See Steve's Hand-Written Solo transcription
Growing up in Los Angeles, California, I was only 11 years old when "Tequila" became a hit record for The Champs. Though the song is credited to Chuck Rio, that was really only a stage name for saxophonist Danny Flores, who was also the voice who says "tequila" three times during the song. On the Wes Montgomery interpretation, the song begins with bassist Ron Carter's tumbao, and he is shortly joined by the legendary conguero Ray Barretto. Though I don't really have any historical notes as to exactly what happened during that recording session, it would be my sense that Barretto played a huge role in getting the tune to sound more authentically Latin. In other words, he, in large part, crafted the rhythm arrangement. When drummer Grady Tate finally joins Carter & Barretto, he states the 3:2 clave with his cross-stick on the snare. In all, the Intro lasts 12 bars before Montgomery enters to state the melody with his familiar octaves. The song is stated in a very traditional [A][A][B][A] form with each section being 8 bars in length. Wes plays a 2 chorus solo, with the 1st chorus in octaves. This particular transcription focuses attention only on Chorus 2, and his chord solo.
In the end, no matter at what end of the age spectrum we might find ourselves, we are all perpetual, eternal students, and in every sense of that word. The process of learning never ends, the process of discovering how little we really know is right there slapping us in the face each and every day! When one is younger, and perhaps more deeply involved with transcribing the work of their heroes, I have always maintained that it can speed up the process of internalizing what you seek to learn from a masterful player by learning to sing the solo, or portions of it, before you actually begin to attempt to write it out. Wes Montgomery's "Tequila" chord solo is perfect for this, because you have to hear the top voice of each chord as melodic, as a part of a greater melody. When you do that, it is going to give any chord voicing you choose to play, within the context of your own music, more weight, or depth. Wes' chords always had a melodic sense to me, and the solos were easy to sing. I don't have a great voice at all, but one can't allow that deficiency to prevent them from doing this as an exercise. The truth is that you will probably sing better than you think. And, no one else has to hear it! So, please give this a try while you listen to this solo.
When one listens to the playing of Wes Montgomery, I believe that you are always struck by how very relaxed he sounds. Some of that is just the fact that he was such a musical person, he just heard things. But some of it is the fact that he had played all of these things a million times before, and they were now just coming in newer variations. His style of chordal soloing is really not as difficult, nor mysterious as it might sound upon first listening. Because my goal here is try my best to encourage everyone, and to demystify what he did, I decided that I would also post a page of the Chord Grids for this solo. You can also access this page directly from the transcription page. Perhaps the most sensible idea would be to have two(2) windows opened so that you can view the transcription and the grids at the same time? Just a thought. You might find yourself saying that, "Geez, I know all these chords!" And, the truth is that you probably do! In the end, they are all really the most basic minor 7 or dominant 7 4-note chord voicings, with the occasional diminished 7 voicing thrown in as well. So, how did Wes become so proficient at making these chord voicings sound so melodic? I would simply say, repetition, and again, being musical! How can we achieve similar results? Start by spelling out the 7th chords, both minor and dominant. In the key area of "Tequila" which is centered around A7, you would have that chord, but also its iim7 chord, Em7. So, for A7 you would have: A, C#, E, G, B and for Em7: E, G, B, D, F#. In each case, I have extended the chord through the 9th. Then, as an exercise, you would attach one of the simple voicings to each top note, and play them as if they were a simple arpeggio. Start with just the triad, eventually expanding that by adding in the 7th degree. You would use 4-note voicings with the top voice being on your high E-string, and 3-note voicings with the top voice being on your B-string. Take your time, be patient, and take some time, weeks, maybe months perhaps, and eventually, you will have it. This I promise! But, you must make certain that all the notes in the chord are speaking properly! Now, let's take a look at the specifics of this great little solo.
The first little voicing that you hear in bar 1 of [A], and throughout the 1st 8 bars of solo, is really stylistically very much Wes! He employs this little sonority over both minor 7th chords and dominant 7th chords. In this case, over A7, the top voice is always the 9th(B-natural) of the chord, and if it happened to be a minor 7th chord, the top note is always the 5th. So, if it had been Em7, B-natural is the 5th. He also uses it over major 7th chords as well, in that case, the top voice is the maj7th of the chord, or it could also be the 3rd of the chord. If you look at Wes' chord solo over Jobim's "Once I Loved," this same voicing is the first thing that he plays there too! Though I tend to write out this little voicing as having 4 notes, sometimes when listening, I feel that Wes is only playing the top 3 notes. So, learn it with 4, but don't be afraid to play only 3 notes!!! It's a beautiful and majestic sound, because it adds in the extensions of the 4th(D) and the 9th(B). As a descriptive tool, I have always maintained that Wes used the guitar as if he had a big band in his hands. So one could say that, in the middle register of the guitar, with the B-natural on top, this voicing is like the saxophone section playing, and the octave 'A' punctuations that you see in bars 4, 7 & 8 are like unison trombones answering. As he moves towards the next 8-bar section, with the high Em7(9) voicing with F# on top, the character changes, and it is as if a trumpet section is now playing! When used orchestrally, the guitar can have seemingly infinite possibilities!!!
