Blues Harmonica Blog

Cadillac Pete Blues Harmonica Blog
Timing is Everything

This month's blog may seem a bit off topic at first but by the end I hope I've made some kind of point! This discussion concerns itself with what I consider the 2 most important members in any great Blues Band, the drummer and bass player. Otherwise known as the rhythm section.

What's that you say? How is a rhythm section discussion fodder for a blog about Blues Harmonica? Here's the thing. Over the course of some 30 odd years of playing I've been a part of many a Blues Jam session. On those certain nights that just seem to drag on, I may get a bit..... critical! I'll think things like, why does this one cat's solo swing like crazy, while this other guy's solo just sits there, or worse yet, the solo sounds as though it's clashing with the rest of the band.

The answer is usually not in the notes being played, but in the timing of these notes. It can be argued that the majority of Blues rhythm patterns are based off the triplet feel. Shuffles, Swing beats, 12/8 and 6/8 slow blues (notice that 12 and 6 are multiples of 3), are all versions of our friend the Triplet. A drummer would count this rhythm like this: 1-ah-da, 2-ah-da, 3-ah-da, 4-ah-da, etc. For a shuffle you would count the same way in your head, but only play the "number" and the "da" syllable. 1-ah-da, 2-ah-da, 3-ah-da, 4-ah-da, etc.

OK, now that we know how our foundation (the rhythm Section) is thinking and accenting the pattern of our song. The key now is to LISTEN! AND LISTEN! Hear how the drummer and bassist are playing the notes of the shuffle or swing pattern, are they tight and solid with little space in between the notes? Or is the pattern being interpreted in a very loose manner? This is where your solo can either raise the roof, or hit the basement. Try to match your Harmonica solo's phrasing and accents to that of the rhythm section. This will keep the momentum of the solo moving in the right direction, instead of fighting the rhythm that's going on underneath the solo. When the band plays a triplet pattern at the turnaround, dig in and play along matching their particular style. Even when you're not soloing and just "comping", emphasize certain notes to match up with the "Pocket" of the rhythm pattern. The more you can sync up with the way your rhythm section is interpreting the notes of a pattern, the cooler your Harmonica solo and the band as a whole will sound.

I'd like you to check out the video at the other end of the following link. . This video is a great example of what I'm talking about. In this classic blues tune, the rhythm section is playing a hard, tight shuffle and throwing in big triplet fills all over the place. My job as a Blues Harmonica soloist is to sync up with the rhythm that's being laid down below the solo. That means I must phrase my solo in a hard tight fashion and accent the triplet fills similar to the drummer and bassist, so as not to clash with them.

Timing and syncing up to your rhythm section is a never ending exercise we as Blues Band members must always be aware of. Keeping your ears open will allow you to snuggle deep into the "Pocket"!

Thanks for your attention and remember Timing Is Everything.

Cadillac Pete
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Cadillac Pete Blues Harmonica Blog

Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson The Haunting Side of the Blues

The first installment of my blog will be dedicated to one of my favorite blues Harmonica players and slide guitarists Alan Wilson. Mostly known for his work with Canned Heat, Wilson was born in Boston and grew up in the Boston suburb of Arlington Massachusetts. He majored in music at Boston University and often played the Cambridge coffeehouse folk-blues circuit. He acquired the nickname "Blind Owl" owing to his extreme farsightedness.

Not only was Alan Wilson a monster player, he had great knowledge of early blues. Some of his biggest influences included Skip JamesRobert JohnsonSon HouseCharley PattonTommy JohnsonJohn Lee HookerMuddy Watersand Booker White. James was the most exalted figure in Wilson's personal music journey. In high school, Wilson studied James' 1931 recordings with great fascination. It was around that time Wilson began singing similar to James' high pitch. Wilson eventually perfected the high tenor, for which he would become known.

I really did not want to get into too much history, but there were three big-time concerts that Wilson performed at that are worth noting. The Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and Woodstock in 1969, and at the Isle of Wight festival in 1970 (his last appearance). Canned Heat appeared in the film Woodstock, and the band's "Going Up the Country," which Wilson sang, has been referred to as the festival's unofficial theme song.[1] Wilson also wrote "On the Road Again". I've never heard any song start off like "On the Road again"!

Those are the more "commercial", well known songs, but It is really an obscure track on the 1970's album "Future Blues" that initially attracted me to Wilson. The cut is entitled "Skat" and can be found at the end of the following link.

I urge you to listen to this cut because it embodies all that is so cool about Alan Wilson. The thick, throaty, harmonica tone, the fusion of Blues and Jazz licks, and that haunting, high pitched tenor voice.

Another very interesting album is one Wilson did where he collaboarted with John Lee Hooker. On the double albumHooker 'N Heat (1970), John Lee Hooker is heard wondering how Wilson is capable of following Hooker's guitar playing so well. Hooker was known to be a difficult performer to accompany, partly because of his disregard of the 12 bar blues progression. Yet Wilson seemed to have no trouble at all following him on this album. Hooker concludes that "you [Wilson] musta been listenin' to my records all your life". Hooker is also known to have stated "Wilson is the greatest harmonica player ever".

I cannot even tell you how many times I listened to that album my senior year in high school. I learned most of my best licks from that album.

If you are short on time and want to drill directly to the core of Alan Wilson then check out the album "Future Blues". The line-up on this disc in my opinion is Canned Heat's strongest.

Check it out.

Alan Wison left us way too early, passing in 1970 at the age of 27. He left us with a great lagacy of fantastic , uniquely sounding Boogie and Blues.

The following is a Wickapedia discography for those who care to dig deeper.

Later, and happy playing.
Cadillac Pete

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