Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Art of Dying

 Art of Dying
(George Harrison)
From the George Harrison album All Things Must Pass

Radle’s bass line on “Art of Dying” is, characteristically, simple, repetitive, and supportive. The song begins with a 4-measure guitar intro. The band comes in at measure 5 with a descending melodic line over an A minor chord. Radle keeps this anchored by repeating the same one-measure riff six times until the harmony finally reaches an E7 chord. 


Carl Radle Art of Dying George Harrison bass transcription

On the verses, Radle plays primarily on the off-beats. His line is mostly root notes, with occasional passing tones, but the syncopation, accenting the “and” of each beat, builds a great deal of tension. This tension is finally released when he settles into a more regular rhythmic pattern in the last four bars of each verse, once again emphasizing the beat rather than the off-beat. 


Carl Radle Art of Dying George Harrison bass transcription

Radle makes a mistake in the transition from the end of the first verse into the second, landing on E on the downbeat of m. 33 instead of A (at approximately 1:00 in the recording). He quickly leaps up to A, but doesn’t reestablish his syncopated pattern until m. 34. It seems that little slip threw him off for a second, because he makes another mistake in m. 35. Just looking at the transcription, or even playing it, nothing seems wrong. But if you listen to Carl in the recording, he hits that G on the “and” of beat 2 and releases it suddenly and awkwardly. It’s not really a bad note, it just seems like it wasn’t what he meant to play. 

Carl Radle Art of Dying George Harrison bass transcription


Those little mistakes were certainly not significant enough to render this recording unusable. It just shows that the energy and feel of a performance is more crucial than 100% accuracy. If this had been recorded today, those errors likely would have been fixed in editing, but in the 1960s and 1970s, recording was done on tape. If someone messed up, often it meant that the whole band would have to redo the entire take. Thus, performance mistakes were much more common in recordings in the pre-digital age.

And now, a bit of speculation for fun…

Another item of interest is the groove Radle plays for the interlude in mm. 73-78 (starting at approximately 2:15 in the recording), which uses the same progression we heard in the intro. Radle again plays a one-measure pattern, but it is different from the line he played in the intro. This may not seem significant, but it is actually extremely atypical for Radle. In a section like this, usually he would have a set line he is going to play, and play it the same way each time that section appears. This alternate groove sticks out and makes me wonder if it was a mistake and he just went with it, or if he was still experimenting with the bass line and was just trying out a different option. 

Carl Radle Art of Dying George Harrison bass transcription


The latter scenario seems somewhat difficult to believe. The rest of this bass line has been worked out so well. His line on the bridge (mm. 53-68) is carefully constructed, to the point that it is being doubled by a guitar. Even comparing the last four measures of each verse (mm. 29-32, 49-52 and 97-105), a section that would lend itself to improvisation, Radle is very consistent in what he plays. So what happened in these other spots? 

This alternate groove in mm. 73-78, along with the minor stumbles in mm. 33-35, are interesting artifacts in Radle’s playing. Mistakes in and of themselves are not interesting. Everyone makes mistakes. You can hear mistakes in many recordings from this era. But the alternate groove in mm. 73-78 may not have been a mistake. It may have been a deliberate choice. And while it is an okay choice, it is an unusual choice for Radle. And when studying a bassist’s playing style—as is the purpose of this blog—investigating and questioning atypical choices can help shed light on the typical choices the player makes.

Carl Radle Art of Dying George Harrison bass transcription

Carl Radle Art of Dying George Harrison bass transcription

Carl Radle Art of Dying George Harrison bass transcription

Carl Radle Art of Dying George Harrison bass transcription

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Hear Me Lord

 "Hear Me Lord"
(George Harrison)
From the George Harrison album All Things Must Pass

George Harrison kicked off his post-Beatles solo career with a bang, releasing the epic and exquisite All Things Must Pass. Being allotted only two songs per Beatles album, Harrison had built up an extensive backlog of songs from 1968-1970. Thus, when it came time to begin recording in May 1970, he had enough songs for a double album. By the time of its release in October, All Things Must Pass had swelled to a triple album, the third disc being comprised mostly of in-studio jams.

Harrison assembled an impressive cast of musicians to help him record, including Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, Klaus Voormann, the Apple band Badfinger, Dave Mason, Gary Wright, Peter Frampton, Bobby Keys, Jim Price, Alan White, and, famously, the band that would become Derek and the Dominos: Eric Clapton, Carl Radle, Bobby Whitlock, and Jim Gordon. Carl Radle plays on 11 of the album’s 23 songs. The others feature Klaus Voormann on bass.

Radle’s bass line on “Hear Me Lord” is a little uncharacteristic of his playing, in that he has a basic skeleton of a line that he continuously embellishes. It would be much more typical of his style to play the same pattern over and over with little to no embellishment.

