Take a break from your synthesizer, sound processor, stomp boxes and digital tuner.. it's time for the return of Retro Blues Guitar!
I started to play guitar in 1961 when I was eight years old… at a time when Rock 'N Roll was still in diapers. Besides me, everybody started out on a Stella or Kay guitar. I began to play on an Italian guitar from Lo Duca Brothers that was tossed overboard in World War I and washed ashore on Lake Michigan in Milwaukee.
From there, I switched to an Eko electric with one pickup, won a guitar competition and started to play in a band. Two years later, my parents bought me an Eko copy of a Gibson 335. My neighbor played in a rock band and had Fender Music Master and Bassman amp that was khaki color.
I noticed that each guitar had a personality that appealed to different players. For example, kids playing Rickenbackers were intellectuals, kids on Gibson's were wealthy, kids on Fenders got into fights at gigs and the drummer got all the girls.
My first guitar amp was a Silvertone, 15 watts and I still have it to this day. It cost $35.00… a lot of money in 1962. The amp had two 6L6 tubes and two channels - for instrument and voice. It had a funky sound like a Fender Princeton.
After that, I bought a Silvertone combo that a head and bottom with two 12 inch speakers. But I loved my small amp more because it has a sweet sound for playing blues guitar.
The only Fender amps we saw were on records by the Ventures and everybody dreamed of buying a VOX AC30 amp like the Beatles. Then along came Jimi Hendrix and people went crazy over Marshall heads and twin 4 12 inch speaker cabinets.
I thought, "How did Jimi Hendrix get such a funky with distortion? Then I heard he got that sound by cutting little holes in his speakers… next thing, I took a scissors and cut my beautiful blue cap speakers in my Fender Concert amp into ribbons.
Most people played on fat strings by Gretsch or Gibson guitar strings that lasted forever. We'd play them until they turned black from the sweat and dirt under your fingernails.
Then I heard Jimi Hendrix bought a regular set of strings… threw away the low E string and used a Hawaiian G string for the high E on his guitar… Try to explain this to your mom when she asks you why she needs to buy a Hawaiian G string for your guitar… Also, Hendrix played a half step down (E flat) - and later Stevie Ray Vaughn and others.
A pick was a pick was a pick and they were all made of tortise shell. Then along came nylon picks with a whole in the middle. My teacher, George Pritchett, used a nylon pick... he would chew on them when he wasn't playing guitar… I guess because they tasted better.
A guitar tuner was a little plastic thing you put in your mouth and blew on while trying to tune your guitar. After you dropped it a few times, half the reeds went out and you had to learn to tune by ear.
There were few guitar effects and everybody had to have a VOX Wah Wah pedal… I took mine apart the minute I got it see why I didn't sound just like Hendrix… "Oh, I get it, you play guitar and work the pedal with your foot at the same time.
Watch Eric Clapton play a guitar solo. He uses just three fingers on his left hand and the "pinky" just to play chords. That's how people played in the 1960's when Clapton learned to play guitar… and has a lot to do with his style... try it and see!
Also important is picking direction… today everyone picks up - down… then people played mostly in just one direction - down. This gives a distinctive and clear tone to every note in a solo.. like BB King that to this day picking down… try it and hear the difference.
Upon hearing a Sonny Boy Williamson play "Bring it on Home", I went out and bought my first harmonica. I wore out the record trying to learn to play like him and just couldn't do it….
Then my friend, Steve Cohen, found out the secret… Sonny Boy played blues harmonica in the style known as "cross harp"… He used a "C" harmonica to play a blues song in the key of "G"… I was blown away!
So I started to learn to play blues harmonica all over again… and this time things clicked… before long I could 'bending' notes and play real blues lick and man was I happy!
We never recording in a real studio, and I thought the music was lost forever … then one day I found a reel to reel tape of a band rehearsal…
Now here's a mix… track one is our band playing "Rain" by the Beatles and track two features the Hazan singing my Bar Mitzvah portion.
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