Steve Cooper

guitarist educator arranger songwriter author

Riley B King

Electric Lesson

Riley B. King Backing Track, MP3 File & Sheet Music

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Performance Notes


Robben Ford is widely regarded as one of the finest musicians and educators in the field of popular music and, as well as an incredibly distinguished and successful career as solo artist, has performed with artists as diverse as Joni Mitchell, Yellowjackets and Tom Scott

I chose Ford’s own tribute to BB King, entitled Riley B. King, from his 2007 album ‘Truth’ as the basis for a electric guitar lesson as it features beautifully crafted chord sequences (a consistent feature of his writing) and some lovely solo sections that allows us to consider his approach to scalic ideas, phrasing and techniques. The track is also an excellent vehicle for improvising.

Riley B. King is arranged into a Verse (A), Chorus (B) format with the solo sections arranged around a two-chord vamp and there is also a small chorus refrain before the final outro solo. 

The chord sequence in both the A and B sections is broadly focussed around chords E, C#m and A with additional chords added to create a smooth voice leading effect. The chords are also played with the addition of some pentatonic fills that can be varied and improvised as the piece goes on. The chords are mostly played with the fretting hand thumb being used to grab the bass notes on the low ‘E’ string. This technique is one I favour and Ford also uses it here since it allows for additional notes to played as hammer ons and pull offs in the upper part of the chord, a technique Jimi Hendrix pioneered in work like ‘Little Wing’.  If you do not normally use your thumb in this manner it is worth persevering with to develop this valuable technique though you can certainly play these shapes in conventional fashion if you prefer. 

Solo 1 begins at 2.47 and I have broadly stuck to Ford’s original solo from the Truth recording as his phrasing and ideas are impeccable. The details are important here since how much vibrato is used, how hard you strike the string(s) and the microtonal aspects give a great insight into Ford’s approach as he doesn’t really stray from the (C#) minor pentatonic scale in a mostly ‘box’ position, yet he makes the ideas sound fresh and exciting. The chord vamp behind the solo is a classic ii - V7 (two/ five) in the key of E (C#m to F#7) and Ford is careful to avoid any Dorian scale reference in the main solo although in the improvised section that concludes solo one, he outlines chord tones much more overtly. 

After the final A and B sections are complete the chorus refrain is included here with the vocal line arranged on guitar and, as per the original, some improvised fills are included that are focussed around the E Major Pentatonic scale. The ‘open’ nature of this particular chord voicing (Eadd9/ A) is very effective and this kind of harmony is well utilised by guitarists such as Eric Johnson

The final, outro, solo begins at 5:08 and once again I keep to Ford’s original solo in the first half and then continue with my own improvisation in the latter half. The original version remains quite laid back and fades out, so when we recorded the backing track (check latest news for details of the session) it felt right to push harder and build the track to a bigger crescendo. As a result, my own improvised ideas are busier, helping to build that energy, but hopefully this shows aspects of my own style. I tend toward more dorian lines as well as pentatonic ideas here together with a number of bent double steps and some funkier right picking hand syncopations. Admittedly, the track moves away from its original feel in these latter stages but this will allow for a different approach to be explored in your own improvising.