I’m back to help you expand your blues
vocabulary further, this time with some
chords, partial chords, and chord voicings
that you have to know if you’re going to
play lowdown Chicago-style blues right.
In the classic Chicago blues styles of the
’50s and ’60s, rhythm guitar and lead guitar
melded together in a unique and intricate
way. So in these examples, we’ll expand
your lead playing as well as your rhythm
chops. In the classic bands of the era, such
as the groups led by Muddy Waters, Little
Walter, and Sonny Boy Williamson II, the
harmonica was as much—or even more—of
a dominant lead instrument as the guitar.
Many bands featured two guitars, like
Robert Jr. Lockwood and Luther Tucker
with Sonny Boy, Dave and Louis Myers
with Little Walter, and Jimmy Rogers or
Pat Hare together with Muddy in his band.
Here’s what’s neat about everything I’m
about to show you: When you turn up for
your solo, all these chords and licks are
great lead tools as well. Just listen to SRV
soloing over any of his shuffles and you’ll
find traces of all this stuff.
The ensemble playing of the bands I’m
talking about was very much a team sport.
The guitar parts, harp parts, and piano
parts could often be solos in their own
right, but the players knew how to blend
together to make one sound. Therefore, the
first step is to turn down your rhythm.
You may say, “Hey, I do turn my rhythm
guitar down.” No, you don’t. Not enough!
Blast your solo as loud as you want,
but keep your rhythm guitar volume to a
minimum. Always keep in mind that playing
accompaniment too loud will not have
the effect you may think, no one will be
impressed, they’ll just want to hurt you and
for you to go away. That’s enough philosophy—
let’s get down to some nuts and bolts,
tricks and licks.
We will begin by checking out the common
chord shapes used during this era. In
Fig. 1 you can see a few options for E and in
Fig. 2 we do the same for A. Now we have
the I and IV chords for a blues in the key of
E. For the V chord just take any of the “A”
shapes and move it up two frets. It’s magic!
Let’s start with a dirty shuffle rhythm
using our basic open E chord and an inversion
of a E6/9 chord in Fig. 3. We can use
our new superpowers to simply move this
shape up to the 5th and 7th frets for the IV
and V chords, respectively.
Robert Jr. Lockwood was really the originator
of most of this stuff I’m showing you.
Both Lockwood and the sadly under-documented
guitarist Reggie Boyd were pretty
much the most well-rounded, virtuosic, and
most knowledgeable players of the era, and
many bluesmen of the time got a lesson,
directly or indirectly, from these two guys.
Now that you have the basic chord
shapes, it’s time for some licks. I know how
much you all like licks, but bear in mind
the words of the great American bluesman
Sonny Lane, “F**k a lick!” What I choose
to believe he meant was don’t make up your
mind about what to play until you are in
sync with what’s going on around you musically.
Use your ears, not your licks! The lick
in Fig. 4 is a great way to segue from the I
chord into the IV. For some extra vibe, add
a slight palm mute and use all downstrokes.
I call the lick in Fig. 5 a “looper.” Once
you get it going, you can pretty much go
on autopilot for a while to build up tension.
In the example, I have outlined how
to play this phrase over the I (E7), IV (A7),
and V (B7) chords in the key of E.
We have another looper in Fig. 6, and this time we will use it over an A7. The addition of the 9 (B) at the top of each phrase is a Lockwood staple, revealing that he could be somewhat more sophisticated than his surroundings."
Everything I’ve shown you here is not
only great for big, powerful solos, but I
have also started you on the path to learning
how to correctly accompany a Chicago
blues harmonica in a band setting. The difference?
Easy, here are three steps:
1. Turn down.
2. Listen and complement the soloist.
3. See steps 1 and 2.
Being at the right volume is even more
important than being in tune for this stuff!
For reference, check out any Little Walter
compilation, or anything from the ’50s by
Sonny Boy Williamson or Muddy Waters.
Those really playing this style very well today
are guys like Rusty Zinn, Junior Watson,
Billy Flynn, and Little Charlie Baty. You
can also hear all these licks in the blasting
blues-rock stylings of Stevie Ray Vaughan
and his hordes of followers, all the way to
sophisticated jazz-blues playing of dudes like
Robben Ford and the great Chris Cain.
Listening to the rest of the musicians
is key in a band situation. Good Chicago
blues players weave in and out of the forefront,
up and down the fretboard. For your
solo, crank your amp and play all of this
however you want, because then it’s time for
them to follow you. Don’t forget to step out
and put on your best blues face!
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