Acoustic Blues Guitar Video Lesson Preview - Tootie Blues by Blind Blake.
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Blake isn't called the King of Ragtime Guitar for nothing, and this song is a great example of many of the tricks used in the key of C.It's quite slow and has a leisurely pace quite unlike the fast West Coast Blues, also in C, or his ragtime pieces in G such as Too Tight Blues. His slow songs give us a great opportunity to work out exactly what he's doing and where he's putting his fingers. it's true that in some of his faster material, it sometimes doesn't really help to know where he placed his fingers - it's so incredibly fast and accurate that it's very difficult indeed to copy. it's great fun trying though!
I get the impression that Blind Blake was always trying to keep ahead of the competition by exploring new ideas and possibilities. Often the old blues men recorded a lot of songs with basically the same structure and just changing the words a little.
This is inevitable - there are only so many chord progressions to choose from! Any particular blues man has a particular set of licks and techniques that are trademarks to his sound, and Blake was no different. As he was at the top of the tree, and wanted to show it, he would try to be one step ahead as far as technique goes.
One of the ways he would do this is to play around with the timing.In West Coast Blues he leans heavily on his ability to roll his thumb from bass string to bass string, producing a very syncopated sound by using an alternating bass pattern, but having two beats where there is normally one - it's a good trick, if you can do it! His thumb rolls appear now again in Tootie Blues, but not continuously all the way through. In this slow kind of song it be too much and boring - Blake was very astute in that way.
In Tootie, he sings a line and then follows the lyrics with an appealing single string run picked with his thumb and forefinger, which is a standard arrangement for this type of Piedmont ragtime guitar finger picking.
What makes this song so different is the double timing he suddenly slips in. It happens twice in the song and follow the lyrics like the single string run at normal timing - the timing is twice as fast, so that it fits in with no disruption, and he obviously fits in twice as many notes.
You have to be really careful where you use your thumb and finger when copying this if it is to sound just right. It's a challenge, but when you get it right it's hugely satisfying and produces a sound that is not often heard with modern guitar players. Very often we take an old blues song and, if it's a little difficult we simplify it because in our modern times we are always in such a hurry. These guys had all the time in the world.
Simplifying the original blues ragtime songs is a dangerous thing to do.Sometimes we have to, as some of them are just too tough to play (think South Carolina Rag by Willie Walker) but we should be careful not to change the flavor of the music. These guys left us a huge legacy and we need to respect and pay homage by playing it the best we can.
Tootie Blues starts nice and slow. If you are going to attempt the double timing breaks, then this slow pace really needs to be maintained. Too often I've started this song too fast without thinking and found that it's just impossible to double up on the timing when it gets to that point in the song.
I have to skip, which is a shame because for me it's one the high points of the whole piece. It appears twice in slightly different forms. Blake knew, like other blues men, that such a neat and impressive technique shouldn't appear all the way through a song - that would just dilute the effect.
The chord progression starts in C and moves down to Ab7, back C and the repeats - not difficult chords at all. We then use a full F chord however, I never ever play a full F chord, preferring to leave the bass A string open - this frees up my little finger for treble string work.) Back to C and the single string run after the lyrics end. This repeats and then we move to G/G7 and C to finish, which repeats again and acts as a kind of 'turnaround' getting us ready for the next verse.