Blackbird Blues

Here’s the tab that I’ve put together for my new tune ‘Blackbird Blues’, a simple 12 bar blues in E. For best effect, hold down the root chord that’s shown, then pick the notes and let them ring out. Experiment with adding the other notes in the chord, as well as the notes marked here. You’re playing the blues guitar, so improvise!

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Blackbird Blues

by Mike Elliott








Bar 1 = E Bar 2 = E







Bar 3 = E Bar 4 = E







Bar 5 = A Bar 6 = A







Bar 7 = E Bar 8 = E







Bar 9 = B7 Bar 10 = A7







Bar 11 = E Bar 12 =E/B7
[Copyright 2011 Mike Elliott]

For some further explanation on playing the 12 bar blues pattern, check out my earlier post on how to play the blues on guitar, and enjoy the Rory Gallagher video!

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New Rory Gallagher Album

The story goes that when Jimi Hendrix was asked “What’s it like to be the greatest guitarist in the world”, he replied, “I don’t know, go ask Rory Gallagher!” Hendrix knew it, and many other legendary guitarists, from Slash to Johnny Marr, from Brian May to The Edge, from Joe Satriani to Ritchie Blackmore, have acknowledged their admiration for the genius of Rory Gallagher.

Here at ‘Playing the Blues Guitar’, we are massive fans of the mighty Rory, and we were naturally very excited to hear the latest news. A never before issued Rory Gallagher studio album from 1978 and an unreleased live show from 1979 feature in a two CD set to be released by Eagle Rock in North America in mid May and by Sony in early June 2011.

In November 1977, following a six month world tour, Rory Gallagher and his band flew into San Francisco to begin working on a new album, with famed American producer Elliot Mazer. However, Mazer notes that the sessions grew “tense”, as Rory wasn’t happy with the song mixes, describing them as “too complicated”. By early 1978, he shelved the whole project and broke up his band of the previous five years. This may in part be down to his attendance at the infamous Sex Pistols show at The Winterland Ballroom. While mixing the studio record in January 1978, Rory Gallagher went along to the show, and was completely blown away by the Pistols energy and fury. In contrast, he felt that what they themselves were doing in the studio went against the zeitgeist, and the raw energy that he was producing himself every night on stage.

In 2010, Rory’s brother and manager, Dбnal, gave his son Daniel (Rory’s nephew) permission to reclaim the album from the Gallagher archive and remix it. Rory had said, in 1992, that he hoped the album would one day resurface, but only if it were remixed. Now we will finally get to hear this album from a key period of Gallagher’s career, that would have been released between ‘Calling Card’ and ‘Photo Finish’. This is the mythical ‘lost album’ that us Rory fans have been waiting for. Not just a rehash of old out-takes, like so many of the reissues we see these days, but a genuine new Rory Gallagher album! Here’s the track listing:

CD1 1. Rue The Day 2. Persuasion 3. B Girl 4. Mississippi Sheiks 5. Wheels Within Wheels 6. Overnight Bag 7. Cruise On Out 8. Brute Force & Ignorance 9. Fuel To The Fire BONUS TRACKS 10. Wheels Within Wheels (Alt version) 11. Cut A Dash 12. Out On The Tiles

The second CD in the package is another wonderful discovery, a fantastic live album taken from four nights at The Old Waldorf, San Francisco December 1979, that sees Rory Gallagher accompanied by Gerry McAvoy on bass and Ted McKenna on the drums.

The live CD features the following tracks:

1. Follow Me 2. Shinkicker 3. Off The Handle 4. Bought And Sold 5. I’m Leavin’ 6. Tattoo’d Lady 7. Do You Read Me 8. Country Mile 10. Shadow Play 11. Bullfrog Blues 12. Sea Cruise

Incidentally, the sleeve image for the album is an original postcard that Rory posted to his mother while on tour; he would always send postcards back home to Ireland from wherever he was in the world.

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Delta Blues – the Crossroads Guitar Duel

Last time out, we looked at the origins of the blues in the Delta Blues Guitar, and finished up with a nice vid of Eric Clapton playing the Robert Johnson classic, Crossroads. That has prompted a few queries about the 1986 movie of the same name, inspired by the legend of Robert Johnson, and starring Ralph Macchio, Joe Seneca and Jami Gertz.

The screenplay was written by John Fusco, a travelling blues musician himself, as a student screenplay, and made into a movie by Columbia Pictures under the direction of Walter Hill. The original soundtrack was composed by Ry Cooder and Steve Vai, who also between them played all of Macchio’s guitar parts in the movie.

The film follows Eugene Martone (Macchio), a classical guitar student with an obsession for the blues, in his quest to find a legendary, missing Robert Johnson song. Eugene enlists the help of ‘Blind Dog’ Willie Brown (Seneca), a blues harmonica player and old friend of Johnson’s, and romantic interest is provided by a hitchhiker (Gertz) along the way. When she splits, Eugene uses his sadness to add some real emotion to playing the blues guitar.

Ultimately, the two blues men reach the eponymous crossroads in the middle of nowhere in the heart of rural Mississippi, where Brown reveals his secrets. The climax of the movie sees the devil arrive to claim ‘Blind Dog’ Willie Brown’s soul, allegedly sold to the him in exchange for his musical ability, which also raises the question of Johnson cutting a similar deal. This leads to a challenge, where Eugene puts his own soul at stake to redeem Brown’s contract – Eugene must beat the Devil’s own guitarist (played by Steve Vai) in a duel to save both of their souls.

