Know Some Of The Most Influential Blues Guitarists

Check out this Cool Blues Tree… keep in mind this is not a map of all important
blues guitarists — just the ones most influential to Jimmy.

blues-tree-small

You can also listen to 1 hour webinar presentation with me (Claude Johnson and Jimmy Dillon) discussing the blues tree. Enjoy.

CJ: Hey, it’s Claude Johnson and I’m here with Jimmy Dillon. How’s it going, Jimmy?

JD: It’s going good. It’s blues time, Claude.

CJ: All right, and we’re here also with Virtual.

Virtual: Hey, Claude. It’s great to be here. Hey, Jimmy. I’m really excited about this call because, first of all, an hour with you talking about blues is literally like getting a masters degree in blues guitar. And, of course, I’m really excited about just kind of hearing how you connected all these pieces to rocking the “Blues Deluxe”, which is coming out on July 18th. I was there for the filming and I have to say, Jimmy, I think it’s your best product yet.

CJ: Yeah, so we’re going to talk about the new course and we’re going to talk about the blues tree and right now you can see a couple names. We’re just going to give you a little slice of the tree and at the end you’ll see that big picture. But I want to kind of zoom-in on some different areas. T-Bone Walker, I mean…

JD: Yeah. That’s a great one to start out with. For all of you that are blues aficionados, you’re going to know who T-Bone is. But if you don’t, we cover this on my DVD. He wrote “Stormy Monday Blues” which is a classic.

One of the things that I loved about T-Bone, and you can watch him on You Tube or whatever, is he was quite a showman. He was almost a predecessor to guys like Jimi Hendrix in terms of his use of the guitar as a — behind the back and all kinds of angles. And he was extremely exciting, exhilarating performer, besides being an incredible guitarist and singer. So T-Bone was
definitely an inspiration to me and to a lot of other people. He was out of L.A., I think, and he did a lot of work in Texas. He toured the world and the country. So, yeah, a great guy to check out, and we do delve into that in my DVD course.

CJ: I mean, T-Bone’s style was a lot of like single note riffs and…

JD: Yeah, he had a real uptown style, didn’t he, and very energetic and great runs and great phrasing, too. You know, really classic phrasing. That’s something that we, as modern guitarists, sometimes need to remember, I think, is to really mean it when we say something on guitar as opposed to just scales or playing too fast. He had great sense of melody, I thought.

Virtual: That’s one of the things I love about your guitar playing, Jimmy, is that it’s really about heart, soul and feel. Why don’t you to talk a little bit more about the history of the blues and kind of the progression of it? I’d just like to hear kind of your version of it.

JD: Yeah. You know, I mean, it’s — obviously it’s a vast history and I just want to start out by saying I’m not really a historian per se, and I’m not really a purist. I’m just a guy who loves the blues and I know what I like and what I love.

What I do know about the blues in terms of my experience is, you know, you had people coming over from Africa, you had the slaves coming over from Africa and the music and the feels. Probably the earliest form of the blues was probably a West African work chant. Someone in the field is… Kind of a call and response thing.

But for our purposes, in terms of when the guitar came into play, I think some of the early blues guys — and you’ve got to mention Charley Patton, because he was around the turn of the century. And he’s one of the guys that we know, guitar wise, who was just a wizard on guitar. And he was at a place called the Dockery Plantation.

The Dockery Plantation was — this is after emancipation, and a lot of great blues players — Howlin’ Wolf, Son House, a lot of guys who were — Robert Johnson — were influenced by Charley Patton. So he’s kind of an unsung hero. Not as many people know about him as know about Robert Johnson and some of the other guys, and Wolf and people like that.

There was a real kind of wheel that came off of the Dockery Plantation and a lot of the great blues players sat at the feet of Charley Patton and then they passed it on to each other. Howlin’ Wolf, Son House, people like that, some of the early guys, Bukka White. Those were some of the early blues guys.

