Country Blues Basics Part 13: Me and the Devil Blues

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Aside from a driving feel, monotonic bass can also give a simplistic drum like beat to your music. It can create space in a way that alternating bass cannot.

Again, these bass techniques are a way of creating a fabric that you can adorn.

Robert Johnson was a master of creating space. He played a similar accompaniment to many of his most well known songs– it featured simple A position chords in a 12 bar Blues format. Johnson would alter the tempo and placement of the notes in each, giving them a different feel. 

A good example of this is in his song Kind Hearted Woman. We are lucky enough to have two takes of this song. One features a slow tempo, the other with a quicker one. Although the notes he plays are similar, the space he creates using the bass creates a much different feel. 

Here are his performances of Kind Hearted Woman:

In order to give you an exercise to practice the monotonic bass, let’s take a look at his song Me and the Devil Blues. The chords used are identical to Kind Hearted Woman, Phonograph Blues, 32-20 Blues, and Dead Shrimp Blues. By learning this song you are actually learning 5 songs. Sounds like a good deal to me!

Here is my performance of Me and the Devil Blues:

The chords I use is are an D7 shape moved up to the 9th fret to be A7. It looks like this:

Screen Shot 2018-08-17 at 6.27.49 PM

I use a D7 shape with my thumb hooked over the neck to catch the F# note. This shape is important for monotonic bass so you can get a really low sounding note.

Screen Shot 2018-08-17 at 6.28.13 PM

I also use an E7 shape that looks like this:

Screen Shot 2018-08-17 at 6.27.40 PM

During the second A section in the progression I use a A flat 7 chord. This is essentially a D chord shape moved up one string, and up to the 5th fret. It gives the song a sinister lonesome feel. Robert Johnson got this chord from Scrapper Blackwell. It sounds awesome!

Screen Shot 2018-08-17 at 6.32.23 PM

Finally, during the turnaround I utilize the A7 shape from the previous lesson and walk down in the bass. The turnaround riff looks like this:

Screen Shot 2018-08-17 at 6.41.58 PM

Here is the basic tablature of the progression:

Screen Shot 2018-08-17 at 6.57.40 PM

One thing to pay attention to is how the pulse of the bass effects the feel. At some times I place the note right on the beat, with 4 pulses a measure. Sometimes, I double up on the beat and give each measure 8 pulses.

How you create the fabric is up to you. 

Once you have mastered the Robert Johnson A blues progression, add other licks, or sing over it! I learned to play this years ago and still play it almost everyday because it’s such an awesome template. 

We will take a look at Sam Chatmon’s That’s Alright to demonstrate how we can weave the two bass techniques together to create a cohesive fabric.

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