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Blues Guitar Lessons: Swamp Blues

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When we talk about blues styles,
the names that we always
hear are Delta blues,
Chicago blues, Texas blues,
West Coast blues.
But we're gonna talk now, about another
style that's, well, it's Swamp blues.
And Swamp blues is a,
it's not really a style with a specific
technical kind of a line around it.
It's more of an attitude.
Swamp blues is the name that's
given to music that was recorded
in the swamp country of Louisiana,
mainly in the late 50s to mid 60s.
And a lot of this music was
released on Excello Records,
which is a label that had just
a fantastic array of down home artists.
And one of the outstanding artists on
Excello was a guy named Slim Harpo.
And Slim Harpo came out with a string of
records that just had this quirky quality.
He has this kinda funny nasal way of
singing that was a bit of an affectation.
He was kind of coached to sing that way,
but it made him
sound different than anybody else that you
were ever gonna hear, so it kinda stuck.
And his records like Scratch My Back,
Got Love if You Want it,
My Tee Na Nee No Nee No Nu,
I think that's what it's called,
crazy records, crazy records.
And they all feature this kind of loose
rhythm, it's like guys are just gathered
together and they're just
making it up as they go along.
And yes it's blues,
a lot of it is 12 bar, but it's unusual.
And I thought it would
be fun to check it out.
And it's not just because we go back and
look at this little window in time, but
it actually had an outsized effect.
All the British bands that were listening
to BB King and Muddy Waters and so forth,
they were also heavily influenced by
Slim Harpo, and by the Swamp blues sound.
You can kinda hear it,
in fact, the British band,
The Moody Blues,
named themselves after a Slim Harpo song.
So there's an example of how a guy from
Louisiana who was almost unknown in
the United States became a bit of an icon
in England because of
these strange records.
The feel of Swamp blues,
there's no one single feel, but
some of Slim Harpo's biggest hits, they
had this kinda straight groove to them.
And you'd hear like woodblock and
cowbell and
the drum sounds like they were
recorded on Kleenex boxes.
Strange stuff, very hard to
capture using modern technology.
I thought I'd show you a couple of these
rhythms and its mainly a rhythm style.
To me I find it inspiring because
its making a lot out of a little.
None of these patterns are that
technically complicated.
But put them together with the rhythm and
they sound very cool.
It's the kind of thing
you can do with a band.
You get together and you say,
well none of us have this mad skill set of
blues shuffles, and
gonna recreate the sound of T-bone Walker.
That's not the point.
Get inspired by the music, and
you come up with your own versions.
That's really what it's about.
So, here's some, what I find,
inspirational music.
Now, Scratch My Back has
been covered many times.
This may be one of his best known
songs to be recreated by others, and
it's built around this pattern.
That's it.
That's the guitar part, pretty much.
That's all you get.
It's an E.
Or it could be an F that you cape off.
You put it in F or in G,
whatever, but I'll put it in E.
Hammer on the third there, third string,
open high string.
And then,
recreate that on the eight chord.
Now there you have to reach up and
really grab it.
There's a little bit of
skill involved there.
Now he came out with
another song that had
a very similar feel to it.
And it sounded a little
bit like this here.
And I'm
referring to
my notes,
tip on in
Not hard parts at all.
Really moving up the neck, you have
to get a pretty good grip on it, and
make sure your fingers are angled away
from the adjacent strings and all that.
So there's a bit of a technical issue
there, but it's mainly a feel thing.
Other parts that you would hear
on those sorts of records.
It's like they got almost nothing
to do with traditional blues but
they just sound great like,
It's like anything goes.
It's just a cool idea.
But what makes it blues is the attitude.
When you're singing about the sorta, the
vibe you're getting, it's down home and
it's just as much part of the blues
spectrum as some kinda shuffle.
So lets mess around with
the rhythm track on that.
I'm gonna add an effect
here they often use.
Just part of the vibe, there's my
tremolo pedal, so
we'll see how that sounds.
Let's roll the track.
This is an E, of course.
And it
goes on
and on
and on
as long
as you
want it
There's two of those patterns there.
The third one would fit
right in there just as easy.
You know these are just,
they're made up ideas.
You know it's guys sitting around saying
hey that cool, that's cool you know.
So it isn't like play the part the so
and so played on that record.
That's part of learning the style, but
after a point you just let that go and
say hey, that's cool, you know.
Now what about soloing?
Well there were some pretty good soloists
that played for that label in that studio.
And on Slim Harpo Records,
you would hear occasionally hear
some pretty ripping guitar.
But generally speaking it was very
laid back, kinda minimalistic.
So like in Scratch My Back,
he talks about doing the chicken scratch.
That's the solo.
He does the chicken picking.
So what I'm doing there,
is I'm doing the version where you
press the string halfway down.
Now I can hear the E, but
I'm hearing just as much of
the percussion as the note.
And then I play the G at that fifteenth
fret there,
give it that little blue note bend,
snap it with my bare third finger.
And that's the real chicken picking
technique, where I mute, pick, pluck.
So that's an application of chicken
picking that is pretty cool.
I'll play through it one
more time just for fun, but
there's no big technical thing here.
This is just more of a vibe and
an attitude.
I'd love to hear what you'd do to this if
you wanna mess around with this track.
Its an opportunity to just kinda
let your hair down a little bit,
there's no strict rules and just play.
The only rule I would
say is capture the vibe,
get in the pocket, and
really play the music.
Make it feel like you're really there and
don't over think it.
I'll put on my tremolo again and
we'll jam our way out of here.
Okay, here we go.
so on
so on
Now I worked the high
end of the neck there.
Real swampy sound,
would also be to lay down on the low end.
the low end
of the register,
low strings.
Staying on the open position,
very distinctive sound,
it just kinda sounds moody and
dark and mysterious.
All stuff that you want Swamp blues to be.
Have fun with that one.