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What Is Authentic Blues Guitar Anyway?

A few activities in our lives simply can't be quantified or slotted into the right category. For instance, most people can follow a recipe in a cook book, but all cherry cakes don't taste like the ones my Mother used to make! It's the same with blues guitar. There are lots of recipes to be found and no shortage of people telling us just how well they can play, but the real proof is in the eating, as always. Did you ever listened to a pro guitarist play perfectly but you still got bored rather quickly? It happens if the guitarist has no feeling for it, but where do we find this indefinable soul for blues music, that's the question.

Learn Real Blues Guitar From The Way the Old Guys Did It

robert johnson - fingerpicking blues guitarThere's is a fundamental ingredient often absent, and if we could find it, we can play like the old masters. My own preference was for ragtime blues guitar when I was younger, mostly because it was complicated and I enjoyed the challenge. Stubbornly I admit that I just wanted to impress people with my 'amazing' talent, so this vital element, this particular feeling, was not there. After not playing for something like 5 years or so, I happened to be working around Chicago and someone I knew played me one or two nice sounding blues songs, and told me that they came from Clapton's new CD.

Now, I don't think a lot of Clapton at all, and yes I know he's supposed to be a great master (his style is pretty average if compared to Tommy Emmanuel, for instance), but the album sparked something in my head and I began playing again - thanks Mr C. I then found that I'd been leaving out something very fundamental - feeling and style. In the past, I just filled any space with a note, or rather several! For me, complex was great and fast playing was best - I was wrong.

A Blues Lesson From Mr Son House

son house - how to play blues guitar
So the quest was on - how to discover this thing and how to put it into my music? Good
question. Son Hous
e who hung with Robert Johnson for a while, said it well - 'Some people play some kinda shuffle in the key of E and say it's the blues this, or the blues that. Well it's not!' Well, that's about how it is, and that's something to go on. During the sixties folk-blues revival, it seemed as though every guitarist was learning those blues riffs and calling it the blues. 

Let's put it another way - if you listen to someone playing the blues, do you feel that it's true? Are you touched in some way, or do you just think 'that's clever'?

How To Play Blues Guitar Like The Blues Legends
A good way to begin is to ask yourself which blues men has this rare ingredient, and perhaps more importantly, who had it in the beginning. Perhaps the easiest way is to go back to the basics and the original blues men. Listen hard to them and work out how their techniques were so attractive. For example, Lightnin' Hopkins could play one or two of ringing bass notes and the effect was amazing.

Of course, he was a great guitarist, but there was something else at play here. He wasn't just playing the blues, it was an extension of his personality. Maybe this is a good way in describing this unique ingredient - these guys didn't just play the blues, these guys WERE the blues. Don't just play the blues, but live it and make it real.