Blues Power - Walk, Don't Run: Slow Blues Comping

When Jimi Hendrix emerged as the major new force in rock guitar in 1967, his style was so revolutionary that many listeners didn't realize just how deeply rooted in tradition his playing was. His personality on the instrument was so strong that he virtually swallowed up his influences. On "Red House," you can hear traces of a style that dates back to the very first master of electric blues guitar, T-Bone Walker.

T-Bone laid down a style of slow-blues "comping" (rhythm playing) that has withstood the test of time, having been handed down to each new generation of blues guitarists for over 60 years now. By learning something of his style, you'll be one step closer to not only understanding Hendrix, but also to developing your own style.

Let's begin with the basic, never-fail comp pattern for a slow blues in A (TAB FIGURE 1). Sliding this one shape around gives you two versions of the same basic chord; one is a sixth, and the other a ninth; both are based on the same root.

TAB FIGURE 2 shows the same voicings applied to the IV and V chords (D and E). By playing them on the top three strings, you can comp an entire 12-bar chorus in one convenient position. Now let's put all three shapes together to play a 12-bar blues in A (TAB FIGURE 3). First, record yourself playing a standard shuffle groove, then play this pattern over it. Watch the timing and notice the different pattern on the turnaround.

T-Bone elaborated on this approach by moving the same shape around even more. TAB FIGURE 4 is an example of a slow blues using some of his patented rhythm ideas. It's still a 12-bar in A; the chords in parentheses are either a half-step above or below the I, IV and V chords. These chromatic embellishments create a feeling of motion without changing the basic harmony. You can hear hints of this half-step shift approach on some of the various live versions of "Red House."

Hendrix was like a musical sponge, in that he soaked up the style of every player her admired. By the time he squeezed it through his own brain, though, it came out sounding like nothing so much as Hendrix. The best way to emulate Jimi is to let yourself be influenced by a wide variety of players; the result will be that you sound like no one else.

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