I don’t have a great reason as to why I asked that question. Maybe it’s because I saw a list of great blues songs floating around on the net that didn’t include many of my favorites! Yeah, I’m sure that was it. Mystery solved.
Anyway, the answer from my good buddy Charlie, kind of surprised me.
You see, I tend to think of blues as very guitar-centric and I suppose it is to a degree. But there are some rare gems through the years that made their way onto wax back in the day that didn’t have any musical accompaniment at all.
No Guitar = Simplicity
I’ve loved Son House’s version of the traditional gospel tune John the Revelator but hadn’t listened to it ages. I had kind of forgotten about it until Charlie listed it as one of his two favorite blues tunes. Of course, I fired it up today.
This track is stripped down and bare as it can get. One man sings soulfully and claps along for the beat.
No horn section. No over-sized bass amp. No major production budget. Most notably for me, no guitar.
Still despite the lack of, well…ANY instrument, this track is amazing. You really feel the music in Son’s voice.
A ‘Non-Guitar’ Guitar Lesson
If there is any takeaway from this it is this: Don’t let your guitar get in the way of your music.
Sometimes as guitarists we think too much and end up over complicating what should be simple. Understatement alert: I am guilty of this from time-to-time. As guitarists, we think about scales, chords, licks and about what pedal we need to stomp on next. But what I learned from listening to tracks like “John the Revelator” is that keeping things simple and soulful is what the blues is really all about.
To keep things simple:
Maybe I shouldn’t take that 30 minute extended solo.
Maybe I don’t need that fourth digital delay pedal for ultra stereo wash delay.
Maybe I should learn to say with 4 notes what others say with 40.
Maybe I should really listen to music and forget about my guitar occasionally.