Inspiration is a huge part of the process when learning to play at a higher level. Many players out there have given me the fuel to carry on by demonstrating what is possible with passion, dedication and determination. One of the mainstays on my journey has been Scott Henderson.
Henderson first came into my world as the founding member of the fusion* group 'Tribal Tech'.
"Henderson formed Tribal Tech with bass player Gary Willis in 1984. Under the direction of Henderson and Willis, Tribal Tech became one of the most highly-regarded fusion bands of the 1990s. He toured and recorded with the band up until their dissolution following the 2000 album Rocket Science, and during that time brought himself to the forefront of modern jazz/fusion guitar playing. In 1991 he was named '#1 Jazz Guitarist' by Guitar World magazine, and in January 1992 he was voted best jazz guitarist in Guitar Player magazine's Annual Reader's Poll."
- For a full bio click here
After Tribal Tech, among many other projects, Scott went on to record three of the most listened-to albums in my collection: Dog Party (1994), Tore Down House (1997) and Well To The Bone (2003). I almost consider these as tools, or lessons in and of themselves. These vastly underrated, lesser known recordings, house samples of some of the finest blues guitar playing these ears have heard.
Granted, it is difficult to classify these albums as traditional blues per se ... or Mr. Henderson as a "blues" player (more like a blues player on steroids!). This classification confusion has been. I think, one of the difficulties for Scott to overcome in his career. Also likely why, despite his incredible talent, he remains lesser known to the general public at large. Similar to Alan Holdsworth, Scott Henderson has always been seemingly too unique to categorize.
I can categorize him: AWESOME!
What grabbed me about Scott's playing instantly, was his adventurous spirit and AMAZING phrasing**. He seemed to have the ability to freely flow, with a series of ideas that could go on forever. I had then, and still have today, the feeling this guy could solo on the same chords for hours, yet continue to be entertaining. Listen to the above clip; specifically the way he takes us on a sonic journey, with sounds and spaces that go beyond the notes. His vision helps disguise the fact that he is playing for long stretches over what could be deemed a monotonous one chord vamp.
For those of you who feel "Stuck in the pentatonic box" during your solos, I urge you to get your hands on one of Scott's albums and begin lifting lines out of the songs within. His blues albums are a great place to start because much of the chord structure is based around the ever popular I, IV, V progression***. This stuff is instantly applicable in most blues based rock situations.
Even more exciting, many of the phrase's notes can be found in the pentatonic minor scale. The way he musically places the notes makes them sound fresh and new - a lesson of its own. Often times when I feel creatively dry, I pull out one of Scott's songs (and my handy copy of Transcribe!) and by the end of the process, I always have some new tricks to work with.
So do your playing and your ears a favour: spend some time looking into Scott Henderson's catalogue. (Also, check out his website).
BTW - Scott also released 2 of the more impactful and informative DVD's in my travels ("Jazz Fusion Improvisation" and "Melodic Phrasing"). This guy is that rare combination of sublime talent while remaining a great teacher. Likely why he has been employed for well over a decade by one of the top music schools in the world - G.I.T. in Hollywood, California. I highly recommend both his videos.
(Cool News: Alfred Publishing has released Henderson's instructional DVD entitled "Scott Henderson - Jazz Rock Mastery", which is a compilation of his two videos "Jazz Fusion Improvisation" and "Melodic Phrasing".). Click here buy... seriously DO IT!
* Fusion is an offshoot of jazz music. It is the "fusing" of Jazz with it's celebration of improvisation (soloing) with the more accessible feel of Rock. Fusion has long been the gateway for many rock guitarists into the world of jazz.
** Phrasing is a term that means the way a soloist groups their notes together in a more vocal type approach.
*** I, IV, V is a standard progression of chords within most blues songs. I = One chord, IV = Four chord, V = Five chord. These chords start off each progressing note of the parent key's scale. i.e in the Key of C: C=1, D=2, E=3, F=4, G=5, A=6, B=7. So a I, IV, V in C would be: C, F, G