Of Slides and Bottlenecks

The sound of a well played slide guitar is one of the coolest in music in my opinion. I’ve always loved it. It’s also one of the most challenging techniques that requires great precision and lots of feeling. You can easily be off, which to me is the equivalent of a violin player who hasn’t mastered yet how to properly use the bow or a trumpet player who is still working on their blowing technique – in other words real torture, if you miss!

I thought it would be fun putting together a post that features great slide guitarists from different eras. Before getting to some music, I’d like to give a bit of background on the technique and a very brief history. More specifically, I’m focusing on slide guitar played in the traditional position, i.e., flat against the body, as opposed to lap steel guitar where the instrument is placed in a player’s lap and played with a hand-held bar.

How to Play Slide Guitar - Quickstart Guide | Zing Instruments

Slide guitar is a technique where the fret hand uses a hard object called a slide instead of the fingers to change the pitch of the strings. The slide, which oftentimes is a metal of a glass tube aka “bottle neck,” is fitted on one of the guitarist’s fingers. Holding it against the strings while moving it up and down the fretboard creates glissando or gliding effects and also offers the opportunity to play pronounced vibratos. The strings are typically plucked, not strummed with the other hand.

The technique of holding a hard object against a plucked string goes back to simple one-string African instruments. In turn, these instruments inspired the single-stringed diddley bow, which was developed as a children’s toy by Black slaves in the U.S. It was considered an entry-level instrument played by adolescent boys who once they mastered it would move on to a regular guitar.

Clockwise starting from left in upper row: Sylvester Weaver, Robert Johnson, Elmore James, Brian Jones, Mike Boomfield, Muddy Waters, Duane Allman, Bonnie Raitt, Ry Cooder and Derek Trucks

The bottleneck slide guitar technique was popularized by blues musicians in the Mississippi Delta near the beginning of the twentieth century. Country blues pioneer Sylvester Weaver made the first known slide guitar recording in 1923. Robert Nighthawk, Earl Hooker, Elmore James, Muddy Waters and other blues artists popularized the use of slide guitar in the electric blues genre. In turn, they influenced the next generation of blues and rock guitarists like Mike Bloomfield (The Paul Butterfield Blues Band), Brian Jones (The Rolling Stones), Duane Allman (The Allman Brothers Band) and Ry Cooder.

Time for some music. Here’s Sylvester Weaver with the instrumental Guitar Blues, one of the earliest slide guitar recordings.

One of the masters of Delta blues who prominently used slide guitar was Robert Johnson. Here’s the amazing Cross Road Blues from 1936 from one of only two recording sessions in which Johnson participated. If you haven’t heard this version but it somehow sounds familiar, chances are you’ve listened to Cream’s cover titled Crossroads.

Are you ready to shake it? Here’s smoking hot Shake Your Money Maker written by Elmore James. James released this classic blues standard in December 1961.

The Rolling Stones were fans of the Chicago blues. One of their blues gems featuring Brian Jones on slide guitar was Little Red Rooster, which they released as a single in the UK in November 1964. It was also included on their third American studio album The Rolling Stones, Now! from February 1965. Written by Willie Dixon, the tune was first recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in October 1961.

Next is Walkin’ Blues, which The Paul Butterfield Blues Band covered on their second studio album East-West from August 1966, featuring Mike Bloomfield on slide guitar. The tune was written by Delta blues artist Son House in 1930.

In May 1969, Muddy Waters released his sixth studio album After the Rain. Here’s slide guitar gem Rollin’ and Tumblin’, which was first recorded by Hambone Willie Newbern (gotta love this name!) in 1929. It’s unclear who wrote the tune.

Here’s one of the greatest slide guitarists of all time: Duane Allman with The Allman Brothers Band and One Way Out. This amazing rendition appeared on an expanded version of At Fillmore East released in October 1992. The original edition appeared in July 1971, three months prior to Duane’ deadly motorcycle accident. Co-written by Marshall Sehorn and Elmore James, the tune was first recorded and released in the early to mid-’60s by Sonny Boy Williamson II and James.

A post about slide guitar wouldn’t be complete without the amazing Bonnie Raitt, an artist I’ve dug for many years. Here’s Sugar Mama, a song co-written by Delbert McClinton and Glen Clark, which she recorded for her fifth studio album Home Plate from 1975.

Let’s do two more tracks performed by two additional must-include slide guitar masters. First up is Ry Cooder with Feelin’ Bad Blues, a tune Cooder wrote for the soundtrack of the 1986 picture Crossroads, which was inspired by the life of Robert Johnson. This is a true slide beauty!

Last but not least, here’s Derek Trucks who is considered to be one of the best contemporary slide guitarists. Trucks is best known as an official member of the Allmans from 1999-2014 and as co-founder of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, which he formed together with his wife Susan Tedeschi in 2010. Here’s a great live performance of Desdemona by The Allman Brothers, featuring some amazing slide guitar playing by Trucks. Co-written by Gregg Allman and Warren Haynes, the tune was included on the band’s final studio album Hittin’ the Note that came out in March 2003.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

It’s very satisfying to me that since the introduction of this recurring feature two months ago, I’ve discovered newly released music each week that sufficiently intrigues me to write about it. This may sound arrogant, but the reality is most new music simply doesn’t speak to me, especially pretty much anything that’s in the current charts. So it’s been great to see there are exceptions.

