TEXAS BLUES 10 Texas Titans
Jon Bishop dips his toe into sizzling waters with contrasting pieces in the style of 10 titans of Texas blues guitar. Stuck in a rut? This feature could be just the refresher your playing needs.
Jon Bishop goes for hot and spicy this issue with a look at the sizzling style of some Texas’s hottest players: Billy Gibbons, Albert Collins, Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan among them!
Welcome to this titanic Texas blues guitar feature. The aim of this lesson is to take a look at the style of 10 of the biggest blues names to come out of the Lonestar state. Once the techniques of these great players are uncovered you can incorporate the key elements into your own trick bag. Both rhythm and lead guitar ideas are notated and we will be mostly working in the familiar setting of the 12-bar, major blues format. However, to provide variety and stylistic accuracy the tonality and feel of the backing tracks has been tailored to suit.
One of the key rhythmic feels in the Texas blues style is the shuffle. This is epitomised by songs like Pride And Joy by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Tore Down by Freddie King. In the shuffle, the pulse is divided into quaver triplets. A bar of 4/4 would be counted 1-&-a, 2-&-a, 3-&-a, 4-&-a. In music notation we can save on the triplet brackets and write this with a 12/8 time signature (Examples 2 and 9) or just write it in 4/4 with a note that the quavers are swung (Example 1). Overall, the Texas blues style has more jazz and swing influences in it compared to the other blues styles.
Each of our 10 featured artists has a stylistically appropriate backing track. There are four bars of rhythm and then we turn our attention to the lead work. Some of the key features of the Texas blues style are a hot tone combined with an aggressive attack and solid technique. Amongst the articulations needed are string bending, hammer-ons and pull-offs, finger slides and finger vibrato.
String bending is a great way to add expression and feeling to your lead playing. By bending a string (pulling down or pushing up while fretting a note) you increase its tension and therefore the pitch rises. The ability to manipulate notes on the fretboard this way is a great asset, and means you can access all those microtonal intervals not available on other instruments like the piano. It’s these very traits that make the guitar unique, and which means the tiniest change in approach can create different feels and sounds, and lend each player an instantly recognisable musical fingerprint.
If you want to create an upward glissando (a smooth upward glide in pitch) then simply bend the string up to the desired target note at the desired speed. If you would like to create a downward glide then you can pre-bend the string and then release it. Once the string is bent to pitch you can add finger vibrato to help with intonation, and add interest, feeling and personality.
One of the key problem areas when developing the string bending technique is intonation (bending in tune).
A popular method of developing your ability to bend to pitch is to choose a target tone. E Minor Pentatonic scale provides some familiar territory, so let’s choose the notes D and E with which to practise. Fret the note D on the 15h fret of the second string with your third finger. You can place fingers one and two behind the third finger for added strength and support. The E note is the target tone you are aiming for when bending (17th fret on the second string) and it’s a sensible idea to fret this before bending, for ‘reference’. Now bend the D up (15th fret on the second string) one tone (two frets) until you think you have hit the E. Re-check intonation by playing the fretted E. It’s always vital to memorise the pressure it took to achieve the correct pitch, and also the sound of the in-tune E note, if your bending is to become second nature. Use this method for semitone and tone-and-a-half bends, too.
Many thanks to Universal Audio for the loan of the Apollo interface for the recordings. Have fun and see you next time.
THE TEXAS BLUES STYLE IS A SPICY MIX OF BLUES VOCABULARY, COMMITTED ATTACK AND A SUPERCHARGED GUITAR/AMP TONE