The guitar playing in the duel is just mind-blowing.

Here’s some ‘Crossroads’ trivia for you too:

  • Ry Cooder plays Macchio’s guitar parts through most of the film, and on the soundtrack album, but in the guitar duel itself Steve Vai plays both parts, so in fact he beats himself in the end!
  • The classical-influenced piece played by Eugene during the climactic scene is based on the Caprice No. 5 by Nicolo Paganini.
  • Blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa was influenced by the movie and adopted the song “Feelin’ Bad Blues”.
  • The guitar battle was released by Steve Vai on his album The Elusive Light and Sound, volume 1.
  • The guitar used by Jack Butler (Steve Vai) is a Charvel San Dimas.
  • The guitar used by Macchio is a Fender Telecaster.
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Delta Blues Guitar

Delta Blues is the oldest and purest form of blues music. It is often claimed that ‘the Delta’ was the birthplace of the blues. The first musicians who were recorded playing the blues guitar came from this area.

Geographically, the Delta is the fertile area between the Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers, and it also extends to the land across the Mississippi near Helena, Arkansas. Culturally, the Delta was an area of large cotton plantations worked by black slaves and later, sharecroppers. Much of the Delta area was cleared after the American Civil War, when large levees were built on either side of the Mississippi River. Life in the construction camps was tough, with men working in gangs, frequently fighting among themselves, and spending their hard-earned cash on women, gambling and itinerant musicians. By the year 1900, gangs were also building railroads through the Delta area.

The Delta starts in Memphis, but its heart is in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Memphis bluesman Gus Cannon, claimed to have first heard music played in a blues style in Clarksdale around the turn of the twentieth century. In 1905, in Clarksdale, bandleader W.C. Handy heard a man playing a guitar and singing along with the low, mournful sound made by sliding a knife along the strings. This prompted Handy to start writing blues music, marking the start of its popularity.

As Robert Palmer describes the music in his book Deep Blues, “The Mississippi Delta’s blues musicians sang with unmatched intensity in a gritty, melodically circumscribed, highly ornamented style that was closer to field hollers than it was to other styles of blues. Guitar and piano accompaniments were percussive and hypnotic, and many Delta guitarists mastered the art of fretting the instrument with a slide or bottleneck that made the instrument ‘talk’ in strikingly speech-like inflections.”

Most Delta blues musicians were itinerant loners who occasionally teamed with other musicians to play their music anywhere where people with spare change congregated. Often pianists played a two-fisted, eight-to-the-bar style called barrelhouse (from the name of a camp barroom). Three of the most famous barrelhouse pianists in the Delta were Roosevelt Sykes of Helena, Clarksdale native Sunnyland Slim, and Little Brother Montgomery of Kentwood, Louisiana. Good pianists such as these moved to cities like New Orleans, St. Louis, and even Chicago during the 1920s and 1930s.

Many of the great Delta blues guitarists, such as Tommy Johnson, Son House, Willie Brown, Robert Johnson, and Howlin’ Wolf, learned from guitarist Charley Patton, of Dockery’s Plantation. Possibly blues music was originally born in the vicinity of this large cotton plantation near the Sunflower River. The records of many of the Delta’s greatest bluesmen playing the blues guitar failed to sell in large quantities, leaving a recorded legacy that is splintered at best. Skip James and Son House in particular were hampered by working with Paramount Records, a label that went bankrupt during the 1930s.

These delta blues guitarists provided great inspiration for the blues rock guitarists who started to emerge in the 1960′s, such as Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. These guitarists openly acknowledged this inspiration, often covering delta blues classics, while adding their own unique style of playing the blues guitar.

Here’s Eric Clapton’s wonderful version of Robert Johnson’s classic Crossroads:

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Blues Basics – The Blues Scale

We recently had a look at the minor pentatonic scale. This is one of the scales most used by blues guitarists to create that distinctive blues sound, and yet it is not actually “the blues scale”. To get the full blues scale, we need to add another note to the minor pentatonic scale, the flattened fifth, sometimes referred to as a blue note. This extra note adds a really bluesy tone to our minor pentatonic scale.

The five notes in the the minor pentatonic scale are 1-b3-4-5-b7, and the six notes in the blues scale are 1-b3-4-b5-5-b7, i.e the root of the scale, the flattened third, the fourth, the flattened fifth, the natural fifth and finally the flattened seventh. (If you’re not familiar with these musical terms, see our free eBook ‘Guitar for Beginners’ for explanations and more details.)

As an example of the blues scale, let’s look again at the key of A. The A Blues Scale is made up of the notes A – C – D – Eb – E – G.

As with playing any scale on the guitar, there are various different fingerings that you can use, depending which position you are playing in. Start with this basic pattern, then work through the other fingerings once you have mastered this one.

If you’re looking for an example of the Blues Scale in action, just check out BB King, probably the most influential blues guitar player of all time, jamming his classic “The Thrill is Gone” with Gary Moore:

This song is played here in C minor; note in the final ‘call and response’ phrase, the addition of a D, the 2nd note in the scale. This transforms the Blues Scale into a Dorian Scale, which is a big favourite of many blues musicians, such as BB King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Peter Green and Carlos Santana. More on this in a future post from ‘Playing the Blues Guitar’!

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