adventures in dysthymia

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


When it comes to lead guitar, I readily admit to being one of a legion of mediocre B B King imitators.

Everyone who plays guitar has his or her heroes, a Clapton, a Vai, a whomever. That's inevitable. As a youngster, there was Clapton -- yes, I had the 'Beano' album -- as well as Hendrix and, earlier, Dick Dale. However, I was not yet a player so I was not able to learn from nor emulate anyone at that point. That doesn't mean I didn't soak up some of their respective musical idioms. Them and just about everyone else I heard.

And then there was Carlos Santana. There was a style that spoke to me. And I mean spoke -- there is very much a vocal quality to Santana's playing. I dig the Latin thing, too. It's sort of mariachi surf music.

Now, when it comes to the shred guys, the Vais and Satrianis and such...well, I pretty much subscribe to the stock punk rocker assessment: guitar masturbation. It's a style that has never appealed to me.

At any rate, when I did start playing in my mid-twenties, it was B B King that became my guitar god. Oh, Santana, too, of course. Both have very vocal playing styles. I wanted (and still want) my guitar to sing, to be an extension of my own voice.

Let's face it, I'm basically a singer who plays a little. I'll never be a great guitarist nor even a particularly good one. My first goal is, of course, to serve the song but but I also want to have it sound like me. I want to put some of myself into it.

B B is pretty easy to imitate. Imitate well is another matter, though! There are a plethora of bad-to-mediocre imitations out there. At least one never has to play particularly fast.

There are certainly other guitarists that I've liked, tried to learn some of their technique -- too many to name. But I will name one: the late Albert Collins. The 'Ice Man.'

For a time, I tuned like Collins, to an open minor chord. He tuned high-ish and then capoed up further to something like Gm but I liked Dm. It's a neat tuning for rock and blues, with the dropped D at the bottom end giving a 1-5-1 power chord set-up on the lower three strings and the three high strings just like standard tuning, but down a tone, so the familiar patterns are there.

I haven't tuned that way in years, however, as it is less versatile for other stuff. I mostly do other stuff these days.

Moreover, my right-hand playing is in the style of the Ice Man. Strumming up and down with the thumb for chords, playing lead with the thumb and index finger. Which is also how I play plectrum banjo and uke, incidentally -- the two-finger style.

Or my version of two-finger, perhaps I should say. Most banjoists would probably not recognize it.

Of course, when I'm finger-picking chords (on guitar), I generally use four fingers -- that is, everything but my pinky, which is anchored on the guitar top. Can't quite manage to float the hand and use all five digits like a classical guitarist!

Anyway, B B King. He'd have to be number one for me, my starting point. The first guitarist I consciously attempted to emulate, way back in the 70s. My playing will always be informed by that beginning.

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