Three Essential Rockabilly Guitar Licks

(Image credit: Cindy Moorhead)

I decided to grab my rapidly aging black Levi's shirt, my awesome new Levy's guitar strap and my Gibson Music City Jr. with B-Bender and show you three essential rockabilly licks.

Bear in mind, I could've chosen three other "essential" rockabilly licks, but these seemed like nice ones to start with. Hey, there's always next month.

I'm really sorry for the lack of tabs, but, well, there's not really any "shredding" going on here.

So, to elaborate (a bit) on the three licks in the video ...

The first lick is a great way to kick off a rockabilly guitar solo; also, since I probably absorbed it as a result of listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Scuttle Buttin'" for three decades-plus, it can be used in upbeat blues situations and maybe even country (the good kind of country; not the crap they play on country radio).

Although a mere word probably won't help anyone, I always imagine that the lick is just "rolling" off the fretboard. I start things off with the open G string, followed quickly by a hammer-on on the first fret (a G#), followed quickly by an open B and an open E. Even if you stop there and master only that, you're on your way to creating some cool rockabilly style licks.

The second lick: As I say in the clip, it's the perfect way to end the I (one) portion of a rockabilly solo or intro before going into the IV. I've heard Brian Setzer do this a million times with Stray Cats. To hear how he uses it (on a nice, newish high-quality studio recording), check out "Rooster Rock," a track from his often-overlooked 2001 rockabilly masterpiece, Ignition! In fact, I've included the song below (second/middle YouTube clip). The lick occurs within the first four seconds. Seriously, if you want to hear one hell of a guitar album, check out Ignition! (opens in new tab) It's one of my top 10 "guitar albums" of all time. Maybe top 15, but you get the idea.

The third lick: Some of you might recognize this sort of thing from Gene Vincent's "Be-Bob-A-Lula" (which features the great Cliff Gallup on lead guitar) or, now that I think about it, John Lennon's cool mid-Seventies version of "Be-Bob-A-Lula" (bottom YouTube clip). The first guitar solo, and this very lick, starts at the 54-second mark in the Lennon clip below.

Stay tuned for more videos like this ... although I think I'll use a different guitar in my next video. I feel sorry for the other ones. Enjoy!

Damian Fanelli is the online managing editor at Guitar World and Guitar Aficionado. His New York-based band, the Blue Meanies, has toured the world and elsewhere. Fanelli, a former member of Brooklyn jump-blues/swing/rockabilly band the Gas House Gorillas and New York City instrumental surf-rock band Mister Neutron, also composes and records film soundtracks. He writes's The Next Bend column, which is dedicated to B-bender guitars and guitarists. His latest liner notes can be found in Sony/Legacy's Stevie Ray Vaughan: The Complete Epic Recordings Collection. (opens in new tab) Follow him on Facebook,Twitter and/or Instagram.

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Damian Fanelli
Editor-in-Chief, Guitar World

Damian is Editor-in-Chief of Guitar World magazine. In past lives, he was GW’s managing editor and online managing editor. He's written liner notes for major-label releases, including Stevie Ray Vaughan's 'The Complete Epic Recordings Collection' (Sony Legacy) and has interviewed everyone from Yngwie Malmsteen to Kevin Bacon (with a few memorable Eric Clapton chats thrown into the mix). Damian, a former member of Brooklyn's The Gas House Gorillas (opens in new tab), was the sole guitarist in Mister Neutron (opens in new tab), a trio that toured the U.S. and released three albums (opens in new tab). He now plays in two NYC-area bands.