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> Philosophy Of Playing The Blues, What Brownie McGhee taught me..
Blue Willy
post May 26 2013, 12:14 AM
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As a young guitar player, I was taught to play the Blues by Tennessee Bluesman Walter "Brownie" McGhee. Often he would just start playing and let me jam along and afterward critique what I had done, showing how I could improve. Sometimes he'd have me play a song and he'd play along and later discuss what we'd done. I learned a lot just from playing with him this way.

After I had studied with him for several months, we were jamming one evening. I was ripping through some runs and thinking that I was really starting to get good when Brownie suddenly threw up his hands and hollered, "Whoa, hold it!" I broke off in shock. The conversation which followed went like this...

Brownie, exasperated: "Quit playin' all them damn notes boy."

Me, puzzled: "What damn notes?"

"Those damn notes. Just play the right ones."

"Which ones might those be?"

"Better figure that out for yourself if you want to sound like yourself. Understand, you're not just playing blues, you're playing a song. Play what the song requires, always sell the song. That goes for any kind of music, not just the blues."

Later, at home, I listened closely to several of Brownie's solo albums. I noticed how simple his playing seemed which had been what had attracted my interest in the first place, it appeared simple and accessible. It was also complete somehow without unecessary ornamentation. In his work with harp man Sonny Terry he often accompanied Sonny with a simple single note bass line, yet the music was really rocked-out and full sounding despite the simplicity.

I have a natural tendency to over ornament when I play but thanks to Brownie I have managed to counter that to a large degree. The rests are just as important as the notes. When building solos it is nearly always a good idea to start with a sense of the melody of the song. It is also important to keep the groove going. As Brownie taught me so long ago, "Always sell the song."

The following video is a demo of a blues in E that I made for my students which demonstrates a VI/II/V/I chord progression in 12-bar blues as well as using elements of the melody of the song in building solos. The song is See See Rider which was first recorded by Ma Rainey in 1925. Rider was a generic term for "steady lover" and the line, "See, see rider, see what you have done..." is an admonition to a lover about the hurt he or she has caused.

SEE SEE RIDER



This post has been edited by Blue Willy: May 26 2013, 12:43 AM


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Blue Willy
post May 26 2013, 04:38 AM
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This soundfile is of an old blues ballad I learned from hearing Brownie play it. BETTY AND DUPREE

I tried to keep things simple and just accompany the vocal. I also tried to keep the vocal low key to allow the story line to dominate.

Lyrics are very important. I remember one time that Brownie called me on my sloppy enunciation. I was singing a blues song and Brownie stopped me and said, "I can't understand a word you're singin'. Your diction is horrible." The way he emphasized the word "diction" made me cringe. I felt I was back in a high school English class. "What's the use of words if nobody can understand them?" he asked. I had to admit that he was right. I have spent hours trying to make out the lyrics on recordings, now why would I want to put my audiences through that annoyance? I started to pay close attention to my pronunciation from that moment forward.


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Mike

"The business ain't nothin' but the blues!" - Rahsaan Roland Kirk


Inductee in the Blues Hall of Fame, March 14, 2012.

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Headbanger
post May 26 2013, 08:43 AM
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Great advice Mike...Thanks for posting these 'lessons'...I like how the Blues gets passed on from generation to generation and that keeps it alive.


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Blue Willy
post May 26 2013, 08:56 PM
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You are so right...and the great thing about Brownie's advice is its universality, it not only applies to the blues but to just about any kind of music.


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Mike

"The business ain't nothin' but the blues!" - Rahsaan Roland Kirk


Inductee in the Blues Hall of Fame, March 14, 2012.

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PosterBoy
post May 27 2013, 06:35 AM
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I agree, most of my favourite players aren't flashy but know there role is to compliment the song.

Mike Campbell of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers is a great example


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SoundShapingDotC...
post May 27 2013, 07:14 AM
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Wow Mike, great story and great advice, thanks!

I'll check out your lessons asap. I tend to play too many notes myself.

Cheers
Peter
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Cosmin Lupu
post May 27 2013, 07:32 AM
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I finally managed to watch this whole vid and think things - thank you for the words of wisdom which are indeed universal!


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Blister
post May 28 2013, 12:18 PM
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QUOTE (SoundShapingDotCom @ May 27 2013, 01:14 AM) *
Wow Mike, great story and great advice, thanks!...


+1

Thanks for sharing!


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Gabriel Leopardi
post May 28 2013, 03:12 PM
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Beautiful words! Can't agree more with what your posted here. Thanks for sharing this wisdom with us and for that great video. I want to pick up my acoustic and jam some blues now! smile.gif


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