"Our culture is melody oriented", Joe pointed out, and with the help of players like Paul Butterfield, contemporary blues took a turn toward the melodic. Traditional Chicago blues though is more about sound than notes.
If you go back to rural country blues you hear maximum use of chords, dirty notes and excessive tongue blocking - big sounds. And if Butterfield is one end of the melodic vs chordal spectrum, Sonny Boy I is in the middle, playing with reduced use of chords and using more single notes along with things like splits, which are bigger than single notes but not as big as chords.
So where does the greatest Chicago blues harp player fall? Listen to I'm Ready. Little Walter is a heavy tongue block player with ready access to chords, chordal effects like shakes, and the tongue "quiver", and as you hear on chromatic, he opts for the split four rather than the true octave for maximum gritty sound.
Joe did a great discussion of chord and chordal effect playing, regardless of the harp you choose, and brought it all home with Walter's playing on I'm Ready. (transcription) Though Walter can be a busy, acrobatic player, he can also play with a lot of simplicity and open space, as you hear in this song.
And the last important lesson Joe wanted us to take from I'm Ready is something he calls the "train whistle sustain". This is the use of long, sustained chord playing - especially effective as an accompaniment, but fair game for solo sections as well, as you hear in this song. Remember that you can quickly make friends with other musicians if you learn to have the discipline to play long sustains behind them!
- This session's recording date is Monday, February 22.
- Grant Kessler, B1 Blues Crew