13th Feb 2013

So what is authentic blues guitar fingerpicking ...

... and why should we want to do it? One of the problems we have when playing acoustic blues guitar is that we approach it from a modern perspective. Basically, we are living our comfortable modern lives but trying to be 'bluesy'. If we are not careful, it doesn't work. The more we try to be this thing called 'bluesy', the worse it gets.

muddy water blues guitarist
he old blues guitar men didn't have to try and be bluesy - they were the blues - they invented the stuff! You don't have to read much to realize what a tough life it was back then. If you worked for 12 hours in the fields, and were treated like the dirt that you farmed, you'd jump at the chance to escape that regime.

For some, the blues guitar became the means by which they escaped first of all their sorrows, and then for a few of them, a means to escape the drudgery. Once Muddy Waters learned he could make money in the city playing the blues guitar he loved, he was gone!

We have to try and get in touch with that common element in every human being that relates to the blues, and play from the heart. It's no good pretending to be tough (we don't get into too many knife fights shopping in the downtown supermarket, for example.) No, we just have to be ourselves - humble in front of the blues legacy left by the legendary blues men for us to explore.

14th Feb 2013

One of the most common question I'm asked is "What was the worst blues gig you ever played?"

That's easy - it's the most recent that I didn't like! Let me put it this way - there are a lot of bad gigs and memory is kind, just allowing us to bask in the glory of the good ones while pushing the bad ones away!

Strangely enough, a memorably bad gig was also followed by a very good gig. It happened this way. I was playing blues guitar in the street generally having a good time playing the blues, when a man asked me if I would play at a birthday party in a city restaurant later that week. We set the price and I would also have a slap up meal for my trouble.

Finding the place, I mingled with the party goers and ate my meal. Towards midnight, I started to wonder when I would play. Everyone was pretty drunk (and also high on cocaine!)

Eventually I played some acoustic blues (it being a small place) and absolutely no one listened. Disgusted I visited the rest room in the cellar and when I returned, every one had gone! I waited in the city center at 1 o'clock in the morning for my ride home. (That in itself was a bit unsettling in this particular quarter.)

The next day I was due to play guitar outside another restaurant in the country and was again approached by a man to play at a private function the next week. I said NO immediately, but he asked again and again, almost begging me to play.

Eventually I agreed and duly arrive at his golf club to play for a reunion of old friends. After playing for around 45 minutes, I developed a headache, packed away my things and left, not waiting to be paid and thoroughly fed up with the whole thing.

Two days later I got a call from the same man asking me to meet him in the City and he would pay me. We drank a coffee together, after which he handed me an envelope and left to catch a train. I opened it up and found he'd paid me 800 dollars - doesn't happen every day.

25th Feb 2013

It's probably true that we only play up to about 75% of our true capability in public

- well, true for most of us. Obviously, the greats just picked up the guitar and flew with it! A strange thing to remember is that these giants we admire so much are just like you and me, they are just more motivated and they probably practice a lot more!

Someone estimated that a guitarist who has practised a total of 10 000 hours can be considered an expert. Tommy Emmanuel says he has maybe done about 100 000 hours, so this is why he is at the top of the pile.

In fact, Tommy himself says that if he is not eating or sleeping, he is playing guitar - he loves it that much. Its part of him. The guy doesn't seem to suffer from nerves at all, who knows? I remember being really surprised when a grand master like Chet Atkins admitted that he had a massive inferiority complex and never felt good enough, which is perhaps the reason why he excelled so much at what he did.

B.B. King once said that he is scared before going on stage - EVERY time, even now! Negative thoughts creep in, like 'tonight it won't work' or 'they won't like me tonight', which is pretty amazing after a career spanning 40 years and filled with accolades.

Who is going to be the next blues guitar legend - you?

Why not, someone has to do it.

Author: Jim Bruce 
Date: 2014-05-29
Category: Music