I am a big roots-rock guy. To me, roots rock
is a mix of blues, rock, country, honky
tonk, and a ton of attitude. There are lots
of open chords and strings ringing all over
the place, plus a few spilled beers. In this
month’s lesson, we’re going to look at a few
Americana-influenced blues licks that you
will be able to get under your fingers quickly
and use on the next Tuesday night blues jam.
Two of my favorite players in this genre
are David Grissom and Eddy Shaver. For
Grissom, I’d suggest Joe Ely’s Live at Liberty
Lunch and any of his solo records. He is a
master of this style. Unfortunately, Eddy
Shaver (Billy Joe Shaver’s son) passed away
in 2000, but not without leaving us some
great recordings. I highly suggest Billy’s
Unshaven: Live at Smith’s Olde Bar. Man,
that guy could play and what a tone.
The lick in Fig. 1 uses a neat tuning trick
I picked up from ZZ Top’s “Jesus Just Left
Chicago.” We’re in the key of G, which is a
great key for open strings because the 2nd,
3rd, and 4th strings are a G chord. Note:
To get a full low G that has some ring to it,
I’ve lowered the 5th string down to G. This
makes this lick a breeze to play and emphasizes
all those open strings. Dropped-G tuning
offers some of the benefits of full open
G tuning, yet soloing is much easier because
your top four strings stay in standard tuning.
You can hear a bit more influence from the
Rev. Billy Gibbons in Fig. 2. This is a funky,
rootsy lick in A that uses a cool little bend.
This lick is like mixing ZZ Top’s “La Grange”
with the bridge of Zep’s “Black Dog.” Play the
A chord by barring the 4th and 3rd strings,
so your pinky can grab the C at the 5th fret
and give it a slight bend. Don’t bend it too
much—just keep it cool and bluesy. That’s
the “La Grange” part. We alternate the low
notes at the end of each two-measure phrase
between an F# and a G, just like Page does on
“Black Dog.” I always loved that.
This next lick in Fig. 3 is literally the
“root” of rock ’n’ roll. You can find traces of
this lick from Muddy Waters and Hubert
Sumlin to Jonny Lang and Warren Haynes. It
has swagger and attitude, and it grooves hard.
Also, it has inspired a ton of tunes, most
notably would be Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile
(Slight Return).” As a result, I teach this to all
of my students. It’s important to sit into the
groove right on this one and the bend/pulloff
combo can be a bit challenging. If all you
do for the next few days is perfect this lick,
you’ll have done yourself a great favor.
I am such a sucker for the shuffle feel in
Fig. 4—not to mention the sound of those
big ringing open chords combined with a
little bluesy riff. This one plays up that great
sound of mixing the scale’s lowered 3 and
natural 3. An important element to getting
this to sound right is not to play too softly.
Really smack the crap out of the strings.
Also, don’t gain out your amp too much—
you want to keep the clarity of the chords.
We could easily devote a whole column to
Stevie Ray Vaughan’s rhythm style, but you
can get a good idea of the feel he typically uses
on tunes such as “Pride and Joy” and “Cold
Shot” in Fig. 5. Basically it goes between E
and A while adding some of that classic Texas
shuffle. When first trying to play this, I stumbled
on a happy mistake: Over-barring with
your 1st finger on the A chord lets you catch
the F# on the 2nd fret. Whoa! This not only
sounds cool because you form an A6 chord, it
also makes the riff easier to play. Your picking
hand plays a huge part in this lick by constantly
swinging the eighth-notes and muting
the strings. Not sure what I mean? Just watch
almost any video of SRV and all will be clear.
No roots lesson would be complete without
a good train beat. I love this feel, but
soloing over it really kicks your butt because
the tempo demands some ripping. Fig. 6 is
basically just an A chord, but the hard part
is keeping the low A pumping on beats 1
and 3. I also use hybrid picking on this, so
my pick plays the low A and my middle and
ring fingers pluck the 3rd and 2nd strings,
respectively. Not easy, but super cool.
I hope you enjoyed some of these
roosty blues licks. They’re a big part of my
playing and hopefully they’ll open a few
doors for you.
Jeff McErlain is a New York City-based guitar
player, producer, songwriter, and educator. He
performs regularly in NYC and abroad with
his trio and blues band. Jeff has a number of
instructional DVDs available at TrueFire.com,
and he is a featured instructor for the National
Guitar Workshop. Jeff's latest CD I'm Tired is
available on iTunes or at jeffmcerlain.com