Son House – Dry Spell Blues Part 1 (1930) – YouTube

I don’t know why this video features an image of Charlie Patton, but there you go. The person who uploaded this video says he was first introduced to Son House’s music through a Charlie Patton compilation, but it’s still a funny choice of image.

The guitar playing on this tune is incredibly complex and polyrhythmic while maintaining a very simple aesthetic. On top of that is House’s incredibly powerful voice – it’s one of those voices like Howlin’ Wolf’s that probably overwhelmed audiences, demanding their attention. read more

Tom Morello’s Tricks Pt 1 – YouTube

Video of Morello discussing his guitar technique (the person who uploaded the video has blocked the ability to embed this video).

I’m not really a fan of heavy metal inspired guitar playing, but Morello is a very interesting player. I have a feeling the guy has massive chops, but it’s his unique use of just a few pedals that makes him stand out. That and his commitment to left politics makes for a very powerful musician.

I suppose most people wouldn’t equate a musician’s politics with their musicianship, but I have always been drawn to musicians who have something consequential to say. Sun Ra and Fela, for instance, were all about history and politics, and this adds depth to their music. At least from my perspective it does. I love Adrian Belew’s guitar playing, for instance, but most of his music is utterly forgettable to me. I much prefer someone who has something to say. This is yet another reason why I love the music of Son House – his lyrics talk about life (“porkchops 45 cents a pound, cotton is only 10” from “Dry Spell Blues”) in a way that highlights the everyday politics and economy of a black person living in the South. It’s a damn sight more substantial than “baby got back” (though I appreciate that sentiment as well). read more

Blues Maker (1969 Documentary About Mississippi Fred McDowell) – YouTube

This is a nice mini-documentary featuring Mississippi Fred McDowell’s music and some film footage of people in Mississippi. I can only assume that some of the footage was taken in Como, MS where McDowell lived. Como is part of the hill country section of the state whose blues is more modal than the better known Mississippi delta blues.

McDowell is one of my favorite guitar players – his playing is simultaneously simple and complex, if that makes any sense. Each song has just a few musical elements to it, but the syncopation and intonation are deeply felt and tremendously complex in their own right. His playing is immediately recognizable and unique; I’m not aware of any other guitar players that sound remotely like him unless they are consciously trying to copy him. Brilliant stuff, for sure. read more

Adrian Belew performs Drive (guitar solo) – Pt 1/3 – YouTube

This is a fascinating three-part interview with one of the best rock and roll guitar players from the 1970s and beyond – very humble, very curious, and a very creative player. One of the things I appreciate about the interview and Q & A session (this is from the 2011 Chicago Humanities Festival) is that Belew is able to demonstrate his various concepts so simply, even though the process of getting to where he is probably required an intense study of the technology; I like that Belew’s musicality is the first thing that comes through, not the mass of technology at his feet and hands. He is a master of the technology, of course, but it’s his status as a musician that shines through. I would love to hear him play an acoustic guitar or a piano. read more

Corey Harris – Special Rider Blues – YouTube

My favorite teacher of the blues, generously dishing it out one week at a time at Sonic Junction as one of their first teachers. He even teaches this version of “Special Rider Blues” in an odd tuning of his own invention, inspired by the time he spent with Ali Farka Toure. Mr. Harris is a very generous teacher with a real head-full of music and clear passion for what he does. This is one dude I would love to spend some time talking to.

But check out this guitar playing. He’s got a syncopated bass going on in 12/8 time with a nice modal melody on top. Most people who approach a song like this get dazzled by Skip James’s original playing on this tune, so it’s nice to see someone who has found a way to complement James rather than copy. James was such a virtuoso that it takes much time to master his playing. Harris took the tune to Mali and found a new way to express James’s music. read more

Down to Mississippi – YouTube

This is deep, coming from Wim Wenders’s contribution to Martin Scorsese’s The Blues from a few years ago. It starts off with Blood Ulmer, Eagle Eye Cherry, and Vernon Reid playing a tune and morphs to the original J.B. Lenoir version, accompanying video of the Klan in Mississippi. Ulmer’s hands are so big I don’t know how he is able to play the guitar, let alone play it well. But even with electronic percussion (Cherry) this tune has some depth and slow swing to it; it’s all in how you phrase against the beat. read more

R.L. Burnside – Mississippi Hill Country Blues – Full Album – YouTube

I love the Mississippi hill country blues, especially R.L. Burnside and Fred McDowell. Some of the coolest grooves in blues – lots of texture and rhythm for a more individual, vocal-style playing on the guitar. Burnside has some more modal-type grooves and longer-form melodic ideas, where McDowell has these brilliantly contrapuntal lines that mimic the voice of the singer and the voice of a church response. I much prefer McDowell’s version of “Shake em all down,” but grooves like “Poor Black Mattie” are the stuff of music. And his version of “Deep Blue Sea Blues”/”Rolling Stone”/etc. is very deep and modal; “Rolling and Tumbling” is killer good, I love that he is able to pitch his voice in the bottom and mid registers of the key of the moment, and then in the next tune hit the mid and low-upper registers; “I believe, I believe my time ain’t long,” McDowell also did a version of this tune; “Poor boy, a long way from home,” again, both Burnside and McDowell do versions of this tune, but with this tune their versions are very different; “Jumper Hanging on the Line,” he’s got something on his mind… read more

Houndog Taylor – Give me Back My Wig – YouTube

Ferocious slide playing when it’s his time to shine, subtle when playing behind the tune, I swear the amp has already blown, when the solo kicks in the whole thing, guitar and amp, just scream with pain and joy… that was a presumptuous observation…let me say that the part really roars and sings, in my opinion, a little out of tune, but nasty out of tune. I love it.

Give me back my wig, goddamit, can’t you see I’m bald without?

JOHN COLTRANE Alabama – YouTube

This is a heartbreaking blues written for the girls who were killed in the Birmingham, AL church bombing in 1964. I really hate the word plaintive, but I think that best describes Coltrane’s playing and tone on this composition. McCoy Tyner’s playing is also near perfect, hitting the II-V cadences just so, floating just behind the beat. This is definitely high on my list of all time favorites.

Adrian Belew Electronic Guitar Instructional Video, lesson – YouTube

I have to say that, though I am primarily a blues guitarist, I am a real fan of Adrian Belew’s playing. The guy has a real ear and mind for using technology to bend the guitar to his will. Sometimes I think, though, that the technology leads him rather than the other way around. I would love to be able to make the screeching and ambient sounds he is able to come up with, though I think I would have a tone heart attack if I had that many effects in my signal chain.

Definitely a unique musician. read more