A comprehensive guitar method, songbook, and narrative anthology | By Steve James Contents IntroductionNotation GuideChapter 1: Gearing UpChapter 2: The Rule of ThumbChapter 3: The Mold Was Broke: Three Songs by Three Roots-Guitar OriginalsChapter 4: The Tool BoxChapter 5: Yes, We're OpenChapter 6: Doin' the SlideChapter 7: Waltz, Breakdown, and the Blues: An American Guitar StoryAbout the AuthorSources and References Introduction It’s easy to play guitar. Learn a few simple chords and the most rudimental elements of technique and tempo and you can make musical sounds. Consequently, many people who play the instrument are self-taught, with little understanding of the music theory that is common knowledge for those who play, for instance, the cello or the clarinet. This is especially true in the realm of roots/blues guitar music. The forms are generally simple, but they employ subtle variations of pitch and rhythm that can only be approximated on a musical manuscript. Add to this a common disinclination among blues guitarists to rely on what’s on the printed page. Many of the players who have become stylistic icons are autodidacts whose self-invented techniques and musical vocabulary are, let’s say, unconventional. Those who seek to emulate them often do so by ear or by rote. The materials in the following chapters were prepared with this in mind. What you’ll find in this volume (as in its predecessor, Roots and Blues Fingerstyle Guitar) is a combination guitar method, songbook, and narrative anthology. It will be useful to guitarists who have some musical background, playing experience, and familiarity with the repertoire. It will also be accessible, informative, and entertaining for those who are getting to know their guitars better while exploring this musical territory for the first time. To help with the learning process, the notation used here is explained in detail in the following guide, and each piece is accompanied by a brief explanatory note to clarify the notation and detail points of technique. These are augmented with video files, so that the concepts and tunes can be easily seen and heard. Also included are some background stories to complement the put-your-finger-here technical aspect of the text. Some of these arrangements are my own; others are handed down from the remarkable people, places, and times that lent themselves to the creation and growth of this music. A variety of songs and styles are presented in these pages: blues, breakdowns, ballads, and even a few waltzes. All have one thing in common: These are the songs of people who make music, not because they’ve been trained to do so or because they think it will make them rich and famous, but simply because they want to hear some. Notation Guide Reading music is no different than reading a book. In both cases, you need to understand the language that you’re reading; you can’t read Chinese characters if you don’t understand them, and you can’t read music if you don’t understand the written symbols behind music notation. Guitarists use several types of notation, including standard notation, tablature, and chord grids. Standard notation is the main notation system common to all instruments and styles in Western music. Knowing standard notation will allow you to share and play music with almost any other instrument. Tablature is a notation system exclusively for stringed instruments with frets—like guitar and mandolin—that shows you what strings and frets to play at any given moment. Chord grids use a graphic representation of the fretboard to show chord shapes for fretted stringed instruments. Here’s a primer on how to read these types of notation. Standard Notation Standard notation is written on a five-line staff. Notes are written in alphabetical order from A to G. Every time you pass a G note, the sequence of notes repeats—starting with A. The duration of a note is determined by three things: the note head, stem, and flag. A whole note equals four beats. A half note is half of that: two beats. A quarter note equals one beat, an eighth note equals half of one beat, and a 16th note is a quarter beat (there are four 16th notes per beat). The fraction (4/4, 3/4, 6/8, etc.) at the beginning of a piece of music denotes the time signature. The top number tells you how many beats are in each measure, and the bottom number indicates the rhythmic value of each beat (4 equals a quarter note, 8 equals an eighth note, 16 equals a 16th note, and 2 equals a half note). The most common time signature is 4/4, which signifies four quarter notes per measure and is sometimes designated with the symbol "c" (for common time). The symbol "c" with a vertical line through it stands for cut time (2/2). Most songs are either in 4/4 or 3/4. Tablature In tablature, the six horizontal lines represent the six strings of the guitar, with the first string on the top and sixth on the bottom. The numbers refer to fret numbers on a given string. The notation and tablature in this book are designed to be used in tandem—refer to the notation to get the rhythmic information and note durations, and refer to the tablature to get the exact locations of the notes on the guitar fingerboard. Fingerings Fingerings are indicated with small numbers and letters in the notation. Fretting-hand fingering is indicated with 1 for the index finger, 2 the middle, 3 the ring, 4 the pinky, and T the thumb. Picking-hand fingering is indicated by i for the index finger, m the middle, a the ring, c the pinky, and p the thumb. Circled numbers indicate the string the note is played on. Remember that the fingerings indicated are only suggestions; if you find a different way that works better for you, use it. Strumming and Picking In music played with a flatpick, downstrokes (toward the floor) and upstrokes (toward the ceiling) are shown as follows. Slashes in the notation and tablature indicate a strum through the previously played chord. In music played with the pick-hand fingers, split stems are often used to highlight the division between thumb and fingers. With split stems, notes played by the thumb have stems pointing down, while notes played by the fingers have stems pointing up. If split stems are not used, pick-hand fingerings are usually present. Here is the same fingerpicking pattern shown with and without split stems. Chord Diagrams Chord diagrams show where the fingers go on the fingerboard. Frets are shown horizontally. The thick top line represents the nut. A fret number to the right of a diagram indicates a chord played higher up the neck (in this case the top horizontal line is thin). Strings are shown as vertical lines. The line on the far left represents the sixth (lowest) string, and the line on the far right represents the first (highest) string. Dots show where the fingers go, and thick horizontal lines indicate barres. Numbers above the diagram are left-hand finger numbers, as used in standard notation. Again, the fingerings are only suggestions. An X indicates a string that should be muted or not played; 0 indicates an open string. Capos If a capo is used, a Roman numeral indicates the fret where the capo should be placed. The standard notation and tablature is written as if the capo were the nut of the guitar. For instance, a tune capoed anywhere up the neck and played using key-of-G chord shapes and fingerings will be written in the key of G. Likewise, open strings held down by the capo are written as open strings. Tunings Alternate guitar tunings are given from the lowest (sixth) string to the highest (first) string. For instance, D A D G B E indicates standard tuning with the bottom string dropped to D. Standard notation for songs in alternate tunings always reflects the actual pitches of the notes. Arrows underneath tuning notes indicate strings that are altered from standard tuning and whether they are tuned up or down. Vocal Tunes Vocal tunes are sometimes written with a fully tabbed-out introduction and a vocal melody with chord diagrams for the rest of the piece. The tab intro is usually your indication of which strum or fingerpicking pattern to use in the rest of the piece. The melody with lyrics underneath is the melody sung by the vocalist. Occasionally, smaller notes are written with the melody to indicate other instruments or the harmony part sung by another vocalist. These are not to be confused with cue notes, which are small notes that indicate melodies that vary when a section is repeated. Listen to a recording of the piece to get a feel for the guitar accompaniment and to hear the singing if you aren’t skilled at reading vocal melodies. Articulations There are a number of ways you can articulate a note on the guitar. Notes connected with slurs (not to be confused with ties) in the tablature or standard notation are articulated with either a hammer-on, pull-off, or slide. Lower notes slurred to higher notes are played as hammer-ons; higher notes slurred to lower notes are played as pull-offs. Slides are represented with a dash, and an S is included above the tab. A dash preceding a note represents a slide into the note from an indefinite point in the direction of the slide; a dash following a note indicates a slide off of the note to an indefinite point in the direction of the slide. For two slurred notes connected with a slide, you should pick the first note and then slide into the second. Bends are represented with upward curves, as shown in the next example. Most bends have a specific destination pitch—the