You can learn a lot about playing blues slide on acoustic guitar by borrowing from great blues glide players and incorporating their techniques into your own playing. Not just the greats of yesteryear who invented the style, but contemporary players like Jontavious Willis, Kelly Joe Phelps, and Jimmy Page (contemporary enough!) can teach us a lot about blues slide. Here are some tips from these great players to start you on a path toward building a your own slide vocabulary.
At 25, Jontavious Willis is one of today’s great young blues guitarists. In this video lesson, complete with standard notation and tablature, Willis teaches how to play his clever open-G arrangement of “Poor Boy, Long Ways from Home.” He takes inspiration from a recording that banjoist and jug-band pioneer Gus Cannon (1883–1979) recorded in 1927, rather than later versions by Mississippi John Hurt, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Howlin’ Wolf, or any number of other blues guitarists.
The interesting thing about Cannon’s arrangement, says Willis, is that it was originally played on slide banjo, during the blues craze of the early 20th century. It was right around that time that guitars became more affordable, replacing banjos in blues, jazz, and other styles, so he thinks of this recording as kind of a bridge between early banjo and open-tuned guitar approaches. Cannon’s recording sounds in the key of Gb major, and his approach translates well to guitar in open G (D G D G B D).
Kelly Joe Phelps is the total package. He’s not just an excellent guitarist and singer, but a songwriter of depth and complexity. Because Phelps’ playing flows so hypnotically, you can be lulled into thinking it’s easier to play than it really is. So take your time in learning his techniques—highly useful bottleneck moves, regardless of your style.
In this lesson you’ll adapt Phelps’ open-D ideas to bottleneck style, with some examples inspired by “The House Carpenter” (from 1999’s Shine Eyed Mister Zen). Then, you’ll delve into his open-G work with some figures like those heard on 2012’s Brother Sinner & The Whale.
The legendary Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, like most rock musicians, is heavily indebted to the blues. His earliest musical inspirations were rockabilly guitarists Scotty Moore and James Burton, who played in Elvis Presley’s band, as well as blues players like Elmore James, Freddie King, and Hubert Sumlin.
Jimmy Page is a master of taking old blues stylings and repackaging them to suit his artistic needs. In a nod to the tradition in blues of making it your own, Page stands out as a great example of being open to all possibilities. Check out this lesson to learn his slide moves in such classic Zeppelin songs as “When the Levee Breaks,” “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” and “In My Time of Dying,” and how to put it all together in a concise and tasty 12-bar solo.