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!

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

I’m Tore Down – Intro

This is our final post on Freddie King (for a while), the intro lick to I’m Tore Down. This uses the dorian scale we talked about last week. As a bonus, we will also show you how to give the lick an even stronger dorian flavor.

Here is the tune in case you need to refresh your memory.

A few things to notice before you get started: the third note, E, is the 9 of the Dorian scale, but you are bending it up to the same pitch that you would play in them minor blues scale (F). The thing that makes this lick sound distinctly Dorian is when you play B halfway through the third measure, because it is the 6th scale degree, or modal note, of dorian.

toredown

Listen carefully to the phrasing and the rhythm in the tune. This is a distinctly Freddie King lick, and a great one to add to your vocabulary. Pay attention to the phrasing he uses in measures 3 and 4.

Here is the lick played slowly.

Here is the lick played at tempo.

You should also listen to how Clapton phrases this, or one of the many other versions of this tune.

Below, Joe changed the beginning of the lick, having it start on B. He is immediately establishing this is using dorian, giving it a stronger modal sound. In Freddie’s version, it is not clear that it is dorian until he hits the B halfway through the lick, giving it some ambiguity as to whether it’s dorian or the minor blues scale (the 9th is bent quickly enough that it could be considered an embellishment). Which version is better? That depends on your taste

Here is the tab for the more dorian version.

toetoredown

When you watch the video, notice how he does something different the second time he strikes the 13th fret (F) of the high E string (no bend). When he plays it faster, he gives that note vibrato. That is the beauty of blues, you can change things. Sometimes you use vibrato, sometimes you add an extra bend here or there, trust your ears and go with what sounds good!

Enjoy, next week we begin discussing B.B. King.

Dorian

Before we can work on the intro lick to I’m Tore Down, we have to talk about the dorian scale. Dorian is what is called a mode (a type of scale with specific melodic behaviors). We will go more in depth on modes at a later date. For the purposes of this tune, we are going to relate the dorian scale to the minor pentatonic scale. When we turned the minor pentatonic scale into the minor blues scale, one note (the blue note) was added. In this case, you will add two notes, which will be referred to as the 2nd and the 6th (or 9th and 13th, depending on the context). The 2nd is used in the minor scale as well, so what makes dorian unique is the 6th. In minor, the 6th is lowered. The 6th maybe referred to as a modal note, because it is what establishes this scale as the dorian mode.

The scale we used for last weeks lick on I’m Tore Down contained the notes D F G (G#/Ab) A and C. To turn this scale into dorian, you will take the blue note (G#/Ab) out of the scale, and add E and B. The resulting scale is D E F G A B C. If you count up the scale, D=1, E=2, F=3, etc.

Below is an image of the minor pentatonic scale (left) and dorian (right). The notes added to the minor pentatonic scale to make it dorian are red. To play these in D, you will need the root to be on the 10th fret.

Minor Pent - Dorian

About 99% of the time it is ok to use dorian instead of the minor blues scale, it just has a different color or flavor. I personally like using dorian over the IV chord. Experiment, and have fun. Next week you’ll learn the intro lick to I’m Tore Down, which will give a great example of the dorian scale.