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Blues Guitar Lessons: Boogie Chillen

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About 1948,
when jump blues was raging,
it was very hip, popular dance style,
a record came out by
a guy who was brand new.
Nobody had ever heard of him before.
His name was John Lee Hooker, and
the record was called Boogie Chillen.
And John Lee Hooker went on
to become one of the most
prolifically recorded blues artists.
He and Lightnin' Hopkins probably
share the title for the most
records made under the most different
circumstances for the most labels.
Just recording for anybody,
anytime, anywhere.
But Boogie Chillen was
always his signature song.
And it became kinda
the foundation of an entire
genre of rhythm that we call the Boogie.
Now, I'm not talking Boogie Shuffle,
that's in the same general ballpark,
but it's a distinctly different thing.
The Boogie is essentially a fast shuffle,
it can be played at ridiculous tempos or
played more at a medium tempo.
But when you think of what
makes the jump blues pattern.
[SOUND] Now if you don't
use the walking line and
sorta strip that down to just
the essential rhythm and even the upbeats.
One, two, three four, one, and, and, and,
and, and
playing on the ands that's where you get
kinda the essence of the boogie pattern.
So, what
John Lee Hooker
was playing was
Now I'm struggling a little bit to play
that, because he played it in open tuning.
He was an open G tuning and
I want to show you how to play this stuff
without altering the whole landscape here.
So what I'm playing there is and
A power chord,
and I play the power chord, in other
words, those three shapes together.
I'm using hybrid picking,
he uses thumb and bare finger.
So everything about his style was
distinctive based on his tuning and
his technique.
And he did not play guitar in at
all what we would call a smooth,
kinda with finesse.
He was a pretty rugged guitar player,
but he had that sound.
He just knew when he got that thing
going you were convinced, right?
So you've got this very slowly,
I'll show it to you.
So I plucked the notes
together [SOUND] and then just
the upper part of the chord
[SOUND] with the bass
And then hammer on those three notes there
that go up the major third of the chord.
And then it
has a variation.
Sliding up on the fourth string
from the first to the second fret opened
open string to the second fret.
So that's the feel of it, so
you've got [NOISE].
And it puts the emphasis so
much on the off beat,
that it always feels like it's kinda
a flat tire rolling down the street.
And it has this built in, forward energy
like you're always about to fall over.
Captivating and he would just
tell stories over the top of it.
Well mama told papa and
then papa told mama and
boy's got to boogie, it's got to come out.
Meanwhile keeping that groove going and
playing his cool little feels and
what not.
You want to listen to Boogie Chillen,
be inspired by it as every other
guitar player of his generation was.
They all talk in interviews later on,
they say what inspired you back when
you were learning to play guitar?
Well I heard John Lee Hooker's Boogie
Chillen and I just wanted to play that so
So kids all over the place
were picking up guitars and
trying to get that sound and
annoying their parents.
But the result was there was sorta
a like a little Boogie industry.
John Lee Hooker of course kept recording
Boogies of various types and titles.
Some without even the same rhythm,
but you know called Boogies of one type or
But a number of other people came out
with their versions of the Boogie.
And one that was quite popular
was by a guy named Slim Harpo.
Slim Harpo recorded for
the Excello label in Louisiana.
The label was based in Nashville, but
the recording studio was in Louisiana.
And that was the epicenter of swamp blues,
the most down home blues.
And Slim Harpo came out with
his version on the Boogie,
it's called Shake Your Hips.
And it was a slight variation
which I'll show you.
That's pretty
much the song right there.
Boogies do not depend on variety and
complexity for their appeal,
it's hypnotism.
You're coming up with
a musically hypnotic phrase.
So what I've got there is open A and
my first finger is laying across
the strings at the second fret.
And I use my middle finger and pluck the A
at the second fret on the third string so.
So I'm alternating a bass
pattern with the upbeat which I'm
playing with my middle finger here.
So upbeat, root, upbeat,
third, root, seventh and
the second finger just
moves from note to note.
the magic happens when you speed it up and
you get the groove going.
I'm muting,
palm muting over here.
The bass notes pop a little bit.
They thump and
the top note comes through nice and clear.
You really hear that up beat which
is the essence of the boogie sound.
An approximation of
the Slim Harpo magic right there.
Now what I'm doing is incidentally I'm
adding in the harmonica fills, right.
The guitar doesn't do that on the record.
so I jump up to the fifth
and play those double stops there.
And just from doing it a bunch of times I
figured out how to do it in tempo right?
So start slow and work your way up,
but that's a pretty cool sound.
That's another version of the Boogie.
We had John Lee Hooker.
We had Slim Harpo, he was a pretty
successful guy with that song there.
[SOUND] And then moving into the 60s,
people continue to do the Boogie.
It just kept popping up,
from time to time.
And it would be the basis of
some song that was on the radio.
One that was done in the late 60s,
on the Road Again by a band called
Canned Heat from Los Angles.
And they developed a pattern
which we hear in probably
the most popular Boogie of all time,
which I'll show you in just a second.
And the Canned Heat Boogie
is more like this.
All right, so
there you've got the A string,
barring that chord,
very simple stuff, use the middle and
third finger to pluck those strings.
Up beats.
Now what I just did there is let go
of the chord
and play the open strings.
Bass note.
Open third string.
Open fourth string.