number above the bend symbol shows how much the bend raises the string’s pitch: 1⁄4 for a slight bend, 1⁄2 for a half step, 1 for a whole step. Grace notes are represented by small notes with a dash through the stem in standard notation and with small numbers in the tab. A grace note is a very quick ornament leading into a note, most commonly executed as a hammer-on, pull-off, or slide. In the first example below, pluck the note at the fifth fret on the beat, then quickly hammer onto the seventh fret. The second example is executed as a quick pull-off from the second fret to the open string. In the third example, both notes at the fifth fret are played simultaneously (even though it appears that the fifth fret, fourth string, is to be played by itself), then the seventh fret, fourth string, is quickly hammered. Harmonics Harmonics are represented by diamond-shaped notes in the standard notation and a small dot next to the tablature numbers. Natural harmonics are indicated with the text “Harmonics” or “Harm.” above the tablature. Harmonics articulated with the picking hand (often called artificial harmonics) include the text “R.H. Harmonics” or “R.H. Harm.” above the tab. Picking-hand harmonics are executed by lightly touching the harmonic node (usually 12 frets above the open string or fretted note) with the right-hand index finger and plucking the string with the thumb or ring finger or pick. For extended phrases played with picking-hand harmonics, the fretted notes are shown in the tab along with instructions to touch the harmonics 12 frets above the notes. Repeats One of the most confusing parts of a musical score can be the navigation symbols, such as repeats, D.S. al Coda, D.C. al Fine, To Coda, etc. Repeat symbols are placed at the beginning and end of the passage to be repeated. You should ignore repeat symbols with the dots on the right side the first time you encounter them; when you come to a repeat symbol with dots on the left side, jump back to the previous repeat symbol facing the opposite direction (if there is no previous symbol, go to the beginning of the piece). The next time you come to the repeat symbol, ignore it and keep going unless it includes instructions such as “Repeat three times.” A section will often have a different ending after each repeat. The example below includes a first and a second ending. Play until you hit the repeat symbol, jump back to the previous repeat symbol and play until you reach the bracketed first ending, skip the measures under the bracket and jump immediately to the second ending, and then continue. D.S. stands for dal segno or “from the sign.” When you encounter this indication, jump immediately to the sign, which looks like the a percentage sign(%). D.S. is usually accompanied by al Fine or al Coda. Fine indicates the end of a piece. A coda is a final passage near the end of a piece and is indicated with a circle filled with an oversized plus. D.S. al Coda simply tells you to jump back to the sign and continue on until you are instructed to jump to the coda, indicated with To Coda. D.C. stands for da capo or “from the beginning.” Jump to the top of the piece when you encounter this indication. D.C. al Fine tells you to jump to the beginning of a tune and continue until you encounter the Fine indicating the end of the piece (ignore the Fine the first time through). Chapter 1 Gearing Up https://vimeo.com/696628933 "Right on Beale Street there, I bought my Stella. Paid $11 for it. It was hangin’ in a window. Played it ’til it wore out.” Joe Callicott was talking to blues historian Gayle Dean Wardlow about the instrument he used at the Memphis sessions of 1929 and ’30, where Callicott and his partner, Garfield Akers, made their brief but beautiful contribution to the history of recorded blues. Cheap guitars came up again in Wardlow’s conversations with H.C. Speir, the Jackson, Mississippi, music store owner who scouted a roster of early blues recording talent that included Tommy Johnson, Charley Patton, Skip James, and Son House. When asked what they played, Speir also mentioned the Stella brand—specifically a model he sold for $9.95—as the instrument of choice “across the board.” The sound of bluesmen on a budget remains an aesthetic legacy to the present day. Stellas from the 1920s now have four-figure price tags, and players shop for guitars, both vintage and new, that deliver a stiff, crunchy low end, strong midrange, and sustained highs—the tone associated with roots pioneers who, ironically, might have played Martins if they could have afforded them. “Good for blues”—like the currently common “parlor,” “Piedmont” or “lap-style”—is a fabulously non-descriptive term when applied to a guitar. That said, here are a few notes that may be useful whether you’re looking for a MYSLAD (Makes You Sound Like a Dead Guy) instrument or not. Ladder-Braced Guitars In the early 20th century, as steel strings came into common use and manufacturers began mass-producing inexpensive guitars, it became important to design durable products that could be made cheaply. As the name implies, ladder-braced instruments forgo the more complex X and fan patterns used on the soundboards of costlier steel-strings. In their place are heavy transverse struts—usually four—above and below the soundhole and on either side of an enlarged bridge patch. Although roughly finished inside, some early examples are fancy on the outside, heavily appointed with bindings, decals, and stamped-out inlay work. But Plain Jane is generally the rule. Some of these guitars are petite, barely larger than a baritone uke; others, like the fabled long-scale Stella 12-strings, are massive. Many, like the Kalamazoo brand made by Gibson, were crafted to resemble their pricier counterparts. The sound of such guitars is generally less complex than that of the X-braced equivalent, but ladder-braced examples tend to be loud for their size, and their mid-to-high register is bright with a long decay rate—good for blues. A combination of hide glue, hard use, and history makes older guitars of this type—Washburn, Regal, Stella, etc.—in original playing condition a rare find. Their increasing value, however, has made some well worth restoring. Additionally, the designs have been adapted and improved by builders like Todd Cambio, with his Stella-inspired Fraulini models, and high-end manufacturers such as Collings, whose Waterloo line includes a variety of ladder-braced guitars. Blues Resonances Four decades after that 1929 Memphis session, Joe Callicott clearly remembered the lexicon of now-legendary artists who were at the studio in the Peabody Hotel that day. Among these were Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe, ready to score a major hit with their “Bumble Bee Blues.” Notable in Callicott’s recall were their instruments: A gleaming pair of brand-new National Style 1 Tricone resonators—the first guitars of this type that anybody around Memphis had ever seen or heard. At the time, National guitars had been available for barely a year. The sound of the resonator, now so widely linked to early blues, was absent from the original recordings of blues guitar pioneers such as Blind Blake, Lemon Jefferson, and Lonnie Johnson, who recorded well before that. Even when popular players like Memphis Minnie, Tampa Red, and Bo Carter began using Nationals, their high prices put them out of the range of guitarists more accustomed to $11 Stellas. In 1935, a Style 1 was priced at $125 (about $2,300 in today’s money), more expensive even than a Martin D-28 ($100, or around $1,850 now). These days, National Reso-Phonic and several other custom builders offer a variety of resonator guitars. Regardless of body style or whether they’re made from metal or wood, resonators feature superior volume and projection, thanks to spun aluminum cone(s) mounted inside the body and connected to the bridge. This aspect of construction has remained unchanged since the 1920s. Another characteristic that has remained unchanged is price. Quality resonator guitars, new or vintage, are not cheap, and buyers should be aware of budget lookalikes—especially those that profess to be “just as good as.” They’re not worth having, as their lesser sound, volume, and resale value will attest. The New Cheap So what to do if you, like Callicott, don’t have a lot of money to spend but would like a nice-looking, good-sounding, playable guitar? Keeping in mind that the new $11 may be closer to $400 or $500, a look around the local music store will turn up some new items that fill the roots/blues requirements. These include instruments like Seagull’s Entourage and Taylor’s BBT (Big Baby Taylor). In the “previously owned” category, a number of budget guitars made in the ’50s and ’60s, notably by Harmony, are still around in one piece. Affectionately known by people with lots of cases in the closet as “beaters” or “fishing guitars,” these stamped-and-stenciled assembly line products, often ladder-braced and made with laminated construction, will play in tune and deliver a lot of twang when properly set up. They look kind of cool, and if nobody’s busted ’em up by now, it probably ain’t gonna happen. (By the way, Harmony acquired the Stella brand in 1939 and used that logo for decades on some of their cheaper guitars. Just so you know.) “When properly set up” is an important phrase to remember when trying out what may be your next guitar. A plywood beater in good repair with properly adjusted intonation and string