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Howard Roberts Guitar Lesson

by Wolf Marshall

"Soft Winds" from Howard Roberts’ mid-1960s classic All-Time Great Instrumental Hits (Capitol 2609) is a reworking of the Benny Goodman-Fletcher Henderson swing blues tune originally recorded by the Goodman Sextet featuring Charlie Christian. Howard transformed the piece into a slow funk number which was the perfect vehicle for his blues-rock-funk inclinations. The opening phrase of his solo is a quintessential HR line and offers a capsule view of his pioneering fusion style. HR recorded with his Epiphone Howard Roberts model guitar strung with heavy strings and Benson amp at this juncture in his career.

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Lesson Highlights This intro phrase is made predominately of 16th-note rhythms which create a propulsive double-time feel in relation to the basic slow-funk pulse of the tune.

Howard’s use of vibrato and typical blues/rock phrasing and ornamentation make this phrase very funky indeed. The lick would sound at home in a Stevie Ray Vaughan solo.

The background chord is A7. Following blues and rock conventions, Howard’s line is in the A minor pentatonic scale (A-C-D-E-G) for the most part. Significant added notes include the ninth B (slid into C) and the major third C# (hammered on from C). Both occur in measure 1. These color tones are classic blues and rock gestures and are used here in the same way as would be found in solos by Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton or Jeff Beck.

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