below.


#5

I’ll try to hunt that down, thanks!

Hmm. You know, I’ve never really thought much about how a sweep and a rake differ, and theoretically they do seem awful similar, yet they DO seem like they’re separate things - at a minimum they certainly seem to SOUND different to me. Maybe rakes aren’t explicitly rhythmic and are more ghost/pickup notes? Idunno. That doesn’t seem entirely fair though because some of that SRV stuff I had in mind is definitely played loosely in the pocket rather than as a slurred pickup.


#6

I listened to Machine Gun from Band of Gypsys and at about the 7 minute point when Jimi changes from an overdriven to more distorted sound I think he is sweeping that lick with the bend on the third string, one note on the second and first strings and the pull off back on the second, the circular sweeping pattern you outlined above.

So I looked at my tab book for Woodstock, and I’d say he’s alternate picking that similar pattern in the Fire solo.

So I got my guitar out and my practice amp set at the smallest amount of gain and tried that phrase with as many types of picking stoke I could think of.

Cross picking it works, two way slanting works, sweeping the first two strings down and then sweeping next two strings up works, sweeping down for three strings and then sweeping up on the pull off works. Using all down strokes also works as does all up strokes, but these is slower. But the sounds on some patterns are different from others.

Then I tried just the bend up at the 14th fret 3rd string followed by the 12 frets on the B and high E strings repeated a number of times, and I found to get the best sound and speed cross picking with down up down then up down up seems fastest along with all down sweeps, but all down strokes or all up strokes picked individually is doable.

So I think it’s a tone thing, but you are right to say he does use sweeping because I think that gives a smoother, more liquid tone which you will not get with cross picking the same phrase.


#7

I’ll see if I can get a few minutes to pull up that recording tonight and grab a guitar and do the same.

I think this is a fascinating rabbit hole we’re going down, for what it’s worth, and it killls me that Jimi isn’t with us any more, because I’d love to know if 1) he was even aware he was playing this in different ways, and 2) if he was, if it was a conscious decision.


#8

Just before my video player finally gave up, I watched back a TV documentary I’d recorded in the late 1990s on the making of Electric Ladyland (not Electric Landlady as the first press of the record came back before release!), and Chas Chandler says although Jimi had “these massive hands” when it came to playing the guitar “he didn’t half work at it”.