How to Play Blues Guitar By Big Bill Broonzy

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Hi and welcome. My name is Woody Mann and you just
saw a clip from the ’50s of great Big Bill Broonzy
when he was touring Europe. And this is the video
of his music and we’re going to get into some of
his later styles and some of his earlier styles
and we’re going to try to illustrate some of his
great picking for you.

The first tune I want to do is a tune called
“Long, Tall Mama” from his early years, 1930.
And let’s begin with “Long, Tall Mama”. He
recorded it in 1930 and he also recorded it
later on in his career in the ’50s as a tune
called “House Rent Stomp”, both rags in C. And
I wanted to focus on this one to begin with
because it really illustrates a lot of his
basic picking and the bounce and the feel of
his playing.

Broonzy was one of those artists that played
blues, rag, spirituals, hokum tunes, good time
tunes and one of the few blues artists that
had a long career from, like I said, the late
’20s to the early ’60s.

“Long, Tall Mama”, like I said, gets into a
lot of his — it illustrates a lot of the basic
sounds in his playing. And what I mean by that
is, in terms of finger picking and the right
hand, instead of kind of a normal alternating
bass that you hear in a lot of folk picks or
people like John Hurt, that kind of thing.

What it is, it’s more of a bounce in his playing
where he’s taking the thumb and he’s dragging from
string to string. So instead of a typical bass
being this kind of idea… It might be… So
even though the chords are simple, his playing
has this real drive to it. And this is evident,
like I said, in his ragtime playing or his blues
playing and all over. So I think once you get the
feel of that, then the music in this video should
be a lot easier. And I think you’ll see that same
theme throughout the picking theme throughout all
the tunes.

So why don’t we get into “Long, Tall Mama” and I’ll
explain the first verse and some of the variations.
It’s in the key of C and the chords are basic, just
C, F and G chords. One thing that gives this song
its bounce is this business with the thumb on the
down beat. For instance, even if Broonzy is hitting
a single string, instead of hitting it with just
the fingers, he might hit it with — alternate the
thumb and fingers to give it that kind of basic
pulse that you have with the thumb on the down stroke.

So in the first verse, let me play it through slow,
and you get an idea of what’s happening in the left
hand. But at this point, more importantly, the right
hand, to get that thumb, because the notes are one
thing, but I think it’s more important to play the
notes with the right thumb and gives it that sound.
So here we go; here’s C.

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