I was involved in an interesting exchange on a college Facebook post recently. The student was bemoaning the removal of Fusion from the college’s syllabus because he thought that the style was useful for session work…

Hmm. In 40 years of sessions I’ve never been asked to play in that way. The reason Fusion was such a big part of the syllabus of places like the Guitar Institute in its early days is that the musicians who started those schools worshipped the American fusion musicians (like Larry Carlton, Dave Grusin, etc.,) who mixed jazz chops and harmonies with rock grooves and sounds. Great fun as a player, but no-one ever asked for that style on a session: the usual requests (as a guitarist) were for “chips on the snare, please,” or “damped 8s in the verses, power chords in the chorus, please.” Bassists and drummers had their own equivalents, and as a producer I still impose a simple regime on drummers: “One fill into the chorus, one fill out of the chorus, anything more than that has to be applied for in writing in triplicate two weeks before the session.” Listen to Chuck Sabo on this track: https://open.spotify.com/track/5C7n3mMBVBS0RFZsfkgZrj. That’s what you should be aiming for because that’s what the producer needs. Remember: it’s not your f&%$*&g record! Keep the chops for your solo album:-) Also remember; the musicians who get sessions play the song, not their instrument. If you don’t understand what that means, let me know and I’ll try to clarify it in another post.

Contemporary styles of music are equally constrained: most producers now work with the mentality that the technology they use promotes. They look for single phrases or motifs they can use as loops, or they create soundscapes from raw materials. When I do online sessions I always include a “rubbish” track, which is a pass on which I simply throw ideas at the song. Invariably, something from this gets used as a loop or motif in the finished version.

For guitarists, the most common requests from producers nowadays are for rhythmic structures (often with a timed delay), atmospheres, and simple motifs. When was the last time you heard a guitar solo on a chart record? And the old-school “fills between the vocals” are unheard of. Complicated chord sequences are out as well: a lot of writers work with a single chord sequence for the whole song, creating their dynamic narrative from drops and builds rather than harmonic changes.

In no particular order, my last few online sessions have consisted of:

  • Acoustic arpeggios and strumming, plus a U2-style electric guitar on a Bollywood track for a producer in India.
  • Replacing a blues guitar sample with a real guitar for a hip-hop record for an American artist.
  • Solo acoustic versions of songs for a young English artist. (The arrangements were to be played by someone else: I wish they’d told me that before I delivered the first one, as there is some poor guitarist somewhere trying to figure out the altered DADGAD tuning I used for one of them!)
  • Acoustic, dobro and electric guitars in contemporary Country style for a songwriter from Illinois.
  • Acoustic guitar for a Japanese EDM producer (thanks Avicii for making acoustic guitar legal in Dance music!)
  • Snippets of American patriotic songs over a music bed for a computer game. If I had a penny for every time I’ve been asked to copy Hendrix’s version of “Star Spangled Banner” I’d have…. £28 and 31p.
  • Electric guitar on a  Krautrock instrumental

You get the idea…

None of these projects used anything other than the most basic chord sequences. That’s the real challenge, to be honest: creating something out of simplicity.