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August 01, 2009

"Red House"

By: Bernard Chazelle

There is a direct line from Muddy Waters to Buddy Guy to Jimi Hendrix. Speaking of Buddy, if any of you have a chance to go to his club Legends in Chicago, I highly recommend it. I went there once and I loved it. Buddy Guy is just one of the nicest, greatest blues guitarists alive today. Hendrix learned much from him, including, I hate to say it, an annoying habit of not tuning up after each song. It's almost a blessing when Jimi breaks his high E string toward the end and he's got only 5 strings out of tune. Fortunately, there's so much bending and Hendrix's pitch is so good you almost forget.

I fear I am boring everyone to death with my musical comments, so I'll keep this short. "Red House" is Hendrix's signature blues and there are a gazillion versions. As blues go, it's completely standard Chicago style, beginning with the classic lick: dominant 7th, then shifted half a step down to a diminished (to hint at the IV), and then back -- a lick that goes back at least to Muddy Waters. Chicago blues grew as an urban, electrified form of the Delta blues and it highlights all the original tensions. All blues have the b7 and b5, so that's not the issue. The issue is really the 3rd. Do you do it major or minor: over the IV it has to be minor, but over the I what do you do? The original blues scale is not Western, so it does not fit the guitar fret pattern. So do you bend (for microtonal effect) or hammer on (for the Western resolution)? That is the question.

At (0:47), you have a perfect illustration of this. The ultimate BB King vibrato: that forefinger shaking on the 3rd to hint at the major. Later, he will hammer on the major 3rd but only as quick grace notes: Jimi is more Muddy than BB. Since we spoke of modes earlier on, the clash is really between the Dorian and Mixolydian modes. Every blues guitarist has an implicit preference. But Jimi mixes both of them. Over the IV he goes all Dorian on us by adding the 6th and the 9th. Over the V he throws in the 7#9 (a Stevie Ray Vaughan fave). There's no better place to learn blues guitar. If you try, however, remember that Jimi is left-handed so his guitar points the wrong way and that he tunes down (if you can call that tuning), so his B is your Bb.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at August 1, 2009 08:22 PM

when the mode of the music changes
the walls of the city shake

Posted by: joel hanes at August 1, 2009 10:05 PM

Hendrix at Woodstock, especially "The Star-Spangled Banner"- How YOU ever gonna beat that??? Its like landing on the Moon for the FIRST TIME, how YOU ever gonna beat that???

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 1, 2009 11:13 PM

I once heard Pinetop Perkins with Bob Margolin. In some Brookline pub, IIRC. It was nice, though I remember they had a ban against cigar-smoking in the pub and that kinda ruined it a bit for me.

Posted by: abb1 at August 2, 2009 05:37 AM

----I fear I am boring everyone to death with my musical comments----


Posted by: Svensker at August 2, 2009 09:13 AM

I fear I am boring everyone to death with my musical comments

NO, as we might say here.

In fact, I will go so far as to request that you look at RL Burnside and Kenny Brown (here, for example) and compare to Waters/King/Guy/Hendrix.

Posted by: drip at August 2, 2009 01:20 PM

good post Bernard...I would only mention Albert King in this post also...his signature use of double stop slurs and bends influenced every blues guitar player after him....especially true of SRV who often sounds like he is channeling Albert...

I too like RL Burnside who I saw before he died...his style is very primitive compared to BB or Hendrix but honest and true like all good blues players...some of his studio recording on Fatpossum records mixed in hip-hop, punk and techno elements ...many purists found this hard to listen too but I liked it a lot...its sounded fresh and original which is hard to do...not bad for a 70 something year old!-Tony

Posted by: tony at August 2, 2009 04:06 PM

tony: I recall you like Yngwie Malmsteen. Did you hear his cover of "red house"?

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at August 2, 2009 06:44 PM

Ditto about Burnside. Or John Lee Hooker. Their long droning, modal vamps are hypnotic.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at August 2, 2009 06:51 PM

Hello Bernard,

yeah i am a huge Yngwie fan, but I never saw him do Red House..YJM is a huge Hendrix fan....I wonder if this is from the G3 tour where he teamed up with Joe Satriani-my all-time favorite player, and Steve Vai? In previous G3 concerts-with the great Eric Johnson- they have covered Red House..see below.-Tony

Posted by: tony at August 2, 2009 08:05 PM

Never think you are boring us with your musical comments. We need to think about, and be inspired by, music from time to time-- to refresh our politically battered souls.

Posted by: Susan at August 4, 2009 11:46 AM

gratefulness you for your dope and it helped me in preparing my college assignment.

Posted by: Viagra at August 5, 2009 11:41 PM

love these posts Bernard. put your musical musings in a book and I'd buy it.

Posted by: ran at August 6, 2009 11:05 AM