height will play better and more in-tune (and deliver more sound) than a pricier piece that’s out of whack. Buy your guitar from someone who is ready to talk about its condition and ready to demonstrate its playabilty. Once you have a guitar you like, treat it that way! It’s commonly supposed that a dirty, poorly maintained instrument is somehow bluesier or more authentic than one that is kept clean, freshly strung, and carefully stored. That’s an incorrect assumption with no basis in musical reality. Finally, remember that the “new cheap” may be not so. Finding the guitar you need can be kind of like seeing a rattlesnake or a bald eagle— you just know that’s what it is. When that happens, remember another thing that people with lots of cases in the closet like to say: “Just get the instrument in your possession.” Chapter 2 The Rule of Thumb https://vimeo.com/696655989 A prominent rock guitarist, on hearing Robert Johnson for the first time, supposedly said, “He’s pretty good! Who’s the other guy?” In this bit of pop folklore lies an object lesson for the aspiring fingerpicker: There is no other guy. Playing the music in this volume is predicated on the ability to sound two or more voices simultaneously, with independent movement of the picking hand’s thumb and fingers. The beat is the basic building block of the music, and it’s played here by the thumb. It follows that the ascribed function of your strongest and most articulated digit can be interpreted as law. The all-important melody, meanwhile, is picked by the other fingers on the higher strings. Before starting on the song arrangements that follow, try warming up by thumbing through a set of chord changes. Your thumb should be hyperextended as though you were hitchhiking—that is, don’t manipulate the joint of your thumb. Move the entire digit from its base at your palm. Use motion of your wrist if you want to play louder. Keep your fingers flexed in playing position over the treble strings—even though you won’t be using them to play these changes. Brace your little finger on the face of the guitar if you have to, but it’s better technique to touch only the strings with your picking hand. To play Example 1, form an E chord and, keeping the heel of your palm close enough to the bass strings to mute them when wanted, play strings 6 and 4 in alternating succession with your thumb while counting 4/4 time. Then, using your second and third fingers, form an A7 chord as diagrammed. Play an alternating bass line as with the E chord, but using the fifth and fourth strings. Also use the fifth and fourth strings to play the bass line for the B7 chord. Once you can play an alternating bass line for each chord, play them in progression—E, A7, B7, and E, for two measures each—until you can execute the sequence smoothly, maintaining a steady four-beat-to-the-measure feel at around 100 bpm. (By the way, the common belief that using a metronome is inauthentic or not bluesy is erroneous.) Resist the natural inclination of your picking fingers to assist the thumb by playing on beats 2 and 4. Repetitive practice is the key to developing muscle memory here. Playing the thumbed bass line by itself is a useful regimen when learning anything in this style. Once you’ve got those bass patterns under your thumb, try a piece I call “Little Hammer” (Example 2), a simple version of a theme inspired by the legendary fingerpicker Merle Travis. Form and hold the E chord. Use your first finger for the hammer-on to the first-fret G♯ and your fourth finger to stop the second-fret C♯, as well as the bluesy bent G on the first string. Those quarter-step bends—indicated with a curved line and the text 1/4—are supremely important in any kind of blues guitar playing. To play the bends in this example, nudge the first string toward the ceiling#, raising the pitch such that it’s halfway between the notes G and G . The musical feeling that this alteration evokes is hard to express—just as it’s hard to convey in notation. It could be said that the flatter the third, the sadder the sound. In any case, when forming the A7 chord in Ex. 2 with your second and third fingers, place your first finger on string 2, fret 1, so that it will be in place for the C-to-C♯ hammer-on in measure 3. It would be a good idea to commit this A7 move to your muscle memory, as it’s a common blues move. In bar 5, the four-beat bass walk-up to the B7 chord is, of course, picked with the thumb, and the phrasing of the melody in between the bass notes in measure 6 is another essential sound. Once you’ve got your thumb going the way you want it on the E chord, try striking the fifth string on the third beat of each measure, adding a B to the bass line and some harmonic variety to the piece. The title of this next travel-size blues, “Texas Shorty” (Example 3), relates to its brevity and the variation on four-beat thumbpicking, which is associated with (though not peculiar to) Lone Star legends like Lightnin’ Hopkins and Lil’ Son Jackson. Compared to the alternating bass style, this one has a little more going on upstairs, while downstairs there’s generally only one note per chord instead of two or three. Superimposed over this languid low end is a series of deep-blue single-note runs and brushed chords played with finger upstrokes in a “one-and-uh, two-and-uh” triplet pattern that gives this rhythm its street handle of “six over two.” Blue notes (defining blues sounds, most simply explained as the flatted third, fifth, or seventh in a major key) around here, from the A♯/B♭ (♭5) in the three-note pickup measure to the D (♭7) in the E7 chord. The loopy full on the fifth and fourth strings is struck with the thumb, which otherwise thumps a lazy four beats on strings 6 and 5. The same A7 chord with the C-C♯ hammer and the whining high G shows up in bar 2. Then, a real Texas lick kicks in as you negotiate the E7 chord in bar 3. In measure 5, bend that second-string D over the B7 chord with your fourth finger. Take your time with this; it’s supposed to be played slowly anyway. To better hear how these two approaches to thumbpicked 4/4 meter can alter the sound of a song, let’s change keys and apply them both to the same theme, an old-time blues standard called “Crow Jane,” as shown in Examples 4 and 5. Playing in the key of A, use the same basic chord shapes for both versions. Start with an A chord with a first-finger barre at fret 2, across strings 1–4, and your fourth finger on string 1, fret 5—one of the few such stretches frequently made in blues guitar playing. Leaving the barre in place, fret the first string at the third fret using your second (not third) finger to transform the voicing to A7. The E7 chord is the common shape with the same hammer-on to the third string (G♯) used previously and a pretty three-string arpeggio phrase ending with the second-string D. The D7 chord with the low F♯ stopped by the thumb is another fingering commonly used by blues fingerstyle players. (If you have difficulty wrapping your thumb around the neck to fret a note on the sixth string, start practicing now. It's all but impossible to play this stuff without doing it.) The two examples are similar, but note that the straight, one-bass-note-per-chord four-beat approach lends itself to a slower tempo and has a few more embellishments in the high end. You can fatten up the sound by striking two adjacent strings (such as strings 5 and 4 on the A chord) with your thumb and lightly muting them with the heel of your picking hand. The alternating bass version uses strings 5 and 4 for the A and A7 chords and strings 6 and 4 for both D7 and E7. Chapter 3 The Mold Was Broke: Three Songs by Three Roots-Guitar Originals Georgia Buck https://vimeo.com/696654648 The audience at the 1998 Blues to Bop Festival, in Lugano, Switzerland, was a combination of pan-European jazz cognoscenti, suitably swozzled blues fans waiting for the next rock act, and tourists, common in that part of the southern Alps, who could afford to pay the equivalent of $85 for a pizza.It was a beautiful day in a beautiful town, and a good time was being had in general. But nothing could have prepared the crowd for Precious Bryant. Introduced as an authentic exponent of rural Georgia blues, she wore a crimson warm-up suit with a matching beret and designer sports shoes, leaping on stage with an electric guitar as she hit an Ike and Tina Turner number. If there is an opposite condition to chronic stage fright, Bryant had it. Mugging incessantly and hamming up her guitar moves for the cheap seats, this 50-something teenager got the people told in her brassy chirp with an accent thicker than Talbot County grits: “They say I cut the fool!” she shouted, snapping off a hot lick. “I say better cut the fool befo’ the fool cut you!” Meanwhile, in the stage wings, the other guitarists on the bill were paying close attention. Bryant’s eloquent, muscular playing was like a stout, pliant thread holding together the colorful, slightly zany patchwork of a repertoire that included prewar blues, postwar gospel, and turn-of-the-’60s soul. Music like “Georgia Buck” must have been a crib memory for Bryant, whose father played fiddle and banjo along with guitar, and whose family included members of a rural fife-and-drum band. You could feel the pulse of pre-blues country dance music in everything she did. To play “Georgia Buck,” as shown in Example 1, use three first-position chords, including an F shape with a thumb-fretted tonic. Alternate two notes per chord