Lenny Kravitz: Revolution of the Mind
KRAVITZ When I was getting my songs together to make that record, the plan was to have a band. I kept bringing different people down to the studio to play with me, but something wasn’t working; you can have great players, but the personality and the character of the recording is what’s most important, and it just wasn’t happening. So, my recording engineer at the time, Henry Hirsh, who is still my engineer to this day, said, ‘I’ve heard you play all of these instruments, and I see you teaching these guys what you want them to play. Why don’t you just play all of the instruments yourself?” But I had a whole “band” thing in my head, and I said, “But I want to play with other people, man!” He said that he thought it would have more character if I played everything myself. So I took his advice.
I think that’s what makes it unique with certain players, like when you listen to Stevie Wonder playing the drums: there’s so much character there, and he’s actually one of my favorite drummers. Oftentimes when a certain player plays something, it has more feeling than when someone else plays it. You could have a so-called “better” drummer, someone with all of the chops, but his “two” and “four,” or the way he plays his fills, just doesn’t feel right.
GW Playing rhythm guitar is a craft that many guitar players seem to neglect, but it’s a big part of your approach to the instrument.
KRAVITZ When I was coming up in junior high and high school, there were these guys that could play all of the licks, and everyone was trying to play as fast as they could. I was always the guy that couldn’t play as fast or as much as the other guys, but I had feel. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but it turned into something.
Most of it is just simple stuff, really. For me, it’s all about the groove. I grew up listening to soul music and funk, artists like James Brown and Earth, Wind and Fire, where it’s all about locking into a groove and staying there. Plus, there’s always an element of funk in my rock and roll. So if it’s a simple lick, which a lot of my songs are built around, it’s about where you “lay” it that’ll make it sound thick.
GW Can you give us an example?
KRAVITZ Sure. If it’s a simple funk rhythm part like this [FIGURE 1], where the chords are not played, then where the scratch is and all of the in-between stuff is what’s really important. You could have a guy that can play up and down the neck all day long, but playing a rhythm part consistently for four minutes without stopping is another story. It’s always amazing to me when I see players that can play a lot of stuff, but they obviously haven’t concentrated on how to groove. It could be one chord; that’s the beauty of James Brown. You’ve got Bootsy Collins on bass and all of these great musicians in the band, and the lines are incredibly simple.
Bootsy might be playing something like this [FIGURE 2], which could be the entire line, and the rhythm guitar part [FIGURE 1] locks in with the bass. The bass and guitar would hold down that groove for the duration of the song, with the exception of the bridge. For a rhythm section to play that repetitively and in-the-pocket and not budge— there’s a lot of power in that.
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