|Truefire Robert Jones' Blues Traditions TUTORiAL
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Links update: 17/03/2021
With its origins dating back over 130 years ago, Blues is the most influential music across the entire American songbook. Country music, bluegrass, R&B, gospel, rock, folk, Cajun, Creole, rap, jazz, soul and countless other styles all boast voluminous songbooks that are built on traditional blues progressions, principles, and techniques.
Reverend Robert Jones’ Blues Traditions highly engaging, hands-on curriculum explores the roots of African American blues guitar fingerpicking revealing the key approaches, traditions, and techniques that comprise the genre across a variety of regional and artist-specific styles.
”The blues, and its traditions, can teach us a lot about the history, cultural changes, creativity, and resilience of African American culture. Here in Blues Traditions, I’m excited to share with you some of the key principles that underpin traditional African American guitar fingerpicking regardless of regional, personal or genre specific styles. The approaches that I’ll show you are true whether you’re playing a Lightnin’ Hopkins tune, an uptown blues, Rhythm and Blues, and even gospel.
Since all of these approaches come out of the blues tradition, there are things that they all have in common, and learning these commonalities will allow one to move more easily between styles and add a blues flavor to any style of music you play.”
You’ll play your way through the entire course with Rev. Jones. He’ll teach you 7 key blues guitar traditions and approaches and then guide you through a series of 7 performance studies representing a wide variety of styles, which utilize those traditions and techniques.
The Piedmont Roll Pattern: Blues Tradition 1
"The Piedmont Roll is a picking pattern derived primarily from East Coast players like Rev. Gary Davis, Elizabeth Cotton, and Blind Blake. I learned it from "Bowling Green" John Cephas. The idea revolves around playing a four string pattern between your thumb and finger or fingers.”
Two Nickel Blues
"This is performance study is where we learn how to break down and apply the Piedmont Roll musically. This pattern can be applied to many kinds of music, not just the blues. Once you get the idea of playing an alternating bass out of a given chord shape, try playing a tune that you know well, that you have always strummed, with the Piedmont Roll. You'll discover, all of a sudden, that you're fingerpicking! "Two Nickel Blues" is in the tradition of Blind Lemon Jefferson's "One Dime Blues". Blind Lemon was a contemporary of Lead Belly (Huddie Ledbetter) was America's first important country blues recording star. While the song is a twelve bar blues in the key of E, it takes some interesting detours getting there.”
The Home and the Answer: Blues Tradition 2
"A big part of African American musical culture is something referred to as "call and response", or here called "Home and Answer". In the church, it's the "amen" that follows the preacher's shout, on a work gang it would be the collective "grunt" of the workers, but in the blues, it's the guitar responding to what the singer has just sung. One of the great melodic tools for getting the guitar to "sing" with you (or to respond to you) is the minor pentatonic scale, also known as the "blues scale". This tradition lesson uses the song, "Baby Please Don't Go" to explore the importance of the blues scale and the idea of call and response.”
"This is another tune from the Texas blues tradition. It's based on Lightnin' Hopkins' "Penitentiary Blues", and it emphasizes using the minor pentatonic scale especially in the context of "call and response" between the singer and the guitarist. This is a 12-bar blues in the key of A. It features a good bit of string bending and pentatonic runs. Please pay attention to how each pentatonic "box" runs into another. This helps us to move up the neck as we improvise. Also, note that this song contains many "Lightnin-isms" that show up in other songs by this Texas blues great.”
Modularity of the Blues: : Blues Tradition 3
"The blues are modular in that a skill that you master in one song can be easily moved into a different tune, thus creating an ever-expanding tool kit of techniques and licks.”
"This performance study is also a 12 bar blues in A, but it's based on the playing of Robert Johnson. Johnson was a Mississippi blues guitarist whose influence is still felt in American music. Many of the concepts that we learn from Johnson's music will reinforce the idea of blues as modular music, a style that allows us to reorder the parts to create new pieces. This is the music that supports songs like "Kind Hearted Woman", "Little Queen of Spades", "Me And The Devil", "Phonograph Blues" and others. These songs are all built on the same musical chassis.”
The CAGED System: Blues Tradition 4
"In this performance study, we begin to look at the CAGED system through the vehicle of gospel music. Rather than trying to memorize 25,000 guitar chords, the CAGED system concentrates on learning five basic shapes and then moving them around up and down the neck of the guitar in order get different chord inversions. Gospel is a style that uses a variety of shapes more so than most country styles, so it helps us to understand how the CAGED system works in a blues context.”
