Charlie Christian’s solo on Benny Goodman’s “Six Appeal” is a must-know bit of guitar history. Not only was Charlie Christian the first electric guitar soloist, his playing still smokes when you hear it today. Charlie C’s playing has influenced so many guitar players that every player who plays a lead guitar line should “go to the well” and draw inspiration from Charlie. You’ll be in good company – from jazz giants Barney Kessel, Joe Pass, and Jim Hall, to blues greats B.B. King and T-Bone Walker, Charlie C’s inspiration has been passed on through the years and some of his licks are in everyone’s repertoire.

Charlie Christian was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 as an “Early Influence”. I recommend that you dig his playing, and let it influence you. Whether you play Jazz, Blues, Rock, or even Metal (yes, Metal – try one of his killer chromatic licks through a cranked Marshall amp) you stand to gain a lot by going to the source of so many great solo ideas, and then adapting some licks into your own playing.

This first video (part one of two for this month) gets intio the rhythm part behind the solo. This makes a good study for beginning to intermediate players. The solo will be in the next entry, and requires somewhat more dexterity.

If you dig the Charlie C. style, please support us by picking up the “Charlie Christian Method” ebook here on the site. Rhythm players can expand their vocabulary of chords (in the style of this video lesson) in our Chord & Harmony Guide DVDs here. I hope you enjoy the lesson! Some more notes on the theory behind the playing are posted on this blog below the video.

IMPORTANT CORRECTION: I said “minor chord with a minor sixth over it” right at the start of the video. I meant to say “minor chord with a major sixth over it.” That is really the important distinction between the two chord progression types presented! Here’s the story:

In the rhythm used behind the “Six Appeal” solo, the third chord is a D half-diminished 7th chord. There is only one place in a key that that chord shows up, and that is the leading tone to the root (again, bone up on your functional theory with our Chord & Harmony DVDs if you need it!). That would put the progression in the Key of Eb; D half-diminished 7 is the leading tone chord to Eb. This means that our starting chord is the ii chord of the key. It’s a “Dorian chord progression”, in terms of modes. The major 6th occurs in a scale built on the ii chord (Dorian mode).

However, the “Stray Cat Strut” progression starts on a minor chord, moves down through two major chords a whole step apart, and turns around on the “V of” the first chord. Again, thinking in terms of how chords occur in a key, there is only one place where there are two major chords a whole step apart; so those two chords must be the IV and V chords of the key. That means we are starting on the vi chord of the key.

What does all this mean? The rhythm part naturally affects note choice in melodies and solos. Those last licks in the “Six Appeal” solo use that very cool sounding major 6th over a minor chord. If that wasn’t reflected in the rhythm part, it wouldn’t work. The “Stray Cat Strut” rhythm uses the minor 6th in the scale, which gives us that smooth 1/2-step approach from the IV chord down to the V/vi chord; also a cool sound, but a different thing.

I realized afterwards that I played “16 Tons” the first time with the ii – I – vii – V/ii progression, and the next time with the vi – V – IV – V/vi progression. The basic melody works either way, although if you were creating a full arrangement with harmonies, you’d have to take into account which 6th note of the scale you’d choose – major or minor.