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Anthony Jackson - "Father He Said"

As featured on "What Cha' Gonna Do For Me" by Chaka Khan
Warner B7599-25867-2 (1981)

Chaka Khan - What Cha' Gonna Do For Me

Never has the humble issue of ghost notes caused one man so much suffering. The thorny issue of whether Anthony Jackson employed copious amounts of these unpitched percussive notes on "Father He Said," or absolutely none at all, caused me such grief that I ended doing two different transcriptions: one with the ghost notes, and another without.

I must have listened to this track about a million bloody times before I came down in favor of the no-bass-ghost-notes-at-all theory. As such, that's the version I've presented above as the main transcription.

My reasoning is outlined detail below, however, if you want to experience a little musical schadenfreude, fire up this track on the stereophonic device of your choice, stick on a pair of headphones and take a long, lingering listen...You'll likely catch at least a glimpse of the misery I endured.

Damn thing near drove me crazy! ;-)

Often, all that's required to enhance a song is a no-frills, four-on-the-floor approach. And, if this can be achieved in a creative and original way, then so much the better. Having said that, I wonder how many of us would have the confidence and nerve to lay it down quite as simply as Anthony Jackson does on "Father He Said."

As well as the bass part, I occasionally like to sketch out the other instruments too, just to get an idea of what's going on harmonically, and this was one of those occasions. The interplay between the guitars, piano and bass creates some interesting chords, the naming of which wasn't as straightforward as I had initially envisaged. The track starts with keyboard playing an A, C, D, and G over AJ's low repeated G, (any takers for Gadd9 sus4?). However, throughout the song, the guitar twangs out an unmistakable E on the last eighth note of the first bar of the two-bar riff, giving rise to C6/9 or, I suppose, Am11 (sans 9th). The same thing happens when the riff moves up a major third.

When a substantial bass fill occasionally does make an appearance, it's not a pointless sweep up the tonic scale or something equally bland. Rather, on the two occasions that AJ decides to signal his presence in no uncertain terms, the listener is presented with momentary flashes of harmonic subterfuge, as he suggests ephemeral tonal possibilities that wane as quickly as they flourish. For example, in bars 31-32 AJ's line tilts toward D minor, setting the ear up to subconsciously expect a clean cadential resolution to C via the almost dominant-flavoured C6/9/G chord. Of course this never comes to pass...

Although the main meat of the bass part is fairly simple, ironically, due to the issue of Jackson's possible use of ghost notes, this transcription almost caused me to sell all my gear and move to a monastery in which everyone has sworn an eternal vow of silence! For a long time, I thought AJ was playing the percussive notes in the middle of the mix, but now, after a long struggle, I believe otherwise.

Headphones proved crucial in finally nailing this number: On the first beats of bars 10 and 18, there's a two-note sixteenth lick in the middle of the stereo field that jumps an octave (AJ often uses this same lick throughout the track). This innocuous melodic lick was to prove crucial in my 'no-bass-ghost-notes' theory.

After much use of the "loop" function and recourse to several cases of "ear-sharpening" beer, I now believe the ghost notes heard in the middle of the stereo field throughout the song were played by the inconspicuous guitar responsible for the rogue octave leaps to be heard on the first beat of bars 10 and 18, and several other similar places low in the mix. My theory is it that this guitar only occasionally pitches notes and spends the rest of the time playing those pesky transcriber-torturing ghost notes. This likely is the same guitar that begins soloing on the outro from bar 69.

Actually, without headphones, it would be almost impossible to pinpoint exactly what each stringed instrument is playing, as the multiple guitars employ umpteen ghost notes and octave leaps similar to those occasionally tossed of by AJ. When I first transcribed this track several years ago, I didn't use headphones and therefore didn't check out the subtle complexity of these unpitched notes. Consequently, this time around, when it came to putting the notes into Finale I naively thought it would be a 30-minute breeze. Boy was I wrong! When I stuck a set of headphones on and re-listened to the track in detail, my heart sank. Of all these Anthony Jackson transcriptions, this was probably the least fun to transcribe. ;-)

Thankfully, somehow, it all eventually madesome kind of sense - well at least to me...

There's an almost invisible key change in "Father He Said," which pushes the last third of the track up by a semitone. This change isn't achieved by some convoluted modulation, but rather by the simple expedient of extending the rising chordal figure in bars 51-52 by an extra semitone. This figure was first announced in bars 17-18, rising from Fma7, to G9sus and up to A9sus. The key change is achieved merely by dint of extending this figure to Bb9sus in bar 52 - expanding the original 2/4 bar by two beats to 4/4 - and then dropping back a full tone to reintroduce the main riff, just as the ear was set up to expect in bar 17.

Though rising key changes are a tried-and-tested way of boosting the tail end of pop tunes, they're usually achieved in a slightly ham-fisted and undisguised step-up movement. However, with a classier set of musicians at the harmonic helm - composer, producer and instrumentalists - a subtler approach can be taken. As such, "Father He Said" benefits from the uplifting effect of the key change, but the effect is achieved in an invisible and sophisticated fashion.

Transcription © Stevie Glasgow 2008