The Classic Riff Collection For Rock Guitar, Volume I by Ralph Agresta

1988, Amsco Productions

In 1988, I took up the guitar.  Again.  I took lessons years earlier, when I was 7, but I couldn’t remember shit about what I’d been taught, week to week.  Hey, in 1981, times were tough — I got a lot of shit for wasting my folks’ money!  The most interesting part of lessons, in those days, was pestering my teacher — a guy with Ralph Malph hair and sideburns — to let me play his Ovation 12-string.  The Ovation’s plastic bowl, combined with its shiny, quality tuning pegs, fascinated me.

But, in 1988, I heard Neil Innes on a cassette tape of ‘Monty Python’s Live at City Center’ I’d pilfered out of the White Marsh Mall’s Record Booth, saw Jim Stafford on that year’s edition of ‘The Smothers Brothers Show,’ found my dad’s copy of the 1974 eponymous Jim Stafford album, and decided I needed to be a guitar player.  Mindful of the selfish way I’d squandered my folks’ money during the brutal times of the 1981 recession, I figured I’d learn the guitar in a completely cheap-oh way:  INSTRUCTION BOOKS!

First, I learned my chords, and oddly enough and unlike when I was 7, I remembered them, from a book my dad used which dated back to the late Fifties.  But what do you do after that?

TABLATURE!  Why, you didn’t have to be able to both ‘read music’ (which I could do then, but can’t do now) AND ‘know where notes are on the guitar neck on what string’ (which just didn’t happen for me until, say, 1993 or so).  So I jettisoned my old man’s song folios from the mid-sixties for a paperback book I found in the ‘Sheet Music’ section of the White Marsh Mall’s Sam Goody, a book which was chiefly notable for having a handsome photograph of a black matte ‘Strat HM’* on the cover: ‘The Classic Riff Collection for Rock Guitar,  Volume I,’ by Ralph Agresta.

Hey, if there was a similar book on ‘Novelty Music Riffs of the Immediate Post-Watergate Era,’ I’d have jumped on that. And if the sheet music publishers really wanted my money, they would have collected that with ‘Sound Cues From Spaghetti Westerns and Spy Movies For Guitar.’  I think sheet music publishers SERIOUSLY overestimated the cultural saturation of classic rock at the time, and underestimated the saturation of movie/tv background scores.  Hey, in 1988, the ‘Classic Rock’ radio format wasn’t even five years old.

Which brings me to Ralph Agresta’s weird prose in presenting tablature transcriptions of classic rock music bitlets, that I now present for you.  NOTE:  Ralph Agresta appears to have something of a boner for onetime Yes guitarist/South African prog-rock solo artist/soundtrack composer Trevor Rabin.

‘Leslie West (Mountain) is another great note bender.  Listen to “Mississippi Queen” and check out the first and third finger vibratos on  this riff.’ (p.13)

‘Ozzy Osbourne’s favorite guitar player, Randy Rhoads, uses notes from a natural minor scale, the pulloff technique, and open notes to create a flash riff like this.  Listen to “I Don’t Know” of the live ‘Tribute’ LP.’ (p.20)

‘Don’t put away the Motley Crue tape. Mick Mars trills like this in “Public Enemy Number One.” (p.23)

‘This popular technique has become a key element in heavy metal playing. Check out Eddie Van Halen in “Hot for Teacher,” “Beat It” (Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ LP), or “Eruption.”‘ (p.24)

‘Richie Sambora of Bon JOvi combines bends, releases, pulloffs, and notes from a minor scale to create a very melodic and memorable line.  Listen to “You Give Love a Bad Name.”‘ (p.26)

‘Alvin Lee knocked out his audience at Woodstock in 1969 with his most popular tune “I’m Going Home.” His style relies heavily on pulloffs and hammer-ons.

‘Check out Yes’s “Big Generator” and see how Trevor Rabin combines techniques like this.’ (p.27)

‘This riff, inspired by Iron Maiden’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” provides a great workout to develop independence between your third and fourth fingers.’ (p.29)

‘Here’s another heavy riff. Whitesnake’s “Still of the Night” features Adrian Vandenburg and Vivian Campbell playing riffs like this.’ (p.30)

‘Here’s an interesting riff.  Trevor Habin (sic) of Yes uses sixteenth notes in groups of six.  Listen to the album ‘Big Generator.'” (p.38)

‘Now produce triplets by pulling off. Play this flashy riff.’ (p.42)

‘Once again Trevor Rabin of Yes inspires a smokin’ riff.  Listen to “Rhythm of Love” and master all the combinations of techniques found here.’ (p.44)

‘The next three riffs utilize adjacent strings and the interval of a third. Steve Vai can be heard playing like this on “Tobacco Road” (David Lee Roth’s ‘Eat ‘Em and Smile’ LP).’ (p.51)

‘After Deep Purple, Ritchie Blackmore started his own band, Rainbow. Remember “Man on a Silver Mountain”?’ (p.53)

‘Here’s a flashy riff. Steve Howe played this kind of thing on “I’ve Seen All Good People” when he was with Yes.’ (p.65)

‘Leslie West is probably the father of ‘pinch harmonics.’ Listen to how dramatic one note can be on West’s version of “Theme for an Imaginary Western.’  While you’re at it check out the entire ‘Mountain Climbing’ LP.

‘Leave it to Eddie Van Halen to find yet another way of playing harmonics. Let’s call this one ‘tap harmonics.’ With your right-hand finger, quickly tap the string right over the fret exactly one octave up from where your left-hand is fingering the note.’ (p.68)

‘I always liked Adrian Vandenburg’s meticulous and melodic style. Now listen to him with Whitsnake on their monster hit “Here I Go Again” for this kind of playing.’ (p.76)

JEEBUS!  And this was the ‘cutting edge’ guitar series!  Hey, the rest of the guitar books for sale at the Sam Goody all had dinosaurs (even then) like Pete Townshend, Keith Richards, or any one of the Eagles on the covers.  If you had a friend with cable and hung out at his house on weekend nights to watch MTV, that is what  you saw and heard! At that point, it was still gonna be another 5-6 years before I could actually see any live music with any regularity and improve.

Whattya gonna do?  The Sam Goody from where I bought this book disappeared 15 years ago.  The mall where that Sam Goody was, last time I checked (3 years ago) halfway to being a ‘dead mall.’  And the ‘old man bar’ on the edge of the town where I grew up made moves to ‘go young’ by courting live music, hired me for a solo show, and hated me, ’cause I was a dinosaur myself at 35.


*Hot Macaroni? Herpetic Monkey? Hooter Motoboater? Holding Mumps?  Hungry Man? Harvard Meatloaf?


About rockiebee

Husband. Dad. Carpenter. Troubadour. Creative Director for an action figure theater troupe. Video director. Critic. Comics fan.
This entry was posted in On the Subject of Me, Writing About Music and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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