127: John Lennon, “Invisible Guitarist”

December 4, 2017

Podcast, Podcasting

John once observed that, in his opinion, Paul was “…an egomaniac about everything else about himself, but his bass playing” – which was as influential as it was innovative. It is therefore a delicious irony to report the same was true of John: while he touted his status as an artist (not to mention “genius”) at every opportunity, he could be surprisingly reserved / conflicted about his own technical abilities on his chief instrument.

In this episode, I talk with musician/producer Ben Rowling, who breaks down John’s unsung contribution to The Beatles’ sound, as well as the impact he had on the rhythm guitarists that came after. With isolations and recreation, no one will ever again think of John’s instrumental Beatles work as “invisible.”
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    21 Responses to “127: John Lennon, “Invisible Guitarist””

    1. Rob W Says:

      Another great show. I am a guitarist who has been playing for 50 + years. John Lennon was NOT a primitive guitarist! He was fantastic, he just didn’t think and play like a guy who was restricted by training. He was a rocker. By the way I think John and George always meshed, that was a big part of the magic.
      I liked your guest but he said some incorrect terms ,that were a little confusing…for instance he stated that “Across the Universe” was in ” open D” but then correctly said it was played in standard 440 tuning in D . All told a great show.


    2. Ryan Says:

      Interesting episode!


    3. Michael Says:

      So glad you hit on “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, ’cause I was always transfixed with John’s tone on that song. This was the first song I ever heard by The Beatles and it literally stopped me dead in my tracks. I was never the same after hearing this! Between John’s tone, his incredible playing and the bass chords Paul plays during the middle eight, I had never heard anything like it. Not to mention Ringo’s amazing drumming! Still gives me chills to this days!


    4. Louis Pacifico Says:

      Love rhythm to And Your Bird Can Sing. Rings like a bell under that dual guitar.


    5. James Says:

      Would you say that John’s guitar work was similar to Ringo’s drumming insofar as he intuits and plays what the feel of the song requires rather than playing by rote or, in the other direction, veering into showinees?


      • Ben Rowling Says:

        Totally James. John and Ringo were very similar in their musical thinking as both jumped into things feet first and had a kind of telepathy.


    6. Paul T Says:

      Very enjoyable guys – thx a lot, and finishing with one of my top ten moments on a Beatles track, the superb solo on YCDT.


    7. Ben Rowling Says:

      Thx Paul.


    8. DavyR Says:

      Another very enjoyable “Really Big Shew”! Loved the isolate tracks’ selection and also Ben Rowling’s recordings. Thanks, Ben! I’m gonna listen to it all again!


    9. Rob B Says:

      John’s playing on All my Loving is incredible . I’m always amazed someone can play that rhythm …. And then to play it on the Ed Sullivan show ! 😎


      • Tony S. Says:

        I agree. I think the rhythm guitar makes the track. When I was young, I remember it was the first thing I noticed. It’s one of those things where you think anyone can play triplets, but who would have ever thought of playing them like that to begin with. I’m a big fan of late ’50s and early ’60s music and see no precedent for this.


    10. Jeremy B Says:

      Another fascinating SATB podcast, thanks guys. I love the way that even now there’s still so much to discover about the Beatles’ recordings. The isolations and Ben’s recreations were really illuminating and great to hear.


    11. BASSMAN Says:

      In Australia:-This episode was just so so great it blue my mind. I have always wondered how Lennon got that clucky chicken sound in I Wanna Hold your hand… It starts just before the vocal “Oh yeah I” and is repeated throughout the song….your guest by isolating the rhythm sorted it…brilliant-it is John’s HAMMERING on those heavy strings 13 to what though? 56?. Am I the ONLY one who has ever wondered about that chicken cluck effect on the rhythm or am I mad. I used to think it was George but it was John. I like your guest better than the other guy but I must admit to bias because I am a guitar play..lead and vocals and a BIG YES…at gigs, I have had TREMENDOUS difficulties playing the rhythm to All my Loving Whilst trying to sing it. Just on that, try and play AND sing the bass like to Silly Love Songs…Paul was IS a genius. On rhythm guitarists Bruce Welch takes some beating on The Savage.

      One other point…I believe a whole show could be devoted to this and possibly should be, coz no other Beatles show has done it. Here it is! Has ANYBODY ever noted how Lennon alternates between lead and harmony on the vocals? Sometimes, when he cannot make the high register, Macca will sing it and Lennon will do a beautiful lower harmony and then revert back to the lead. Gawd he does this so often and BEAUTIFULLY.Lennon is one of the best harmony singers ever…some are so weird but enhance the songs magnificently.

      Once again I rate this episode amongst the top three I have ever listened to. I would like to know the actions the three of them had/liked on their guitars…high? Low 1/16” at the high standard or what? What type of strings and gauges did they all use? Then again this may not interest most of your listeners but string gauge has a HELLUVA lot to do with sound. Hank Marvin uses railway tracks for that ‘twang’.

      I would also like comments on what the Beatles thought of themselves as musos, guitar players etc. I think once, Lennon said Macca was the greatest bass player he had ever heard…I may be wrong though.

      Your guest’s playing and explaining those parts, brings a new dimension to the programme. I hope he keeps it up! He too is a great player.

      John kept his rhythm ‘sound’ the same forever seemingly…that trebly scratchy
      overdrive sound…I could be wrong though…any comments?


    12. GEORGE B ZIEGELE Says:

      Fantastic episode and as a guitarist I can tell you that the difficulty of playing those triplets throughout All My Loving cannot be overstated. The isolated tracks and Ben’s recreations do a great job of revealing how much Lennon’s rhythm drove the band’s overall sound.


    13. Robert Cole Says:

      When the Beatles hit the US in ‘64 I was 12 years old. Of course the first song I heard was “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” It was the Dave Dexter Capitol Records version which, compared with the British EMI version, is dirtier, dominated by the rhythm guitar, smothering Harridon’s Country and Western guitar fills. For me, the rhythm guitar at the beginning made all the difference. Not long after I heard the Beatles’ version of “Roll Over Beethoven,” again with the rhythm guitar dominating the listening experience. Lennon was never the invisible guitarist. Instead his driving beat allowed both McCartney and Harrison to add, respectively, imaginative bass lines and colorful lead lines to their songs. By the way, Harrison as the invisible singer is another red herring. Listen to the backup singing on “Twist and Shout” and “Help.” Both McCartney and Harrison sing, but the voice that comes through is George’s.”


    14. Luke Says:

      Excellent episode! Really, really enjoyed that one. Structured beautifully and the conversation was enthralling. The recreated isolatiions were a perfect touch, Ben. Would love the McCartney episode re-done to have the same structure to it.


    15. Walter White Says:

      Great insights and analysis. I liken John’s guitar work to George ‘s backing vocals…they’re key and would be sorely missed if lost. I think George might be the best backup singer of the band in fact. But John had a distinctive style that meshed with George and of course Paul is simply the most effortlessly melodic and driving bass guitarist of all time.
      It’s pure wonder that these four found each other and became one whole. That continues to amaze me as each of them, and I include Ringo, were amazing in their own right. But together they became something that may never be duplicated again.


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