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Blues Guitar - Old Stuff!!

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Published on Dec 14, 2012

I love this old stuff - of course, we want to try and play just like the old guys, but how do you capture that superb old feeling of the blues? You can practice blues guitar for years and never, ever get the hard to define feeling. I suppose you need to have them yourselves from time to time, which isn't too difficult to do nowadays!

Unfortunately, no amount of blues guitar lessons can give us what they had. They didn't have to try to be bluesy - the WERE the blues! They lived it every day and it came from the soul. Our problem is that we are outside looking in and we romanticize it a little (or a lot.) Goes without saying almost - given the choice between living now or back the, I'd choose to be here looking back. These guys had nothing to look forward to , but hard times.

Sleepy John Estes - Blues ManThis a very fascinating film clip. Sleepy John picks his acoustic guitar with a kind of carelessness which defies the fact that it's intensely personal and accurate. Each note is crafted to impact the senses and the emotions, which, more than any other style of music, is what the blues is all about. There's something else to note here as well - the spaces and timing between the notes is incredibly important. We could spend half a life time just learning what to leave OUT of a blues song to maximize it's impact!

If we want to learn how to play blues guitar just like the old guys, we have a lot of work to do finding out how not to do so much work.

On the first song, Hammie Nixon's blues harmonica blends with John's guitar playing perfectly, but on the second, featuring the second guitarist, something goes wrong. I don't know the name of the second guy sitting on the porch, but his guitar is seriously out of tune. Amazingly, this doesn't stop the three guys from rocking the joint.

Hammie realizes that there's tuning problems, or maybe he doesn't have a harp for those guitar chords, and he just puts down his harmonica, picks up a jug and starts blowin' - fantastic stuff. It's not clear how sleepy John gets over the problem - perhaps he just chooses the strings to pluck carefully and just plays sparingly and bends the strings as he needs to put them closer in tune to the other guitar.

I think I find the second piece of blues music more interesting than the first, even though Sleepy John Estes' tasteful guitar work is of course brilliant. In the second song there's a driving rhythm that moves along and is very infectious. It represents the heartbeat and life. It just won't be stopped or put down - the indomitable spirit of man in the form of raw music. This is a clue to how to play blues guitar. It's living and comes form the soul. It's life itself in musical form - it just carries on and absorbs whatever is thrown at it. Remember to learn the blues guitar in the same way.

It's relaxed and yet vibrant, just like the way we should live our lives maybe?

Enjoy it and go for it!

Jim Bruce

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