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Blues Guitar Lessons: Other Inspirations

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Well, we've been through so
many lessons here,
talking about guitar styles and
this guitar and that guitar and
all the great guitar players.
It's a little incestuous after a while.
It's all guitar players talking about
guitar players and stealing from
other guitar players and naturally that's
the way everybody learns their instrument.
You get inspired by people.
You watch their hands,
study their techniques,
figure out how they're thinking, and
how they’re seeing the neck and all that.
Essential, essential stuff.
But it's a huge world out there and
a lot of the great guitar players that
became influences in their own right,
when they are interviewed and
asked about their own influence,
they often cite other instruments.
Saxophone for example, back in the early
days of electric guitar, Jump Blues was
the popular style in the King instrument
and jump blues was the saxophone.
So, T-Bone Walker listened
to sax players and
all those bands had saxophone players and
horn sections in the band.
So naturally they listened to each
other when they were playing.
And it was just intuitive that the guitar
players would steal licks from the sax
players and
in some cases maybe vice versa.
So I'd like to take a couple of
lessons here and moving on, where we
talk about some of the other instruments
that you work with when you play blues or
that you encounter when you listen to
blues or when you get blues records.
You watch bands on stage,
you see all these things going on and
we tend to focus like a laser
beam on the guitar player but
if you open your eyes up a little bit and
see what else is happening,
you can bring in some new influences
that make your own playing sound fresh.
The first one I want to
look at is the saxophone.
And these are examples of players and
Little tricks, I guess you'd call them,
that I've listened to over the years and
picked up and integrated into my style.
And when you play them on guitar they
sound like guitar licks but the original
source of the information came from,
in this case, the saxophone.
Specifically, and
there's a lot of great sax players, but
I'll talk about one in particular,
a guy who was a contemporary of
T-Bone Walker in the 40s,
was Louie Jordan.
And Louie Jordan was I guess you could
argue he was the biggest star of what we
now call urban music, back then called
jump blues in the 1940s, rhythm and blues.
And he was an alto sax player, he was
a singer, a songwriter, a band leader,
an all around entertainer,
a very funny guy, entertaining guy.
He sang classic, classic songs, that have
been covered over and over again for
They even did a Broadway
show based on his songs.
It was called Five Guys named Moe.
So he was a guy that back in the jukebox
era was the king of the jukebox.
He would put out a record and it'd
instantly be a hit, one after another.
So in terms of the music business at
the time he was at the top of the heap.
But aside from being popular,
he was also a great musician,
had great imagination and
he was a direct influence on BB King.
And BB has said in interviews that In
his mind as he's taken solos there
are certain phrases that he plays where
he says and when I play that lick.
I'm hearing Louie Jordan in
the back of my mind.
In other words he listened
to Louie Jordan and
he heard Louie go
You know?
He's say, what's that beat?
And he sat down and figured it out,
integrated it into his own style.
When I hear it, I say that's a BB King
lick,but BB's saying nah, no it isn't.
That's really a Louis Jordan lick that
I'm channeling through my own instrument.
I figured out how to reproduce that sound.
So what I'd like to do is,
I will play you a Louis Jordan solo.
Now this is not an exact transcription
note for note, it's kind of an adaptation.
But I'm following along
with Louie Jordan's lines.
The solo actually goes on for
quite a while and
I'm just picking out a little piece of it
to show you and give you an idea of how
listening to the saxophone, which doesn't
have fingering patterns like we have.
It's not this grid concept here.
How listening to a sax player's approach
to melody and to the 12-bar phrasing
can cast a new light on how we do
this job here of playing the guitar.
So let's listen to it, this is in the key
of B flat, a respectable jump blues key.
And we'll see how this thing works out.
Okay here we go.
rocking little
number in
the key of
B flat.
Now, as far as guitar, and
thinking about the kind of guitar
licks that we've been listening to,
phrases and so on, right off the bat,
it's like what is going on here?
That's a straight up major scale.
It's like a nursery rhyme.
And that's something that you hear
in saxophone players quite a bit is
they use melodies In a more
obviously melodic way.
I guess I would say.
I'm not sure how else to describe it.