Those early guys, and I get into this on the DVD, you’ll hear me — you’ll see me and hear me playing acoustic blues, open tuning, cross claw hammer style. I’m going to show you that style. It’s very, very primal. The blues is primal at it’s best, I think. It gets more up-beat and more big-city later on with the great migration north, and we’ll talk about that in a little bit.

But right now, we’re in the delta, what I would call gut-bucket blues. We’re really down in it, the beat blues.

Virtual: So what do you mean by gut-bucket blues?

JD: What I’m talking about is I’m talking about the primal aspect of the blues. As I had mentioned before, back in the early days the glues guys that played the juke joints up and down the highway and up and down the delta, they didn’t have the luxury of a whole band behind them. So they had to make all the sound come out of their guitar and their voice and their body.

If you listen to early Bukka White and Charley Patton and Robert Johnson, that kind of stuff, you’ll notice that they’ve got a harmonica strapped on, they’re pounding their feet against some boards, they’re playing claw hammer style, which we’ll get into in the BBB, and they’re singing and telling a story. So they’re a one-man band. So that’s what I mean when I say raw, gut-bucket blues.

And as I mentioned before, Carlos Santana once gave me the great compliment, he said I love your down-in-the-bucket stuff, Jimmy. That I took to heart because it’s the really deep, raw blues. And we do get into that in the DVD. I illustrate how that’s done, both claw hammer and open tuning and various techniques and styling in the new DVD. So if you like that kind of primal blues, I definitely demystify it and kind of show you some ways to do it.

CJ: So let’s move to another section of the blues tree, Blind Lemon Jefferson.
I mean, he goes back even farther.

JD: Yeah, he was an early blues guy. He had a really specific way of singing and playing, almost a sweet kind of thing. He was really unique and really early-on. His stuff was, I would say, a little more on the folk blues side, which I also love, by the way. People like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Reverend Gary Davis, and then latter Mississippi John Hurt. They had kind of the — and Leadbelly, especially, had that “Rock Island Line” and stuff like that. Real melodic, kind of not so much the scary Howlin’ Wolf, gut-bucket stuff, but more melodic blues, which I like. It’s kind of like almost pop, in a way; stuff you can sing along with. Not your classic, 12-barre blues, gut-bucket style. So these guys were, you know, they’re more traditional folk blues, I would say. And they played a big part in the evolution of the blues.

CJ: Now how do you incorporate some of that stuff into your style? Because I notice you teach a lot of stuff that’s very accessible and you don’t get too much into the super-complicated picking like Blind Lemon did.

JD: Right. Well, you know, the blues is a simple music; it’s a humble music. It’s not super fancy. That’s later; that’s jazz, the syncopated jazz stuff. When I show you, break down stuff in my courses, we talk about a dead thumb, where you have a thumb just playing 1-5 on the first two strings.

It gives you that kind of basis so that you can play a melody over it. And I teach some very simple kind of what I call interior melodies. And what that does as a solo performer on acoustic guitar, it allows you to have a really nice bass or wash under your singing. It’s not just the da-da-da-da-da-da-da, something like “Creole Bell”, which I teach on my DVD. That’s Mississippi John Hurt.

So I call that — in a way I say that goes a little bit towards the country blues because it’s got a really nice picking pattern, but it’s not super complicated. But it’s very — it really bounces and swings, which is cool.

CJ: I’m going to ask you, and forgive my ignorance, but who is
Kid Bangham?

JD: Oh, Kid Bangham is — you know, the guys that I put on the tree, they don’t necessarily — they’re not necessarily in order in terms of when they came up — some of the guys at the bottom of the tree. Kid Bangham is a friend of mine that — I threw him down there because he’s a guy who studied the blues. He’s a younger guy, actually, in our time. I put him there because he loves Jimmy Reed and he loves the old blues guys.

