Mueslisippi Ibis

Jun 03, 2021

It's not like I've had to explain it a lot, but every now and then I get asked how I got started and why I'm interested in the things I like. The short version goes: My parents sent me to this hippie-holdover summer camp in New Hampshire where I took a week or two of clawhammer banjo lessons. I got back home, intending to continue my pursuit of this instrument, but was gently redirected to guitar classes at the local rec center. There, my bluegrass-playing teacher introduced me to fiddle tunes and Travis picking while other kids my age were listening to Kiss and Led Zeppelin. In retrospect, this was one of the better things that could have happened. Fast forward to high school, and my teacher at the local guitar store, realizing I liked fingerpicking, wrote out the first couple sections of Davey Graham's "Anji" for me, mentioning that it could be found on a Simon and Garfunkel record.

At the mall, then, in pursuit of said folk-rock LP,  I found Stefan Grossman and John Renbourn's Under The Volcano in the back of the record store. I knew who they were from a recent pair of Guitar Player articles, so they came home with me instead of S&G, and I listened to their album every morning for an entire summer before heading out to my job hustling tips as a tourguide on the Lexington Common. The album closed with an instrumental version of "Mississippi Blues," the classic William Brown blues recorded by Alan Lomax in 1942. While I didn't even attempt to learn to play it, it landed in my head as a pretty definitive version of what acoustic blues ought to sound like. Somewhere around the same time, my best friend, sometime bandmate and all-around guitar playing compadre picked up the Richard Saslow tune "Bloozinay." Since the library had a perfectly good copy of Saslow's The Art of Ragtime Guitar sitting in the stacks, there was no excuse for not learning that, so that's how I got my first three choruses of instrumental blues in A under my fingers.

In learning to improvise, E always seemed to be the key of choice – a wider range of notes from bass to treble, classic licks out the wazoo (from dark and pentatonic to bright and swing-oriented), and relatively easy access to walking bass lines, Freddie Green chord substitutions and more. Over a decade ago, when I was working on my one and only solo instrumental record, I included something I'd been fooling around with called "Weehawken Or Bust," which was essentially three completely-composed choruses of blues in A. At the time, I had begun figuring our how to improvise in E, but A was still a mystery. So I modeled my tune on Richard Saslow's three written-out choruses. But lately, in goofing around to create blues solos to present on my Youtube channel, I've finally started to find some things about improvising in A that feel fun and satisfying to play.

Since I present instrumental blues tunes on a regular basis in my Fingerstyle Five membership, it's not uncommon for people to ask about this tune or that one as a possible future song to include. And "Mississippi Blues" comes up more often than not. I have a running list of songs to obtain copyright for, including "Mississippi Blues,", but until the process becomes less Byzantine than a DMV run by aliens who only accept plutonium debit cards and admit people to the service counter in multiples of pi, I will continue relying on public domain songs and original tunes for my material. But I wanted to do something with the blues in A for my membership this month, so I did the next best thing: I wrote a new instrumental blues inspired by the William Brown classic. "Mueslissippi Ibis" includes ninth chords, D7 inversions up the neck and a walking bass turnaround, all features of the song it's modeled after. I've posted a complete performance to my channel this morning, and if you like, you can check it out at the link below:

"Mueslissippi Ibis"

If you'd like to learn more about the membership, and how it can help you play and improvise on the blues in general and this tune in particular, registration is open on an ongoing basis. Here's a link for more information about that:

The Fingerstyle Five Membership

Finally, since today's video is more of a performance than a lesson, there's no tab posted, but if you're one of the first ten people to write me and correctly explain why it's called "Mueslissippi Ibis," I'll send a PDF of the first couple choruses straight to your inbox.