by Adam Levy
One of the players I’m excited to talk about in my 50 Low-Down Rhythm Licks series is Billy Butler—the Philadelphia-born guitarist who worked with Dinah Washington, Jimmy Smith, and other jazz greats. Butler’s style was an amalgam of blues and jazz flavors. He swung as hard as any guitarist ever has, and played with a big, bold sound. His most famous recording was the chart-topping instrumental hit “Honky Tonk, Pt. 1”—cut with the Bill Doggett Combo in 1956.
The song opens with the drummer holding down a mean shuffle and Butler playing 12 bars of unrelenting blues rhythm, before the rest of the band enters. What I love about this track is how Butler makes the rhythm roll across the beats by avoiding the blues-guitar cliché dun-da dun-da dun-da dun-da, which heavy on the downbeats. He drives “Honky Tonk” in a sexier, more sophisticated way by starting on the and of the fourth beat of the previous bar. There are some long pinkie stretches here, but they’re worth working for. Butler’s three-chorus solo—a little later in the track—is also a thing of beauty, though that’s a subject for another day. Right here, right now, rhythm is our business.
A longtime friend of the ‘Fire, Adam Levy has been unlocking the