I admit that I wasn’t a fan, neither did I dislike his playing, but I never really looked deeply into it. Listening back to Rickie Lee Jones’ Pop Pop’, I was interested to see research Robben Ford’s playing as a sideman. Being a Joni Mitchell fan, I started there. Ford is the electric guitarist on “Miles Of Aisles” a live album from 1974. It’s an album that I kinda have skipped.
Robben Ford playing is great on that album, discreet when it needs to, but he can take the spotlight when required.
The version of “Woodstock” on that album is great, it almost sounds like it was arranged by Steely Dan. Robben Ford intro solo is really cool : here it is
The intro is mainly a call / response section between a riff from the band and guitar licks. The band is playing a power chord of E. But all of Ford’s phrases gravitate around Bm pentatonic.
Why does that work ? It’s a classic ‘modern jazz’ trick : if you think of your E major mixolydien scale that you use over E7, it’s a 7 note scale,
E F# G# A B C# D
but you can construct ‘smaller’ 5 note scales (pentatonic) with it, that are gonna be called differently.
A B C# E F# is A major pentatonic or F# minor pentatonic
B D E F# A is D major pentatonic or B minor pentatonic
By playing those scales instead of the full E Mixo scale, you leave out notes and put the emphasis on others: for example both A and D pentatonic leave out the major 3rd. A pentatonic uses the 6th, D pentatonic uses the 7th.
So when you play D pentatonic / B min pentatonic : you spell out a E 7 sus4 9. It’s a quite sophisticate sound, yet you play a simple melodic device: a pentatonic scale.
And the beauty of it, is that all your ‘minor blues pentatonic’ licks will work, and all of a sudden they gonna sound more ‘sophisticate’, more ‘jazz’, ‘mo hippa‘ … It’s a great thing to put in your ‘bag of tricks’.
I won’t do the whole history of how this cool harmonic thing happened and who uses it and where : it’s too big a subject for my small blog. I’ll just say, look into McCoy Tyner’s playing, Chick Corea and Michael Brecker for clear and well documented examples.
That’s all for today, thanx for reading, take care.