Watch the Memphis Grooves online guitar lesson by Chris Buono from 40 Day Rhythm SWAT Camp
The recent induction of Booker T. and the MG's into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame coincides with yet another rise of the popularity of the "Memphis sound." The MG's, with Steve Cropper on guitar and Donald "Duck" Dunn on bass, more or less defined the style while working as a backup band for Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Albert King, and many others. Generally, the "Memphis sound" consists of a funky eighth-note bass and drum groove, with the guitar either doubling the bassline or playing a simple, repetitive chord figure that fits in between the bass notes. The MG's also became well known on their own with a number of instrumental hits in this same style.
Figure 1 is based on their 1962 instrumental mega-hit, "Green Onions." It's essentially a 12-bar minor blues, with a shuffle groove very similar to Sonny Boy Williamson's classic, "Help Me." On the recording, the guitar doubles the bassline, while the keyboard plays a counter-melody, but I've adapted it for one guitar. I use my thumb to fret the 6th-string bass notes, while fingering the upper notes normally. The little scratch on the "and" of beat 2 (indicated by x's in both the staff and tablature) is important in keeping the groove going mute the upper strings with your fretting hand and scratch them with an upstroke. Use your thumb to slide into the bass notes on the Bb and C chord.
Figure 2 is roughly based on another MG's hit, "Hip-Hug-Her." It has a 16th-note feel, with the guitar simply doubling the bass. In this example, I've taken the groove and adapted it to a 12-bar progression, with the guitar playing the bassline and a chord figure. Notice that there's no turnaround in the last two bars with a minimum of chord changes, the groove dominates. The Memphis sound combined the gospel and blues roots of black music with a more modern approach to lyric structure and dance styles. It was a golden combination, and its continued popularity proves that a good groove never goes out of fashion.