Acoustic Blues Guitar Video Lesson Preview - Walkin' Blues - Robert Johnson.
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If we think of Delta blues we might think of Son House, Muddy Waters but for most people Robert Johnson was the King of Delta Blues.Why is that? Well, for one thing, he died young and disappeared before anything was really known about him. He was shy yet arrogant, by all accounts, was a ladies man and liked the spotlight. Not that he really saw any spotlight or big times - he died before he became really known.
He used to hang around Son House while he was playing in local bars and was always asking to play, to which House agreed some times, but often regretted it. It seems at that time in the early years (John would have been about 22) that RJ was just no good at playing or singing really, and he tended to drive the audiences away, instead of entertaining people!
He just wandered away one night and nobody saw him for a year or so. He turned up at a bar where Son House was playing and again asked to play? Reluctantly, he agree and when Robert played the older man's mouth fell open. His performance was stunning.
Now, House knew about blues guitar playing and he just couldn't figure out how Johnson had become so good in such a short time. It's not certain when the famous Crossroads legend started, and maybe RJ started it himself, but it stuck and it became a great story - RJ sold his soul to the devil in a Faustian contract to become the greatest guitar player ever.
I think that's stretching it a bit. Of course he was very good, but not the best as far as I see it. There were many players more inventive and with a slicker deliver than Johnson, but that's what legends do for you. Me, I just think he practiced a lot.
One of the most interesting things about his performances is not his creativity, but his delivery.He didn't actually create many songs, but rather copied others and adapted traditional stuff to his style and needs, which is what blues men did all the time. For example, Sweet Home Chicago was a very thinly disguised copy of Scrapper Blackwell's Kokomo Blues, and Walkin' Blues was played by Muddy Waters before it appeard on record from Johnson. Even Crossroads was an adaptation of Walkin' Blues licks, although the timing was changed and it was more urgent, more percussive. The most interesting thing was that he could play and sing as if the guitar and voice were not linked at all.
Most blues guitar players start singing when there is a particular beat, or a lull in the finger picking complexity - with Robert it didn't seem to matter what his fingers were doing, he just sang as he felt it. This is rare, and only people like Johnson and Reverend Gary Davis could do it effectively.
I favor a glass bottleneck which I wear on my ring finger. You can put the slide on any finger you like, as long as you have some free to fret other chords when you need to. Some people use those strange long bottlenecks worn on the pinky. Doesn't work for me, but whatever floats you boat, as they say!
Just try as many as you can and "feel' your way. I like a thick walled bottleneck, as it slows down the vibrato sound when you are searching for that note - seem a little more bluesy to me. It's been said the bottleneck guitar is easy to learn but very difficult to perfect, and this is about right. You can pick up the basics in ten minutes, but the nuances of the style take months to explore. It's a challenge to play it with the right delicacy, but also with the right intensity when needed. If you don't damp down those strings behind the bottleneck when need, the sound quickly deteriorates into a clash of glass and steel and it's not very nice - have fun!