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.