Roy Nichols is one of the forefathers of Chicken Pickin’ guitar. He, along with James Burton and Don Rich, created the ‘Bakersfield sound’ in Bakersfield, CA. These three were all guitarists with Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, and Wynn Stewart.
Nichols started his career with Stewart’s band, but joined Merle Haggard shortly after and stayed with Haggard for his career. He plays snappy telecaster lines, similar to Don Rich. To get Nichols’ tone, again go for a tele with a Fender-style amp. It should be relatively clean with a little bit of break up when you pick harder.
This lesson is focused on the album Okie from Muskogee, Haggard’s live album from 1969 that was essentially a live ‘best of’ album. These songs were all hits from Haggard’s career up to that point. Nichols continued to play with Haggard for many years after that, playing some really great solos in the 1970s. More of that in a future post. On to the licks!
Quick addendum here: The guys at TDPRI hipped me to a great thread over there on Burton vs Nichols on Haggard’s early stuff. The thread is here. Thanks “Tele Salivas” for letting me know on that one!
Lick 1 – Lonesome Fugitive
We start with the closing short solo from perhaps Haggard’s most famous song, Lonesome Fugitive. Listen closely to get the exact staccato, deadened notes. The bends are all pre-bends. He closes the solo with a quote from the vocal melody.
Lick 2 – Mama Tried
This lick starts with a phrase Nichols plays in unison with the steel guitar. Then he plays a great chicken pickin’ line to finish the phrase. This lick can easily be transferred all over the neck to give you a bunch of vocabulary all over the place.
Lick 3 – Swinging Doors
Lick 3 is from the intro solo of “Swinging Doors.” The intro solo is a critical part of early country and the Bakersfield sound. It’s also a great place to find chicken pickin’ licks from these great guitarists. This one is straight forward, but listen to the original recording to get the feel-which is the best part of this lick.
Lick 4 – Working Man Blues
The last 3 licks are from the song Roy Nichols is most identified with-“Working Man Blues.” This is from the IV chord (Db). This one is a fast lick using pull offs and open strings.
Lick 5 – Working Man Blues 2
Here is Nichols’ ending to the solo. This one sounds much more difficult than it really is-he’s basically playing a hammer on lick on each set of 2 strings. Very basic, but very cool. Since it’s a three note lick you get an interesting dotted-quarter vibe.
Lick 6 – Working Man Blues accompaniment
Here is Nichols’ groove for the tune. Again it has a dotted quarter feel (3 eighth notes). Be sure to listen to the original again to get the exact feel. He moves this around to the IV and V chords.
These Roy Nichols licks give you some of the foundational licks that basically make up the ground work for the chicken pickin’ sound. The details of who played which specific solos in the early Merle Haggard recordings is pretty murky, but once you get into the 1970s it’s pretty much all Roy Nichols.