In this lesson we continue our exploration of Blues guitar in Open A tuning and the style of John Lee Hooker. Together with the riffs from the last lesson you have the building blocks to play countless of the older John Lee Hooker classics like Crawlin’ King Snake, Boogie Chillen and Sally Mae.
More Building Blocks In The Style Of John Lee Hooker
Ex. 1 shows how John Lee Hooker would imply a chord change to the IV. It looks like a standard C chord, but in Spanish tuning it’s a C7 with the 7th in the bass. That is because the lowest note (on the A string) is tuned two half tones lower than in standard tuning in relation to the other strings. Remember that John Lee Hooker doesn’t change the chords in a typical 12-bar format. It’s more like he changes chords when he wants some variation. This is a chord many of the old Blues guitarist use when playing Blues guitar in Open A tuning
Once again this is played by alternating thumb downstrokes with finger upstrokes. Which strings you hit is not an exact science, just hit the lower strings with the thumb and the higher strings with the finger – and always keep the groove going. If you also hit the D or even the G string on the downstroke, that’s perfectly fine, and if you only hit two instead of three strings on the upstroke that’s also fine. Just make sure that you omit the lowest string on the downstrokes (thumb) and the highest string on the upstrokes (index finger).
Here I play it with a slightly different feel:
Open A Tuning
Now let’s add some melody. We start with an index finger bar on the top two strings. On beat four the index finger moves down to the first fret. Once again it’s fine to hit it hard and hit more than the indicated strings. Just keep an eye on not hitting a higher note than the indicated melody, as this would distract from the melody.
Ex. 3 shows how you could play the Open A Tuning melodic example with a triplet feel.
And here we have another melodic example:
Try to make up some rhythmic variations of your own.
The last example is a typical John Lee Hooker inspired boogie riff. Play it on the electric guitar, add some overdrive and it will sound a lot like ZZ Top. This is a very typical groove when playing Blues guitar in Open A tuning, but it could be transferred to standard tuning quite easily.
Classic Blues Songs In Spanish Tuning – Getting Some Inspiration
Here is a list of well known Blues classics that were recorded in Spanish tuning. By listening to these recordings you get an idea what else you can do with Spanish tuning:
Roll & Tumble Blues – Hambone Willie Newbern (CD: ‘Back To The Crossroads – The Roots Of Robert Johnson‘ (Yazoo 2070))
Today this song is usually called Rollin’ & Tumblin’.
If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day – Robert Johnson (CD: ‘The Centennial Collection’)
Walkin’ Blues – Robert Johnson (CD: ‘The Centennial Collection’)
Stones In My Passway – Robert Johnson (CD: ‘The Centennial Collection’)
Terraplane Blues – Robert Johnson (CD: ‘The Centennial Collection’)
Future Blues – Willie Brown (CD: ‘Son House & The Great Delta Blues Singers 1928–1929’ (Document DOCD 5002))
Boys, You’re Welcome – Mississippi John Hurt (CD: ‘Last Sessions’)
Special Rider – Skip James (CD: ‘I’m So Glad – The Complete 1931 Paramount Recordings’ (Document DOCD 5005) or ‘The Complete Early Recordings’ (Yazoo 2009))
Turn Your Money Green – Furry Lewis (CD: ‘The Complete Vintage Recordings’ (Document DOCD 5002))
Country Blues – Muddy Waters (CD: ‘1941–1946’ (Document DOCD 5146))
You’ll find many more Open A Tuning examples like this in my new ebook ‘An Easy Guide To Open Tunings For Blues & Rock Guitar’ (available at my website). In the next article you’ll learn to play some great Rock riffs in Spanish tuning in the style of Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones. Stay tuned!