with a three-note climb in octaves, from G back to C, every fourth measure. There’s a high first-string G and a sometimes slightly twisted second-string D; fret both of these notes with your fourth finger. A quirky hammer-on, from the open B to the first-fret C, is played at the front of bar 1, but mostly you just hold the chord shapes, keep your thumb going, and “Georgia Buck” happens. Imagine playing this for a long time for a bunch of people dancing outside under a big moon. Memphis Rounders Blues Booker White had hardly touched a guitar for years when John Fahey located him in Memphis in 1963. White had returned to the River City and a steady job in a welding plant not long after his 1940 Chicago sessions for the Vocalion label yielded 12 masterful yet commercially unsuccessful sides, including some of the most propulsive train blues ever recorded. Shrugging off the changing times, White found a musical partner in a Memphis legend who was a generation older than himself. A blacksmith by trade, Frank Stokes was possessed of a bell-like voice and an equally sonorous guitar style that embodied the blues in its primal form; his 1955 death left a void in White’s musical life that took years to fill. There would never be another Frank Stokes. “Memphis Rounders Blues” is from Stokes’ final recording session, in Memphis, on September 30, 1929. It was the last of four tunes he made on that date, in less time than it might take a contemporary pop artist to complete a vocal overdub. It was a typical day’s work for Stokes, however. A session on August 28th, 1928, had produced only two selections—but that was because he shared the date with Furry Lewis, who had recorded six sides of his own! To play the version shown in Example 2, get into dropped D by lowering your sixth string a whole step, from E to D. This frequently used tuning allows an octave bass line to be played under a D chord shape using the open strings 6 and 4, with the fifth-string A providing additional color. Note the two fingerings of a G chord in measures 5 and 6, one using a low G (tonic) on the sixth string; the other a B (third) on the fifth string, again adding color to the thumbed alternating bass line. The A and A7 shapes are familiar, but, of course, avoid sounding the low string when paying these. The rocking flow of Stokes’ guitar playing is at least partly the result of his playing the bass notes that fall on beats 2 and 4 a little bit behind the beat instead of right on top of it. The rhythmic tension and release created by playing this way is basic not only to fingerstyle blues guitar but to Southern soul music in general. Listen for it, feel it, and use it. Goin’ Up North to See My Pony Run “Well, music ain’t no count if you don’t put no suction to it.”—Mance Lipscomb to Glen Alyn, 1973 The sunset sky over downtown Austin, Texas, was bigger in 1972 than it is now. Nighthawks wheeled overhead as the capitol city’s collegians and counterculture made their way to music meccas like Soap Creek and the Armadillo where the Austin sound was in full boom after a Rolling Stone revelation that rednecks from Texas and back via Nashville took as many drugs as hippies did... and generally played better guitar. You could easily have missed the little rollaway marquee on Lavaca Street in front of the Castle Creek Club that read “Mance Lipscomb Thur. Fri. Sat.” But there he was with his battered Harmony and equally stove-in hat—the farmer from Navasota with the 350-song set list who didn’t see a tape recorder in operation until he was 65 years old and then proceeded to make his first album in about as much time as it takes to listen to it. A show that would have had a line at the door elsewhere had drawn only a few dozen Austinites, but Lipscomb was laconically ingenuous in front of any size audience. His early performing experiences had been at all-night East Texas country house parties and, in an informal club setting like Castle Creek, a set could still run a couple of hours and include anything from variations on the theme of “Polly Wolly Doodle” to a bottomless spontaneous blues based around a guitar arrangement like “Goin’ Up North to See My Pony Run.” As shown in Example 3, the tune’s chord progression is similar to that of the blues standard “Rock Me Baby,” starting on the IV chord (A7) and resolving to the I (E). Note, however, that there is no B7 chord here in bars 6 and 7 (same as bars 9–10 of the 12-bar blues), where one might normally occur. Instead, there’s a bluesy phrase around frets 7–9 on the high strings, with bass notes on strings 6 and 5 fretted with the thumb—a turnaround so effective that it’s worth any effort you might have to expend to learn it! Not as hard to execute but just as effective is the steady, four-beat bass line used with the open E chord. Repeating fifths (Bs) and roots (Es) on the lower strings help keep the drive while creating an interesting harmonic effect. Lipscomb made frequent use of thumb rolls, using a quick bass note at the end of a measure to accentuate the downbeat of the next with an “uh-one-two-three-four” phrasing. They’re used here, for example, at the start of bars 2 and 6 as you change to the A7 chord. Example 4, the guitar break, starts with an extended repeating figure on the E7 chord, played over a thumping single-note E7 bass line on the sixth string. In measure 5, a thumb roll from the sixth string to the fifth sets up a similar phrase around the A7 chord. Starting in bar 9, the tag is a parallel line on strings 3 and 1, sliding into the fourth fret. Mance Lipscomb, for all the apparent complexity of some of his guitar arrangements, was a model of manual economy. He was one of those guitarists who could get an incredible amount of sound out of the instrument—without apparently doing anything! You don’t have to be fast to play this stuff. But you have to be strong. So practice. Chapter 4 The Tool Box https://vimeo.com/696652393 "Blues is the truth!” This sophistry is often posited by people who obviously haven’t gotten to know many blues guitar players—and certainly have never lent them any money. Another common saying, “The blues is just a feeling,” is also only true in a metaphorical sense. All music (we should hope) expresses feelings, and blues, like all music, has specific structural and harmonic components. A few of these will be put to use in the following examples and song arrangements, starting with the construction of some essential chords. The Dominant Seventh Chord A chord is a combination of notes—most commonly, three or four of them—selected from a scale to sound together in harmony. The simplest chord, called a triad, has three notes and is made up of every other note in a given scale. An A major chord, for example, can be found in the A major scale (A B C♯ D E F♯ G♯) and comprises the notes A, C♯, and E. An A triad can be made into a seventh chord, often used in blues music, by the addition of the dominant (flatted) seventh degree of the same scale—the note G. This makes for a dominant seventh chord, most often called simply a seventh chord. An A7 chord contains the notes A (root or tonic), C♯ (third), E (fifth), and G (flatted seventh). That’s enough theory for starters. Example 1 shows you some different A7 voicings to play. All are fretted on strings 4–1, and you can add the open fifth and/or sixth strings as bass notes— the root (A) and fifth (E), respectively. The first has the root on the third string and the seventh as its highest pitch. The third and seventh, incidentally, are the most important notes in a dominant seventh chord, so it’s important be able to identify these. Next is a voicing in which the lowest fretted note is the seventh and the highest pitch is the root—a chord inversion, or reordering of the notes. The third chord is an inversion formed around frets 7 to 9 with the root on the fourth string and the third as the highest note; the seventh is on the second string. Finally, an A7 formed around frets 10–12 has the third as the lowest fretted note and the fifth as the highest. The tonic and seventh are played on strings 2 and 3, respectively. The Diminished Seventh Chord Any seventh chord can be easily altered to form another sound often used in blues harmony. The diminished seventh chord (typically written as dim7 or °7) can be derived by lowering the third, fifth, and seventh of a dominant seventh chord by a half step, while leaving the root note stationary. Try this with the four A7 chord inversions shown in Example 2 and you’ll hear a familiar sound—especially in the third position around fret 7, a move used frequently by Robert Johnson and others. Notice that, no matter which inversion of an A7 chord you alter, the shape of the diminished chord is the same on a given string set and always contains the notes A, C, E♭, and G♭, all a minor third (three half steps) apart. And because of this symmetrical construction, you could also view the four chords in this example with respect to their lowest note—in other words, you can call them Cdim7, E♭dim7, E♭dim7, and G♭dim7 chords, rather than all Adim7. Dominant Seventh Chords in Progression Your four inversions of an A7 chord can be altered in another way—simply by moving them up and down the fingerboard to alter their pitches. A first-position A7 shape moved to the seventh and eighth frets now has a D for a root note on the third string. In the same manner, the A7 shape formed around frets 10 to 12 can be voiced as a D7 by moving it to frets 3–5. (Note that the