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  • 30 Days to Better Guitar Playing

  • 30 Days to Better Guitar Playing

  • marc ribot and tom waits

    Riff of the Week: Jockey Full of Bourbon by Tom Waits

    by Simon James

    This weeks riff features a mean sounding intro and solo around an Harmonic Minor Scale from the tune Jockey Full of Bourbon by Tom Waits. The song is an Avant-Garde Latin number in the typical off-beat Tom Waits mould and features the work of guitarist Marc Ribot. It is tremendous fun to play, as I can well attest having performed it on countless occasions with two of my long-term musical cohorts Ben Hillyard on Double Bass, and John Park on percussion. Together with this, as I recently discovered during a guitar lesson, it works as an effective demonstration of how to use the Harmonic Minor.

    The entire song is based around three chords: Em-B7-Am, with the intro and solo sections covered in this lesson taking place over the Em and B7 chords.


    Start the intro with a descending E minor arpeggio finishing on an F# to match the chord change. It is worth noting that when being accompanied by other instruments my bass player would usually start the second bar on the 5th (F#) thus playing an inversion of the B7 or a B7/F# chord to add to the brittle and jaunty feel of the song. This is followed by a phrase containing the raised 7th (D#) of the Harmonic Minor in bar 3 before finishing on the root in bar 4. Check out the really quirky descending chromatic phrases in bars 5 and 6.

    tom waits, marc ribot, jockey full of bourbon  


    The solo lasts for 16 bars but starts on the bar leading in with an E minor Arpeggio. The 5ths are played all on the D string by sliding down from the B to the E on the 2nd fret, before the phrase is completed with another E Minor Arpeggio.

    In bar 5 we see really clever use of the Harmonic Minor. Go down the scale in triplets from the Minor 3rd (G) and then hit the #7 (D#) which now forms the Major 3rd of the B7 chord thus allowing for the modulation and use of the Harmonic Minor. A similar patterned phrase follows over the rest of the B7 chord.

    As we go back to the E minor there is a whole bar of alternating 5ths before another bar of hammers ons between the #7 and the root note. When switching to the B7 once again Ribot harmonises effectively with a Major arpeggio going in to a descending E Harmonic minor scale pre-empting the final switch back to E minor.

    tom waits, marc ribot, jockey full of bourbon  


    Marc Ribot draws upon a wide variety of influences and utilises a strongly tonalistic vocabulary. I likened his sound very much to that of Jim Campilongo, and so attempted to recreate what I heard on Jockey Full of Bourbon using a Tele and a fender Princeton amp. I have made recordings of my own avant-garde compositions in a similar mould using an Gibson L4 and a Rivera Quaiana amp, and have loved what came out. These are just my suggestions so feel at liberty to experiment.

    Related Posts:

    1. How To See The Scale Intervals Clearly

    2. Melody, Harmony and Counterpoint

    3. Double Stops and 6ths: Using Two Strings to Improvise