Sam Wesley (aka Sam-One, guitar) and Grant Walters (harp) take the stage for the weekly Club Fox Blues Jam in Redwood City, California. Photo by Rachel Kumar.
The Musical Know-How
Blues jam etiquette also demands that the jammer have at least a basic understanding of blues progressions and the keys in which they are played. Understanding what a “quick four” or “shuffle” mean improves jam comfort levels for all. That said, there is nothing wrong with struggling a bit at a jam—people are there to learn too and it’s a great opportunity to do so. No one should be embarrassed to ask, or be asked, questions. In the end, the jam is a performance, so everyone should simply bring the best they can.
There is no guaranteed setlist at any location. A the two new jams I visited for this article, I was presented with blues songs that I had never been asked to play at a jam before. While versions of standard jam blues tunes pop up regularly, "The Thrill is Gone" or "Stormy Monday" for instance, it is possible for the blues jammer to be confronted with songs influenced by a variety of styles and rhythms such as swing ("T-Bone Shuffle," "Every Day I Have the Blues"), rock ("Crossroads," "Red House"), funk ("I’m Tore Down," "Standing on Shaky Ground") or the basic blues shuffle. Familiarity with major and minor keys and the 1–4–5 blues progression are essential basics, but keep in mind that everyone, including the best players, become even better by playing with others. That is especially true for the novice blues jammer. It’s as much of a learning experience as you choose to make it.
If you’re starting completely from scratch, here are a few basic chord charts for some common progressions.