open A string remains a useable low voice for a D chord and is often used this way.) These inversions can also be voiced as an E7 chord—for example, the first-position A7 played around frets 9 and 10. In this case, the sixth string serves as a low voice. Now you’ll look at two different 12-bar chord progressions to be used as accompaniment for blues in the key of A. Both contain different inversions of A7, D7, and E7 chords and end with a turnaround phrase that works in any position: A7–Adim7– E7–A7. Example 3, the first figure, is played by pinching bass notes and chords with the thumb and fingers in a four-beat pattern. Thumb rolls are used to emphasize the downbeats in bars 1 and 2. The second pattern (Example 4) is similar but uses a steady four-beat thumb line, often involving adjacent bass strings played together with a chord inversion sounded on the first beat of each measure. Both of these progressions can be varied and used to accompany the voice or another instrument. Further Variations Guitarists commonly embellish seventh chords with single-note phrases that involve blue notes. Remember that the most common blue notes are the flatted third, flatted fifth, and flatted seventh—C, E♭, or G, respectively, on an A chord, and F, A♭, and C on a D chord. The following eight-bar blues variations in A and D (in dropped-D tuning) combine single-note runs played against thumbpicked bass notes with various chord inversions; these include a couple of new ways to voice a diminished seventh chord. Example 5, in A, starts with a strummed A7 chord. It then moves second to first position, where a C-to-C♯ slide is followed by a root-to-seventh phrase. Play a steady bass line on the fifth string here. The single-note line played over the D chord change also incorporates the open first and second strings. (Playing a melody using open strings in combination with fretted notes is a technique called cross-stringing.) Bars 4–8 use diminished-chord shapes leading into the A7 and E7 chords, and a standard two-voice turnaround pattern in bar 7 places a descending thumbpicked line on string 4 under a repeated high A. Example 6, a similar eight-bar progression in the key of D (dropped-D tuning), starts with a slurred third, a flatted fifth, and a seventh chord in the first measure over a four-beat figure on the low string. Again, two positions for playing the G–G7 change enable a G-to-B movement in the bass, this time with an added flatted seventh (F) on the fourth string in bar 4. The Ddim7 chord in bar 5 uses the open second (and fourth) strings for a ringing effect, and the Adim7 on strings 5–2 in bar 6 is the same shape used in the previous arrangement. The chord progression heard in both of these eight-bar pieces is similar to one used in blues standards such as “Trouble in Mind” and “Key to the Highway.” Changette Here’s a little piece of mine, in the key of G major, representing a somewhat more ambitious use of seventh/diminished seventh chords. The instrumental “Changette,” an example of the folk process in action, started as my attempt to learn Big Bill Broonzy’s “Saturday Night Rub.” By the time I was done, the snappy, eight-bar “Rub” had become a 16-measure outing with variations, bearing only a tangential resemblance to Broonzy’s original duet with Frank Braswell. When I recorded “Changette” on a banjo guitar during a smoke break at somebody else’s session, it clocked in at 1:55 and was later added as a bonus track on an album that the label wigs said was a minute and seven seconds too short. It’s still a work in progress. The intro to “Changette,” shown in Example 7, starts on a high C7 chord and works down the fretboard with a tonic-diminished-fifth-tonic vamp for each chord, while the turnaround uses a four-beat descending thumb line over a fingerpicked higher part: two interesting ways of approaching the chord sequence—and a whole lot of guitar picking. The theme (Example 8) represents a somewhat ambitious use of single-note runs, with blue notes that include some cross stringing. Here, three-note melody phrases are supported by alternating thumbpicking. Note the F♯-to-D low voice on string 4 under the second-position D7 chord, as well as a G-to-D move for the G chord that follows. The single-note fills in bars 7 and 11 are best played with alternate thumb-and index-finger down- and upstrokes. Example 9 is a turnaround figure that follows the same basic four-bar chord sequence used in the intro. In the first measure, stop the fourth-fret D♯ with your fourth finger and play the note alternately with the open first string, E, using index finger upstrokes. Stop the third-fret F with your second finger and the third-fret A♯ with your third finger in the following bar. A quick change to a second-inversion D7 on the last beat of the measure 3 allows the fourth-string F♯ to be played simultaneously with the fifth-fret A. Toggle between third-position G and D7 chords in the final measure and you will have negotiated this four-measure chord sequence in a pianistic series of ascending and descending lines. Before you close the toolbox, check out Example 10, Uncle Dave Macon’s “All In Down and Out Blues”—contrary to what its title suggests, a non-blues number, in waltz time. This piece will give your thumb an additional workout and show you a couple of other ways that chords can be used to harmonize a melody. Once again, you’re using dropped-D tuning, with a variation on alternating bass picking to achieve 3/4 time. Instead of playing a low note and then a high one, follow each low note struck by the thumb with two higher ones—and you’re waltzing. Practicing this time signature is fun and also productive, because it gives your thumb a break from the steady four-beat regimen that can start to sound a little mechanical after the first few thousand reps. The three-string D-chord shape spanning frets 5 to 7 enables the hammer-on, from E to F♯, on the second string. Once again, the G chord is played two ways, to get the tonic and third in the bass with a seventh on the fourth string, for added interest. In bars 11 and 12 the melody is harmonized with a different chord for each note; these are some fairly quick changes in a perky waltz time. When practicing the sequence, fret the A7 chord using your first finger for the barre and stop the second-fret G with your second finger, rather than your third. This less common fingering will make for a smooth transition to the D7 chord that follows. By the way, although Macon recorded “All In Down and Out Blues” in 1937, the depression he sings about was the one that occurred in the 1890s. Old-timers used to say it was even worse than the Great Depression! Also note that Macon’s frequent guitar accompanist was Sam McGee, one of the most influential early country fingerpickers. You’ll visit some of his work later in the book. Chapter 5 Yes, We’re Open https://vimeo.com/696649695 The names Vastopol and Spanish, derived from 19th-century guitar music, are not necessarily key-specific, but are usually applied respectively to the open D and G tunings that will be used for the balance of the arrangements in this book. Vastopol tuning (low to high: D A D F♯ A D) contains notes from a D major triad; Spanish tuning (D G D G B D), a G triad. Two common variations on these tunings are open E (E B E G♯ B E) and open A (E A E A C♯ E), which have the same intervallic structures as open D and open G but are tuned a whole step higher. The Learning Key Memphis blues originator Furry Lewis called Vastopol (he pronounced it “Vasta-pool”) the learning key. With the tonic note on the lowest and highest strings, it’s easy to play bass and melody at the same time. As shown in Example 1, basic chord shapes in the first position are also easily formed. The open D chord affords an octave bass line on the sixth and fourth strings with the option of adding the A on the fifth string. The low D, although technically part of the G chord, is best left out; a fifth-to-fourth-string bass part gives an effective third (B) in the bass. Likewise, the A7 is also a five-string chord. (This voicing has no third in it.) Thumb through these changes, then practice playing these simple arrangements of a couple of folk songs. Green Corn The traditional American tune “Green Corn,” arranged in Example 2, has three similarly structured parts. When fretting the B on the second string as in bar 2, close up the G chord to get another B in the bass and a harmony G note on the third string. In the second part, the same B is played on string 3, fret 5. Pitching the same note in different places for effect and ease of playing is common in open tunings. Stewball In Example 3 you’ll find a version of “Stewball,” the quintessential horserace song (not the sweetened up pop rendition), that has no chord changes—although you may want to use that G shape for effect, as in “Green Corn.” The F-to-F♯ slide in the melody is played alternately on the second string at frets 8 and 9 and the first string at frets 3 and 4, putting your hand in position to play the high B on string 1 or the flatted-fifth-to-fifth slur on string 3. Diligently practice both of these themes in Vastopol, as you’ll return to them in the chapter on slide guitar. Spanish Chords One characteristic of Spanish tuning that’s apparent at a glance is that strings 2, 3, and 4 have the same pitches and intervals as they do in standard tuning. Also note that the intervals between strings 5 and 1 in Spanish are the same as those between 6 and 