Play Slide Guitar Like Elmore James
Elmore James only knew one lick, but you had the feeling he meant it. – Frank Zappa
I take issue with the ‘only knew one lick’ part of Mr. Zappa’s remark, maybe that’s because I marvel at Mr. James’ slide playing. Besides, how could Elmore become the King of the Slide Guitar without knowing a few licks?
But, the second part of Zappa’s comment, the part about James ‘meaning it’, couldn’t be more on point.
The key to playing in the style of Elmore James, as Zappa pointed out, is feeling. You have to get a little mean and a touch gritty when channeling the spirit of Elmore James into your own playing.
In this video lesson, I will show you an open G version of an Elmore James classic lick much like the Dust My Broom lick. Arguably, this is one of the most famous slide guitar licks ever played.
About the Lick
Remember to keep in mind those few slide guitar pointers from lesson 13 if you’re new to this style of playing. Here’s a quick mental checklist for you.
- Set your action high
- Play with your slide directly on top of the fret
- Play with light pressure to avoid bumping the frets
- Mute extra noise by dampening behind the slide with free fret-hand fingers
The coolest part about the lick is also the hardest part.
As you see in Figure 1, the lick consists of two distinct systems a slide part and a typical blues rhythm part. I love this 12 bar slide piece because to master it, you have to learn how to play with the slide and switch to parts played without the slide.
View and download the PDF of the tab here.
The opening bar is played on the middle three strings with the slide over the twelfth fret. Then in bar 2, join up with the band and chug out the rhythm part. The next few bars alternate this slide – rhythm part with a couple of short slide licks thrown in to keep the feel going.
The four chord and the five chord rhythm parts need a little special attention to play properly since you have the slide attached to one of your fingers. My finger of choice is my ring finger. So normally, when I play the typical blues shuffle I use my ring finger. That doesn’t work out too well with the slide attached! So I will use my little finger instead. Go with what works for you but be sure you nail the chord properly.
A typical open G turnaround
The lick finishes up with a classic open G turnaround to get you back to bar 1. Again, take care to keep the slide out of the way when fretting the notes in the turnaround.
Getting used to playing with a slide
I think for beginners, just keeping the slide out of the way when you’re not using it will be a challenge. It was for me. Watch how I point the slide away from the fretboard as one example of how to overcome this.
Keep practicing and find what’s comfortable for you. You’ll nail it with time, for sure!