Way back in 1965, Taj Mahal left his Massachusetts home and headed to California in search of a 17-year-old blues phenom named Ry Cooder. The rest, as Mahal puts it, is “our-story.”

Photo by Abby Ross

Almost six decades after forming the short-lived Rising Sons, the two legends reconvene to pay tribute to the classic blues duo of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee on the warm and rootsy Get on Board.

Deep into Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder’s Get on Board: The Songs of Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, percussionist Joachim Cooder lays out, letting the two elder musicians can take a pass through “Pawn Shop Blues.” To start, they loosely play around with the song’s intro on their acoustic guitars. “Yeah, nice,” remarks Mahal off-handedly in his distinctive rasp—present since he was a young man but, at 79, he’s aged into it—and Cooder lightly chuckles. They hit the turnaround and settle into a slow, loping tempo. It’s a casual and informal affair—some notes buzz, and it sounds like one of them is stomping his foot intermittently. Except for Cooder’s slide choruses, neither guitar plays a rhythm or lead role. They simply converse.

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Photo by Andy Ellis

Coax extra mileage from a familiar lick by slipping in some sly slide moves.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Understand when and where to combine slide with fretted notes.
• Create drone-style licks using open strings.
• Develop a better sense of intonation. Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

Here’s a thought: You don’t have to exclusively stick to slide technique when that bottleneck is on your finger. Why not use those three other fingers? For this lesson, we’ll explore how to sneak the slide into your “normal” fretted licks. It takes skill and practice to merge the two techniques, but the resulting sounds are well worth the effort. For these examples, we’ll focus on mostly roots and blues-style licks in standard tuning. As we launch into these examples, it’s important to think of your slide finger as a normal finger with a slight extension that lets you emphasize legato lines. Don’t switch back and forth between the two styles … instead, make them one!

Our first lick (Ex. 1) is based around a G minor pentatonic scale (G–Bb–C–D–F). For the first notes of measure one and measure three, use the slide to “bend” the note just a bit before the pull-offs. This works great over a G7 vamp.

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The Review Demo maestro walks you through a descending lick that's a cinch to transpose to any key.