Chops: Intermediate Theory: Beginner Lesson Overview: • Understand the essential elements of Chicago blues. • Learn how to properly back up a harmonica player. • Create “looping” phrases that

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Beginner
Lesson Overview:
• Understand the essential elements of Chicago blues.
• Learn how to properly back up a harmonica player.
• Create “looping” phrases that build tension in your solos.

Click here to download the sound clips from this lesson.

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!

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Learn licks in the style of Chicago blues master Otis Rush.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Learn licks in the style of Chicago blues master Otis Rush.
• Develop cool minor-blues rhythm phrases.
• Understand how important it is to bend strings in tune.

Click here to download the sound clips from this lesson.

Otis Rush, ladies and gentlemen. One of the biggest influences on modern blues and rock guitar, and a guy I’ve been trying my darndest to copy ever since I heard him do “Feel So Bad” at age 13. He was a huge influence on me, and an often-tapped source by other not-quite-asinfluential- as-Kid-Andersen guitarists, such as Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page.

I jest, of course, but you can trace a direct line from Otis’ style to Clapton, Page, Peter Green, and Mick Taylor, who then influenced Eddie Van Halen. The line continues on from EVH to any number of unnamed dudes with spiky haircuts decked out in Ed Hardy and posing next to Britney Aquafina or Clay Lambert in today’s “music scene.”

Meanwhile, Rush is still living the bluesman’s fate by being grossly unrecognized by the masses and looking back on a career of constant bum deals and unfortunate circumstances. If you’re any kind of man or woman, and you haven’t already, buy all of his CDs right now! This column will still be here when you log out from Amazon.

Many blues fans swear by his earliest recordings on the Cobra label and he also put out great stuff on Chess (and Checker). Rush was featured on a very nice set on Vanguard’s Chicago: The Blues Today series, and all that stuff is classic must-have, required listening. But my favorite recordings are the 1968 LP he did for Atlantic, called Mourning in the Morning, and Right Place, Wrong Time, which he cut in 1971 and was released in 1975.

By that point in his career, he had switched from a Strat to an Epiphone Riviera with mini humbuckers, and in my opinion, that’s when he really found his sound—at least the sound I’ve been searching for most of my adult (if I may call it that) life. Of course, his Strat tone on the Cobra stuff is classic, and Ike Turner plays a bunch of badass guitar on those records as well, but I’m a Gibson guy at heart and the Epi is basically the same thing and just really does it for me.

The wonderful thing about his tone on the Atlantic album is that not only does his guitar amp sound amazing, you can also hear the acoustic tone of his guitar bleeding through his red-lining vocal mic, which adds just a whole ’nother dimension of sonic goodness to the stew. I’ve bought many a guitar and amp searching for Otis’ tone, but ultimately, it’s in your fingers. The most important and unique aspect of his sound cannot be taught in this lesson—I’m talking about his vibrato and his touch. That will take you a lifetime to assimilate, and if you’re looking for money and chicks, you might want to think about law school instead.

However, I’m going to show you some of his “secrets,” and try to avoid the most-often heard licks he pioneered, as you’ve heard them already a gazillion times on the records of Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd.

I don’t want to infringe on anyone’s copyrights here, so let’s say this example of a turnaround (over the V-IV-I progression) in Fig. 1 is from a song I call “Feel Like Crap,” from an imaginary album I call Sorrow at Sunrise. This one took me about eight years to get it to where I’m pretty cool with how I sound doing it, and I still can’t touch the master.

The key to getting the vibrato on the highest note is that it’s fairly fast, fairly wide, and somehow kind of relaxed in it’s attack, but not relaxed in intensity. Also try to catch the 3rd string very softly, so that the V note rings and wavers along, but it shouldn’t be anywhere near as present as the I note. It’s subtle shading.

This next tip pretty much applies to all bends: Get all the way up there! People who bend notes that don’t quite make it all the way up (unless you’re a master of intentional microtonality like Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, or Mike Bloomfield) are at great risk of getting punched before too long if I’m in the room and in the mood. Take that to heart! Nothing annoys a person with a musical ear more than some dude making his “blues face” with a bent note that’s just a few cents flat. Hell, if you want to make your note jump out, do like Albert King and actually go a little bit sharp. This sound is especially effective on the 1st string and can make the note jump out favorably. Whatever you do, do it strategically, with conviction, and with a painful memory in the back of your mind! Remember Yoda’s words : There is no try. Do or do not.

Fig. 2 is a great way to start a slow blues solo in G. Hit that high G with all you’ve got, again with the subtle shading of the 3rd string in there, and wait for the panties to come flying your way, or if you’re in front of a blues crowd, the 2XL bowling shirts. The timing of this lick is pretty rubato (non-existent), except the last note should definitely be somewhere close to the downbeat of the I chord.

Yet another turnaround. Let’s say Fig. 3 was used as the intro for the imaginary track “Government Handout Sad Music” from an album we’ll call Not For Pleasure by the artist we’ll call Jiffy “Speedy Digits” Dumplings. This lick borrows heavily from Albert King, as Otis often would, but in true blues genius fashion, he adds some twists of his own, which, once you get this stuff down, you ought to do for your own damn self! Lastly, Otis is the king of minor blues, you might recognize Fig. 4 from a tune I’ll call “The Total Sum of Your Affection.”

Until next time, my friends, may the Force be with you!

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Chops: Beginner Theory: Beginner Lesson Overview: • Learn what not to do over a turnaround. Ever. • Create licks in the style of the three Kings. • Understand how

Chops: Beginner
Theory: Beginner
Lesson Overview:
• Learn what not to do over a turnaround. Ever.
• Create licks in the style of the three Kings.
• Understand how to relate a Norwegian limerick to developing a blues vocabulary.

Click here to download the accompanying mp3 audio examples.

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 weren’t:

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!

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