We think of licks and
on the saxophone they play melodies.
Now one reason for that may be that
a saxophone can't play a chord [SOUND]
you know,
a bunch of notes all simultaneously.
So they have to learn to outline
the harmony using chord tones and
also because it's a single note
instrument, naturally from day one
when you learn to play the instrument,
the focus is on melody.
And we tend to learn patterns and
shapes and we're using chords and
scales and all that.
And there's just more to kinda
juggle all at the same time.
So if your focus is on melody, then those
melodies just flow kinda naturally and
it's definitely a twist from the standard
down home blues kind of edgy salty sound,
very sweet.
I mean come on,
right up the scale.
Now what I'm doing there is I'm listening,
I'm interpreting and I'm adapting.
now there's probably other fingerings
on the neck that I could use
that would be more efficient.
Where I would stay in position and
play out of a certain pattern like
pattern number one in the key of B flat.
Those melodies all fit
within easy reach there.
But there's something about
Right, the way it marches up the neck,
I just like to see that.
I don't know, it feels right.
This is a decision that you
make when you're a player and
you're interpreting what
other people are doing.
And sometimes out of sheer ignorance,
you make the wrong choice.
Sometimes its just
strictly a judgement call.
Sometimes the results can be,
you know, difficult and
other times they can be inspiring.
So I kind of like this way of going up the
neck even though it's totally inefficient.
Now he goes
There's a little jazzy quality to
that on the four chord, right?
You kind of hear the extension
of the chord there,
that would be the 6th of the E flat chord
and an arpeggiated,
that's actually an E flat 6th arpeggio.
And then going down the scale.
Now BB uses that particular
configuration quite a bit.
All right.
I don't know if he got it from Louie
Jordan but I wouldn't be a bit surprised,
just that way of running across
the arpeggio there from string to string,
which on a guitar is tricky because every
time you change strings, the technique
is a little bit more difficult than
if you're staying on the same string.
That's more like a straight
up guitar sounding lick.
Now [MUSIC ] Now I don't know if he
literally plays that, but
as I learned the solo I heard that sound.
I just like the way-
This is a pedal point.
Remember our old pal the pedal point?
And all I'm doing is going from
the third degree of the B flat chord
up in half steps.
And then now I'm bending that string,
and that's what BB King heard.
And that's a Louis Jordan thing, you know.
All right,
that's the guitar version of it, but
So it's bending up that minor 3rd from
the 5th to the minor 7th.
It's really spectacular especially
coming on the heels of it.
All right, and
then it gets a little bit jazzy.
Again, I could probably put that in one
position, it would be more efficient,
but I like the way it
marches down the neck and
takes me back into the home position.
Now here's a tricky phrase.
Sax players can sort of race across their
keys [SOUND] you know, it's very fluid.
On the guitar,
we have a hard time with that.
And the only solution I could come up with
is what we call a sweep.
How many times do you see
sweep picking in blues?
Well, the idea is there's an arpeggio.
And I couldn't figure out any other way to
get across those strings faster or
cleaner and wind up on the end note.
With a sweep, the middle notes
are more suggested than enunciated.
So, right, I'm kind of skating across
the middle of the arpeggio, but
you get the effect.
So I start, we're in B flat,
now I'm in pattern number two,
we're actually stealing a little
bit of pattern number three.
Second finger, fourth finger,
second finger bars, first finger and
fourth finger.
And in my right hand down stroke,
hammer on, down, down, down and
up stroke at the very end.
Now the key ingredient in a phrase like
that is to make sure it's on time.
It's no good if you do it properly but
it comes out on the wrong beat so
I'm really aiming for the last note.
And if the middle notes don't come through
quite as clearly that's ok because
the last note is the payoff note.
That's a blues lick
to follow up and then coming
to the end of the solo,
Sort of a more standard blues
type of phrase at the end.
So [COUGH] as I say, the solo goes on,
I'm actually pasting together bits and
pieces of phrases that I like but
the way that that's influenced my
own playing is that I kind of hear those
those pedal tone kind of phrases.
And also
I hear that lick in a different way,
I've heard BB do it.
You know,
all guitar players that play this style
hear that lick and, that's BB King.
