In this installment, I’ll discuss Ritchie Blackmore, the great British guitarist from Deep Purple and Rainbow. The first one is a lick from “Gates of Babylon”, on Rainbow’s “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll” record in 1978.
The second lick I’ll show you is from Rainbow’s “Death Alley Driver”, from their
“Straight Between the Eyes” record in 1982. On to the licks!
#1 “Gates of Babylon”
This lick has a very exotic, Middle Eastern sound to it. Here, Ritchie uses the E Phrygian Dominant scale, played over (mostly) an E pedal tone in the bass. The Phrygian Dominant scale is the 5th mode of the A harmonic minor scale. So, all that means is that you take an A harmonic minor scale pattern on the guitar, and play licks that revolve around an E note instead of an A note. For your reference, the notes of A harmonic minor are:
1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7 1
A B C D E F G# A
As you can see, I also numbered each note relative to the A major scale. If you struggle to fully understand this, it’s time to lock down your major scale understanding! More on that in another article.
When we start it from the E note, and relate it to the E major scale, we find out what makes the scale special…
1 b2 3 4 5 b6 b7 1
E F G# A B C D E
There are 2 things that stand out to me in this scale.
1) The 1/2 step between 1 and b2 gives it a nice tension
2) The unusual 1 1/2 step gap between the b2 and the 3 gives it a nice tonality. Play around in these areas and you’ll like what you hear!
The lick starts on 1 of the scale (E), and Ritchie applies some pretty aggressive vibrato to the note. He follows that up with a really quick hammer on/pull off combination, and then goes into a 1/2 step bend on the 11th fret. Then he shifts back to the 8th fret with his 3rd finger, and works into a 16th note pull off combination with the b2, 3 and 4 of the scale, ending with a 2 whole step bar dip on the 9th fret G# (the 3rd of the scale) down to the root. If all those words are hard to follow, check it out on the video – it’s only a 5-10 minute video.
“Death Alley Driver”
For this lesson, we’re going to take a look at “Death Alley Driver”, a track from Rainbow’s “Straight Between the Eyes” record from 1982. The lick occurs at the 2:24 mark of the song.
This song is in the key of A minor. A minor is the relative minor key to the key of C major. It’s important to recognize that all the notes used in this lick are from the C major scale (A natural minor scale = C major scale). Even though all the notes in the lick are from the C major scale/A natural minor, it will helpful for your vocabulary development for me to relate these notes to the chord that they’re occurring over. In other words, if we’re playing an E note over a D minor chord, I would refer to that as a 2, since it’s the 2nd note in the key of D. If we’re playing that same E note over the A minor chord, it becomes a 5, since the E note is the 5th note in the key of A. The harmonic context is important in understanding why a lick sounds the way it does. That’s the general background information for this song/lick. Now on to the specifics…
The lick occurs at the 2:24 mark in the song. It starts on a D minor chord, which is the iv chord in the key of A minor. The first 5 notes of this lick are simply an ascending D minor arpeggio (1-D b3-F 5-A), with one added note – the 2 (E). This is a great sound, and you should explore it all over the neck – first in the key of D minor, then eventually in other keys. Bone up on your basic theory if you’re not sure how to do this. You need to master the ability of quickly finding notes all over the neck, as well as understanding how to construct basic scales/chords/arpeggios using those notes. Anyway, I digress…
After getting to the top of the arpeggio at the 7th fret/3rd string (the 5th note of the lick), he continues to ascend up the 2-b3-4 (when related to the D minor chord) portion of the scale. Once he gets up to the G (the 4) on the 8th fret, he immediately bends the note up a whole step, then applies the whammy bar to it (Hard!). That’s the end of the portion of the lick that occurs over the D minor chord. Now, the chord progression shifts back to the A minor chord.
He starts the lick on the 5th fret E note in the 3 measure, which is a 5th over A minor. At this point, he starts a mostly descending lick, which ends on the 1 of the chord (A). However, he does a nice 16th note pull off combination from the 6th fret F (b6) to 5th fret E(5). As I mentioned in my previous article on Ritchie Blackmore, the 1/2 step between 5 and b6 in a scale is a nice tension. This applies whether we’re talking about E Phrygian Dominant as in “Gates of Babylon”, or whether we’re talking about a basic minor scale, as in A natural minor. As you begin to pay attention to “the numbers” (harmonic context), you’ll start to develop a sense of what notes will sound good to your ear. After all, that’s what it’s about – developing sounds that sound good to YOUR ear.
Extra Credit Exercise
Here’s an advanced technique you can try. It’s great if you just learn the lick as it is, but what if you “switch roles”?
Here’s what I mean…
If you analyze the notes that Ritchie plays over the D minor with the numbers of the scale, I get – 1 2 b3 5 1 2 b3 4 bend to 5. Now that I’ve analyzed it, I can find those notes for the A minor chord, and play them over A minor as well. Here’s how it breaks down in A minor:
1(A) 2(B) b3(C) 5(E) 1(A) 2(B) b3(C) 4(D) 5(E)
Here’s a tabbed example of that line over the A minor chord:
5(A) 4(G ) 5(A) b6(Bb) 5(A) 4(G) b3(F) 2(E) 1(D) 2(E) b3(F) 2(E) 1(D)
I hope you learned something from that. One of the things that I hope to show you in this 100 guitarist series is that you can exponentially increase your musical vocabulary by thoroughly exploring 1 lick/phrase at a time.
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