How to play Mystery Train as recorded by Elvis
"Scotty Moore was my icon. He was Elvis’s guitar player on all the Sun Records stuff. He’s on “Mystery Train”, he’s on “Baby Let’s Play House”. Now I know the man, I’ve played with him. I know the band. But back then, just being able to get through “I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone”, that was the epitome of guitar playing. And then “Mystery Train” and “Money Honey”. I’d have died and gone to heaven just to play like that.” How the hell was that done? That’s the stuff I first brought to the johns at Sidcup, playing a borrowed f-hole archtop Höfner. That was before the music led me back into the roots of Elvis and Buddy – back to the blues." - Keith Richards talking about Scotty Moore in his autobiography Life.
In this lesson I take a detailed look at one of Scotty Moore's most celebrated guitar parts. My version is based on the 1955 Sun Records single:
As is often the case when I prepare these lessons, I find myself discovering new things about songs I assumed I already knew how to play inside out. For this tune, I found myself changing some of my fingerings and chord voicings in order to get a bit closer to the way Scotty does it. There doesn't seem to be any video footage of Scotty playing this tune live with Elvis, but I did find this version performed with Eric Clapton. There are some good close ups of Scotty and although he's not playing it exactly the same way as on the original, it's useful to be able to see his technique and check which position he's using to play some of the chords.
Below is my transcription. I haven't written out the entire song in full, just the intro, first verse and solo. Subsequent verses are played more or less the same way, but feel free to mix up the picking pattern slightly. Scotty doesn't stick rigidly to the same pattern during the song, but varies it slightly throughout. Remember to keep 4 steady bass notes going in each bar with your pick/thumbpick and to play all the other notes with the fingers of your picking hand. Download a PDF of the music here, if you wish.
A big part of the rock 'n' roll guitar sound is its use of slapback echo. Scotty Moore would have originally used some kind of tape echo, but you should be able to approximate the sound with any kind of delay effect. I'm using my MXR Carbon Copy delay pedal. Keep the delay time very short and the feedback set to 0 and before you know it you'll be in rockabilly heaven.