Magazine article Guitar Player

Middle of the Road: Jason Isbell's Slide Magic Is Conjured with His Third Digit and Standard Tuning

Magazine article Guitar Player

Middle of the Road: Jason Isbell's Slide Magic Is Conjured with His Third Digit and Standard Tuning

Article excerpt

IF THE SLIDE GUITAR HOOK THAT BINDS "24 Frames," the jangly first single from Jason Isbell's fifth album, Something More Than Free [Southeastern Records], sounds a little tricky, that's exactly what its architect wanted.

"The main riff on that song has a pull-off I do with my pinkie in front of the slide," says Isbell. "I hit the note and pull off three frets up."

Isbell figured out the trick after adopting Bonnie Raitt's habit of wearing a slide on her middle finger when he was learning to play at age 11, which makes his fretting hand more versatile.

"I was initially attracted to that, because I saw that her hands were about the same size as mine when I started playing slide," he says. "But putting the slide on my middle finger has turned out to be really cool, because I can do little things behind the slide--like flat the third and make a minor out of a barre chord. But I can also do hammer--ons in front of the slide. Sonny Landreth puts the slide on his pinkie and does all kinds of great stuff behind it, but not a lot of guitarists really play in front of the slide like I do."

Isbell--who won the 2014 Americana Music Association awards for Album, Artist, and Song of the Year--grew up in the Muscle Shoals area of Northwest Alabama, the unlikely setting for scores of hit recordings in the 1970s from the Rolling Stones to Aretha Franklin, and, later, to bands like the Drive-By Truckers (of which he was a member for six years) and Alabama Shakes. His grandfather, a multi-instrumentalist Pentecostal preacher, first put a mandolin in his hands around age six, and then switched him to guitar for marathon jams. …

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