He played in a band called the Fabulous T-Birds, the Fabulous Thunderbirds. And he’s one of the guys that, I know we’ll talk a little bit later, of the guys that I’ve actually played with, that I recorded with. I did an album called “Raw in Europe” live in Europe and Kid Bangham, he really impressed me as a guy who’d really done his homework in terms of history of blues and his way of playing it. So he’s a real roots guy, so that’s why I put him in there. I know, it sounds like he’s like an old guy from the 1800s or something.

CJ: Yeah.

JD: It’s funny. I threw you for a loop there.

CJ: Excellent. So let’s…

JD: I did [unintelligible – 09:29] in some other modern guys along with
the old guys sometimes. They’re not all in order.

CJ: Let’s keep going here. So, Charley Patton, you talked about him already a little bit. Go a little deeper into his style.

JD: I think Charley Patton is someone that sometimes gets overlooked. He was quite an amazing — some people call him the father of the blues, above even W.C. Handy because he was one of the first guys that really was playing slide and brought together the delta blues elements. Like I said, a lot of these guys sat at his feet: Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson. They were heavily influenced by him. He didn’t have the hits that those guys had; he didn’t have the notoriety, but I think he was — all I want to say about Charley Patton is if you want to look him up, you can find out some things about him and also understand that he was a colorful character, a real showman and to some degree he was an unsung hero. That’s what I would say about him.

CJ: Okay, moving on to some of the more modern guys, like Eric Gale and…

JD: Yeah, Eric Gale, he’s a cool player. I threw him in there, and once again, I have to say — I have to sort of do a little beforehand statement that, you know, like I said, I’m not really necessarily a purist. I like guys that are a little bit off the beaten path. I like guys that have a little bit of an exotic style.

Eric is, I think, a New York session guy. He played with Paul Simon and I first heard his playing with a band called Stuff, which is if you’re listening to this thing right now, you might want to look them up. It was a great band.
It was Cornell Dupree on guitar, Eric Gale on guitar, fantastic. Some of the
guys from “Saturday Night Live Band” eventually were in that band.

So he was more of a modern guy that kind of put the big-city slant on it with a little bit of blue jazz in there, which I also include. You’ll notice some other players like Robben Ford and Larry Carlton, obviously linked with blue jazz, which I also really enjoy a lot. Lee Ritenour, who I also had the good luck to play with. Yeah.

I like it when guys take it into other places. Steely Dan does that. I just saw those guys two weeks ago, The Dukes of September with Donald Fagen and — phenomenal guitar player. I’m trying to remember the guy’s name. I’ll think of it later. But yeah, they did the blue jazz things, which I love.

CJ: And of course, Jeff Beck, one of the all-time British gods of…

JD: I mean, there’s Jeff, a guy who bends the blues every which way, right? I mean, he does things that are really surprising and whimsical. One of the things I like about Jeff is he has a great sense of humor in his playing.

I’ve had the good luck of playing with a guy called Narada Michael Walden, who’s Jeff Beck’s drummer for the last two years and producer. And you know Narada. Obviously we recorded some of our products at his studio. And I get to talk with Narada quite often about Jeff Beck. In fact, I was joking with Claude when we were doing — I think it was a bass product — and I was saying, you know, Claude, you’re breathing the same air that Jeff Beck breathed a couple of days ago. And I was like, dude, I hope it rubs off on me.

CJ: I think that was like Santana’s old amp in there, too, that Boogie.

JD: Yeah, that’s right.

CJ: Beck plays a Strat like yourself, too, and you get into some of the more
modern lead guitar stuff, too, in the course.

JD: Yeah.

CJ: The wah pedal stuff.

JD: It’s really something the way he plays with his thumb, and I do that, too. And then of course the way he angles the — and the way he works the wang bar is just off the hook. It’s almost like a trombone. And he does really exotic scales, as you know. Like, he listens to like Bulgarian nuns, that’s where he gets a lot of his scale stuff. So he’s not afraid to brand-out, that’s for sure.