"Beautiful City is based on Rev. Gary Davis' "Twelve Gates to the City", and it is also played in the key of A. "Beautiful City" is interesting as an instrumental, but it really shines as a "holy blues" with a great call and response between the vocal and the guitar. We're fortunate in that Rev. Davis' performance of this song can be seen on YouTube. His fingering is sometimes a bit difficult to figure out, but the interplay between vocal and guitar is wonderful. The key concept in this lesson is in how we can build on previous skills to produce a complex guitar piece. I think of Rev. Davis' music as layered; I don't think that anyone can get all of it in one piece. I learn a song like "Beautiful City" in a basic way, with simple changes, and then I gradually add Rev. Davis' embellishments until it starts to get close to what he's doing. I never quite get there, but it's fun trying.”
One Chord Blues: Blues Tradition 5
"We often think of blues as being a 12-bar, three-chord music form, but this isn't always the case. Since the original blues were developed from work songs, shouts and moans, some blues never leave the I chord. This can be heard in the music of artists like John Lee Hooker, Robert Petway and occasionally in work of more complex players.”
Rail Road Spike Blues
"Railroad Spike Blues is in the tradition of Mississippi John Hurt's "Spike Driver", and it comes closer to the historical John Henry than most of the songs written about the legend. Steel Drivin' Man: John Henry, The Untold Story of an American Legend by Scott Reynolds Nelson tells the story of men who died from the dust that the steam drills that they worked next to kicked in the air and filled their lungs. Instead of being an homage to a man that died competing against a machine, this song celebrates running away from a horrible death."Railroad Spike" is a one-chord blues in the key of G. Notice how it utilizes the Piedmont Roll to articulate a tune that uses a first position G chord, a G7 and another voicing of a G7. That's about all that the left hand is doing.”
Slide, Resonator, & Open Tunings: Blues Tradition 5
"Mississippi is the home of many influential blues styles. Just as today, early blues players listened to each other and shared ideas about gear and techniques. So, while the resonator guitar never really gained much traction in jazz music (other than with artists like the great Oscar Aleman), it was a highly favored tool in the hands of Mississippi Delta style players. Just as these players saw the virtue of a loud, durable and sustaining resonator instruments, they also often used open tunings for reasons that are addressed in the video.”
"Biscuit Roller is a tune that is the basis for a number of Delta classics like "Rolling and Tumbling", "Gravel Road Blues", "Traveling Riverside Blues", "Meeting Me in the Bottom" and more. The original tune was credited to Hambone Willie Newbern, an older singer, and guitarist in the Delta tradition. This is the way that I (usually) play this tune. It's not the only way to play it, as you will find out if you follow up by listening to some of the titles I've listed in the previous section. You might also notice that this is not necessarily a 12-bar blues. How long you play the rhythm or how long or how often you play the melody is totally up to you. Listen to a recording Mississippi Fred McDowell's "Gravel Road Blues" to understand what I mean.”
Shared Delta Blues Licks: The Blues Tradition: 7
"This section again focuses on the idea that the blues are modular. As musicians like Son House, Willie Brown, Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and Howlin' Wolf borrowed and stole music from one another they created patterns that were powerful in their expressiveness and simplicity. They tended to create unique music licks on the I chord, for the first 4 bars of their songs, but then they go to fairly set patterns on the IV and V chords. Even though these patterns are simple, they aren't necessarily easy. To pull off this style off, you'll need be able to play a with a rock solid rhythm.”
Swimming Kitty Blues
"Swimming Kitty is derived from a body of music closely associated with Robert Petway's "Catfish Blues". Muddy Waters slowed the tempo in his "Catfish Blues", but the idea is still there. This is the style of blues that lies somewhere between the Hill Country styles of Mississippi and the boogie blues of John Lee Hooker. "Swimming Kitty" is in the key of E in standard tuning, but the rhythm is pure Mississippi. This piece is polyrhythmic, but it's still based on the blues scale. As we get toward the end of the breakdown, it's easy to see how, again, modular this music can be. We return the concept that "simple ain't necessarily easy", but it's definitely worth it. All of the pieces that we have shared drive home Rev. Gary Davis' teachings that, 'Guitar players use three hands: the left-hand makes the chords, the right-hand makes the rhythm, and the interaction between the two hands makes the music’.”
Rev. Jones will explain and demonstrate all of the key concepts and approaches along the way. You’ll get standard notation and tabs for each of the performances. In addition, you’ll be able to loop or slow down any of the videos so that you can work with the lessons at your own pace.
Grab your guitar and let’s play the blues with Reverend Robert Jones!
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