Sunday, September 19, 2010

Electric Blues Guitar 101 from a Guitar Hero

So you want to be an electric blues guitarist. What do you need to know and do?

I posed such questions to a guitar hero, Kim Simmonds, who was at the forefront of the late '60s wave of British blues that gave the world the Yardbirds, Cream, Eric Clapton and others, including his band Savoy Brown.

I interviewed him before the Savoy Brown performance at the Narrows Center for the Arts on Saturday, September 18, 2010. I wanted to get hands-on practical advise for the aspiring guitarist. And he gave it.

First of all, "my advice has always been to focus in on one particular music," he said. "Hone in on the style at the exclusion of everything else. I mean to this day I can't play a Beatles song." When he became interested in guitar, he listened to jazz, old style R & B, etc., but by the time he was a teenager he realized he wanted to play the electric sounds emanating from Chicago courtesy of Muddy Waters and others. So he focused on that style as he learned to play his instrument.  

Another piece of advice to the would-be electric blues guitarist: "Don't start on the acoustic guitar because it's very difficult to make the swap...The first thing you should do if you want to play good electric blues guitar is start with electric guitar and an amp. Because it's a different head space altogether." While he plays acoustic blues when he performs solo, he says he's still learning how to play the acoustic guitar.

Thinking about becoming a lead guitarist in a blues band? "You don't play scales. You don't do anything start off listening to records, you start off getting licks, you know, you get one or two licks, you play those, you get a couple more licks, and you build up a library of guitar licks..." He never knew what a scale was until he was in his 30s, well after he became a blues guitar star. "It's all about feeling, you know, and playing scales is too technical." 

He adds new original licks to his repertoire nearly every performance. "Which is a big surprise to myself. I'm trying that hard every night to play the's a very nice feeling to have. It means that you're on the edge, it means that you're really pushing yourself, and you're trying to improvise."

Anybody out there can play what I play, he says. "But can you play it and mean it? That's the only difference." When you play a simple phrase, it has to carry meaning. "You've got to find a way to make that full of meaning," like Muddy Waters and other classic old-time blues guitarists did.

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