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from David Hamburger’s Blues Alchemy
“Rhumba Blues” is a jazzy blues arranged for guitar, bass and drums, allowing the guitar to handle both lead and rhythm chores. It also showcases a few ways to spice up tired chord voicings by moving them up or down an octave. The G7#9 featured here is a good example: by moving the “Purple Haze” chord down an octave, the chord ends up on the bottom four strings, giving it a fat and chucky texture like a Hammond organ, and there’s really nothing cooler than that.
Unlike simply comping behind a soloist, “Rhumba Blues” presents a challenge in keeping the lead and rhythm parts locked together as you go back and forth. The basis of the tune is a 12-bar blues in G, and the chords are G7#9, C7 and D7 – we’ll keep the chord voicings close together to make the changes easier. The G7#9 is voiced by playing the root on the low E, muting the A string, playing the F on the D string and Bb on the G string; we’ll leave out the third to keep the chord from sounding muddy.
The lead/bass riff here is based on a G minor pentatonic scale and mimics what the bass might be doing. Although we could move the riff to follow the chord, leaving it static creates a focal point for the listener and allows the chord changes to create the movement and tension within the piece.
Once you have the basic changes and song structure under your belt, try experimenting with different chord voicings – when you reach the V chord, try playing a D7#9 to add some more flavor. You can also change up the single note phrases; try moving it with the changes or improvising for a measure or two and practice hitting the next chord stab in time.
Remember, by mixing up low-end, single note riffs and a few well-chosen chord voicings, you can start unleashing a seemingly endless stream of inventive-sounding yet supportive choruses of rhythm guitar. There’s a world of ideas out there beyond the guitar horizon, waiting to be pilfered by someone with a sense of adventure, the gift of groove, and a light touch with other people’s (rhythmic) pockets. Check out the pianists, organists and horn sections on your favorite blues records and steal like mad.
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