But when you hear it done on a saxophone
it kind of gives you the background.
So I think that's a challenge
to learn a solo like that,
it's venturing into
a little jazzy territory.
It requires a different
technical approach.
You have to be really on your game.
But the value is it really gives you
a context in which to build a blues style
that's a little broader than our
incestuous guitar So have fun with that.
In our last lesson, we talked about
borrowing from sax players and
starting to hear the saxophone and
use the phrasing that sax
players consider natural for
their instrument and figure out
how to transfer it on the guitar.
And in many cases, it doesn't sit as well
on the guitar as it would on the sax, but
the net benefit is that it makes you
think a little bit different and
come up with new ideas that don't sound
like you're just a guitar guy playing
what other guys play,
if you know what I'm talking about.
Same thing applies to
any other instrument.
They're all different.
They all think differently.
They all evolve differently
when they learn.
And one of the key instruments
in the blues sound,
traditional blues sound, is the harmonica.
The harmonica kind of underwent
a revolution in the early
50s in the hands of Little Walter.
Walter Jacobs, he was a young man
who had grown up in the South.
And apparently, left home pretty young and
lived in bars and
was taken under the wing
of older musicians and
lived a pretty tumultuous life.
And eventually, wound up in Chicago and
started recording with Muddy Waters.
I believe Walter was even still a teenager
when he was starting to play with Muddy,
but very early on he had developed
a different approach to the instrument and
he wasn't the first great
harmonica player by any stretch.
Sonny Boy Williamson, number one and
Sonny Boy Williamson number two,
they're both legendary figures in blues
had developed extremely expressive and
highly influential styles.
What Walter did was he figured out a way
of cupping the harmonica together with
the microphone and you've seen it.
Every time you see a harp player now,
they do that and
you kinda hold the whole
thing up against your mouth.
And so when you blow into the harp,
it goes directly into the microphone and
then through the amp.
And the amp, often they would use a little
tiny amp and it'd be kinda cranked up and
So, its the effect of
an electronic harmonica.
Not only that, but
Walter listened to sax players and
he stole ideas from sax players.
So here he is on this little, at the time
was like a $2 marine band harmonica.
Its suppose to be
a campfire instrument and
he's out there blowing these
amazing solos, they sound huge.
And Walter had a hit with the song Juke
and became a star in his own right and
they told the story of going
to play these shows and
it'd be Little Walter and
his band that would be Walter and
it would be two electric guitar players,
no bass players.
One of the guitar players would
play on the low strings and
the other one on the high strings,
using the ones we've talked about a And
then a drummer and so a four piece band.
And they would take the stage right after
the 16 piece big band, the old school jump
blues orchestra and you can imagine that
many guys on stage, just a huge sound.
Well, Walter would get up there with
his guys, playing these little amps,
cuz they didn't have big amps back then,
these little boxes.
And they would fill the room,
just as loud as the big band and
it just blew everybody's mind.
And overnight, sort of woke people up
to the potential of electric blues.
And the way that electric blues and
the guitars and the harps would eventually
replace the acoustic instruments,
even the piano and the saxophone.
It just signaled a new sound in pop music
or version of pop music of the time.
So harmonica is inherently
just a different instrument,
they have a different set of scale notes.
The virtuosos figure out how to extract
notes in there that the designers
never imagined, but the basic
harp sound is pretty fundamental.
It's straight down the middle blues and
they play in different positions and
use different harps to create
different effects, but
the key difference to me when I
listen to a harp is just the sound.
It's the volume,
it's the size of the note.
Cuz when you blow in through the harp,
you've got the reeds vibrating and
they're vibrating sympathetically.
So every single note sounds like a chord,
it has this big wide effect.
And on the guitar,
[SOUND] we hit that note and
it sounds kinda thin by comparison.
So when I listen to Walter,
I try to steal stuff from him.
It's crazy, because unless he's
playing a real straight up line, he's
often playing textures and attitudes that
are very hard to capture on the guitar.
So what I'm going to do here is show you
some stolen ideas interpreted, adapted.
It's not gonna sound like
I'm playing the harmonica,
but I'm inspired by the harmonica.
