That James Bond Riff

Flick, Vic Flick

Flick, Vic Flick

NPR re-aired a great story this week about Vic Flick, the creator of that famous James Bond guitar riff. It has to be one of the most instantly-recognizable guitar parts ever composed. But more than just the notes is that sound. It captures an era like no other, yet somehow avoids sounding too silly and dated (at least to my ears). If you’ve seen the latest Bond installment, Skyfall, there’s a great moment where the original Bond theme is reprised and it works wonderfully. In an otherwise dark and somber movie, it’s just the right amount of humor to momentarily lighten the film.

As for the interview, my favorite part is when Mr. Flick talks about “digging into” the string to get that sound. I don’t know what guitar Mr. Flick used originally, but I once got a sound pretty close to the original with a friend’s Telecaster and the bridge pickup. He’s totally right about really driving that string with your picking hand. It’s almost like you’re trying to overdrive the sound much further up the signal-chain all the way at the pickup instead of at the amp.

And, while we’re on the topic of Bond, for many years I was mystified by that super-jazzy ending chord. It was so rich with harmonic tension. A few months ago I accidentally stumbled onto playing it (which means I can now cross that off of my “bucket list”). The chord is an Em9M7. That is, an E-minor triad with a major 7th, instead of the usual minor 7th and a 9th. Because of the close proximity of the root, 2nd, minor 2rd and major 7th there’s a lot of harmonic complexity and dissonance in this voicing. Note that Mr. Flick drops the 5th, which is a common jazz-guitar trick. You can usually drop the 5th because, unless it’s diminished or augmented, because it’s not crucial to the overall sound of the chord. Guitar, unlike piano, requires us to make certain harmonic compromises like this.

Here’s the chord. Make sure you give it a good whack so all the notes attack at once:

Bond Chord

Bond Chord