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Talkin' Blues Guitar Series

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Part Two: The Beginnings of the Chicago Sound

 

Lightning Red and his series on the origins of the modern electric blues, and the techniques and hardware used by the legends to get their unique sounds.

 

Muddy Waters and the Fender Sound:

 

I believe it's now time to introduce the Fender solid-body line of guitars. When Muddy Waters (McKinley Morganfield) began his stint as king of the Southside Chicago blues scene, he hadn't yet discovered the Fender Telecaster guitar. An early publicity shot shows a Gibson Les Paul solid-body guitar very similar to Freddie King's hanging in front of him. But it was not very long before he nearly exclusively worked his slide (something else we'll investigate at a later time) up and down the neck of his beloved Telecasters.

 

The Telecaster was the first successful line of guitars that Leo Fender marketed (the prototype being the Broadcaster, which is usually impractical for performing because of it's tendency to excessively feedback and squeal).

 

It is basically a slab of wood and sports two single-coil pickups, the one toward the bridge having a very high-pitched, "slicing" quality that many players have taken full advantage of, especially Albert "The Iceman" Collins and Roy Buchanan. Single coil pickups have a more biting, immediate sound than do the "fatter" mid-ranged double-coil Humbuckers.

 

Muddy was a slide player extraodinaire. He would use a bottle-neck on his little finger and play electrifying runs and melodies sometimes on only one string. His ######s often coincided perfectly with his vocals and he liked to quickly switch from the "treble," bridge pickup to the "mellow" one located near the end of the fretboard. The Telecaster sports only one volume and one tone control which effect both pickups equally, and many players revere it for its simplicity.

 

Muddy found out early that the hollow-bodied guitars, which have holes cut out off the front of the body, "f-holes," would feedback through the amplifier when he tried to play over the noisy crowds in the Southside blues clubs of Chicago. So he moved to solid-bodies, and experimented with Les Pauls and maybe other types before settling on the Telecaster. Now he could crank up the amp loud enough to be easily heard. And throughout his career he used that volume intensity when it was needed.

 

I've head him play very softly in a high school gymnasium when the horrible acoustics would have been a nightmare at higher volume. Many times he would crank that Fender amplifier until his slide screamed and my hair would stand on end. And it's usually a sure bet that when the "bright," treble pickup is blasted through a Fender amplifier, the sound will slice right through you. But Muddy Waters also knew how to use the mellower "neck" pickup to its full advantage. He could get a very deep delta-like moan that was straight from Mississippi.

 

In his early days Muddy was the "Man" on the Chicago Southside. As he matured, he took his place as the Father of modern Chicago blues and became a legend throughout the world. He also created the standard blues band ensemble, drums, bass guitar, piano, blues harp (harmonica) and guitars. His easy loping rythmn and frantic moanful slide work have inspired blues guitarists everywhere. I strongly suggest you spend some time with his early Chess recordings and his better later work. It may seem challenging at first listen, but a few attempts to reproduce his sound will quickly prove otherwise.

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The Delta Snake Presents:

Talkin' Blues Guitar Series

 

 

by: LIGHTNING RED

 

 

Part Three: More Early Chicago and Texas Blues Guitarists

 

 

In this installment of the Talkin' Blues Guitar Series I would like to mention a number of influential blues guitarists who helped lay the groundwork for the ``urban'' electrified sounds that have influenced many successive generations of players, and should be heralded for their contribution to this great American art form -- the Blues. I realize I may have skipped over one or a number of your favorite players from this era and don't wish to slight anyone or ignore a significant contribution they might have made. If so, please accept my apology, and please let me know.

 

In subsequent installments I plan to devote one or more articles to the active, contemporary players among us who deserve serious attention; to devote an entire article to John Lee Hooker and his influence on the modern `Boogie' and its many family trees and devotees. I plan to attend to Elmore James, Duanne Allman, Earl Hooker, Bonnie Raitt, Roy Rogers among others in my article on Slide Guitar Techniques. To look back far into the past toward the very early days and Delta Blues, and to cover a number of other topics and include many more players as we go.

 

Thanks for reading and please send along any corrections, comments and critiques that you may have. Best Blues to you all.

 

Sincerely,

Lightning Red

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