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Acoustic Blues Guitar Video Lesson Preview - Blues Before Sunrise - Scrapper Blackwell.

Scrapper Blackwell was a giant of acoustic blues guitar, as far as I'm concerned.

He's hardly ever included in any blues guitar lessons or courses, for some reason. When you listen to him singing the words to Sunrise, you can feel the deep down anguish that is the hallmark of the real blues. Of course, when he played with Leroy Carr in the twenties, their repertoire included raggy type songs and up-temp swing blues, but he basically Scrapper wasn't a very up-tempo person by all accounts.

He got the name Scrapper from his grandmother, because he was argumentative and liked to fight with other kids, basically. Even when he was older he wasn't sociable at all and the name Scrapper just stuck. He partnered Carr for some years before falling out and returning back to his home in Indianapolis. Two thing strike me about his style. First of all his words.

Scrapper Blackwell Indianapolis Blues Man

When he sang it was very easy to feel the truth and the reality of the times he must have lived while working as a blues musician.

His voice was real and on his late recordings in the sixties he also developed a slur which could possibly be attributed to drinking too much. You could tell that he was living his music and it was an expression of frustration and anger.

For example, in Blues Before Sunrise he sings 'everybody's down on me, I'm going to blow away my troubles, in the deep blue sea' - not a happy ragtime blues songs at all!

His guitar style was rich compared to many other blues guitarists and was probably due to the fact that his arrangements were influenced by the greater musical range of Leroy's piano playing.

 Often when breaking down Blackwell's music, we come across a chord that just shouldn't be in the progression, or at the very least, is a little out of place, but it works! Listen to the progressions in 'Down and Out' and you'll see that Clapton's version is a poor watered down example of this song. Scrapper gives a gritty rawness that is difficult to capture.

He wrote several songs that were copied by other blues men

- a practice that was rife in those days. A blues man would copy a song and slightly change it, calling it his own. Robert Johnson's Sweet Home Chicago was a very thinly disguised version of Blackwell's Kokomo Blues, for instance. The slow and driving Blues Day Blues was a template ready made for others to plagiarize, while Back Door Woman in dropped D  was used many times by lots of artists.

Scrapper survived into the sixties and probably didn't play for many years, but his career was revived a little in the folk boom of the late fifties. He cut a few tracks and his style was largely undiminished, but unfortunately he was robbed and killed in an alley way in the Indianapolis suburb where he lived at the time. He left us a legacy that stands as the best blues music there is - for me he is a far greater blues man than House or Robert Johnson.

Blues Before Sunrise is played in standard tuning in the key of E and is rich in chord variations and interesting progressions. The verses follow the standard chord progression of E/E7-A7-B7, but often half-chords are played and he will use tricks such as moving to the B7 from the second fret down to the first fret (basically C7 to B7) amongst many others.

His picking style used a thumb in a monotonic bass style, with his fingers on the trebles strings, and sometimes developing a richer sound and more volume by strumming the full chord with his thumb (I think!)

As is common in his work, the verses were punctuated by at least two musical breaks,
which loosely followed the chord structure of the verses, but mostly used inversions higher up the fret board to make the music richer and more varied for the audience. It's interesting to explore the guitar technique and discover how he could take a basic chord , and with just a a couple of very original movements of his picking and fretting fingers, produce something unique and typically Blackwell blues.


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