Tag: My Photography

Country Blues Basics Part 1: What chords do I need for country blues?

Almost every country blues song uses the same vocabulary of chords. Most songs use basic open position chord forms or a limited group of simple inversions.

Most country blues songs are played in the basic keys of A, C, D, E, or G.

What they are playing is not as important as how they play it. If you watch footage of the masters of this style of music you will notice that they are almost always holding down a chord.

These players are barely moving their left hand, but somehow produce amazingly complex sounding music.

The secret behind this complexity is in understanding the many sounds you can get out of holding down a single chord. The secret to the master’s playing isn’t in their fretting hand, but in their picking hand. The thumb of their right hand is always keeping time while his other fingers play something else.

An aphorism that sums up this idea is: ‘your left hand is what you know, your right hand is who you are.’

If you can get the left hand down, then you can focus on mastering right hand techniques, which is where the soul of the music resides.

If you think this type of playing sounds interesting then check out my instructional video of Catfish Blues to see how much mileage you can get out of a 1st position E chord (and that video just scratches the surface!).

Next let’s explore the basic knowledge you need to play this music.

Country Blues Basics Part 8: How to play Catfish Blues on guitar

A front porch gem.

This song’s droning and persistent bass line reminds me of blues music from the Northern Mississippi Hill country.

You can sit on the groove of this song all day, spinning up variations and just playing the main riff. The underlying groove is just a template for you to experiment upon.

But the best part of this whole song is that you can play it with only your thumb! 

This song is a perfect way to practice varying the bass movement in an alternating bass setting (but you also learn an amazing song in the process).

The basic song is structured around a E chord. The E chord should look like this:

E Chord
E chord

I would suggest holding down the full E chord while you play the song instead of just the relevant notes. A lot of times you’re hitting more than just the note tabbed out. Making sure those extra strings harmonize with what you are hitting is key.

For the verse, use your pinky to grab the 3rd fret on the 6th string. Begin to see if you can bend it with just your pinky to get that nice slurred sound that is essential to the blues.

Catfish Blues Tabs
My version of Catfish Blues

It may be best to start this song by learning the verse. Getting the groove into your hands will prepare you for tackling the bass runs.

When you’re mastering the underlying groove, think about it like a drum beat.

Once you’ve gotten the song under your hands and can play it in your sleep, throw in some bass line variations or treble runs.

If you need some ideas, check out Lightnin’ Hopkins’ or Corey Harris’ version.

This song was recorded by Robert Petway in 1941. Here’s the version mine is based on. Catfish Blues is also a master class in blues vocals:

A lot of really great songs are based around 1 chord. If you can master this one, check out Rolling Stone Blues by Robert Wilkins:

If you’ve got your alternating bass technique locked in, try adding melody notes on top.

 

Notes on Utah: Isolation on an Alien World

The alien landscape of southern Utah is unlike anything I had seen before.

If the familiar sky wasn’t overhead, the arches and canyons rising out of the red sand would be otherworldly.

Closing my eyes in the shadows, I listened and heard a silence unlike anything I had ever experienced.

The stark emptiness of my perception made me uncomfortable.

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Alone in forests and mountains, I had experienced silence before. But not like this. In those moments I was surrounded by something, and even through silence, I could hear that something.

Nothing surrounded me here– just a cold, alien, landscape. 

Within my body, I felt the isolation this land had formed in as I continued along the path.

I was alone here.

Climbing up a final stone slab, I was greeted by an arch giving me a window into the blue sky above. Through its window I saw a lone plane climbing into the sky.

A distant reminder of where I came from.

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Still, all I could hear was silence.

There are not many times in my life I had felt so alone, and in this moment, even with the plane in sight, I felt it more than ever.

But despite the isolation, I suddenly felt at peace.

The red of arches of this landscape were formed by ancient water and wind eroding the rock.

We are formed by the burden of the day-to-day wearing on us, the constant feeling of never being left to oneself, always having to conform to external forces.

In this moment I was truly by myself, and I resented my initial feeling of being made uncomfortable by the silence.

We need to be alone at times, but it always seems out of reach

I had it here, I just didn’t recognize it when I first heard it.

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Notes on Utah: Reflection on Water

 

Most people I met in Utah hated the Salt Lake.

It smells bad, it’s filled with brine shrimp, and it’s ugly.

A few months after arriving in Utah,  I got the chance to see the lake myself.

I pulled over to the side of the road and looked at the expanse.

The surface seemed like it had a reflective film placed over it. The mountains, deep blue sky, and wispy clouds were mirrored on the surface of the Lake.

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Approaching the shore I looked down and saw myself in the water. It’s not ugly, I thought— It’s just a reflection. 

The landscape nestled and cradled the Lake, and the Lake reciprocated the beauty.

But consider the Lake itself.

With no mountains and a colorless sky above, the Lake would be empty, devoid of life.

I drove further up the road until I got to a place with no landscape. From here, the lake was nothing.

Not Ugly.

It was just nothing. 

Months later I was walking through the Temple Square and stopped in my tracks. There was a pool with perfectly translucent water. On the surface you could see the sky and buildings above.

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I was reminded of my experience at the Salt Lake.

The shallow pool that held the water was nothing but black stone.  The water captured the fleeting picture of the city and held its beauty, just as the city held it.

But by itself the pool was nothing. 

No matter what surrounds it, the water holds it in. The beautiful, the ugly, and the nothing.

I am not too different than this. My surroundings, the landscape around me, who is around me, is all captured and reflected by myself.

I also know that I change, just as the seasons change the landscape.

The reflection shifts, only holding onto what cradles it.

Maybe my sentiment is what is hinted at by Emerson:

“To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same field, it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again. The heavens change every moment, and reflect their glory or gloom on the plains beneath.

              -Emerson “Nature”