And this is another example of how
we listen to other instruments and
we say that doesn't sit perfectly on
the guitar, but let me see what I can do.
And it expands your
range of techniques and
it just makes you think a little different
about the instrument that you play.
we'll take a slower blues this time and
I'm gonna sort of fake my way
through a Walters style solo and
then we'll break it down and
talk about what's going on in there.
All right.
See what happens.
This is just one chorus in length,
by the way.
that wears
me out,
try gonna
even think
like little
That's intense.
When he's blowing through the harmonica,
all that wind,
all that breath, he's singing.
He's singing through the harmonica and
to create the same fullness and
effect on the guitar is
really takes a lot of energy.
So the beads of sweat start
popping out as we go here.
Now I'm not duplicating what he's playing,
I'm sort of trying to
achieve a similar effect.
And you can probably hear right off
the top, there's an usual choice.
[SOUND] Now I'm using a technique
we developed a while ago,
tremolo picking combined
with double stops.
Harp players are not tremolo picking,
but he's wiggling that harp and
using his tongue to create that [SOUND]
kind of rapid vibrating effect.
So I'm doing the same
thing by using my pick.
Now the other thing that makes
it unusual is the note shorts.
We're in the key of A and
the first note he leans into
there is [SOUND] B harmonized
with the seventh, G.
So he's playing a full on [SOUND]
A9 chord with the ninth on top and
as back when we looked at the ninth,
they said if you emphasis the ninth,
it gives it a little jazzy quality.
And in this case.
You wouldn't say it's jazz, but
nonetheless, it throws
it a little off kilter.
It's surprising and
that's the kind of note.
Hearing it in that context, played on
the harmonica that makes me listen and
say, there's something about that
that's catchy, it's unusual.
What is it?
And it inspires me to want to go after it
and when I figure it out, I say, well,
that's a way to use them.
I never thought of that, right?
Then it goes to the four chord.
Just straight up on the top of the D chord
there on the third and the fifth.
Then he does a little trick.
[LAUGH] It's so weird.
It's like he's sweeping on the harp,
which I don't know how they do that.
It's just running the harp sideways,
I suppose.
But on the guitar,
[SOUND] its a sweet pick.
In other words, I'm not only playing.
[SOUND] Not only sweeping, but playing
a major nine or a dominant nine arpeggio.
Crazy, right?
So I play the [SOUND] third string,
hammer on from the [SOUND] minor third
to the major third, the fifth and
then lay the ninth, that's the B again,
way up the neck on top.
[SOUND] Then in my right-hand,
it's [SOUND] down, down, down.
So I played the ninth [SOUND] and
then the straight up triad [SOUND] and
then land on the seventh.
So it's as if he's articulating a dominant
nine arpeggio sorta moving one note
at a time through the sound and
then it goes to the four chord again.
And there's the.
Now he doesn't do that, but
I do that to sorta simulate the feel
of the energy that he develops,
one thing about Walter's
playing is extremely
rhythmic and he's breathing and singing.
So naturally,
hes tied into the beat just physically and
creates such a big sound you always feel
like the solo is driving you forward.
Here comes the chain.
Now that's a lick that he plays,
straight up blues lick.
There's nothing unusual about it, but
laying it right in there at that point,
it changes the texture and it just
kinda pops out the top of the solo and
brings the whole thing to a real peak.
And I'm back
into the Chicago
blues sound there.
So listening to harmonica players,
you'll hear different textures,
different combinations and
notes and extremely challenging on
the guitar to get that same effect.
We think we've got such a big, fat,
tough sound until you play next to a harp
player and you realize every note you play
sounds kind of skinny, [LAUGH] naked,
whereas the harp is big and round.
So to get that same effect,
you've really got to get creative and
put a lot of energy into your hands for
You've got to grip that neck solid and dig
in hard and when the sweat starts flying,
that's when you know it's happening.
All right.
Mess around with that and
have some fun with it.
Continuing with our theme of studying
other instruments to see what we can gain
from them, how we can be inspired.
The next instrument I'd like
to look at is the piano.
Now I played piano when I was
a little kid cuz my mom made me.
But I never really got very good at it.
