Nothing But the Blues?

Welcome to this edition of Fingerstyle Monthly.

In this issue we're going to take a look at a subject near and dear to many of our hearts - acoustic blues.

Most of us tend to have a certain image in mind when we hear the term acoustic blues. Often that image contains a broken down, unpainted, wooden "shotgun" house with a sagging front porch and chickens in the yard.

The bluesman in the picture is playing a dented and rusted resonator guitar, sliding along the strings with a broken off bottle neck.

The music in this mental scenario is usually as raw and ragged as the house and porch are.

Is that an accurate picture? Is that the way it really was?

In many cases, this scene is a stereotype of the world that the early bluesmen lived in. In reality, the musicians in question had a large repetoire of different types of music.

To satisfy their listeners, they had to be able to play pop and country tunes, as well as the blues that we know them for. A good illustration of this is Big Bill Broonzy playing The Glory of Love.

If that's true, where did the stereotype come from? According to musician and Robert Jonson authority Scott Ainslie, the real culprits were the record companies (look for an upcoming interview with Scott).

They wanted to turn music into a commodity that could be commercialized, or sold. To do this, they had to create an easily identifiable product. As a result, blues were marketed to Blacks, country music to rural whites, etc...

So you may be thinking, "so what? This is old news". The point is, that it's good to be able to play a range of material. It makes it more interesting for both you and the listener.

Best of all, develop the ability to play a range of material and have it sound uniquely like it's yours.

Broonzy and others of his generation were well aware of this. Here's another example: Mance Lipscomb doing his take on a Tin Pan Alley hit from the early 20th century.

Learning chord theory and the basics of how chord progressions work makes this process a lot easier.

These days, it may be a little easier to just play blues than it was in the past. Why? The record companies did a good job of creating the image of a bluesman. They did the same thing with other forms of music too. That still continues in the present day. What do you think of when you hear the words "country music singer"?

A guy with a guitar and a big hat, right?

If you're interested in a modern day bluesman's take on playing the blues, check out Jim Bruce's article.

What's Up?

New projects in the works include a series of articles on fingerstyle country guitar, interviews with contemporary fingerstylists, more lessons and reviews. Phew! It's exhausting but somebody's got to do it!

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Keep picking, and I'll see you next month.

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