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Paul Yandell (continued)

The distinctive thumbstyle sound begins with a muted alternating bass, layered with complex fingerpicked chords, sustained beneath a melody played in a syncopated manner, always anticipating the beat. "The feel is the most important thing", says Yandell. "So many people try to play thumbstyle and their thumbs are just terrible. It's like working with a bad drummer - an R&B drummer - rush and drag. I don't know how many hours I've spent just sitting and playing my thumb - not playing anything really, just working at getting the feel in my thumb. That's the secret to it- the feel in your thumb. If you only play three or four notes with your fingers against it, it's better than playing a bunch of stuff like a machine gun, with no feeling at all. That's one of the things that made Chet and Merle so great. Merle had a great thumb - sounded like a pile driver. And he didn't keep straight time - he'd rush a little bit but that's one on the things that made him exciting. There was so much energy in his playing."

On accompanying guitarists such as Atkins and Reed, Yandell's objective is to "play just what is necessary and stay out of their way. You have to learn your place in complimenting what they do - and not upstage them". For the most part, Yandell comments that Chet and Jerry know what they want. Having followed their leads for so long, Yandell continues, "It's like being married to someone for forty years - you know what they're going to say before they say it. It's the same way with Chet and Jerry. You get to where you can anticipate what they'll do. People who are stylists basically have a formula. If you listen to Jerry for example, he has a rhythmic theme with certain variations that runs all the way through his tunes. The things Chet has been doing have changed recently, but in the things that we recorded up to about ten years ago, I played mostly rolls - things that sounded good under what he played. I'd also add various harmonic things, and play piano type-rhythms, alternating the bass and pinching the inside strings." Yandell's involvement with Atkins and Reed go well beyond just playing the sideman - he has been equally prolific as a writer. "When you hang around guys like Jerry and Chet, they can intimidate you so much, you don't feel like writing anything. You feel like you can't measure up. Sometimes it can be bad to be around people like that!" Nonetheless, Yandell's better-known collaborations with Atkins include Leather and Lace, On a Roll, Stay Tuned, Stay a little longer, and Cosmic Square Dance (with Mark Knopfler). Among compositions credits with Reed are The Mad Russian and Squirrelly.

In approaching composition, Yandell generally starts with a melody, "I like to hear a tune and remember something of it. So much of music today is just a combobulation of notes. What have you got left other than being impressed with a guy's technique? I'm not trying to prove anything or impress anybody. I'm too old for that. I just try to come up with something that's interesting and pretty."

On the process of composition, Yandell relates, "Generally, I pick a guitar up and just start doodling around until I hit a lick. Everything I've come up with is just like that. I'll get four or eight bars and put it on tape so I can remember it. Then I'll go to Chet's and say, "What do you think about this?" He'd say, "Yeah, I like that" and we'd start writing. Chet knows good from bad. That's why he lives in Belle Meade. It was the same way with Jerry. He cranked out tunes like a coffee grinder. He'd get up real early in the morning and write. That's the best time if you're a creative person, because mind is fresh and open - no cares from the previous day."


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