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TrueFire Presents Dave Rubins Big Book of Blues | Part Three

The West Side Sound

Minor Blues Solo Guitar Arrangement
Chicago blues-buster Son Seals is unabashed about his love of playing in minor keys. Squeezing his strings with passion as he explores the somber sonorities, Son perpetuates a tradition begun in the mid-to-late '50s on the West Side of the Windy City. Otis Rush, Magic Sam, and later Buddy Guy brought a post-B.B. King sensibility to bear on their blues with a bright, biting tone, deep reverb, and a penchant for the minor tonality that was foreign to elders like Muddy and the Wolf on the South Side. Perhaps they enjoyed the freedom the (theoretically minor) blues scale provided them for playing over riff-based bass lines, combined with the appropriateness of the melancholy key for relating the anguish of their harsh, cracked-pavement existence among the projects and mean streets. The West Siders also developed the concept of the power-trio blues group. Beginning with the elimination of the harmonica as the featured solo instrument, small clubs and short pay forced them to lose the horn section (as employed by B.B.) and eventually reduced them to trios. Sam's "All of Your Love" (1957) and Rush's similarly titled "All Your Love (I Miss Loving)" (1958) presented a fluid combination of lead and rhythm on record that stood out proudly when supported by bass and drums. In this lesson we pay tribute to a golden era with a 12-bar minor blues arranged as a solo guitar performance. Following a slow change blues form, it features a gritty hook in measures 1-4, 78, and 11-12. The bass-string pickup of E, G, and A notes leads smoothly to the minor C/E dyad (b3rd and 5th, key of A) as well as the iv and V chord changes, providing a dynamic springboard for the improvised lines. With the A minor pentatonic scale (A-C-D-E-G) as the basis for the Am (i) chord improvisations, a traditional call-and-response dialogue is set up. Observe that measures 1, 3, 7, and 11 contain a bass line that contributes to the call and response and functions as a musical "hook." Also check out measure 8, where the double-string bend includes the note F# from the A major pentatonic scale (A-B-C#-E-F#) to add an element of bluesy dissonance (with the resulting Eb/G dyad acting as the b5th and b7th) combined with the signature C/E dyad. As is required for solo blues, the chord changes must be acknowledged with the corresponding harmony. In measure 5 (iv chord) this is accomplished by literally inserting the Dm chord and reinforcing the harmony with sliding minor triads; 6ths derived from the D Aeolian mode (D-E-FG-A-Bb-C) in measure 6 add moving harmonies after the chord. Likewise, a minor triad announces the iv chord in measure 10 followed by a run in the D Aeolian mode. A hip B7#9 voicing declares the V chord change in measure 9. Dig that inherent major/minor ambiguity of this chord is due to the coexistence of the major 3rd (G#) and minor 3rd (G), which complements the overall tonality of the progression better than a dominant 7th or 9th chord. The quarterstep oblique bends that follow are also requisite blues tools. Outside of the veteran Jimmy Dawkins, few contemporary Chicago bluesmen today hew to the West Side sound, with Otis Rush and Buddy Guy having evolved away from their roots. Yet along with offering guitarists many opportunities for personal expression, there is a timeless element to minor-blues modalities that has universal appeal.

TrueFire, Dave Rubin, Rich Maloof | Part 3, Page 27

TrueFire Presents Dave Rubins Big Book of Blues | Part Three

The West Side Sound music example


TrueFire, Dave Rubin, Rich Maloof | Part 3, Page 28