Lightnin’ Hopkins

I am excited about this one! Not that I am not excited for any other. However, Lightnin’ hold a special place in my heart. He’s from Texas, and anyone who knows me (Joe) knows Texas blues is near and dear to my heart. I may have grown up in Kansas but the Lone Star state has shaped me musically.

Lightnin’ bridges the gap between delta and electric blues. Born in 1912, he grew up during the genre’s infancy and was at the cusp of electrifying the guitar. He played an acoustic for the majority of his career, always punctuated with a sound hole pickup. His non conformist sense of meter and picking style bordered on the Avant-garde; making Lightnin’ a true original, one that would be emulated and impersonated for decades to come. Baby Please Don’t Go (Brendan will make a lesson for this in the future) comes to mind. Even though Joe Williams is credited with popularizing the song, I would call Lightnin’s the definitive version.

I am of the opinion that when it comes to the quintessential troubadour bluesman image, there is Robert Johnson and Lightnin’ Hopkins. He is one of the most recorded artists of the genre. Mainly due to his tendency to take money from anyone to record, he has released several versions of the same material on numerous labels (each recording is, of course, different).

Hopkins was active musically until his death in 1982 of esophageal cancer. The New York Times described him as “One of the great country blues singers and perhaps the greatest single influence on rock guitar players.” That is a statement I agree with 100%.

Joe’s recommended listening:

Smokes Like Lightnin’
The Great Electric Show and Dance
Lightnin’

There are so many videos online of Lightnin’ here is one of my favorites

We will do a one off lesson on Lightnin’. It won’t encompass everything in the scope of his style but give you a taste of the truly unique nature of his playing.

Brendan recommends watching the documentary “The Blues According to Lightnin’ Hopkins” on youtube.

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Albert King

The third of the three Kings. Certainly not the least! Albert hailed from the same city as B.B., Indianola, Mississippi. I find it interesting that this little town would produce two men who would go forth and leave such a profound impression on guitar. Anyone who picks up a guitar in this day and age cops licks from both Albert and B.B., whether they know it or not. They have been copied so many times that they are interwoven into the fabric of the instrument itself.

We discussed B.B’s vibrato, but Albert is know for his stinging over bends. He played a left handed guitar strung upside down (high E where the low E is located normally). This gives him many advantages as a guitarist. He was able to bend strings down the fretboard. Using his hand as a fulcrum he could execute full step, one and a half steps, even two step bends. Couple that with Albert’s fingers popping the strings, his lines and solos scream and tear out of your speakers.

It is important to note that Albert is no different than the other two Kings in that his guitar playing was a musical counterpoint to his vocal, the guitar was as much of a voice as the lyric was. To play like Albert, or to glean something from his playing, you have to put this at the forefront of your approach. In my opinion, this is what is missing from a lot of guitarists approach these days, the application of true phrasing. Albert was the definition of phrasing. The absence of guitar punctuated and accentuated his soloing. This is what we will attack and address in the coming weeks with our lessons.

To me (Joe) the quintessential Albert albums are Born Under a Bad Sign, I’ll Play the Blues for You, and In Session. In Session is a special album for me. It features Stevie Ray Vaughan sitting in with Albert. Anyone familiar with Albert and Stevie knows that Stevie was heavily influenced by Albert. There is a great story of how Albert was not going to do the show as it was designed to pair the two together and he did not know who “Stevie Ray Vaughan” was. Albert did not usually make a habit of letting people sit in with him. However, he had let this kid from Austin he knew as “Little Stevie”, not Stevie Ray Vaughan the break out blues star of the early 80’s. By this time, Little Stevie had emerged from his formative days idolizing and imitating Albert and others to become a force of nature, one that swept the world and brought the blues back to the forefront of popular music.

King was out there on the road, touring, and bringing blues to the world until his death in December of 1992. He played his last gig two days prior to his passing in Los Angeles. That is the blues, it is a lifestyle, it is a lifelong journey, one that only ends when we cease to be. Albert personified that, just like his brothers in name, Freddie and B.B. This set of lessons draw to a close our showcase of the three Kings. I hope you enjoy them and take something away you can use in your everyday playing.

Brendan’s recommendation. If you can find it, check out Albert sitting in with Leo’s Five Direct from the Blue Note Club. Very cool album from a few years earlier than Born Under a Bad Sign.

Thrill Is Gone

I apologize for the delay in posting this, life has kept us busy!

Today, we finish up B.B. with the intro lick to Thrill Is Gone. It is in B minor and uses the B minor pentatonic scale. Instead of playing the first note on the 7th fret of the first string, we move it up to the 12th fret of the second string. The notes are identical, but will have a slightly different tone.

Here is the original.

Here is the tab

BB THrill

And now, watch Joe play it.

Have fun!

Using the Box

Today’s blog is a little different than what we normally do. We wanted to show you an example of Joe using the BB King box in one of his own tunes. Below is the song so you can give it a listen. The solo is about a third of the way in.

Joe is using BB’s box in the key of G. Notice how he stays primarily in the box, however at one point he hops up and hits G on the 15th fret of the high E string. After that, he finishes the solo with the G minor blues scale. Notice how that changes the color and darkens up the end of the solo. Enjoy!