2 in Vastopol. So, in a real sense, one tuning is just the other one moved over a string. This is evident when looking over three basic chords in Spanish, diagrammed in Example 4. The C chord is another five-string shape that omits the low string. With no easily fingered tonic note in the bass, the fifth string, pitched at G, is usually played open in combination with the fourth-string E. This makes an attractive resolution to the open G chord, where all six strings can be played. The D7 chord is another six-string shape with an octave D and an A (tonic and fifth) in the bass and, like the A7 in Vastopol, no major third. Lost John Before putting these chords to work, try this example of melodic, modal playing in Spanish, from the repertoire of another fingerstyle guitar icon, Etta Baker. Still vivacious at her 90th birthday celebration, in 2003, Baker was asked how she had maintained her health and her playing ability for so long. Besides homegrown vegetables and an active life, she credited the fact that she had stopped drinking—at age five! Along with a barrel of corn whiskey, there was always a guitar around Baker’s childhood home, and she started to play at about the same time she adopted sobriety. With her father as a teacher and primary influence, she set about accumulating a trove of song styles that spanned every musical aspect of her native North Carolina Piedmont area. This unique version of “Lost John” (Example 5) is one she remembered, played by her mother on harmonica, from early childhood. Give the thumbed backbeats a push, especially the second-fret E in bars 4, 6, and 8—a common and effective rhythmic device. Bull Doze Blues Henry “Ragtime Texas” Thomas, who was born in Gladewater, Texas, in 1874, recorded “Bull Doze Blues” at a Chicago session for Vocalion in 1928. Thomas played the tune’s simple, poignant melody on reed pipes called quills, while at the same time accompanying himself on guitar with powerful rhythmic drive. The next two examples reference the original recording. Here, the pipes melody is adapted for guitar and played against an alternating G-to-D bass line with variations made by fretting an A and B on string 5 and an E on string 4 using the second finger. The first part (Example 6), with its basic first-position chords, is not hard to play; the second variation (Example 7), an octave higher, is a little more difficult, with the E sounded on string 3, fret 9. The C chord in this section is a fifth-fret barre and the D7 is played around frets 10–12 on the top three strings—take care not to inadvertently sound the fifth string here. Lucy Mae Blues Retune your guitar to Vastopol for a bonus track, “Lucy Mae Blues” (Example 8). This blues with a beat was originally played by Texas Piney Woods guitar legend Frankie Lee Sims. Sims was a contemporary of—and cousin to—Lightnin’ Hopkins and purveyed his brand of high-octane guitar skrank on a string of popular post war waxings. Often cited by shred rockers to follow, his uninhibited stylings are distinguished by his propensity for open tunings. This particular solo transfers well to unaccompanied acoustic guitar. A double hammer-on phrase played on string 6 and spanning frets 7–9 is followed by a big, open double-D and a bent-note expostulation on the top two strings, all repeated rock ’n’ roll style. The hot lick over the G chord is played off a barre at fret 5, and the second-position A7 shape used in measure 9 is worth knowing. End the example with slides, climbs, and twangy bends against open strings, played by the thumb in the low end. Sims’ original recording of “Lucy Mae Blues” with a band is great; his late career reprise with just amped guitar and drums is primal. An interesting side note is that the same man who made these sounds held a degree from Prairie View A&M University, in Texas, and had a second career as a schoolteacher. They don’t make guitar heroes like that any more. Chapter 6 Doin’ the Slide https://vimeo.com/696646539 "Who taught you to play slide guitar, Furry?""Blind Joe.""Blind Joe who?""Blind JOE!" The origins of bottleneck slide guitar have been the object of speculation. One posited theory is that African-American guitarists in the rural South were influenced by Hawaiian steel-guitar players they heard performing with touring music and dance groups at the turn of the last century. But that sounds less plausible if you stand in front of a mirror and say it aloud a few times. Maybe people just started playing slide guitar spontaneously because it’s such an obviously good idea! Any steel-string guitar can be suitable for playing slide. Be aware, however, that this is one guitar technique that is actually made more difficult by the use of light strings and low playing action. Newbies commonly ask me what kind of slide to use. A simple solution is to get a bunch of them to determine which works best for you. It’s fun! Ideally, the slide you choose will be not too snug and no longer than the finger on which you wear it. For most players, by the way, this is the fourth finger of the fretting hand—a recommended choice because it leaves the first, second and third fingers free to mute strings and to fret notes and chords. This is an integral part of slide-guitar technique (as opposed to steel-guitar playing, which involves using a bar). Your slide should have a hard, smooth outer surface, fairly thick walls, and enough weight—more than an ounce for sure— that it doesn’t chatter or bounce easily when in contact with the strings. Slides have been made from metal, glass, gemstone, and even bone and ceramic. Many players find that the ideal vehicle for playing slide guitar is the cut and polished neck of a bottle— hence the term bottleneck slide. The Big Joe Williams slide recipe calls for an RC Cola bottle, a piece of string soaked in coal oil, and a match. Tie the string around the bottleneck in the appropriate place and light it. When it burns away, a light tap should cause the neck to separate on the heat fracture left by the burning string. (This method is of historical importance but not endorsed by the author or publishers of this book.) Getting Started With the Slide Touch, tone, and time are three points to remember when playing slide guitar. Before working on the first song arrangement, run through a couple of single-note exercises in Vastopol tuning, as shown in Examples 1a–1d. Work on getting the least amount of ambient noise and the best possible tone and intonation out of individual notes. Place the slide, its tip pointed slightly away from the fingerboard, over the first string. It’s very important to keep the thumb of your fretting hand behind the neck and to practice muting the string or strings being played with a light touch of the index finger behind the slide. Picking with an index finger upstroke, slide from the E directly over the second fret to an F♯ over the fourth fret on the first string (Example 1a). Compare the pitch of the note you produce with your slide to the corresponding fretted note to check intonation; color the F♯ with vibrato, using a slight lateral motion of the slide down from the object pitch and back to it. Practice this quavering, vocal sound at varying speeds. Remember never to play sharp of your intended pitch. Now make your major third into a blue note by sliding from the F over the third fret to a slightly flattened F just below the fourth fret, as shown in Example 1b. How much you flatten the F depends on the tonality you want. The flatter the third, the sadder the sound! Next apply the same techniqube to sliding from another blue note, a flatted fifth (the sixth-fret A♭/G♯), to a fifth (seventh-fret A), as in Example 1c. Finally, slide from a flatted seventh (tenth-fret C) to an octave D at the 12th fret and back again (Example 1d). Sustain the notes as long as you can, and remember to color with vibrato as you play these blue notes on the first string. Various Slide Combinations When you like the sounds you’re producing, try playing these blue notes in various combinations over a four-beat alternating bass line struck with the thumb on the sixth and fourth strings. Faster, more articulated phrases can be played using a combination of slide, fretted notes, and open strings in a variation of the cross-picking technique. This approach will be used in the song arrangements that follow, so a few sample phrases to practice are included here. The first two, Examples 2a–b descends in sequence from a high B on the first string to a low D on the open fourth. The third (Example 2c) is an economical way to phrase out of an A chord barred at seventh fret, leading back to an open D in the first position. The Dozens A blues song form called “The Dozens” is usually associated with a tradition of spontaneous obscene rhyming. Enjoined from using graphic language in the studio, early blues recording artists resorted to codified double entendre—this resulting in a slew of lyrics about pencils, hot dogs, and bananas in a genre known as hokum. Early hit-makers in the hokum field—such as Kokomo Arnold and Hudson Whitaker, who was known to the blues world as Tampa Red—also happened to be prolific and influential slide guitar players. Red’s style was definitive, and his operative mode was Vastopol. Every slide player eventually boosts a few of his ideas which include a lot of short, eloquent slide phrases alternated with rhythmic fingerpicking and seventh-and diminished-chord vamps. Quick turns using Ddim7 and A7 chords in succession, as seen