Written by Junior Parker and Sam Phillips, a hit for Elvis Presley, here is the Chet Atkins version of "Mystery Train" taught by fingerstyle legend Pat Kirtley. This is the first of three parts.
Mystery Train Taught by Pat Kirtley Part ½ [Demonstration] This tune is Chet’s arrangement of the famous Elvis Presley hit from I think 1955 Mystery Train. And in a way, you could say that Chet was influential to the sound of this tune and maybe even influential to the way that this tune evolved as a hit song. Because it was one of the earliest examples outside of Les Paul, I guess Les Paul was the earliest example of using echo delay in getting a guitar sound. So, what I have got on my guitar right now is an echo repeat. It’s just one repeat and its timed so that when I play the rhythm of the song, it creates a back beat. I am going to turn it off. I can put my foot sown here and click this unit and make the echo go away and the rhythm of Mystery Train goes. [Demonstration] When I add the echo, that’s timed exactly at the right time, I get a back beat, like that. [Demonstration] And it’s kind of like sort of like 16th notes that a drummer would play or it’s like a rhythm that a drummer would play along with the band. So to me, it adds to the tune as long as it and you have to work. When you're working with an echo delay and they’re very common to find such a unit, a pedal that you could find at the music store is very common. And the whole trick of echo delay is to get the echo timed at the right time and to get the amount of repeats set correctly which sometimes they call that feedback. On this unit, it’s labeled that of these labels feedback, how many times the echo repeats after it happens the first time? And then how much of the echo sound is added back into your guitar sound? And all those things are variable. And it’s really the only three variables that you have to worry about when you're working with echo, so this is timed. [Demonstration] And I am not going to tell you how long the time is, how many the fractions of a second or anything like that because what's important is that you time it to get the feel that you want along with the speed that you're playing a tune. So, I set this up in advance and I just play it around with it until I had it like I wanted it and it makes the back beat. [Demonstration] So, the way that Chet was in some way involved in the creation of that hit tune for Elvis was that Chet had acquired an amplifier at the time made by guy named Ray Butts. And Ray Butts amplifier was different than every guitar amplifier that had been made before because it had a tape loop echo delay unit built in to the amplifier. It was called the Ray Butts EchoSonic amplifier. And a few people when they heard Chet sound that he got on his signature original tunes like for instance Mr. Sandman, Caravan that he did in those days. When some guitar players heard the sound they wanted to make the sound just like that, so they had to get Ray Butts its amplifier. And he didn't really make very many in his life time but the ones that he made really made an impact. And one of the guitar players who bought a Ray Butt’s amplifier was Scotty Moore, Elvis’s guitar player. And when he played that sound on several of Elvis’s tunes of that, it really added so much to the tune that if you ask me I think it’s part of what made it a hit song. So, Mystery Train was one of those tunes. Now, for the purpose of explaining the tune, I think the echo’s kind of get in the way because I am not going to play things in time all the time. I just want to show you what's happening with it— [Demonstration] Without it— [Demonstration] So, for the rest of the time to explain the tune, I will turn the echo off because it would just kind of I think get in our way more than it would help us. So, here is what going on in the tune. First of all the signature sound of this tune is the original Scotty Moore movement that he used behind Elvis in the original hit and it was like this. [Demonstration] To me, it’s a simple little movement but it’s worth practicing over and over and over again until you get it to where it really grooves, to where it really works. So, it’s an E7 chord and then you're going to take this third finger and make an A out of it. So, you're shifting between E7 and A it is how you're doing but it’s the way that you do and it and make a sound like it sounds. [Demonstration] So, you're hammering into that note on the third string, this note. [Demonstration] And when I play the A chord, I am using three fingers on my right hand to play three notes like that. [Demonstration] And some people don't use three fingers, you could use two if you wanted but it will sound I think more like the sound if you use three. [Demonstration] How many times are you willing to practice this? The more times you play it, the better that will get a promise. [Demonstration] So, the idea behind playing this as a guitar solo piece is that you got to make the melody happen and play that little back beat thing, that little figure that keeps being played over and over again, you have to make both of those things happen. The way Chet decided to do it when he recorded this and by the way you would think that Chet might have recorded this if Elvis had it as a hit in 1955, you would think that by 1956 Chet would have recorded it, but he didn't. He waited until 1972 on an album with Jerry Reed, I think it was the album Me and Jerry.