I recently saw a video of Frank Zappa sharing his thoughts about playing a solo. All of it was great, but the one section that struck me the most was this:
“My theory is this: I have a basic mechanical knowledge of the operation of the instrument and I got an imagination. And when the time comes up for me to play a solo, it’s me against the laws of nature. I don’t know what I’m gonna play and don’t know what I’m gonna do. I know roughly how long I have to do it, and it’s a game where you have a piece of time and you get to decorate it…”
For me, that statement alone was affirmation to my approach to playing solos. No, I’m not super-skilled, and certainly not super-fast, but I’ve always taken the approach of doing solos organically.
To be honest, I’ve been embarrassed about not knowing licks or phrases that a lot of other guitarists seem to know. I’d go into a shop, and play a few different lines with a particular song in my head. Then the guy next to me would whip out Slash’s “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” I’d chuckle to myself and say (to myself), “I really should learn that…”
But time has never permitted, so I play when I can play and when I’m jammin’ with a band or with my mates, when it’s my turn to solo, I tend to just feel my way through. Personally, I don’t think it’s anything technically special, and at least those who hear it don’t cringe, so I guess my solos work.
But listening to that interview gave me heart. I’ve recently been asked to play lead guitar with a cover band. I warned the guy who invited me that I don’t know any of the solos, and that when I need to solo, I’ll just do what I do. I’m not sure how that’ll go over, especially if they want to do note-for-note covers. That’s really not my thing…
In any case, check out the interview: