Essential Listening: 10 Stellar Slide Guitar Songs
From Elmore James to Sonny Landreth, here are 10 pieces of essential slide guitar listening.
Not content with the status quo, industrious young guitar players have endeavored over the decades to make things more difficult for themselves.
Some have tried playing the guitar behind their back, over their head, with their teeth, with their friends' teeth, etc.
And then there was the inventive guitarist who, many decades ago, decided to slip a bottle over his finger and slide it along his guitar's strings to produce a magical sound (He probably emptied the bottle himself, if you know what I mean).
While playing the guitar with your teeth is, was and always shall be a novelty, slide guitar — and slide guitarists — is and are here to stay. They actually started digging in their heels long before Robert Johnson made his haunting Delta blues recordings in Texas in the 1930s.
Since Johnson's time, players — including guys like George Thorogood, Derek Trucks, Jerry Douglas and Roy Rogers — have built entire careers around slide guitar and its many stylistic varieties.
Below, we present 10 tracks that represent essential listening in the world of slide guitar. Please note that we're sticking with regular ol' six-string guitar — no lap steel, sacred steel, pedal steel, etc. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) These songs are presented in no particular order. I repeat: These songs are presented in no particular order.
Also, if you want to track down any of these tracks, you'll find all 10 original album covers in the photo gallery below. Enjoy!
The Allman Brothers Band, "Statesboro Blues" (Duane Allman)
A generation of blues-influenced rockers toyed with slide guitar for several years, slowly bringing it into mainstream music (Check out Jeff Beck's performance on "Evil Hearted You" by the Yardbirds), but no one dragged it into the modern era quite like Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers Band. He used the slide to imitate the sound of a blues harp — not to mention mesmerize countless concert goers who were knocked out by his dexterity and intensity. Perhaps his quintessential slide performance is the Allmans' At Fillmore East version of Blind Willie McTell's "Statesboro Blues." As Rolling Stone put it, it features the sort of playing that gives people chills. Of course, be sure to seek out other live versions of the song, including the one on the band's recently released SUNY at Stonybrook album.
Sonny Landreth, "Überesso"
Respected Louisiana-based slide player Sonny Landreth started appearing on music fans' radar in earnest after the release of the 2007 Crossroads Blues Festival DVD. It features a few tracks by Landreth (jamming with Eric Clapton and such), including the uber-exciting instrumental, "Überesso." Landreth's unique slide technique lets him fret notes and play chords and chord fragments behind the slide. He plays with the slide on his little finger, so his other fingers have more room to fret. Check out his performance of "Überesso" from the 2007 Crossroads Guitar Festival below. Yes, he's awesome.
Steve Miller Band, "The Joker" (Steve Miller)
Although not primarily known as a slide player, Steve Miller put the slide to fun and creative use on his 1973 hit single, "The Joker," playing a hummable, tasteful slide solo for the masses (and imitating a whistle a few times in the process). Although it's no "Überesso" (See above), it shows that slide guitar has been invited to the chart-success party, especially in the early '70s, much like our next selection ...
George Harrison, "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)"
You'll read it in other roundups of great slide guitar songs — comments like, "Although he wasn't a virtuoso like these other players ... ." Yeah, whatever. OK, he wasn't Jeff Beck, Steve Howe or Ritchie Blackmore, but George Harrison, who, as a member of the Beatles, influenced millions of humans to play guitar, suddenly started playing slide guitar in 1969, inventing an entirely new "guitar persona" for himself. What he came up with was a distinctive, non-blues-based style that incorporated hints of Indian music, some pointers he picked up while learning sitar and other Beatles-esque odds and ends. While "My Sweet Lord" and Badfinger's "Day After Day" (featuring Harrison on slide) are better known, 1973's "Give Me Love" perfectly displays his new-found style. For some quality later work, check out "Cheer Down" from 1989 and "Any Road" from 2002.
Foghat, "Slow Ride" (Rod Price)
Staying in the '70s for a moment, let us consider Foghat's "Slow Ride," another slide-based song that topped the charts. Perhaps the polar slide opposite of George Harrison, the heavily blues-influenced Rod "The Bottle" Price (Yes, they called him "The Bottle") let it all hang out in his solo near the fadeout of Foghat's signature track. Be sure to also check out Foghat's "Drivin' Wheel" and "Stone Blue." Price, a product of the UK, died in 2005.
Led Zeppelin, "In My Time of Dying" (Jimmy Page)
Although the "big three" guitarists who emerged from the '60s rock scene in England — Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page — flirted with slide guitar at different points in their careers, none took it as far, or used it with as much success, as Page. For proof, just listen to "In My Time of Dying" from Physical Graffiti. The recording (the most popular version of a song Josh White recorded in the mid-'40s), features Page sliding away in open A (E / A / E / A / C# / E). Although Page also played slide on "When the Levee Breaks," "Traveling Riverside Blues" and "What Is and What Should Never Be," his distinctive slide style simply defines the powerful and dark "In My Time of Dying."
Elmore James, "Dust My Broom"
We've mentioned a few "blues influenced" players, which is basically another way of saying "players who were influenced by Elmore James." James — who was actually dubbed the "King of the Slide Guitar" — is best known for his 1951 version of "Dust My Broom (I Believe My Time Ain't Long)." The song's opening riff is one of the best-known and most influential slide guitar parts ever. Yes, it sounds a lot like what Robert Johnson played on his "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom" several years earlier, but James played his riff on an electric guitar, pretty much claiming it for himself in the process and sending chills down the spine of a new generation.
Johnny Winter, "Highway 61 Revisited"
The lanky Texan (and former Brit) simply burns it up in his legendary cover of Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited" from Second Winter, his second album. Be sure to investigate the acoustic "Dallas" from Winter's self-titled 1969 album. If you can convincingly play these two songs, it's time to hang up your T-square and/or apron and look for session work!
Derek Trucks Band, "Sahib Teri Bandi/Maki Madni" (Derek Trucks)
The list takes an exotic turn with this middle-eastern-flavored track by Derek Trucks. With his deep Allman Brothers Band lineage, we know Trucks (and Warren Haynes, of course) can tackle roots rock, extended blues jams and more, but this 10-minute instrumental track from his 2006 album, Songlines, steps way out of those boundaries and truly shows what Trucks is capable of. He makes the guitar sound like an exotic instrument from a distant land and time. Check out this live performance from 2008, below.
Rory Gallagher, "Want Ad Blues/Wanted Blues"
For our official acoustic entry, let's not forget the late, great Rory Gallagher, shown here playing a version of John Lee Hooker's "Wanted Blues." It's hard to believe this Irish master of the Stratocaster was also a ridiculously accomplished traditional blues slide player. By the way, in this brief video (Click here), Gallagher explains some slide basics. Be sure to check it out.
Learn Slide Guitar is the ultimate DVD instructional guide to playing slide guitar like a pro. Designed for beginning-to-intermediate guitar players, this DVD contains more than two hours of lessons that will help you develop such skills and techniques as playing in open and standard tunings, slide scales for soloing in all keys, improvising, open-tuning chord forms, muting, vibrato, Delta and electric blues, plus much more! It's available now at the Guitar World Online Store!
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