This is a unique, one-of-a-kind lick that really takes the banjo-like sound and raises it to a special level. I created this lick back in 1969 for my song “Upstate Rag,” which I originally played with my band Steel. We also performed the song in 1970 at the first anniversary of the Woodstock Festival, which was held at the actual site of Woodstock for thousands of campers. The same song also appeared as an acoustic piece on Guitar Harvest, as well as the full-band version on my 2005 CD, Landscape.
As easy as it was for me to find and create this lick, it’s always amazed me how I never hear any other guitar players use it. It’s basically a “drone” position that utilizes a hammer-on that accompanies the open G while a higher G and D ring out on the top strings. It’s a fine exercise in isolating the top four strings, while using very accurate and rapid flat-picking to coordinate the G drones with the higher string’s answers.
Remember that to create something like this in such a fast style, within such a small area, one must really have a relaxed wrist, and you must understand that a pick’s upstroke is really simply the natural “return” of a pick’s downstroke. This is one of my all-time favorite licks, so pay close attention to how I execute it. Good luck, and happy picking!—Arlen Roth