And when I watch a piano player play,
I'm thinking how do they
keep the two hands going?
It's like there's so much going on in
this hand, let alone in this hand.
And on the guitar,
I'm just trying to get my pick to line
up with my finger once in awhile.
It's insane.
But piano players learn
incrementally like we do.
And their technique becomes second nature.
Our technique becomes second nature.
So when I listen to a piano player,
I'm not listening so much for
the awe factor,
even though I definitely get that.
But a good blues piano player, I'm
listening and saying what can I steal from
that guy after all the work that he put
in, I'm gonna just grab it and run.
And a piano player in blues that
I think many people would put on
the same par for his instrument
as they would describe Little Walter
in relation to harp players.
Sort of the ultimate expression of the
instrument in the era that he lived in.
Or Louis Jordan on the saxophone.
On the piano,
the equivalent was Otis Spann.
Otis Spann, like Walter, came up through
Muddy Waters's band, in Chicago.
Muddy Waters was not only
a tremendous musician and
personality but he was also a band leader
and a guy who would nurture talent.
When guys came to town from the South
in many cases they would wind
up living in Muddy's basement.
He'd rent them rooms.
And so there'd be guys in his band would
be living downstairs and his wife would
make them food and then he'd go
downstairs and they'd practice and.
So he became kind of this father
figure to a lot of Chicago musicians.
And Otis Spann developed a style on
the piano that was very sophisticated and
yet never really lost touch with
the foundation of the blues.
He could play that
down-home powerful shuffle.
You listen to him play with the Muddy
Waters Band and it just feels like there's
this kind of energy force driving
the band from underneath.
It's not the drummer, it's not
the bass player, or the guitar player.
It's the piano that's just throwing
in all this texture and color.
It's phenomenal, it's very exciting.
And Otis did some solo recordings
as well in the early 60s
in particular that showcased his
piano style apart from the band.
In some cases, he recorded with
a guitar player, Robert Lockwood.
A guy who we've talked about before,
and hearing the relationship of
the electric guitar to the piano is
very cool when it's isolated like that.
You'll want to check those out.
When I listen to Otis or
listen to any blues piano player,
what strikes me is just texture.
Because of the two hands, of course,
they can move in two directions at once.
And in Otis Spann's case,
he would do a lot of stuff with the
technique that we know as pedal points.
Where you've got a single note being
held and a melody moving against it.
Now he might be holding that melody in one
hand while moving the melody in the other
or maybe he's got his thumb holding
a note and he's using his other fingers,
meanwhile keeping this rolling
bass figure happening.
It's awe-inspiring stuff.
So when I listen to piano and try to steal
ideas, I have to kinda pick and choose.
Is it left hand, or is it right hand?
Because the two together is
just too much information.
So what I did was, there's one song that
he recorded called This is the Blues.
I mean, says it all right there.
And up tempo shuffle is one
of those things that is on
the border of a two beat.
It's fast, but he just plays with such
effortless ease through those changes
that I decided that I would try to steal
one of his choruses or actually more like
take a couple of choruses and steal ideas
and see if I could shove them together.
And sort of come up with one chorus worth
of stuff that I might have a prayer
of playing on the guitar.
So I want to show you that and
show you kind of what I got from it
listening to Otis and what the piano
style kinda does in terms of
broadening my skills as a guitar player.
So let's give that a whack.
This is a one chord solo in D, it's a two
feel, 220 beats per minute, it's quick.
But hopefully,
this will feel like it's in the pocket.
Let's see what happens.
And so
on, and
so on,
and so
All right, that's a workout too.
Man, I'm telling you, harmonica players
and piano players will wear you out.
Now what's going on in there?
Well a couple of sort of the key
ingredients of Otis's style.
Naturally the way the fingers
lay out on the keys,
he had pretty good size hands too.
So, we had a good span.
The octave is very comfortable for
a piano player.
So, [SOUND] there's
an octave plus a fifth.
[SOUND] So, I've got my third finger
on the D on the fourth string there
at the twelfth thread [SOUND] I'm
playing the A on the second string,
D on the first string.
Playing a little melody that sort of
oozes off the end of the interval there.
Hold on to it.
Now there's another.
