How to Solo Like Angus Young, Jimmy Page and Tony Iommi
Jimmy Page was inspired by many of the same American blues guitar heroes as his British blues/rock contemporaries Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Peter Green. These heroes include the three Kings—Albert, B.B. and Freddie—as well as T-Bone Walker, Buddy Guy and Otis Rush.
Page was also equally influenced by the fiery intensity of rockabilly guitarists Cliff Gallup (Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps) and Scotty Moore (Elvis Presley), as well as the futuristic daring of Les Paul. A student of many different styles of guitar playing, Page always combines in his solos a well-balanced structure and sense of melodic development with true depth of feeling. His progressive approach to soloing has pushed the nature of blues/rock guitar to previously unimagined territory.
FIGURE 5 is an eight-bar solo representative of Page’s improvisation style. It’s played in the key of A minor over a repeating Am-G-F (i-bVII-bVI) chord progression. The majority of the solo is based on A minor pentatonic (A C D E G), beginning in fifth position with a D-to-E bend on the G string. This note is bent and shaken using the same reinforced fingering and thumb leveraging techniques described earlier in reference to FIGURE 3.
This initial bend is followed by a stream of cascading 16th notes played across the next four beats on the top three strings, with notes quickly alternating between either the fifth and seventh frets or the fifth and eighth frets. Through the majority of this solo, a balance of eighth and 16th notes is achieved, giving the solo a forward-leaning quality as each phrase flows seamlessly into the next.
Over an F chord in bars 2, 4, 6 and 8, I occasionally incorporate an F note into the A minor pentatonic-derived lines in order to clearly relate the solo line to the backing chord progression; this approach is a Page trademark. Adding this one note also serves to broaden the solo beyond the strict blues territory while also strengthening the melodic quality of the licks.
Bar 5 begins with a descending run wherein a stream of 16th notes are phrased in two six-note groups that form an interesting melodic contour. A similar phrasing approach is used in bar 6 with successive four-note descending groups. The solo develops interestingly and builds to a climax in bars 7 and 8 with a repeated melodic “shape” that ascends the A minor pentatonic scale in seven-note phrases, starting from either the root note or the fifth each time.
While this may sound overly analyzed, in truth it is the application of these melodic phrasing techniques that gives the solo its clear sense of structure, which is a hallmark of all of Page’s best lead work.