Hello ladies and gentlemen, ’tis I, the
Kid. In this lesson, we’ll be digging
deep into the extended vocabulary of blues
guitar. Nothing exemplifies the phrase “a
minute to learn, a lifetime to master” better
than this uniquely American art form. For
inspiration, look to some of the originators
of this musical language to help you write
your own chapter in this highly expressive
style. That’s how all the true greats in blues
and rock made their discoveries.
To me, the blues is simultaneously as
much about tradition as it is about originality.
You learn the language by going back
to the origins, then the more “words” and
“phrases” you know in this language, the
more colorful and interesting your own
story will be when you tell it. You might
think that knowing a blues scale and the
12-bar form, having a tube amp and an
electric guitar, and arming yourself with a
few blues licks is all you need to wail.
But with these alone, you have as much
chance of making a real statement in blues
as I do writing a great limerick in Russian.
To illustrate, here’s one in Norwegian,
which I was raised speaking, but you hopefully
Jeg kjente ei jente fra Moss,
som likte å drikke og slåss.
Hun begynte å spy,
hver gang dagen var ny
men jeg giftet meg med ’a til tross.
Thank you for indulging me. You probably
recognize the limerick form in these words,
and you may even think you know the words
“moss,” “spy,” “gang,” “men,” and “med,”
but I defy you to be able to relay this short
tale in your own words if you don’t speak
the Norwegian language. (Hint: It’s about a
woman who enjoys drinking, fighting, and
vomiting.) You get my point, I hope.
That’s not to say that I think every
guitar player out there should know
every Robert Jr. Lockwood turnaround to
demand respect. I’m actually not what you
would call a blues purist myself. I personally
draw on everything from jazz, surf, and
rockabilly to country, metal, and baroque.
However, the blues is my mother tongue
on the instrument and if I were to quote
George Benson or Tony Iommi during
some extended guitar freakout, it’s more
the equivalent of me shouting out nostrovia!
(cheers) in a Russian crowd.
One of the beautiful things about this
incredible art form is that with the right conviction
behind it, blues can fit in just about
any kind of music for two reasons: First, it’s
at the root of most modern Western music,
and second, it’s cool as hell. Just try sneaking
one of these licks I’m fixin’ to show you
into your next Indian raga, Bach lute suite,
or head-banging anthem for the glorification
of the dark lord. You can’t fail. Okay, enough
preaching. Allow me to show you some licks
and tricks you may not be hip to.
I’m going to start off at the end, as all
these licks apply to the last two measures
or so of a 12-bar progression, when you
return to the I chord after the V and IV of
the turnaround. We will call Fig. 1 “What
Not to Do.” Nothing reveals a blues novice
more than someone who fumbles and
plays square, rhythmically awkward licks
that break up the groove, and most of all,
over-emphasize an anticipated V chord
at the very end of the progression. You’ve
heard this a million times, which is why it
has to end!
As with all my rules, there are many
good exceptions, but unless you were born
of sharecroppers in the rural South, this one
is hard to pull off with your dignity intact,
especially the last three notes.
Instead, end your epic solo with Fig. 2,
which is straight out of the book of Freddie
King. Also make sure to practice at home the
accompanying “I smell a fart” stare. Perhaps
you didn’t want the crowd to think you were
about to murder them, and felt like ending
on a lighter note. In that case, I would suggest
using Fig. 3. Which reeks of the one and
only king of the blues, B.B. King. Cool thing
about that, it implies a suspended V chord at
the end, taking us back to church. Where we
should have been all along! Suggested facial
expression: The difficult bowel movement.
Lastly, no grimace needed to cop this
Albert King-inspired slow blues ending in
Fig. 4, though to really nail his vibe, you may
have to clamp a pipe between your teeth.
Again, all these licks can work on everything
from “Red House” to “Shake Your
Moneymaker” to “Slow Ride.” You don’t
really have to be at the end of the 12 bars.
Hey, it’s blues. If there’s nothing else you
take away from this lesson, please don’t ever
make me hear Fig. 1 again!
Currently the guitarist for Rick Estrin & the
Nightcats, Kid Andersen has recorded and
performed with Charlie Musselwhite, Elvin
Bishop, and many other blues legends.
Originally from Norway, Andersen is now based
in San Jose, California, with the immigration
status of “Alien of Extraordinary Ability.” For
more information, visit rickestrin.com