Tag: Sam Chatmon

Country Blues Basics Part 13: Me and the Devil Blues

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:

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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.

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I also use an E7 shape that looks like this:

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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!

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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:

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Here is the basic tablature of the progression:

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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.

Country Blues Basics Part 14: How to Play That’s Alright by Sam Chatmon

That’s Alright is a great example of combining alternating bass and monotonic bass. If you look at the tabulature, you’ll see that the two techniques are intermingled in a way where the techniques aren’t individually identifiable, but have been woven together to create a fabric for the song. 

Sam Chatmon used this guitar accompaniment for a lot of his tunes in G. Despite its heavy usage, I still think it is one of the most powerful accompaniments in G out there. It doesn’t sound like anyone else.

To play this song, you need to be comfortable with playing an alternating bass with a heavy accent on the down beat. Listen to how Sam plays time in this recording to get the idea:

That’s Alright is a 12-bar blues in the key of G. 

The main section is best played using an unconventional G chord fingering.

The G chord looks like a B7 chord moved up one string. Keep your pinky ready to fret the 1st string, 3rd fret, but don’t hold it down unless you are going to play it. You’ll need to keep your other three fingers uninhibited to play the bass figure!

The G chord look like this:

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The IV chord Sam uses is a basic open position C chord. The D chord is simply a C chord moved up two frets.

The secret to this song is in the heavy time and keeping the bass moving.

I have broken the tab into sections to help you see the various pieces.

The first four bars are based around Sam’s G chord. Keep your finger free so you can keep the bass moving.

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The IV chord section utilizes a C/C7 shape. Remember to push through the strings to get that heavy time sound. As long as you’re holding the chord, the surrounding notes will harmonize.

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Returning to the I chord, make sure you really hit the hammer-on/pull-off. I consider it an essential riff in the arrangement.

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Walking up to the V/IV chord, utilize the same technique you used in bars five and six. Finish off the verse by playing the same riff you played previously.

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Once you can play these sections, piece them together and you have yourself a great song you can get a lot of mileage on.

If you can play the bass comfortably, try improvising which notes you play in the chord.

Listening to Sam’s various breaks will give you interesting variations. I demo one of these breaks in my recording of the guitar arrangement below.

Try learning some of the lyrics Sam sings over this arrangement and create your own version of the song. This song is a master class in how to have a moving bass line with sparse melodic jabs. It creates the illusion of two players playing at once.

Once you have learned this song, you have learned the country blues basics. Congratulations, you can probably learn any song in this genre now that your bass skills are on point!

Take a look at my closing thoughts on where you can take your playing now that you have the essentials down. 

 

Featured Musician: Sam Chatmon

A big misconception about bluesman is that they were old men playing their guitar and singing with weathered voices.

When most of these legendary players recorded, they were in their 20s. 

Luckily renewed interest in this music in the 1960s relaunched some of their careers. By the time these musicians careers relaunched, they were old. 

Sam Chatmon is an example of a great guitarist who was rediscovered and recorded in the 1960s. He was able to tour around for 20 more years until his death. Fortunately, we got a lot of great video recordings of him during this period.

Sam, along with his famous brother Bo Carter, were part of the popular group the Mississippi Sheiks during the 1930s.

When I used to study with John Miller, I found out he had spent quite a bit of time with Sam. I learned a couple of Sam’s tunes from John, and he showed me how Sam fingered some unconventional chord shapes.

Below is a video of Sam playing That’s Alright at age 81. If you want to learn how to play this, check out my free lesson.

If you’re interested in the history of this music, there are a couple interviews of Sam that are publicly available on Alan Lomax’s channel.