Acoustic Blues Guitar Video Lesson Preview - Down The Country by Blind Blake.
Blind Blake's blues repertoire wasn't that varied and he's mostly known for his fast ragtime blues pieces in C and G,
but he also played in dropped D and open D. Down the Country has a distinct advantage over other songs in that it's quite slow - great for people learning to play guitar. We can hear all the notes very clearly and it's a great insight into how Blake approached blues guitar picking in open D tuning.
Blake's most famous song in open D is 'Police Dog Blues' , which is like Down The Country on overdrive! It's fast and extremely accurate - very tough to play like the ragtime guitar master at the same speed. Both songs use the same chord shapes and finger picking tricks, but the speed makes Police Dog a reall challenge.
Years ago, a guitar playing friend of mine went away for a year or so, and we talked a few times on the telephone. One day he told me he learned Police Dog - I was amazed as he was always a lesser guitarist that I was, plus the fact that I considered teh song beyond my abilities.
I was determined to play and set to dedicating a few hours a day to it - within a week, I had it down pretty much just like Blake. When my friend returned I mentioned it to him, saying how tough the tune is and he laughed - 'I can't play it', he said, 'I was just joking.' That day i learned something important about psychology - it motivated me and proved that, given enough time and the right attitude, we can learn just about anything in the blues guitar world.
The slowness of Down The Country gives us space to concentrate on that all-important 'feeling' tone of the piece, which is vital when playing a slow blues song. It's very easy to let a slow blues get boring, and we can't allow that to happen - it's the biggest sin that a working blues man can commit. The song evokes images of rural USA in the '20s big time, so how does Blind Blake adapt this tuning to get this effect?
Of course, his finger picking technique includes the famous thumb roll that's so evident on his songs in other keys, like Diddie Wah Diddie and West Coast Blues, and also includes more 'standard' techniques. Only a handful of other blues guitarists used the thumb roll in the same was as Blake - Rev Gary Davis being one of them. Other techniques include single string runs , changing the timing suddenly and bending the treble strings whenever it can create the right atmosphere.
String bending is one those techniques which should be done sparingly - too little and you don't get the right feel for the blues, too much and it becomes a cliché. It's a simple thing to do, just push (or pull) the string over with your fretting finger and change the tone.
It's normal to make it a quarter tone or half tone, but half tones can get tough if you are doing it close to the nut. Luckily, the trebles are tuned down and so are a little slacker than in normal guitar tuning, so bending is easier. On the other side of the coin, I have to be careful not strike too hard, so that the guitar strings don't bounce and buzz.