June 5, 2013 in Tips & Lessons

Pearl Jam – Yellow Ledbetter

Mike McCreadyBy combining a Hendrix-style blues riff, a powerful solo, and passionate lyrics, Yellow Ledbetter is the kind of song that inspires people to pick up a guitar.

Despite never appearing on a studio album, the song became a favorite of Pearl Jam fans as the band has used it for years to close out concerts. While this is clearly not a song for beginners, many intermediate players don’t realize that this classic is well within their abilities.

About The Song

Yellow Ledbetter was actually one of the first songs Pearl Jam ever recorded as a group. Guitarist Mike McCready said that they had just begun recording their first album and the song came about from a jam session. Singer Eddie Vedder was able to put the lyrics together on the spot and they hit record.

The song unfortunately did not make the album, which McCready has since said he regrets. It was featured as a b-side on the single for Jeremy. It has since been featured on Pearl Jam’s Greatest Hits album as well as countless live albums. Even though it had never been released on an album, the song still reached number 21 on the Billboard Rock Chart in 1994. In 2007, Yellow Ledbetter was featured in Guitar World’s Top 100 Guitar Solos.

Here is a video of Pearl Jam closing out a show with Yellow Ledbetter:

Lyrics

One of the most interesting aspects about Yellow Ledbetter is that the lyrics have never been written and continue to change and evolve over the years. On the original version, Vedder mumbles some parts to the point that you can’t make out what he is saying. He has also adapted and changed them to fit different themes over the past 20 years.

The general theme behind the lyrics is believed to be describing the feeling of receiving a yellow letter that a loved one has died in a war. Vedder has stated that Ledbetter is the last name of an old friend.

Playing The Song

While the song sounds extremely complex with all of the Hendrix-style embellishments McCready uses, it is actually based on an extremely simple I-V-IV chord progression in E major. The same chord progression is repeated for the entire song. If you are a beginner, you can play along with the song, just strumming the chords E, B and A. This obviously won’t have the dynamic sound you want, but it is great for sing-a-longs.

McCready uses the Hendrix-style grip where the thumb wraps around the back of the neck in order to play the bass notes. This frees the ring and pinky fingers to play the embellishments. One of the advantages of playing a song like this is that McCready himself plays it differently every time, therefore you can make mistakes and it won’t sound noticeable. Basically, you just want to learn the style of the riffs and then find your own version from there.

Here is a video on how to play some of the riffs in Yellow Ledbetter:

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