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All This Beautyby Chris Botta
In my last articles on Guitarsessions.com, "Raga Rock," and "Miami Blues," we covered Middle Eastern influenced rock, and blues lead and slide guitar styles, respectively. Since then, with my current band, Her Majesty, I had the unusual and fortuitous opportunity to bring elements of both these genres into play in one song entitled, "All This Beauty."
I first heard the song in a writing and arranging session with Her Majesty's leader and founder, John Pasagiannis, who wrote the song with guitarist Stephen Couch. John and I had worked together in another band and had some history between us, so I was very relaxed. The structure and lyrics of the song were already set, so all that was left for me to do was to add the lead guitar. I had been experimenting with slide guitar and wah-wah together, so I decided to give this a try. The sound helped the piece to take shape, although in later rehearsals, I scrapped the wah-wah.
The song is in the key of F#, which often suggests to me the Indian sound of the flatted second. The verse is a grooving riff in F# that falls back to E minor and B major toward the end of each line, with the note G as an ornament to the F# chord. This harmony perfectly supports the Indian scale: F# - G - A# - B - C# - D - E - F#, which is sometimes referred to as Major Phrygian and is also used in Klezmer music. All I had to do was play around the chords to achieve an original and melodic counter-melody.
For the chorus, which switches to A major, the relative major of F# minor, the changes are A -D, A - D. Here I played around the chords again but in an even simpler fashion, running up and down the neck with big slides from the A triad on the 14tth fret to the same shape for D at the 7th fret.
The recording wasn't as easy as the initial writing session. I had tried to reduce the parts to something concise and consistent, but having never played the song live, my part still needed work. John and the engineer, Travis Kendall, helped a lot to shape the part, essentially having me lay out in some spots and play in between the vocals more. Eventually, when we started to play the song live, I reduced the part even further, which opens up more room for the vocals and solo. This is also good because we don't use the sample live and to overplay throughout the whole song would be boring and counter-productive.
The lead break is very simple. John wanted to use a sample to add something totally different to the arrangement, so part of my initial solo, a rising F# dominant arpeggio, was cut, and 4 bars of chanting and rhythm instrumentation were inserted. This left me with 4 bars for the break, and I did a downward run over the aforementioned 'Phrygian Major' scale. With the use of the slide and various effects, including delay and tremolo, the result is reminiscent of a sitar and some listeners who hear it refer to it as the "raga part."
I used a Les Paul Standard with 10 gauge strings and high action for the recording through a Fender Prosonic amp. The guitar was tuned standard E-A-D-G-B-E and I used a hybrid combination of the flatpick and my right hand middle and ring fingers for picking/damping. The rhythm tracks were straight crunch guitar.
Knowing I would use a Les Paul for the slide part, I used a Fender '62 reissue Strat with Customshop "Vintage '69" pickups, also run through the Prosonic, to try to create some tonal contrast on the rhythm track. I was afraid that the single coil pickups would hum like crazy, given the amount of distortion on the amp and the fact that I used the bridge pickup, but Travis was somehow able to eliminate the noise.
When I first tried the Strat/Prosonic setup, I thought that it had a little bit of an "Are You Experienced?" vibe to it. It's harder to hear that in the mix, but in the end the use of the single coils on the rhythm track does add brightness and also helps to steer clear of the overused, 'double coil/British amp' sound that is so prevalent in rock.
All in all, it was an interesting and creative experience. Thank you all for sharing in it, and I hope to see you again soon in another installment of Guitar Sessions®.
Listen to All This Beauty
Chris Botta Bio
Chris Botta grew up in New York City and began studying the guitar at the age of nine at a local music school. In his early teens, he began playing with his first rock bands.
He took his undergraduate studies at the Mannes College of Music, studying guitar with Michael Newman and theory with Carl Schacter. Upon graduation, Chris began teaching privately and at the Queens Village School of Music. At this time Chris also began writing, recording and performing with a variety of local groups.
He continues to teach and to craft his sound, style and songwriting, which combines influences from the rock era while reflecting the modal melodies of Indian music, modern classical harmony, and the edgy New York rock sound.Email Chris at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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