Feb 20, 2020
It's been raining in Austin for the past couple of days. As a guy who grew up in New England, this is the closest I'm going to get to winter around here, so I'll take it. It reminds me of walking to the bus stop in a slicker and rain boots, of staring out the window of Mr. Bowditch's eighth grade Western Civ. class at the traffic splashing down Mass Avenue, and of the Sunday Peanuts strip where Snoopy concludes, in the last panel, that the only thing to do on a day like this is "go downstairs, turn on the stereo and shoot pool." Smart dog, Snoopy.

I played a duo gig last night with my friend Paul Glasse, one of the most amazing mandolin players anywhere. We did some old standards, some early blues tunes, a bit of western swing and a few of Paul's tunes, and I even got to pull out the arrangement of "Careless Love" that we're working on right now in the Fingerstyle Five membership. Paul plays this gig every month with a difference guest guitarist, and as people kept coming up afterwards to say hello to him and talk about the gig, he kept saying, "wasn't it musical? It was so musical tonight."

Considering what a burning improvisor Paul is, and the litany of hot jazz and country pickers he's done the gig with, I found this pretty flattering. Because Paul's other comment, to me, was along the lines of "you know, the way you played tonight, it made me think maybe I could be a little less linear." Naturally, the over-aware, self-critical part of my brain tried to interpret this as confirmation of my own fear that I didn't have the chops to hang properly on this gig. But luckily, the more constructive grey cells chose to kick in instead and remind me that this was in fact confirmation of my own musical values: I love when a musician has a great groove, and when I'm reaching for the words to describe someone inspiring, the best thing I can say about it is usually "it was just so musical." And I aspire to be that kind of musician myself – the kind who thinks about the groove, the arrangement, the interaction and the melody as much as he does about the actual improvising. So if the way I played got someone as good as Paul thinking about alternatives to focusing solely on his linear improvisation, I must have been doing something right.

For this week's lesson, I've got another blues groove for you to check out. I remember discovering, with a shock, how many of the Chess blues recordings from the 1950s – classic tunes by Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Little Walter, in particular – weren't shuffles, and weren't 12-bar forms, either. Chicago blues being by definition an ensemble music, no one on those records literally played this week's guitar groove in the way I've presented it. But it's something I've found myself doing a lot when playing solo and I'm pretty sure this is ultimately where it comes from. You can check it out here:

The Chicago Two-Beat

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