The House That Blues Built
A slow drag over F-minor-sixth and let it ring for a few beats, maybe pay some small attention to high E and B for effect.
Down stroke on B-flat-minor-sixth and definitely fiddle with the D string, as a hammer-on and a brief pull add to the haunting tone.
F-minor-sixth comes next, a triumphant return from the gloomy land of B...let him ring.
Move to F-seventh, as close to a whole as can be, powerful and simple.
Back to B-flat-minor-sixth, stay for two bars, punch drunk and confused.
Return to original form, F-minor-sixth, subtle and sad...hold for two bars on way to finale.
Enter the cadence, G-seventh with a flat-ninth and sharp-fifth, hit hard, accenting flat-ninth for tone.
Move quickly to C-seventh with a flat-ninth and sharp-fifth as well, play hard, accenting flat-ninth.
Gently move back to F-minor sixth and finish with a flourish for two bars.
Rinse and Repeat.
Bass: A subtle walk around that doesn't obey any rule outside of what the drummer is laying down. Feel the music, don't think.
Drums: Keep it steady, high hat walking, and ready for gradual tonality changes. Use some flourish with cymbal work, hit the bass hard, but know place in the mix. Show some love to the bass player.
Lead: Doesn't matter if sung or played, just make sure it is once with feeling.
That is 12-bar Minor Blues.
I discovered the blues much the same way anyone who comes to love the blues does, nothing else seemed to make sense at the time. I had just picked up my first electric guitar, an Epiphone SG Standard, and had absolutely no idea what I was doing with it though I knew how to read music, could play multiple instruments (including the acoustic guitar), and had grown up around musicians...the electric guitar is a completely different beast.
I remember taking the guitar to my Dad immediately after getting home and asking him to teach me how to manipulate this new piece of equipment. He responded by teaching me Smoke on the Water and sending me on my way. I know now that it wasn't that he couldn't teach me how to play, it was that he was afraid of the power the instrument represented (he had been a folk guitarist most of his life). He did offer me one piece of advice though..."Listen to what you love and try to replicate it."
So, there I sat, in my room, guitar slung over my shoulder, amplifier cranked to 11, running through the music I thought I loved, desperately searching for a riff or lick I wanted to build my sound around, and consistently coming up empty. I found that my time playing the guitar had fundamentally changed how I viewed the music I enjoyed. Instead of digesting songs as a whole, I now began to view the composition in pieces, and I came to realize that the music I was currently listening to, just wouldn't cut it. I needed to dig deeper...and deeper I went.
In the end, it was Jimi that spoke to me, but in a way I would never imagine. During the recording of Voodoo Chile for Electric Ladyland, there were three separate cuts taken for the song. The first was an equipment check while Jimi taught the band the song, the second was a broken string cut, and the third was the cut that made the final track list. The first two cuts ended up being edited together and released posthumously on an album entitled Blues. This cut of Voodoo Chile is what found its way to my earholes that fateful day, sparking my lifetime love affair with the blues.
To me, the blues have always been the most honest expression of music. There is something so raw and pure about them, something that is never able to be replicated across repeat performances. From the outside, the blues look like a chaotic menagerie of egotistical showboaters plying their trade, but nothing could be further from the truth.
There is a sense of focused passion needed to make the blues work, and the improvisation involved in the music is an extension of that passion. What may seem like many voices yelling at once is actually the perfect chorus, no matter who is in the lead. Control is the name of the game. If one person steps out of line, the whole thing can come crumbling down.
Respect for talent is another attribute provided by the blues that I absolutely adore. When, in the midst of the structured chaos, one musician steps up to take the lead, the rest follow suit without hesitation. They trust that they won't be led astray. This sense of trust and respect always rings loudly for me. In the midst of pouring out their heart and soul through music, each musician is able to structure that passion into something beautiful. I challenge anyone to find something like this occurring consistently in "real" life.
Pain. Pain was my largest draw toward the blues. The blues drips with the pain of love lost, of struggle, of degradation, of repression, of truth. Out of all this pain comes something akin to retribution...or purification, for the light of heart. Either way, at the end of a blues track, there is a proverbial sigh of relief, as if to mark the conquering of some monumental obstacle, personal in nature, but accessible by all.
Not only do I see the blues as the most honest expression of music, but that of the human condition as well. Pain, love, respect, control, hurt...the blues represent such a large swath of what we go through on a daily basis. It pains me to see that the form has all but disappeared over the last few decades.
Sure there are artists that play the blues still, but they have been relegated to dives, specialty guitar shows, and street corners. John Mayer is a prime example of what it takes to be successful blues guitarist in today's society. Yea, that's right John Mayer.
This man puts so little of his talent into his pop career, it makes me sick just thinking about it. He has a talent for knowing what teenage girls and desperate housewives want to hear, I'll give him that, but his live performances are where the boy turns to man.
In the public eye, this male pop diva writes catchy tones, but on stage he owns every piece of the guitar. Young girls scream at the top of their lungs at his ugly guitar faces, but every blues lover in the crowd knows what is really happening...this man is weeping, he is screaming, he is living.
Mayer has to hide his supreme talent in order to succeed in the not-so-music industry of our contemporary world, but when he gets on stage, he shows the world who he truly is, and it is beautiful.
The blues being hidden behind the mask of conventional whining, idiocy, and plays at love, is representative of the people we have become. Instead of confronting our true thoughts and emotions, we place on a mask of rote responses that do nothing but placate our need for acceptance, inhibiting any growth at all.
But all is not lost, the blues revival lives, and I believe with all my being, there may be no stopping it. That's right pop, rap, and anything else that deems itself worthy of the title music without cause, your day of reckoning is on the horizon.
I, for one, am giddy with anticipation.