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Published on April 25th, 2012 | by Sam


Roy Nichols Licks

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 when he was 13 and played a daily radio show in the Central Valley of CA. And went on to include Maddox bros & Rose, Lefty Frizzell and Johnny Cash, Cousin Herb Henson’s Trading Post TV show and many others before he joined Wynn in Las Vegas (thanks to Don’s son! see below).  He joined Merle Haggard shortly after he played with Stewart’s band 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.

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7 Responses to Roy Nichols Licks

  1. Pingback: More Country Guitar-Roy Nichols - The Jazz Guitar Forum

  2. D. Nichols says:

    Sam, nice to see your info about my dad here, every now and then I do a search of his name to see what might be out here that I haven’t seen. It’s good to see the playing style kept alive by younger artists. Just a little correction on my dad’s career, it didn’t start with Wynn Stewart, it actually started when my dad was 13 and played a daily radio show in the Central Valley of CA. And went on to include Maddox bros & Rose, Lefty Frizzell and Johnny Cash, Cousin Herb Henson’s Trading Post TV show and many others before he joined Wynn in Las Vegas.

    • Sam says:

      Wow – thanks so much for reading and making the correction! Your dad was an amazing player and I’ll definitely do what I can to help keep his work in the mind of current guitarists!

  3. TAYLOR LONG says:

    There is nothing better then watching the faces of the strangers react to one of Mr. Roy Nichols superlative leads. By far my favorite guitar player.

  4. Pingback: Sam Smiley MusicRoy Nichols Licks - Intro

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