Tuesday, December 29, 2015

"Fat Mama"

I really wanted to depart from the Allman Brothers-related material for my next recording. I also wanted to make it an instrumental so I could focus on playing and not singing. Herbie Hancock's "Fat Mama", with it's deceptively simple descending electric piano melody, is something I have noodled on for a while, so I figured it would be a fun challenge to work up a whole acoustic arrangement as the next track. Initially I wanted to keep the structure loose, using the original as merely a template that I could expand upon, but the song has a pretty rigid structure that I ended up retaining. Also, studio recording is rarely ever something that you can keep loose - you've got to have a plan, melody must have a design.

As I put the track together, I found I really wanted to add another sound to contrast the "horn section" of resophonic guitars. I had been learning fiddle, which is my first fret-less instrument, so it's been a bit of a challenge. The lack of frets requires a little more thought. Guitar is often about positions and shapes - you can change keys by moving everything up a fret. Fiddle does have has positions, but you still need to know what sharps and flats are in the key you are playing in and where those are on the neck - it is akin to playing a piano where all of the keys are white and the same shape. But a mandolin has the exact same tuning as a fiddle (GDAE) which makes it a great bridge between guitar and fiddle. I've hardly mastered mandolin, but I was able to quickly arrange a part for it that creates a nice compliment in the upper register echoing Herbie Hancock's funky electric piano lines.

Anyways, although I thought I was taking a break from Allman-related tunes, not only did keyboardist Chuck Leavell tease "Fat Mama" in The Allman Brothers' "Mountain Jam" in the early 1970s, I discovered The Derek Trucks Band also used to jam on "Fat Mama". I'm often reminded that it was a good thing I didn't try to become a professional guitarist because Derek Trucks seems to cover every single one of my favorite tunes - I'd be out of material.