Sunday, November 18, 2012

Great Guitar Solos, #3: Hiram Bullock

“I think he was the greatest guitar player ever, with the exception perhaps of Jimi Hendrix. Nobody was ever better.”

-Paul Schaffer, on Hiram Bullock

In a perfect world, Hiram Bullock would be a household name. 

From the mid-'70s until his death in 2005, Bullock was an active session musician who straddled the jazz-funk-pop/rock genres.  

Bullock's credits included work with notable jazz figures Art Farmer, Dizzy Gillespie, Carla Bley, Jaco Pastorius, and David Sanborn, with whom he had a long-standing collaboration.

Bullock supported pop acts Burt Bacharach, Kenny Loggins, and Paul Simon, and played on some really big albums:  "Gaucho" by Steely Dan; Billy Joel's "The Stranger"; and the soundtracks to "A Star is Born" and "The Blues Brothers." He also did the solo on Sting's cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing."

In addition, Bullock was one of the original members of David Letterman's band, and had several releases of his own. 

In the video below, Bullock supports Bootsy Collins on David Sanborn's show, "Night Music," at some point in '89-'90. There's much to love about this performance, including (but not limited to) Bootzilla's regal blue costume and star-shaped bass, and the synchronous booty-shaking of the many people onstage. A friend I forwarded this video to echoed my thoughts when she said, "I want to be in that room."

Bullock's solo comes in at 3:34, and right away you know he means business. The opening pick slide is lascivious - in the best sense - and seamlessly morphs into a sweet, sweet bend joined to an ecstatic expression that could come off as overblown in lesser hands, but fits perfectly here. 

Many rock solos in '89-'90 were played by twenty-something men who crammed as many notes as possible into an agreed-upon number of measures. This technique-for-technique's-sake trap too often buried the melody/theme of the song, rather than supporting it.

By contrast, this solo is pure blues feeling. Hiram builds on the deep groove and makes every note count - and barely looks at his hands as he does it.   

After an explosive climax, Hiram steps back into the shadows, once again invisible. 

Such is the life of the sideman. 

**Click here for "Great Guitar Solos, #1:  Eddie Hazel (of Funkadelic) and here for "Great Guitar Solos, #2:  Frank Zappa

p.s. for more details about Hiram Bullock and the above video, see Jon Leon Guerrero's comments below


  1. Awesome. I was 18 when 'Night Music' hit the airwaves on NBC. Fans knew the show would never last, so many of us just savored every minute of it, and waited all week for Sunday night. Hiram was a member of the house band, which also included (here's where I start salivating) Omar Hakim, Marcus Miller, Phillip Saisse, and was led by Sanborn and Jools Holland. There were great impromptu pairings backed by that house band, including BB King and Boz Scaggs, Joe Walsh and Al Green, Donald Fagan and Joe Sample, the list goes on and on. But Hiram was great, and the world suffered a great loss it scarcely realized when he died. Thanks for posting this great clip.

  2. Oh yeah, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the deep ass pocket of Omar Hakim on this clip. He is a great jazz player and soloist and all of that, but there's nothing about him I love more than the churning locomotive of a backbeat he brings to a funk groove, and the way he works everything around it.

  3. By the way, for more incredible Hiramification, check this out. The burning commences at about 2:50. The studio recording of this song is on David Sanborn's album 'Straight to the Heart,' which is a piece of work I have owned in every medium and have not been without since I bought it on vinyl as a new release. It's a classic, and you should have it.