CJ: Yeah, well, who doesn’t listen to Bulgarian nuns, you know?

JD: Oh, yeah. I mean, I think [unintelligible – 00:13:24], I think,
absolutely does.

CJ: So, Virtual, I think Beck’s one of your favorite guys on the guitar,
too. Yeah?

Virtual: Absolutely. I think Jeff Beck is actually one of the greatest
guitarists alive. Actually, he’s my favorite guitar player. I think he took
what Jimi Hendrix was doing and simplified it and kind of cleaned it up.

JD: Yeah.

Virtual: I love how intuitive his feel is and there’s no ego. I mean, he just plays what the song needs. He just serves the song. And, of course, I mean, his technique and his touch and tone are so mind-blowing. And I know that’s one of the things you really go deep on, Jimmy, is the four Ts. So why
don’t you talk a little bit about it, because it’s really a big part of every product that you do. It’s a big part of your whole methodology, if you will.
So it’s a great reminder for everybody who’s already heard this before, and
it’s a great preview for those who have never seen Jimmy’s products.

JD: Yeah, you know, we talk about the four Ts: touch, tone, time and taste. And each one of those Ts has some categories to them. When you talk about touch, you talk about the way that you attack a blues note. Think about the way BB King hits a note. He really stings it, doesn’t he? He’s very economical, but he’s making a point on how he does it, very deliberate. And then you think of guys like Jeff Beck. The way he does his — the way he gets – he rings all these different tones out of the same guitar over the same setup. And it has to do with the way he’s attacking it, the touch.

And then when you talk about tone, you think about — some people think about tone as being how you set your guitar. And, yes, that is part of it. I mean, you have bass and treble and you have different ways you can do your pick-ups, and that’s all a big part of, especially electric, guitar. But then, on an acoustic guitar, if you’re playing closer to the bridge or closer to the neck, you’re going to soften your tone as you go. We illustrate this in both acoustic and electric in “Rockin the Blues Deluxe”.

So when we get into time, that talks about — that speaks to phrasing, how you phrase, because people always tell me a great soloist tells a story. And the spaces between the notes are as important as the notes themselves. So that, to me, is one part of the time thing. The other part about the time thing is having good time so that when you play you’re playing in time and your swinging and your phrasing is all making sense and kind of feeling like the time is right there. A good sense of that would be someone who’s a master of phrasing, who knows when to hold back and when to deliver, when to sting, when to go in and sting like a bee. And the blues guys, I think, a lot of
the blues guys were masters of phrasing and time and touch, and then — and tone as well.

The tone is what gets your kind of — makes you lean forward and go, wow. That tone, whether it’s a half open wah that Jeff Beck gets or something
extremely subtle and nuanced.

So the four Ts are really, truly important and we always circle back around to those, whether it’s the blues product or acoustic product. We always talk about those things because I think they’re essential for any guitarist.

CJ: Yeah, speaking of BB King, someone told me — I’m not sure if this is true — but he said BB King uses a pick made of elephant tusk and that’s one of the ways that he gets his unique tone. I thought that was kind of neat.

JD: That I don’t know. Could be.

Virtual: We were actually at NAMM the last couple of years and it’s great to see a lot of cool, interesting picks, for an example, made out of different woods. And I actually have a few wooden picks and I really like them. They really bring a different tone. Of course, if you use a metal pick it’s completely different.

JD: Yeah.

Virtual: So there’s a lot of options out there that really — the little things. And I know that one of Eric Clapton’s producers says that they really play with picks and stuff.

JD: Well, that does. It goes to both touch and tone, because if you listen to Clapton in any of his interviews, he talks about when he plays acoustic he likes the feeling of — some people wear finger picks, some people like the feeling of just nails against the strings. I like both. I like a little bit of skin and a little bit of nail, which is what Clapton gets. And so I keep my nails a little shorter these days so I get both skin and nail.