Some of the variations of his bass line for this song are a little tricky rhythmically, and may take some time to work out if reading notation isn’t your strong suit. One thing that will help is to learn the 4-measure pattern below. This is the basic groove he’s playing for most of the song (everything but the chorus, which is only heard twice)—if you think of everything else as just an embellishment of this line, it will be much easier to work out.

The pattern above will also serve as a good starting point for your own improvisations. Try playing it and adding in your own Radle-esque embellishments. Keep these things in mind when you’re improvising:

  1. Radle rarely varied the first measure of the pattern too much, likely to avoid interfering with the vocal melody. 
  2. On the E chord (second measure of the pattern), Radle sticks to notes within the E pentatonic scale (E-F#-G#-B-C#). His most frequent embellishments on this chord involve repeated E’s on beat 1 (see m. 42) and a G# on the 4th sixteenth note of beat 3 (see m. 18). He does not alter beat 4 of this chord until very late in the song, as it is fading out.
  3. In the 3rd measure of the pattern, the C#7 chord, Radle always keeps the walk-down intact (C#-B-A-G#), but often embellishes it with upper neighbor tones (see m. 75). 
  4. The 4th measure of the pattern is subject to the most variation. Harrison’s vocal phrase has already ended, as has the backing vocal response, “hear me lord,” so Radle does not need to worry about stepping on anything. He can just play some kind of fill to set up a repeat of this 4-measure pattern (or the chorus).

Soldiers of the Cross

 "Soldiers of the Cross"
(Traditional, arr. by Bramlett)
From the Delaney & Bonnie album Accept No Substitute

“Soldiers of the Cross” is a traditional gospel tune arranged by Delaney Bramlett for the first Delaney & Bonnie album, Accept No Substitute. It has a “two” feel, typical of a lot of gospel music. The basic groove is just a root-5th pattern—sort of an embellished country bass line, but with a lot of bounce. During the fourth and seventh verses, Radle goes to double time. (Drummer Jimmy Karstein stays in double time from the fourth verse to the end of the song.) 

Delaney & Bonnie Carl Radle bass line transcription

In m. 95, Radle plays the open E string, which is most likely an accident. He probably meant to play A, as he had in the preceding and succeeding measures. It isn’t the worst note he could have played, but it doesn’t make much sense in the context of the rest of the line. This is one of several “wrong” notes that appear in these transcriptions. In each case, it is clear that Radle made a mistake, but because the feel remained strong and the overall performance was energetic, the wrong note was not deemed a substantial problem. In fact, I did not notice most of these mistakes until it came time to actually transcribe the bass lines, even if I had listened to the song a hundred times before. It is pretty powerful evidence that having a good feel and locking in with the rest of the band is significantly more important than the actual notes you play.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Video - Bell Bottom Blues

Bell Bottom Blues
From the Derek & the Dominos album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs

Here's a video of the bass line for "Bell Bottom Blues," one of my favorite Carl Radle bass lines. The transcription can be found here.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Video - Don't Know Why

Don't Know Why
From the Eric Clapton album Eric Clapton

Here's another video of a great Carl Radle bass line. The transcription can be found here. I play a couple parts with different fingering than I indicated in the tablature--specifically, using the open G in the pattern that appears in measures 5, 6, 9, 10, etc. It works either way, but the open G felt a little more comfortable today.

Video - Sweet Emily

Sweet Emily
(Leon Russell)
From the Leon Russell album Leon Russell and the Shelter People

A few people have asked if I would make videos of me playing some of these bass lines. Seems like now is a good time to try some out. Below is a video of Carl Radle's bass line on "Sweet Emily." The transcription can be found here.

Sticks and Stones

Sticks and Stones
From the Joe Cocker album Mad Dogs and Englishmen

In “Sticks and Stones” Radle lays down another solid gospel/R&B groove. His bass line on the verses is fairly improvisational. He plays similar things in each of the verses, but we never hear exactly the same line twice.

On the choruses, the rest of the band plays frantically and a bit chaotically (in a very good way!), but Radle’s bass line becomes a bit more regular. In this way, he holds the band together and keeps the song from running off the rails entirely. As the band vamps on the chorus at the end of the song, Radle plays the same pattern for almost every Bb chord. On the F chord, he has two basic patterns that he alternates between. Both are given below.

Carl Radle Joe Cocker Mad Dogs and Englishmen bass transcription

A full transcription is below.

Carl Radle Joe Cocker Mad Dogs and Englishmen bass transcription

Carl Radle Joe Cocker Mad Dogs and Englishmen bass transcription

Carl Radle Joe Cocker Mad Dogs and Englishmen bass transcription