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Essential Guitar Licks: Albert King Funk-Blues à la “Born Under a Bad Sign”

We all know a great lick when we hear one—Jimmy Page’s solo breaks in “Whole Lotta Love” and Mark Knopfler’s blistering triads in “Sultans of Swing,” for example.

Moments like these grab your attention and aurally brand your ears forever. Or, sometimes it acts more subliminally: You suddenly find yourself playing a certain lick over and over again, wondering, Where have I heard this before?

Through the years, these licks have evolved into a vocabulary for the guitar. And like great writers who are always able to find the right word to make a point, great guitarists always have that essential lick at their disposal to express, in the moment, what they’re feeling.

And whereas the best writers are able to string those words together to form remarkable prose, the best guitarists link their licks to form living, breathing, musical statements. Today, we bring you an essential blues lick in the style of the late, great Albert King.

Origin: An Albert King funk-blues lick à la “Born Under a Bad Sign,” this lick—like so many classic blues licks—originated from a Delta slide lick.

Theory: King stays with the C# blues scale (C#–E–F#–G–G#–B) on this lick.

Playing Tip: Use a little extra elbow grease and give the bent C# a medium vibrato.