But some people like Lawrence Juber, he plays just with the nubs of his fingers; so does Derek Trucks, which always eludes me, because it’s hard for me to get precise. But those guys can. They have actual calluses on their right hand and their left. So it’s interesting.

But yeah, all those things, all those nuances are important to pay attention to, and vibrato as well. We didn’t mention vibrato. That’s a really important one. Slow versus fast, stinging and up and down versus sideways.

I was just reading an article on — do you know that song “Reelin in the Years” by Steely Dan?

CJ: Sure.

JD: Okay, well, that solo is — by the way, Jimmy Page’s favorite solo of all time — but there’s an article in, I think it was “Premier Guitar Magazine”, the British version this week, and the guy Elliott Randall, who played that solo, he talks all about how he did it and how is vibrato is. And having just seen those guys a couple of weeks ago, Steely Dan guys, I was really interested in — that was the second take, by the way, that solo. And it’s no over-dubs all the way through; one take. And he said the first solo was even better, but they didn’t push the record button.

CJ: Yeah, I love that band, love that song. It’s definitely a classic.

JD: Yeah, it’s a good one.

Virtual: Before we continue, Jimmy, I just want to remind everybody about your new course coming out called “Rockin’ the Blues Deluxe”. It’s amazing. I was there for the filming and I can say that the stuff you teach just covered the entire gamut of blues from the old, old stuff, the primitive stuff, to the super modern stuff, to the hybrid fusion. I mean, you just cover the whole gamut and it’s amazing. So for everybody who has it, watch Jimmy’s stuff then get ready, because you’re going to be blown away.

CJ: Let’s roll on to the next section of the tree. Here we’re getting into a whole bunch of really hot players, Buddy Guy, Gary Moore, John Mayer.
I mean, these are some of the premier guys. I think you go into some of
that more lead guitar oriented stuff. What I like about “Rockin’ the Blues Deluxe” is you start off on the acoustic and then you go into electric. So it’s kind of nice.

JD: Right. Yeah, I mean, John Hammond is obviously right in there with Taj Mahal and Keb Mo. He plays more finger style acoustic. But then you go to Buddy Guy who absolutely influenced Hendrix in a big way, everybody
knows it and even Hendrix said it. He would [unintelligible – 00:20:22]
played with Howlin’ Wolf and what — but I put Hubert next to Buddy because both Buddy Guy and Hubert Sumlin backed-up Howlin’ Wolf in Chicago at Chet’s Records. So that’s of interest.

Now, Buddy Guy, besides being an incredible guitarist, I mean, if you’ve ever seen him go, he’s just so free. But he’s also an amazing singer, which I love about him. Luther Allison is someone that you might not know. I toured with him in Europe and his son…

CJ: Oh, no. He’s a legend. I used to have a couple of his albums. He’s an amazing vocalist and just a great blues man.

JD: I had the fortune of touring with him in Europe before he died and I also played with Buddy Guy many times. I played with Carl Santana many
times and still am playing with him. Stephen Bruton was — Santana I don’t
have to say anything about, except that I saw the Santana Blues Band in ’69 when I first moved to San Francisco, at the Mission, out in Mission Park there — Deloris, so that was really cool.

Stephen Bruton passed away a couple years ago, great guitarist. He played with Bonnie Raitt. He used to work with lots of different people, just a great player. Played everything from blues to you name it.

Gary Moore, I don’t have to say anything about him. You know him. Fantastic player. We miss him very much.

Lee Ritenour, you might not think of him as a blues player because he’s a jazzy guy, but he can play the blues as well. I had the great fortune of doing a TV show called “Coast to Coast” for Showtime on television with Clarence Clemons when I was his musical director. And I played in a band with Lee Ritenour, Clarence Clemons and Herbie Hancock Band with Wah Wah Watson. That was really a great experience and I have to dig that up and maybe post something one of these days. I’ve still got it on VHS somewhere.