At [A2], he presents a descending arpeggiation, but in chords. Over the A7 pedal from Ron Carter's bass tumbao, Wes goes down an Em7(9) chord in voicings from F#-D-B-G. If you look at each chord formation, via the grids, they are all the most basic and simple guitar voicings you could imagine. But again, what Wes is doing is hearing melodies in chords above the root. So yes, they are, by guitarists, considered minor 7 chord voicings, but they're really supplying the harmonic extensions over A7. That's the beauty of thinking about it this way. In a keyboardless context like this, it is even better because there is room for the lowest notes to sound without any conflict from a piano. As the phrase concludes between bars 5-8, there is a sense of release as Wes finally employs some actual A7 voicings, also all very basic and simple. Again, you can consult the grids that I have provided.
As the solo hits letter [B], we are given a nice glimpse of how Wes utilized simple diminished 7th chord voicings to add the blues element to his chordal passages. Of course, for those of us old enough to remember the original Pop hit version of "Tequila," who can forget those diminished chords that appeared? This bridge section begins on the IV7 chord, D7, as he plays our most familiar position for a D7(9) with the 5th(A) on top. Then you see the little A°7 voicings with A & F# on top. My sense would be that Wes played them both with the top note on the high E-string. But, in case, for some reason, you found it easier to play the voicing on the inside set of strings with the F# appearing on your B-string, that chord grid is also provided in the lower right-hand corner of that page. In bar 2, between very common A7 voicings, Wes puts to use the diminished sounds between them for the voicings with D and Bb and top. But, in bar 4, where again there's another touch of the blues as the line ascends from C#-D-D#-E, the last three voicings are all parallel versions of the G7(9) chord with the D-natural on top.
As his register has now entered a higher area, the D7(9) becomes the common voicing for D7(13) with the root on top in bar 5. Then, for beats 3-4, the little diminished 7th chord voicings reappear as part of yet another bluesy passage between Eb and F# before landing back on A7(9) anticipating bar 6. However, on beats 3-4 of bar 6, Wes inserts a VI7 chord, F#7(b9) as he descends through the top voices with D-Db-B-A#(Bb), all are harmonized with diminished 7th chord voicings. It is important to keep in mind that, throughout these first 6 bars, Ron Carter's bass tumbao has not changed, and he is still only playing A's and E's, even though the chords have changed. Going into bar 7, and the V7 of V7, which is B7, Wes again uses parallel harmony as he approaches the B7(13) voicing from 1/2-step above, which sounds fantastic. Then, the inner-voice moves from G#(13th) to G-natural, or F double-sharp to be correct(#5), with his usage of B7(#5). Finally, he anticipates the coming chord for bar 8, and uses parallel harmony, sliding up from Bbm7 to Bm7, as he employs the iim7 over the V7(E7) chord sound. You don't really hear the sounds of E7 until beats 3 & 4. On that 4th beat, Wes uses that basic diminished 7th chord voicing with B-natural on top, but here, it is functioning as the upper part of an E7b9 chord.
The last 8 bars of the chordal solo, which I could have easily labeled as [A3], are just a vamp before he restates the melody in his very familiar octaves. The mysteries of the clave and Latin music in general have been a source of fascination and study for me for decades now, and I am still just a humble student of the genre. Depending upon which great musician you happen to be talking with about it, there is always some flexibility as to what would be considered out of clave, and what is "in the slot." As I stated in the beginning, Wes' version of "Tequila" is played in 3:2 clave, and it's interesting that Wes intuitively seems to observe the '2' bar of the clave with pronounced accents on beats 2 and 3. You can see/hear this in bars 2, 4, 6, and 8 of this last section. Again, as an orchestration device, he answers the chord voicings from bars 1, 3, 5, and 7 with low 'A' octave punctuations. You have to envision, using your imagination, those octaves being played by 3 trombones and 1 bass trombone!
Over the years between 1965-69, I saw Wes perform many, many times, usually at The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, California, accompanied by brothers, Buddy(Ac. Piano) and Monk(El. Bass), Billy Hart(Drums), and Alvern Bunn(Conga). After the release of "TEQUILA," I heard them perform this tune on several occasions, and, as it always is, playing a tune live over time will produce interesting additions to the arrangement. I recall one clever touch that Wes came-up with for bar 8 of [B] where, in unison, they would play on the and-of-2 an octave E-natural(w/ the top note on the G-string), and then, on beat 3 there would be an octave A-natural(w/ the top note on the B-string), and finally, on beat 4, a high octave E-natural(w/ the top note on the high E-string), before returning to [A] and the head. This cute little figure always brought a smile to my face!
For anyone who might not be aware of it, recently the 4th Edition of my "WES MONTGOMERY GUITAR FOLIO" was published by Jamey Aebersold's fantastic Jazz Education services. Of course, this particular transcription was not offered in the latest edition. So, for those who are new to the website, or for those returning, let this serve as a nice bonus to what is offered in the book. As always, I have been most heartened by all the wonderful e-mails that I have received regarding the book, and if it has aided anyone in their quest to better understand the magic of Wes Montgomery's playing, then I am really happy about that!!!
[Photo: Wes Montgomery and his Gibson L-5 by the pool
Photo by: Chuck Stewart]