in bars 4, 5, and 12 of Example 3, are typical of the style. The cross-stringing phrase in bar 7 and the chord/slide vamp off a first position G7 in bars 9 and 10 are worth whatever practice they require. Stewball Redux Here’s a bottleneck embellishment of a tune presented in a basic version earlier. Slide guitar is often used to simulate sounds heard in nature, from the baying of a hound to the approach of a fast train. “Stewball” is a good vehicle for this. In the first part of the arrangement, shown in Example 4, the melody is stated using slide and fretted and open notes, and punctuated by a G7 chord played on the low strings in eighth position. The break (Example 5) starts with a big downward slide from fret 12 on the top three strings followed by a slide/fretted fill around frets 7–9, to simulate the rush of a field of spirited racers. The final part, depicted in Example 6, employs the ring and little fingers of the picking hand to tap over the upper fingerboard as you pull off a first-position G shape. Follow this with a strong thumb downstroke from the wrist—just drop your hand. Then sound a chiming true harmonic touched at the 12th fret with the heel of the picking hand as you execute another downstroke with a hyperextended thumb—and Stewball pounds to the finish line as the victory bell rings. The horse Skewbald (a name describing his color) was foaled in England in 1740 and racked up an astounding victory record. At age 11, he won eight races in a single day—against betting odds—at a horse fair near Galway, Ireland, earning a purse of 500 pounds for his owner. Songs about Stewball were being sung in America as early as the 1820s. By the time song hunter John Lomax collected versions, including one from Lead Belly, the equine hero was from California and his big day was in Texas. This one has been warbled by many popular folk singers, but cowboys, convicts, and blues singers preferred their ballad with a beat. Green Corn Variations The simple three-part melody of “Green Corn,” with its repeating stretchy third and infectious dance beat, makes a good slide guitar workout with three variations, as shown in Example 7. The alternating bass line and the quick G-chord change in bar two are the same as in the basic, no-slide version, you learned previously. The last variation, beginning in bar 25, is percussive rather than melodic. Tap the strings over the fingerboard above the soundhole with your ring and little fingers as you pull off to an open G chord. Follow with a downstroke of your thumb on the second beat. Strum down again on beat 3 using the heel of your picking hand to touch a harmonic at the 12th fret. Strum down again on beat 4 and repeat the pattern: tap/pull–strum–chime–strum. Practice slowly at a low volume at first until you are comfortable with this construct, then play as loudly as you can. Slide in Spanish Tuning Spanish and Vastopol tunings, as previously posited, are closely related. Certainly the slide techniques used are the same: thumb behind the neck, index finger muting behind the slide, controlled vibrato, and attention to pitch. In Spanish tuning, having the G chord’s fifth, D, on the first string changes the approach a little. Instead of finding the tonic (G) on the open D string, it’s at the fifth fret, with blue notes around frets 8–9 and 11–12. Play through Examples 8a–8c to get a feel for these notes. The top three strings—G, B, and D—form a major triad, so the tonic/seventh, slurred third, and flatted fifth/fifth devices are easily (and often) played around the 12th fret on consecutive strings rather than in a linear manner on the first string. This concept is illustrated in Example 9. Similar ideas occur up and down the neck as you’ll hear and see. Yo Yo Blues An anthemic tune from the Georgia hills, “Yo Yo Blues” was passed around by some of the early recording blues adepts who descended on the streets of Atlanta in the 1920s. The big Stella 12-string was a musical tool of choice, and this arrangement for six-string (Example 10) has plenty of octave action on strings 6 and 4. They’re played in unison at frets 3–4 and 8–9, against open G notes on strings 5 and 3. Then, hustle your slide up to the 12th fret to play that blue phrase on the top strings. A descending figure is played using slide around frets 5 and 6 and open strings, and the vamp around the C7 chord alternates between a slide-produced barre at fret 5 and open-position moves. In bar 15, a cross-string phrase is played around the D7 chord in fifth position, with a low open D and fretted A on the sixth string. Some of the quick movement up and down the neck here highlights the challenge of playing linearly in Spanish, but it’s rewarding to do it once it’s up to speed. Blues musicians Barbecue Bob and Curley Weaver both knocked a hole in this naughty nugget. The hospitality tent at the Second Annual Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival, in Thomson, Georgia, was crowded with a potpourri of outfits, ages, and accents. But nobody failed to notice the self-heralded arrival of the lady with the big hat and bigger voice whose capacious white leatherette purse matched her go-go boots. The obvious question was asked and answered: “That’s Cora Mae Bryant. She’s Curley Weaver’s daughter!” Any doubt about this was dispelled by her immediate reaction to the first few bars of “Yo Yo Blues” played on the guitar. “Where’d you learn that at?”“From a record by your father.” Bryant’s response is one of the things that makes her memory dear. Reaching into the depths of her purse, she produced a notebook and pen and, turning to the appropriate page, looked up and said, “What record?” Recorded in 1928, the year Bryant was born, Curley Weaver’s version was actually called “No No Blues.” The “Yo Yo” title for the same theme was used by his pal Robert Hicks, a.k.a. Barbecue Bob. Hicks and his half brother, Laughing Charley Lincoln, were life-long friends of Weaver’s. Along with Buddy Moss and Blind Willie McTell, these North Georgia singer/guitarists comprised a kind of high court of prewar Peach State blues music. A story long in circulation was that Curley Weaver’s considerable guitar skills, and those of his friends, came in no small part from his mother, Savanah Shepard Weaver. The legend of Savanah, mother of hot Georgia guitar, was a story so lovely and evocative that it could only have been diminished by real fact and memory. Yes, the journey from the apocryphal to the literally true can be a melancholy one. But it sometimes must be made lest we all wind up standing around a concession booth at some crossroads somewhere. Reenter Cora Mae Bryant, bearer of the unadulterated double-G Georgia truth: “I showed her when I was real young,” she said. “I’d see her play a guitar across her lap. That’s where his learning come from.” I’ve Been All Around This World Applying slide guitar technique to music other than blues can broaden repertoire and tonal vocabulary in a style of playing. “I’ve Been All Around This World” is a 19th-century American folk song usually associated with the banjo (a good source of ideas, by the way, for guitarists working in open tunings). Articulated slide notes with vibrato lend themselves to the lonesome quality of this simple tune. As shown in Example 11, this arrangement starts with a useful skip-string device. Rock the bottleneck outward a bit while muting the third string with your index finger and sliding into the high B on string 1, fret 9. Most of the melody here is played with the slide, but there are some fretted notes thrown into the mix. In bar 2, stop the seventh-fret A and eighth-fret G with your first and second fingers, respectively; in bar 12, stop the second-fret A and first-fret C with your second and first fingers. Also fretted (with the second finger) is the fifth-string B that is part of the alternating bass line. When barring the C chord at the fifth fret with your slide, you can add a low G to the bass simply by moving the slide over in place to open the fifth string. See See Rider We have already adapted a couple of songs from the Lead Belly repertoire for slide guitar. Here is a blues that the great guitarist played using a bar and steel-guitar technique, easily adapted for bottleneck-style playing. Unlike the other pieces in this book, “See See Rider,” (Example 12), not to be confused with the rock ‘n’ roll song “C.C. Rider,” uses no fretting fingers; all notes are stopped with the slide. There’s a lot of lifting and repositioning the slide precisely on the desired pitch, which makes it important to mute the strings with your first finger to cut down on ambient string noise and unwanted overtones, and to keep the open strings from sounding at the wrong time. There’s a quick walk-down, from G to F on the first string, in measure 7, and a slurred-third punctuation at the ninth fret in bar 11. Otherwise, this arrangement is straightforwardly melodic, with a steady thumb bass line throughout and a nice resolution, from a C chord to a G, at the end. Chapter 7 Waltz, Breakdown, and the Blues: An American Guitar Story https://vimeo.com/696644251 The first part of “Spanish Fandango,” a 19th-century American guitar classic, was included in the first Roots and Blues Fingerstyle Guitar book, where it was contrasted with a slide guitar version adapted from the playing of West Virginia songster Frank Hutchison. This time the original, composed by Henry Worrall, is paired with an even more variant canticle from a man who was