David Gilmore, we all know David from Pink Floyd. I think he’s got a great blues sound, fantastic, like that solo on “Money” and some of the stuff from “Dark Side of the Moon”. You know, those British guys really, I think, from Clapton to Beck to David Gilmore to Dave Mason, another great player. Jeez, I didn’t even mention him. They really seem to get it. I think they have great love for the blues. Keith, too, Stones, Mick Taylor, all those guys.

John Mayer I mentioned because I think he’s a very studies blues player.
I watched a DVD of his, “Where the Light Is”, if you haven’t seen it. And he’s playing with Pino Palladino and Steve Jordan. And if you’re playing with those two guys, you’d better be able to play the blues. And I think he does a great job on it. So I wanted to mention him.

Virtual: The best song writers out there right now really like what he’s doing and he’s underrated.

JD: Oh, yeah. I know he gets a lot of heat for his “Playboy” interview, but I think he’s outliving it.

CJ: There’s actually a really funny John Mayer comedy skit on — I think it’s on Will Ferrell’s site. It’s laugh or die or something like that where — I’ll send you the link later. It’s pretty funny.

Virtual: Actually, if you buy “Rockin the Blues Deluxe” we’ll send you the link for free.

CJ: Yeah. But just going back to some of these other names, I mean, one thing — first of all, I idolize Gary Moore. He is the man. And one thing that he does that I’ve found that you’re teaching also is using the sharp five in some of his song arrangements.

JD: Yeah.

CJ: I think you talked about that in the first blues course.

JD: Yeah. A little bit, yeah.

CJ: “Rockin the Blues Slide”. So you guys should all check that out, too. We’ll make that course available with “Rockin the Blues Deluxe” as well.

JD: You know, there’s also some other kind of interesting gypsy jazz stuff we got in, too, as well, that was pretty cool. That’s kind of a different kind of flavor. So that’s cool as well. But I’m looking at Lightnin’ Hopkins and Ry Cooder. I kind of put them next to each other because they both have that really great slide style. And then you look at a guy like Steve Cropper and he’s listed under the great blues players because he’s such an amazing player. You think about “Dock of the Bay” or “Soul Man” or all the songs that he produced and wrote and played those incredible blues licks, R&B licks. Mick Ralphs was in a band called Bad Company. You remember them?

CJ: Of course.

JD: They were great. Great blues rock. Now we’re getting into the blues rock thing.

CJ: Just finishing up on this section, I mean, like you said a lot of people might not know Luther Allison, but I certainly do and he’s — what was that like being on tour with him?

JD: First of all, he was a total gentleman, a real gentleman of the blues, just a lovely man and just shared his time and it was really generous on stage.
He moved to Paris — you probably know this already — but he wasn’t really
getting much work here. He moved to Paris about 25 years ago and he was
idolized in Europe. And that’s exactly why I moved to Europe in the early
’90s, because I wanted to experience some other places, other countries where they really appreciated American roots music. He was one of the recipients of that and his so is carrying-on the torch as well. I think his name is — I can’t think of his son’s name, but he’s out there touring, too.

CJ: I think it begins with a B or something like that.

JD: Yeah.

CJ: But yeah, I think Luther is one of those guys, it’s like he wasn’t necessarily like the fastest player, but he was so solid in performing and singing and…

JD: Yeah. You know, another guy like that and I don’t know if we’re going to get to him later or not, but I don’t want to leave him out, was Albert Collins. Oh, yeah, we’ll get to that later. Never mind. I’ll get to him. I didn’t want to leave him out because I know…

CJ: Yeah, he’s definitely a legend as well. So let’s keep going.

JD: Okay.

CJ: We kind of covered some of these guys, Steve Cropper and…

JD: And Ry, we all know. I mean, Ry Cooder, great slide player.
[unintelligible – 00:26:22], he was a great…

[End audio].

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