This week’s installment includes nice variety, featuring rock, country, folk, Americana and soul. The majority of these artists are new to me, even though most have been around for more than 20 years. There are also two who have been active for 60 years, including one name I had not heard in a long time. Let’s get to it.

Jupiter Coyote/Hungry Ghost

According to AllMusic, Jupiter Coyote is a five-piece band blending bluegrass with traditional rock, which has been around since the early ’90s. Their debut album appears to be Cemeteries and Junkyards from November 1993. In total, AllMusic lists 12 records in the band’s discography, the most recent of which is The Interplanetary Yard Dog from February this year. Hungry Ghost is their latest single, which came out last Friday, May 8. It’s not on the aforementioned album. It was written by co-founding members and guitarist Matthew Mayes. I can hear some Hootie & the Blowfish in the tune, mostly because of the vocals that stylistically remind me a bit of Darius Rucker, though the music has a nice build toward a more edgy rock sound. It’s pretty cool – check it out!

John Frinzi/Used to These Blues

John Frinzi is a country singer-songwriter from Lakeland, Fla. According to his website, he was discovered by Doyle Grisham, the pedal steel guitarist of the Coral Reefer Band, Jimmy Buffett’s touring and recording group. Their working relationship led to Frinzi’s 2003 debut album Into the Dawn. On his second album Shoreline, he co-wrote many songs with Tom Corcoran, a Florida-based mystery novel author who has also been in Buffett’s circle. In 2017, Frinzi recorded Blue Sky View, an EP with songwriter and producer Aaron Scherz. Used to These Blues is Frinzi’s most recent single released on April 27. I like his vocals and the tune’s warm sound and pedal steel fill-ins. Nicely done!

Delbert McClinton/Still Rockin’

Unlike the title suggests, Still Rockin’ actually is a rather mellow ballad and the most recent single by Delbert McClinton, which appeared on March 31. McClinton, which Rolling Stone has called “Godfather of Americana Music”, has been around for more than 60 years. He released his debut album Delbert & Glen together with Glen Clark. While he has since released 29 additional albums, apparently, mainstream chart success has largely eluded him, though since the late 1990s, most of his records reached top positions on Billbord’s U.S. Blues chart. His most recent album Tall, Dark, and Handsome was well received and won the 2020 Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album. Based on the opener I just checked out, this definitely sounds like a record I should check out sooner than later! For now, back to Still Rockin’, which McClinton co-wrote with Bob Britt and Pat McLaughlin.

Gordon Lightfoot/Do You Walk, Do You Talk

Here’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time. Admittedly, other than If You Could Read My Mind, Sundown and The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, which were all released in the ’70s and became hits in the U.S. and Canada, I don’t know Gordon Lightfoot’s music. What I do know is I like all of these tunes, as well as Do You Walk, Do You Talk, which is on the Canadian singer-songwriter’s new album Solo that appeared on March 20. According to a Rolling Stone story, it is his first album of newly released material in more than 15 years. Lightfoot who last November turned 81, discovered the material for the album in his home office. Initially, these tunes were recorded in late 2001 and early 2002. But before anything could be released, Lightfoot had an abdominal aortic aneurysm that nearly killed him. After unearthing the old recordings, he decided to re-record the tracks, using his guitar only.  “I thought my fans would be interested in hearing what songs sound like when first written,” Lightfoot stated. According to this fansite, Lightfoot vigorously toured throughout last year and as recently as February. His tour schedule also shows many dates between March and June, which have all been rescheduled to later in the year to due COVID-19. Lightfoot has been active since 1958 (that’s an incredible 62 years!) and released his eponymous debut album in January 1966. According to Wikipedia, Solo is his 21st. Here’s Do You Walk, Do You Talk. Lightfoot still sounds pretty compelling.

Nadia Reid/Oh Canada

Nadia Reid is a 28-year-old singer-songwriter from Port Chalmers, New Zealand. Somehow her name sounded familiar and I had an idea, so I checked Aphoristic Album Reviews, and surely enough Graham covered her before, among others in this post from last October titled The Ten Next Best Singer-Songwriters Ever. Oh Canada is from Reid’s third album Out of My Province that came out on March 6. She released her debut Listen to Formation, Look for the Signs in March 2015. Not quite sure what it is about this tune, but I like it. Reid’s vocals are definitely part of it. Check out the official video.

The James Hunter Six/I Can Change Your Mind

James Hunter is an English R&B and soul singer-songwriter who has been around for 30 years. According to his website, he’s worked on the railway, busked in the streets of London, provided backup vocals and guitar for Van Morrison, played clubs and theaters all over the world, written scores of original songs, and recorded some of the most original and honest rhythm & soul albums of the last two decades.  By 2006, Hunter was recognized with nominations for a GRAMMY® Award (“Best Traditional Blues Album” for People Gonna Talk (Rounder)) and an American Music Award (“Best New/Emerging Artist”). He and his band then hit the road for a decade of extensive touring and recorded critically-acclaimed studio albums— The Hard Way (Hear Music), Minute by Minute (Fantasy), Hold On! (Daptone), Whatever it Takes (Daptone).  By 2016, MOJO magazine had crowned him “The United Kingdom’s Greatest Soul Singer.” Somehow, I missed all of that, but I’m glad Hunter is now on my radar screen. I Can Change Your Mind sounds like beautiful old-fashioned soul. The vocals are pretty amazing. I can some Sam Cooke and Otis Redding in there. Check it out!

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; GordonLightfoot.com fansite; AllMusic; YouTube