How To Play Acoustic Blues Guitar - The Jim Bruce Interview
Very few players have perfected finger picking blues guitar quite like Jim Bruce. His timing and approach are 'just right'. Born in UK, Jim has moved around the world, living and playing in France, America, Denmark and Germany. He is one of the few expert guitar players who is additionally a gifted teacher.
Jim was good enough to give 'Down Home Blues Guitar' an interview.
DHBG: Fingerstyle blues isn't for everyone. What made you want to learn how to play blues guitar?
JB: After playing finger style folk up to around 1973, I heard someone in a club in the north of UK perform Kat’s Rag. It was pretty easy in comparison to some of the songs I could play, but there was this really appealing syncopation to it. Just after moving to London, I bought some classic Biograph Blind Blake albums and hid myself away for six hours every day, for over a year, until I could play the stuff! I guess that it’s always been the great challenge that appeals to me.
DHBG: What made you start playing acoustic blues guitar?
JB: When I was a kid I heard Dylan performing Times They Are a-Changin‘ on the wireless. I bought the LP of the same name and heard Don’t Think Twice in finger picking style. I was fascinated – this was exactly what I wanted to play. Don’t Think Twice was the first finger picking piece I ever taught myself. I could never strum at all, and I can't really do it very well now!
DHGB: Your style is straight blues guitar with a Blind Lemon feel. Who were your influences?
JB: I played just complex ragtime guitar for some years – Blind Blake and Scott Joplin rags mostly. I never looked at messing with delta blues guitar blues in E or A - I thought they were not challeging enough.
As you might guess, later on I knew I had been wrong. I saw some video featuring Lightnin’ Hopkins who really didn’t play anything at all complicated, but the style and the delivery was absolutely awesome. Perhaps we need time to wise up about these things. As a kid, I only wanted to show off. How do you learn to play acoustic blues guitar like that?
It doesn't matter how well we might play, very few people match up to the blues legends. Mind you, we can blend those techniques into our own style and tip our hats to the greats, such as Blake, Blind Boy Fuller, Mance Liscomb, Lightnin' Hopkins, Floyd Council, Reverend Gary Davis, Scrapper Blackwell and others.
DHGB: Do you remember the worst gig you ever played?
JB That’s a difficult one – there were a lot! I remember playing on the London subway for hours making very little money. I do play on the street nowadays, because it's in the tradition of the blues, but back then I need to be noticed, not just ignored. It also enjoyed eating, once in a while!
The worst gigs were usually in noisy bars, where no-one takes any notice at all. Luckily, I don’t have to play these places now – I can mostly choose where I perform.
Strangely enough when I was a young man, the worst booking was also one of the best. I started to play one night and the club owner didn’t like it at all – he thought he had booked Country. It was usual in UK at that time to pay performers if you didn't want them, so I got my money and had a great evening somewhere else!
DHBG: How many guitars have you got and what are they?