What a great lick! Click to play (from 0:07)!
A very long time challenge!
I first "learned" the intro to Johnny Winter's mind-blowing rendition of this BB King classic back in 1987 the old fashioned way. I had a book with the notes tabbed out and slowed my 33rpm vinyl album down to 16rpm so I could make sense of and practise it at half speed. With light gauge strings and a low action I could soon bluff it fairly well even then playing along with the record but I knew something wasn't quite right with the timing and it certainly wouldn't have held up strongly enough to play it with a band.
I've never had to gig it and maybe never will but it remains another of those things which has always felt that little bit out of reach. Now, with heavier strings and a much higher action on my guitars than in the 80s (and 90s) I want to finally nail the lightning fast flurry he plays when the band drops out at the end of that intro (see video above @ 7 seconds in).
Semi-success at last!
A fair bit of time has been put in getting to the bottom of the actual timing and laying the notes out in Taplature format. I can't say for sure that this is how Johnny Winter was picturing the shape of the notes but after 30+ years of intermittent puzzling over this one I'm finally happy it works as intended. It's drawn out here over a Taplature "Swing Rhythm" foot tap ... see here for a foundational instructional on getting your foot going correctly for this and any other such song.
(Scroll down to the next post to see this played at half speed)
Cracking the code
I occasionally scratched my head over those 30+ years as to how the bass and drums knew when to come back in. My book just referred to this fast flurry of notes as being in "free time", indicating that the author also didn't quite understand how it all fitted together. It's not just me and him either; the outstanding Anthony Stauffer of Texas Blues Alley did a lesson on this one a while back and although he's found his own way around it he's had to mess with the timing of things a fair bit to make his version fit, adding (I think; have not fully examined) an extra beat to his backing track.
Recently I decided to dig a bit to solve the mystery and have set myself the target of getting this one officially up to speed. Focusing in on the rhythm section revealed that they aren't doing anything too unusual. Both bass and drums drop out on the one beat of bar 3 (marked in red below). The drums then come back in on the one beat of bar 4 with the bass joining back in on the "and" of beat 3.
Applying Occam's Razor
After the straight semiquaver pickup into the fast flurry, viewing just about everything else played as triplets within triplets (see here for an investigation of a somewhat slower but more famous example of these) allows us to land exactly as planned when the drums kick back in.
I'll sign off now and work on putting up a video of my version played through at a leisurely 30bpm, which is less than half speed (the original runs at 65bpm) so you can clearly see and hear how this one fits together.