Sort of an Otis Spann
trademark is that pedal point,
[SOUND] That's what we have
described as the upper pedal,
[SOUND] where you've got the sustained
note on top, melody moving underneath.
[SOUND] Now all the way through here
I'm using hybrid technique because
I've got to have the simulation of the
different fingers on the piano keyboard.
I've gotta have a note down here and
notes up here, so
I have to separate picking fingers.
There's no choice,
no other way to do this stuff
Here's an Otis Spann trademark
He would use that as a setup to go
into the four chord change.
He used that frequently, and when you
hear that you say that's Otis, right.
So that's the root,
the fifth, and the octave.
Moving down in half steps, and
then coming back up again.
And it kind of creates this sense
of anticipation for the four chord.
Now when it goes to the four chord G,
he does another pedal point lick.
This time
the pedal is F.
It's the seventh degree of the G chord and
he's playing a blues lick, a D blues lick,
with that note sustained on top
And then another version of the pedal.
Now there I'm playing the top two strings
and then moving down to the third string.
And sort of wrapping it up
with a nice major chord there.
And then here comes the five chord,
he pauses for a second [SOUND] and
he would just roll his hands
across the keys there.
I sort of fake a little sweep there.
[SOUND] You're not really
playing any notes there,
it's a rake
Another pedal that's just his sound.
So I'm playing A on the fifth string,
A on the second string, into the major
third there, and then the seventh.
And then a little chord move.
All right, now that's interesting.
[SOUND] I'm not quite sure what
he's thinking there, exactly.
[SOUND] But it's a turnaround.
Sort of a blues-ified turnaround.
So, you've got what looks like kinda could
be a D minor chord,
[SOUND] a diminished chord.
Now that's kind of a passing chord,
that's leading this, right?
Would resolve into the the one chord.
What do you call that chord?
I don't know, it's just a shape.
And I think probably that's
the way he's approaching it too,
he moves the chord down in half steps.
It's just the direction of the phrase
rather than the individual parts that you
need to pay attention to.
Diminished chord.
Which leads us finally to the turnaround,
and he plays this really cool turnaround.
Took me quite a while to figure this out.
This is like counterpoint,
this is classical music in the blues.
Now, what we have
in there is a melody.
Pretty straight up blues melody,
meanwhile you've got
Classic turnaround line underneath it.
So put them together, I use my thumb.
And there's a sixth
interval, which outlines
the sound of the D chord.
And then do a little rake across
the A chord down there, so.
Back into
the groove.
There's a lot of information in that
solo and a lot of coordination and
sort of transitions between one technique
and another and the fingerings and so on.
Otis would sit down and jam on the piano
all day like we do on the guitar,
and it was just rolling
from one end to the other.
It just sounds so great.
And to get that same
feeling on the guitar, boy,
you gotta spend some time with it.
But after a while,
you start to glue the pieces together.
And this is true of learning
any piece of new information.
Whether it's a guitar thing,
or like we're doing here,
looking outside to other inspirations.
When you first start,
you're micromanaging every bit of it.
You've got your microscope on each move,
the technique.
Where's this finger, where's that finger?
It's all very specific.
The more you learn and the more you
play it, the more you can stand back.
And ultimately,
where you want to be standing when you
play is not here behind the guitar.
You want to be standing
over there in the audience.
And you want to be listening
as if you're out there.
And trying to get that feeling that
you want the audience to have.
And in the back of your mind
you've got to judge yourself and
say are they hearing it the way
that I want them to hear it.
Or am I too focused on my technique and
maybe I'm thinking about this and
what they're getting is this
kind of geeky-sounding guy.
It's not swinging.
It doesn't feel sexy.
So you gotta get it down to a point
where you can relax, step back,
and hear yourself.
And with the more complex stuff like
this that is very, very tricky to do.
But that's the goal of anything
that you play, if it's this.
[SOUND] That's the whole deal,
is to step back and
see is that getting it,
am I doing it right?
And then from there.
You progress to more complex things but
they're all held together by that
common idea of it's gotta feel right,
it's gotta hit people right.
All right, have some fun with that one and
listen to Otis Spann.
I think you'll be very inspired.