Lenny Kravitz: Revolution of the Mind
GW How do you play that “scratch” sound on that part?
KRAVITZ I approach every instrument as a percussion instrument, so the guitar is just like another drum to me—something to bang on. To get the “chicken scratch” sound, I mute the strings with my fretting hand by lightening the finger pressure against them so that the strings are no longer touching the frets, and strum the strings, moving the pick from the lower to the higher strings depending on the timbre of the sound I want to hear. I don’t think about it at all; I just feel rhythm. The chord doesn’t even matter; the feel and rhythm of the strumming is much more important. It’s all in the right [pick] hand.
GW What would you advise guitarists to do to get a handle on this aspect of rhythm playing?
KRAVITZ To get your rhythm together, start with the James Brown records and listen to those guitar players. Listen to Sly and the Family Stone and Earth, Wind and Fire. The guitarists on those records all have amazing rhythm chops and understand that the purpose of the guitar is to fit right into the music, and that’s what makes the band sound superfunky.
GW Can you talk a little about the importance of being a good rhythm player?
KRAVITZ Playing music is all about feel, and when you idolize people like Jimi Hendrix, you realize that he really is a soul player and a funk player. I don’t think he gets the credit for his “soul-ness.” People are always pointing to the rock element, psychedelic this-and-that, but when you listen to a tune like “Have You Ever Been (to Electric Ladyland),” that’s a gospel-like, Curtis Mayfield–inspired kind of thing, done with so much passion and so much soul. The bulk of Jimi’s rhythm playing is that concept. He goes off on top of it and plays the most amazing solos you ever heard, but he’s a funky player.
GW Rhythm guitar is a hard thing to study because it requires a great amount of patience. Most guitarists would rather solo all day long.
KRAVITZ You can teach someone a lot of technique and all of the chords, but good rhythm playing is a very hard thing to teach
to someone. Either you have rhythm or you don’t. There are degrees to which one can improve, but it’s a very instinctive thing.
GW Was Curtis Mayfield an influence for your rhythm guitar playing and your writing style?
KRAVITZ Definitely. Curtis played really strangely, but it was incredible, and no one sounded like him. He also tuned his guitar
in a weird way; I don’t remember what it was. I used to go see him perform and sit in the front of the stage and watch him play.
I remember thinking, What the hell is he doing? He’s playing shapes I’ve never seen!
Curtis strummed with his thumb a lot, and there’s nothing like the thumb to soften the sound and give it a more intimate feel. I never learned how to fingerpick, so I just do it but feel. I don’t know if I’m doing it properly or not, but it gets the job done.
GW There’s a song on your new album, “This Moment Is All There Is,” that has a bit of the Curtis vibe.
KRAVITZ It’s a very Curtis-y kind of thing that starts with an Am to Emaj7 change, followed by Fs to Fsm, and then back to Am-
Emaj7, kind of like this [FIGURE 3]. It’s slow and soulful, and I embellish the chords by using the pinkie to sound higher notes and
melodic figures, such as the high B note on the Am chord, which is the chord’s ninth. While holding the Emaj7 chord, I like to do
tremolo-like volume swells with the volume control [quickly turn the volume control up and down repeatedly].
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