Bass note, open,
open, back to the chord again.
Now, you probably hear in
there the roots of this.
And that's sorta
an approximation of ZZ Top,
La Grange which has
inspired many a revelry.
what you got there is
just a slight variation.
Now I don't know if
Billy Gibbons uses open tuning or
capos or has a different fingering.
So I'm just coming up with
my version of it here.
I'm sure the information is
widely available on the internet,
but reach over with the fourth finger.
And then reach up the third
string with the fourth finger.
it all comes back to that alternation
between the bass note and
the upper notes creating that syncopation,
that bounce.
And then when
you get going.
Right, now in this
case I'm playing the
chord and then switching
my hand in effect to a D chord.
Not really playing the full chord
just suggesting the chord with
the fourth and third strings
and so on.
Now why am I showing you this
stuff [LAUGH] you're asking.
I mean the parts are really cool,
there's a lot of fun.
The history, when you kinda dig
back in the history of a song and
find out where it came from and all that.
It's a fascinating story.
But the idea is I'm not showing you,
let's go jam on long range,
it's that this represents
a distinct kinda sub genre of jump.
It was fast dance music [SOUND].
Which, if you put a bass
underneath it and you had
you could almost morph it
into a jump blues.
And, in fact, people did.
They did Boogies that had more
of a jump quality to them.
But be that as it may,
this is a common enough groove in
the blues world that you have
to know kinda how to handle it.
How to play it rhythmically.
How it feels.
And what'll throw you off,
when you first hear it or
first play it is that constant
emphasis on the upbeat.
It just feels like everything
is in opposite land.
The other aspect of it is that it can,
not John Lee Hooker,
but the subsequent versions,
it can be outrageously fast.
Because it's essentially so
easy to play they'd get that groove going
and drummers rocking and you know and
then it's time to take a solo and
it can scare the heck out of you.
Because what am I,
it's a one chord solo, but
now it's crazy fast
over this weird rhythm.
What do I do?
And so let me just give you a strategy.
We've already laid the groundwork because
we've talked about one chord solos.
Four-bar phrases and
just start to build the story in chunks,
So if you
play four-bar
and so on.
Now I can play faster,
but that's the idea of it.
Is just to come with that
essential skeleton that
says four-bar phrase [SOUND]
breathe [SOUND] and so on.
So that's the way you feel the structure.
And however long the solo turns out to
be it actually makes some kinda sense.
And you can kinda keep
your arms around it and
not feel like the groove
is getting away from you.
Let me give you a demo here.
We'll play a one chord boogie in A at
the paint peeling tempo
of 220 beats per minute.
And see what kinda results
we can come up with here.
Okay, here we go.
Good God,
I had no
idea where
that was
I guess that's what we want is
to be living on the edge, right?
Now I started it off,
I had an idea where I wanted to start it.
And the starting,
starting lick was one I stole right
up from Albert Collins,
that's his signature lick.
And I always just thought man that is so
He can hit one note and
make it stick, you know?
That's what I was going for
is that one note.
So that lasted for a couple of bars and
then answer, you know just a some
simple little answering lick.
And again, Albert would do this thing
where he had his open tuning so
with his thumb and his finger he would
hit the root which is an open string for
him and then slide up into the octave.
And you'd almost not hear that low note.
it would sorta somehow launch the phrase.
I don't know how to describe it.
So I use the pick and the finger hybrid.
So, I did that a couple times and
then I started thinking about, okay,
let me see if I can find
a little groove here.
When in
doubt repeat.
Sorta circling around.
I'm looking for an idea and I get one and
then I just kinda latch a hold of it.
And at some point I could hear
now that was another stolen moment.
There was a version of the Boogie which
was done by Little Junior Parker and
it wasn't the John Lee Hooker Boogie, but
it was based on the same idea.
It actually had some of
the same lyrics and so on.
And that was kinda the signature lick.
How simple is that, right?
Just the two note, the Down Home Blues
combination there that we studied way
back when we were talking about
pattern number two, right.
Works like a charm.
So it just builds that tension, you don't
really have to go anywhere with it.
I think somewhere in
there I use a pedal tone
or some variation on that idea.
And at the very end,
I use another concept that we haven't
really talked about, which is octaves
It's almost a version of the pedal tone.
So I'm playing the A with the octave on
the fifth string and the first string, or
second string there.
Just following that melody down one
And again, that's some concept we talked
about before is don't get stuck in
a pattern where it's like I gotta stay
there and I don't know where to go.
I'm just saying okay I'm gonna start
going and see where I wind up.
[LAUGH] All right,
somewhere down in there.
So you get the idea.
It's a series of short little phrases.
And you can do the boogie
as flashy as you wanna be.
That's an idea that I
stole from Van Halen.
[SOUND] But, to me,
I don't know, I don't know,
I feel like that's getting
off the point a little bit.
It's becoming a guitar thing
rather than a music thing.
You know, what I mean?
So, I'm looking for
the phrase, the attitude.
I sorta see Albert Collins
looking over my shoulder.
He's going [SOUND].
Yeah, I don't know.
So, you make your own judgments
about what's appropriate,
but that up tempo Boogie is pretty
exciting when you get going.
So, why don't you record something.
Do that Boogie.
Send it to me.
Let me hear how you're playing it, and
see where your imagination takes you.
All right, move on.