literally a giant in oldtime country music— John Dilleshaw, the Georgia string band leader who recorded this complex hillbilly symphony, was known as Seven Foot Dilly. The story of “Spanish Fandango” begins in 1825, when Henry Worrall was born in Liverpool, England. Worrall immigrated to New York as a child, and his biography is a classic American tale of energy and self-invention. After his family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, around 1835, young Worrall left his occupation as a newsboy to work for a decorative glass cutter. At the same time, Worrall set about teaching himself to play guitar—and, eventually, painting, engraving, and design. In the 1850s, he published a popular tutorial, Worrall’s Guitar School, and his original compositions, with evocative titles like “Mexican Airs,” “Saint Louis Rondo,” and “Sebastopol–A Descriptive Fantaisie,” became part of America’s popular music canon. Worrall’s Spanish Fandango The original exponent of the British guitar invasion, Worrall scored his biggest hit with “Spanish Fandango,” a bright melody in triple meter, played in open-G tuning. The piece was originally published in 6/8, but I’ve notated it in 3/4, which many guitarists find easier to read. The picking hand plays a fairly active role in the piece, the primary theme of which is shown in Example 1a. Worrall intended for the down-stemmed notes to be played by the thumb and the up-stemmed notes by the index, middle, and ring fingers. Feel free, though, to pinch the notes on beat 1 of each measure with your thumb and middle finger and pick the notes on beats 2 and 3 with your thumb and index, respectively. As for the fretting hand, the I chord (G) is sounded mostly on the open strings, while the IV (C), V (D), and III (B) chords can be conveniently played at frets 5, 7, and 4, with a first-finger barre across strings 1–5. The same principles apply to the variation shown in Example 1b, this time written in steady rolling eighth notes, in 6/8 time. In 1868, Worrall moved to Kansas, where his reputation as an artist, especially of Western scenes, equaled his musical notoriety. (He even designed the Kansas state seal.) Continuing to play and teach, he was an endorsee for instruments by C. F. Martin. He was also an arborist who enjoyed raising varietal grapes. This godfather of American fingerstyle guitar died in 1902, but that wasn’t the end of his musical story. John Dilleshaw’s Spanish Fandango “Seven Foot Dilly” learned guitar by accident. While on a teenage hunting trip, he literally shot himself in the foot. During a lengthy recovery, his neighbor, an African-American guitarist named Bill Turner, taught him to play. A career fireman, Dilleshaw was working in Atlanta in the 1920s, when he began radio appearances and recorded with a hot string band called, yes, the Dill Pickles. Dilly’s “Spanish Fandango” (Examples 2a–2f) was a product of the Pickles’ first session. Fiddler Pink Lindsey handled backup guitar chores, but Dilleshaw’s fingerpicked lead—with the exception of a third in the bass added in the third part—is transcribed as a solo here. The first thing you’ll notice about this evolved “Spanish Fandango” is that it’s no longer a waltz, as was the original Iberian dance from which the name fandango is derived. A long way from Spain, Dilly plays a strong thumb bass and leans on the backbeats, often strumming chords. The last four measures in all the variations use a similar melody and chord changes. A strong, four-beat alternating thumb line with frequent chord strums on the backbeats continues throughout. The first part of Dilly’s “Spanish Fandango” (Example 2a) has the straightforward melody played on the first string with a repeated slide, from the fifth-fret G to the ninth-fret B. The melody and chord changes bear a distant resemblance to Worrall’s, but a handful of subsequent variations (Examples 2b–2f) contain bent blue notes, syncopated ascending and descending chord figures, and even a couple of half measures thrown in to the last part (Ex. 2f). Remember, when you bend to the task of playing this, Seven Foot Dilly’s shouted enjoinment when he thought the Pickles were getting hot: “Aw... Bust down!” Sam McGee’s Knoxville Blues Sam McGee’s playing and repertoire were a handmade fusion of country dance tunes, period American popular songs, ragtime, and blues, all joined and blended by his fleet, precise fingerpicking. McGee reached a large audience with his 1920s recordings, solo and with Uncle Dave Macon, not to mention his regular appearances on early Grand Ole Opry broadcasts. In effect, the self-effacing Tennessee farmer became a prime architect of country guitar style. His métier was the instrumental medley that showcased his influences; “Knoxville Blues,” from his first session, in 1926, is exemplary. With guitar tuned in open-E Vastopol, McGee brings his frequently used capo into play at the second fret to raise the pitch to F and further brighten his crystalline picking. (For uniformity, the piece is transcribed here in open D, in Examples 3a–3c.) Starting with a waltz section he called “Little Texas,” after a community near his native Franklin, Tennessee, McGee delivers a piece that he may actually have learned from a Dr. John Merrit, an amateur player who recognized the protean skills of a kid who loved his guitar so much that he brought it to school with him. Suddenly, after an expostulated homily from Uncle Dave, Sam uncorks a sample of his specialty. It’s a high-velocity stomping blues in the style he developed after listening to local black guitarists like Jim Sapp. For the waltz (Example 3a), the thumb works a steady bass/chord/chord accompaniment on the sixth, then fourth and third strings. The G chord is best played with a fifth-fret barre across all six strings. The A7 is the same first position shape you've been using, with the fourth finger fretting the F♯ on the first string. The second part of the piece (Example 3b) uses the same chord shapes and bass notes, but with a four-beat alternating thumb line. Most of the melody is played on the top two strings; bend the eighth-fret F on string 2 just shy of F♯, for bluesy effect. That same move is seen in Example 3c. In this final section, look out for the thumb-picked pull-off on the fourth string (bars 7 and 8). Sam McGee, like most of the acoustic guitar players in blues and country styles, used thumb and fingerpicks; he likened playing without them to “walkin’ in the gravels with no shoes on.” Certainly this approach facilitated the volume and speed at which McGee liked to play—just getting as much sound as possible out of the instrument. About the Author Steve James was born in New York and began teaching himself guitar while steeped in that city’s fertile folk and blues scene of the 1960s. James also gained early lutherie experience as part of the original crew at Gurian Guitars, in 1970–71. Relocating to Tennessee after that, he learned from iconic guitarists like Sam McGee and Furry Lewis, found his first mandolin in a Johnson City pawnshop, and did his journey work in joints and jam sessions from the mountains to Memphis. Arriving in Texas in 1977, James haunted the honky tonks, playing with sax master Clifford Scott and backing touring rockers like Bo Diddley. James’ solo acoustic sets and session work attracted wider attention, however, and the guitarist has since pursued his career as a touring and recording artist around the country and the world. In addition, he has implemented his commitment to teaching and sharing the music passed on in no small part by his some of his legendary heroes and friends. James has been a contributor to Acoustic Guitar magazine since its inception in 1990, and Roots and Blues Fingerstyle Guitar Explorations is his fourth book for Stringletter Media. The guitarist presently resides in Seattle and invites you to visit him on the web at stevejames.com. Sources and References Books Blues and Gospel Records 1890–1943, Robert M. W. Dixon, John Godrich, and Howard Rye, 1964 (Oxford University Press)Blues Who’s Who, Sheldon Harris, 1981 (Da Capo Press)Chasin’ That Devil Music: Searching for the Blues, Gayle Dean Wardlow, 1998 (Backbeat Books)Country Music Records: A Discography, 1921–1942, Tony Russell, 2004 (Oxford University Press)I Say Me for a Parable: The Oral Autobiography of Mance Lipscomb, Texas Bluesman, Mance Lipscomb with Glen Alyn, 1993 (Da Capo Press)Tennessee Traditional Singers, David Evans and Jack Hurley, 1981 (University of Tennessee Press) Albums Etta Baker: One-Dime Blues (Rounder)Precious Bryant: Fool Me Good (Terminus)John Dilleshaw: Complete Recorded Words in Chronological Order 1929 to 1930 (Document)Mance Lipscomb: Captain, Captain! (Arhoolie)Sam McGee: Complete Recorded Words 1926–1934 in Chronological Order (Document)Frank Stokes: The Victor Recordings in Chronological Order (1928–1929) (Document) Select Steve James Discography Boom Chang (Burnside)Fast Texas (Burnside)Short Blue Stories (Hobemian)Live Volume 1 (Hobemian)Blues and Folk Songs Volume 1 (Hobemian) Interviews and Conversations Sam McGee (1975); Furry Lewis (1975–77); Cora Mae Bryant (1994–98); Frank Robinson (re: Frankie Lee Sims, 2001–02); Etta Baker (2001); Michael Church (Kansas History Museum, re: Henry Worrall, 2006); David Holt (re: Etta Baker, 2011) Further acknowledgement to Elijah Wald, Del Rey, and all my friends and fellow travelers whose love of and living involvement in the music is a continuing source of information and inspiration.