That Lonnie Johnson sound

The chapter of “Chronicles” we have assigned for Monday is blissfully short. A delightful Sunday read. But you must look at the page count of chapter four. It is Griel Marcus long. Start now.

In this chapter he describes a technique of writing and singing taught to him by Lonnie Johnson and he mentions that Link Wray uses this technique on his song Rumble. Here’s a glorious video of him performing that song in the ’70s.

I think I have outlined here what Dylan was exactly describing, someone help me out if they know better. Rumble appears to be in the key of E minor even though the chords all have a major quality, (major quality being a bright happy sound, think of the first chord you hear in the Smashing Pumpkins’ Tonight, Tonight; minor quality can be described as dark, brooding and foreboding, see the last chord in the Smashing Pumpkins’ Tonight, Tonight). Here are the changes, each chord is strummed big so this shouldn’t be too hard to follow:

DM – DM – EM

DM – DM – EM

DM – DM – A9

DM – DM – EM

DM – DM – B7

E minor pentatonic starting on G

EM – DM – DM – EM

On page 158 Dylan describes how scales are put together.

The first scale he mentions is the seven note scale, the diatonic scale. Here is the E minor scale:

E F# G A B C D

Which you can express numerically like this:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

The second kind he mentions is the pentatonic, the five-note scale which is like this:


Numerically like this:

1 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 7 – 1

So Rumble adheres to Dylan’s description of the technique. If you map the numbers to the chords:

7 – 7 – 1

7 – 7 – 1

7 – 7 – 4

7 – 7 – 1

7 – 7 – 5

Lick (which is exactly five notes from the pentatonic scale descending)

1 – 7 – 7 – 1

So the system is there in a rudimentary form,  a majority of odd numbers, in threes. Here’s the album version of the song without all the glam of the version above if you want to read along:

Finally, here’s a guy who runs through how to play the song pretty well. You can watch this if you are having trouble following along:


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