Guitar History. Blues

Guitar Blues



Blind Lemon Jefferson

Blind Lemon Jefferson’s
lack of sight resulted
in expressive playing and vocals.
The blues has played a larger role in the history of popular music than any other genre. It is a direct ancestor to music styles as diverse as rock’n’roll, rock, heavy metal, soul, funk and pop. Without the blues there would have been no Beatles. Jimi Hendrix. Led Zeppelin. James Brown. Stevie Wonder or Oasis, to name but a few!

The blues emerged out of the hardships endured by generations of African-American slaves during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By 1900. the genre had developed into a three-line stanza, with a vocal style derived from southern work songs. These 'call and response' songs were developed further by early blues guitar players, who would sing a line and then answer it on the guitar. By the 1920s. rural African-Americans had migrated to the big cities in search of work, bringing their music with them. Early street musicians such as Blind Lemon Jefferson, a guitar- playing blues singer, started to make recordings and these inspired the next generation of blues guitar players.

Delta Blues

The 1930s were a crucial period in the development of the blues, for It was then that acoustic Mississippi Delta blues performers Charley Patton. Son House and Robert Johnson travelled throughout the southern states, singing about their woes, freedom, love and sex to community after community. Johnson, who the legend goes, made a mysterious pact with the devil to become a better guitar player, was the first true blues performance artist. Over on the East Coast, musicians such as Blind Boy Fuller. Sonny Terry and Gary Davis developed a more folky blues style.

Chicago Blues

Blues legend Howlin' Wolf

Blues legend Howlin' Wolf
contributed to the post-war
Chicago blues explosioa
By the 1940s. Chicago bluesmen took Mississippi Delta ideas and played them on electric guitars. Lone performers became scarcer while small bands sprang up everywhere. By the 1950s. electric blues was in full swing, with B.B King. Muddy Waters. John Lee Hooker. T-Bone Walker and Howlin' Wolf all playing to packed houses in major cities. King pioneered across-the- string vibrato and note- bending techniques on his beloved guitar. 'Lucille', and these techniques are now used by all blues lead-guitar players. Hooker developed a completely different style, in which he stomped continuously with his right foot while singing and playing. Wolf injected more power and frustration into the blues, and Walker jazzed things up, but it was perhaps Muddy Waters’ passionate singing and biting guitar tones that popularized the style more than anyone else from this period. Some bluesmen. such as Big Bill Broonzy. visited England, where their performances inspired British musicians to adopt the style.

British Blues

Stevie Ray Vaughan
Stevie Ray Vaughan
had a stunning, high-
energy blues style
The 1960s witnessed a musical and cultural revolution when British guitar players such as Eric Clapton and Peter Green started to mimic American bluesmen. They used solid-body guitars and more powerful amplifiers to get a harder, more driving sound than their American mentors. Clapton's electric guitar sound led to the birth of a number of other styles, including blues rock, hard rock and even heavy metal. From the 1970s onwards, artists including Stevie Ray Vaughan. Robert Cray and Robben Ford have added more voices and sounds to the blues repertoire, and the genre is still thriving today.

Playing the Blues. Blues styles.

Blues is based around the blues scale which is a pentatonic minor scale with an added flat fifth note (the blue note). Blues music is usually played in the keys of A. D. E and G as they are all easy keys to play on the guitar. The style has an odd harmonic structure, as the blues scale is usually played or sung over chords that are all dominant sevenths (eg A7. D7 and E7 in the key of A) or chords derived from them.

Acoustic Blues

There are two main blues styles; traditional acoustic blues and urban electric blues. Acoustic blues normally requires a 'finger-style’ approach, in which the thumb of the right hand - assuming the player is right-handed - plays a steady bass- note groove while the melody or licks are picked out by the first and second fingers. Most of this is performed quite forcefully, although acoustic blues players rest the side of their picking hand across the strings at times to make sure the bass notes don't ring out too loudly Son House. Leadbelly and Big Bill Broonzy were all masters of this style, so if you want to play it you should familiarize yourself with their recordings It is important to realize, however, that a lot of their guitar playing was improvised and designed to accompany their own vocal phrasings

Electric Blues

Urban electric blues guitar is usually played within the context of a band, so it is normally restricted to lead or rhythm playing at any one time. Some electric guitar players use a plectrum (pick) to achieve better articulation, while others favour a more earthy finger-style approach. Electric blues guitarists play in a wider range of keys than their acoustic counterparts, as they often work with horn players who prefer to play in Bb and C. Lauded electric blues guitar players include B.B. King, Freddie King, Albert Collins, Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Robben Ford and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Acoustic blues finger-style playing

Acoustic blues finger-style playing. The low E
string is played repeatedly with the thumb,
establishing a traditional blues rhythm.
An example of an electric blues solo

An example of an electric blues solo. A lead-in'
before the bar and the use of string bends make
this a typical Chicago-style solo.