BB King – Everyday I Have The Blues Opening

Today we will go over the intro lick (:28 in) to the opening tune of BB King’s iconic album Live at the Regal, “Every Day I Have the Blues”. First off, I should mention this is probably my (Brendan) favorite blues album. I can listen to this over and over, and this lick is vintage BB. It is simple, yet elegant, and really captures the mood.

We will do something a little different with the video, Joe is going to play both BB’s intro, and a variation multiple times. Notice that each one is just a little bit different. It is subtle differences between each lick that make the blues sound, for lack of a better word, bluesy. You’ll notice that BB does a very quick slide. In fact, I thought it was a bend at first until I really listened to it. Try each way, really absorb the idea, and implement it in as many ways as you can think of. This lick is simple, yet immediately recognizable. How many guitarists can you hear play such a short phrase and immediately say, “That’s BB”?

Here is the tab

BB 1

Here is the video

Enjoy! Next week, Joe will show you a solo he used in one of his own tunes that was heavily influenced by BB. After that, the intro to Thrill is Gone

B.B’s Box

If you want to learn how to play like BB King, there are a few things you need to master. Last week, Joe mentioned vibrato and today we will talk about his box. If you play this over a blues tune, it is impossible to get away from sounding a little like BB. The scale is a very distinct part of his sound and style. The lick we will do next week (the opening of Everyday I Have The Blues), will come straight out of this first exercise.

We are going to focus on the top three strings as they will be the most useful. Later on we can expand outside of those. The scale is similar to a major pentatonic, but it is slightly different. You will be playing the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, and 6th of the major scale.

To begin, we will just use three notes. The 6, the root (the red dot), and the 2. In my opinion, this is the core of the box. When you get to the 2, the highest of the three notes, bend it up a whole step, to the 3rd.

1 box

Now, add the notes on the first string.

2 box

Once you’ve played around with it, play over a backing track. The way to figure out what key you were in is where the red dot falls. Below is a chart with all of the notes on the second string. A is the 10th fret, E is the 5th fret, etc.

B String

That is a good place to start. If you’re feeling adventurous, add this note (blue/teal color) when you land on the four chord. It will sound nice and bluesy. You can also bend to that note instead of fretting it.

3 box

 

B.B. King

B.B. King. What has not been said about this man? What could I add? I don’t think I need to give him any introduction. If you are on this page looking for tips about playing the blues, I am certain you know of and understand this man’s impact on the genre. For he is the King of the Blues. No other guitarist has impacted my playing more, with the exception of Stevie Ray Vaughan. In my house growing up one of the constants was a bargain bin compilation titled Why I Sing the Blues. To this day I highly recommend it, I don’t think there is a more complete essentials record for B.B. out there. I sit here listening to it over the 30+ records of B.B.’s that I own. The man was larger than life. That big gorgeous 355, slick suits, big rings, and sharp band was both intimidating and mesmerizing. There is no way around him, he affects everything in the genre. He is the high water mark of what one could achieve. He worked his butt off too, for decades playing over 300 dates a year.

What puts B.B. in a class of his own is his vibrato. That sweet, fast, stinging vibrato. If you take away anything about playing, have it be to not skimp on your vibrato technique. That will be a lesson later on, as it truly defines and separates the good and the great. It IS your voice. You know B.B. from one note. I look at vibrato in the terms of the 10,000 hours rule. If you practice something for 10,000 hours you will master it, inside and out. Sit and play one note for a whole practice session. Try pushing up against the string with vibrato. Pulling down against, fast, slow, medium, a little, a lot, every which way. It will pay off, it did for B.B. We will post some videos of me running through B.B. licks, and you should pay attention to the vibrato. Go out and scour Youtube for clips of him playing. There is no shortage.

It is not often that the passing of an artist stops me dead in my tracks and takes my breath away. News of B.B.’s passing did just that. I never imagined a world without him, it didn’t seem possible. He was SO important to the world. Not only musically, but the things he had seen, passed our ways. I uncontrollably wept that morning. There are very few individuals that you can say there was before and then there was after. Enjoy the lesson, I hope you find your favorite tunes and albums. I hope it allows you to unlock new joy with the instrument and find a voice all your own. It was invaluable to me as a beginning guitarist to dive head first into his style and catalog, sustaining a 20+  year love affair that burns as brightly now as it did then.

B.B. used a Gibson ES 355’s named Lucille, and to my recollection played through Fender Super Reverbs and Twins . I am sure people could dig up other amps he used, but to me a Gibson 355 and a Fender clean amp is the B.B. sound. My absolute favorite album (that is not a compilation) is Lucille Talks. Not the widely available compilation, but a little known, panned record from the mid 70’s. It showed a very laid back B.B. He even used some wah wah on that record! Very cool record, and with a little digging you can find it. Other classics are Live at the Regal (Brendan’s favorite), Cook County Jail, and another highlight is Indianola Mississippi Seeds, a record featuring Joe Walsh and Leon Russell. Go forth. Play blues, wrangle your soul out through those strings with everything you have in you. Sustain them every which way but broken, and even that is ok! Find your voice and use B.B. as a road map and you can do no wrong. Remember, practice that vibrato 10,000 times, until your fingers blister and there is no two buts about it. You have your voice and a vibrato that will stun a listener from a hundred yards, making them sit up and pay attention. If you can do that, you can reach deep into someone and hit them the way B.B. did, every time he hit a note. – Joe