Smokestack Lightnin' Home Page -- The Blues Profile Page
Jimmy Nolen (April 3, 1934 – December 18, 1983) was an American guitarist known for his distinctive "chicken scratch" lead guitar playing in James Brown's bands.
Early life and career
In 1957 Nolen began to play for Johnny Otis, replacing the ailing Pete "Guitar" Lewis. He was the principal behind Otis' hit "Willie And The Hand Jive." He remained in Otis’ band until 1959 when he formed his own group, The Jimmy Nolen Band. They performed in small clubs and ballrooms in California and Arizona's "chitlin' circuit", backing many of the blues greats that passed through California. The principal influences that inspired his guitar technique were, T-Bone Walker, B.B. King and Lowell Fulson. The Jimmy Nolen band was very popular but never released any records since their primary purpose was to work as live backup for more famous acts. In the early 1960s Nolen began playing with the backing band for harmonica legend George "Harmonica" Smith.
James Brown (1965-1970)
The person who recommended Jimmy Nolen to James Brown was tenor saxophonist, Eldee Williams who joined James Brown after leaving The Jimmy Nolen Band in California. It is erroneously reported that Les Buie made the recommendation. Grayboy Dan Pollock
The J.B.'s/Maceo and All the King's Men era (1972-1983)
The "chicken scratch" sound
Nolen developed a style of picking known as "chicken scratch," in which the guitar strings are pressed lightly against the fingerboard and then quickly released just enough to get a muted “scratching” sound that is produced by rapid rhythmic strumming of the opposite hand near the bridge. This new guitar style was affected not only by Nolen’s choice of two and three note chord voicings of augmented 7th and 9th chords, but also by his strumming straight 16th note patterns, as in James Brown’s "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Nolen’s choices of guitars and amplifiers also affected the sound for which he would be nicknamed. In his first recordings with James Brown, Nolen used a Gibson ES-175 and an ES-5 switchmaster, both hollow body jazz guitars equipped with single coil P-90s. He also relied on a Gibson Les Paul Recording model with single coil pickups, an Acoustic Black Widow, and a Fresher Straighter, which were also single coil instruments. The single coil pickups on these guitars produced a thin "chanky" sound; Nolen ran these guitars through a Fender Twin Reverb with the treble set at 8 out of 10. The result of these factors was a rhythm guitar sound that seemed to float somewhere between the low-end thump of the electric bass and the cutting tone of the snare and hi-hats, with a rhythmically melodic feel that fell deep in the pocket. A good example of such tone would be in James Brown’s "I Got You (I Feel Good)" and "I’ve Got The Feeling." Nolen had been experimenting with the sound prior to his joining James Brown: it can be heard on an obscure 45 RPM single called "Swinging Peter Gunn Theme (Parts 1&2), released in 1960 on the Fidelity label, a subsidiary of Art Rupe's Specialty Records.
Hip hop legacy
Despite the fact that Jimmy Nolen defined the guitar style which influenced decades of guitarists and funk groups to follow, including Earth Wind and Fire, Tower of Power, Chic, George Clinton, and more, his influence on other forms of contemporary popular music such as hip hop is often overlooked. James Brown cuts such as "Papas Got a Brand New Bag," "I Got You (I Feel Good)," "It's a Man's Man's Man's World," "Cold Sweat," "Bring it Up (Hipster’s Avenue)," "Ain’t it Funky," "Funky Drummer," and "The Boss" have been sampled, mimicked and otherwise utilized by countless producers, DJs, and MCs. Eric B., the producer/DJ associated with Rakim Allah's early recordings, was known for his use of James Brown samples, most of which featured Jimmy Nolen, "Jabo" Starks and/or Clyde Stubblefield. A good example of this would be “Move the Crowd”, in which Eric B. sampled Brown’s 1969 recording "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud" featuring the aforementioned lineup, or the 1973 "Blind Man Can See it" for Eric B. and Rakim’s "?." The Bomb Squad, Public Enemy’s production group, is another name on the lengthy list of producers that have relied heavily on James Brown grooves assisted by Nolen’s “chicken scratch” style: Brown's 1973 "Make it Good to Yourself" was the part of the foundation on which Public Enemy laid their cut "1 Million Bottlebags."
Source: Wikipedia (The Free Encyclopedia)