Playing Electric Blues

Electric blues stylists often embellish their phrases with expressive techniques such as string bending, sliding and vibrato. String bending should simply be thought of as another way of moving from one pitch to another on the fretboard. To bend a string accurately, you must know your target note - this will usually be a note pitched a half step, a whole step or a step and a half above your unbent note. If your target note is a half step higher, for example, you can play the note behind the next fret up on the same string to hear what it should sound like. When you perform the bend, push the string over towards the bass strings until you hear your target note.

You can produce a blues slide effect by playing a note on a string and. while holding the string firmly down, slide along the fingerboard to another note. You can even slide across two or more strings at a time by barring your fretting finger across the strings and moving it along the neck in the same way. To obtain a vibrato effect play a fretted note and move the string from side to side - across the fingerboard - with your fretting finger. This makes a sustained note sound more expressive or even aggressive.

Going Blues Solo

Buddy Guy was a leading exponent of the Chicago blues sound

Buddy Guy was a leading
exponent of the Chicago blues sound
There are many different approaches to soloing over a blues progression, but the simplest way to leam is to target the root notes of each chord in the progression. In the key of C. for example, the main blues chords are C7.F7 and G7. You can begin by playing the C pentatonic minor scale and targeting the notes C F and G (which are all in the scale) over their respective chords. Try bending or sliding to these notes to make things sound more bluesy.

|| C7 | C7 | C7 | C7 |
 | F7 | F7 | C7 | C7 |
 | G7 | F7 | C7 | G7 |
 | G7 | F7 | C7 | G7 :||

The wings on a Gibson 335 allow for a rich, warm tone.

Bending strings is one of the oldest
techniques of lead- guitar playing.
You can bend one two or even
three strings at the same time.
Tens of thousands of blues songs are based around the most common chord progression in the history of popular music the 12-bar blues sequence. It is also a good idea to practise blues lead phrasing by using the call and response’ approach favoured by early blues musicians; sing a phrase and then reply to it with a guitar line, and so on. This should help you to get an authentic blues feel. It will enable you to put comfortable, natural rests between your phrases and notes so it all ends up sounding more musical and logical. You should also jam with other like-minded musicians, as this is not only fun but will also motivate you to become a better player.

Using a Bottleneck

Some blues players, including Elmore James and Duane Allman, have used a bottleneck made out of glass or metal to obtain a distinctive sliding effect between notes. Bottlenecks are inexpensive and fun to play with, but you'll need a little patience to master the technique properly. Special tunings such as D A D F# A D are often used for bottleneck pieces, as they enable the guitarist to play whole chords up the guitar neck with just one finger!

Work songs such as this retain a strong African influence, with irregular rhythms that often follow speech patterns.

Work songs such as this retain a strong African influence, with irregular rhythms that often follow speech patterns.

Getting a Blues Sound

The wings on a Gibson 335 allow for a rich, warm tone.

The wings on a Gibson 335
allow for a rich, warm tone.
To get an authentic blues sound you’ll need an appropriate guitar. Almost any acoustic instrument will do for acoustic blues, although resonators - guitars that use thin aluminium cones to mechanically amplify their sound - will give you a particularly bluesy’ tone. If you’re after an authentic electric blues sound, you should pick an instrument similar to one played by your favourite blues artist If you want to sound like B.B. King, for example, you should consider a Gibson ES-335. as this is the guitar he has favoured over the years, while a Fender Stratocaster will enable you to sound more like Robert Cray or Stevie Ray Vaughan, and a Telecaster would be essential for that biting Albert Collins sound. Amplification is important too. and most blues artists favour valve amplifiers such as the Marshall Bluesbreaker combo or Fender s Twin and Deluxe models, as they give a warm, fat sound with a wide dynamic range.

The IK Multimedia AmpliTube. an amplifier-simulator plug-in

The IK Multimedia
AmpliTube. an amplifier-
simulator plug-in
Transistor amplifiers are cheaper but they sound more synthetic If you’re just playing guitar in your bedroom you should consider getting an amp-modelling device such as a Line 6 POD. or a virtual amp software package such as IK Multimedia's AmpliTube or Native Instruments' Guitar Rig. Each of these comes armed with a surprisingly authentic set of blues presets, and you can use them without upsetting the neighbours. Tone control settings are important as well: boosting an amplifiers bass and mid-range will give a fat B.B. King sound, while boosting the treble will help to emulate the ‘icy’ tones of Albert Collins. All in all. it is important to find a guitar tone that you feel comfortable with - if you like your sound, you’ll play well!