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the blues guitar player’s quarterly


SPRING 2017 edition




J imi ' s psyc h edelic bl u es revol u t ion revisi t ed C lap t on & Hendri x I n L ondon J imi ' s early career gear SPRING 2017

the history of chess records

Licks: Mastering the turnaround

Tweed amp buyer's guide

BB King classic Interview

the tone & craft of Gibson's es-335




cover feature



The full incredible story of when Hendrix hit the UK, his guitars and influences. Plus learn to play (a little) like the man himself and have a peek at his record collection…



Contents SPRING 2017

Regulars 06............. In The Making Son House & Muddy Waters 08............. 12-Bar News Blues events and happenings 10 . ........... Wishlist Contemporary gear with history 12 . ........... Spotlight Recommended acts on tour 14 . ........... Blues Diaries Neville Marten looks back 15 . ........... Icon We celebrate the life of ‘Snooks’ Eaglin 16 . ........... Confessional Danny Bryant tells all 96............. Music Reviews New blues albums rated 114 . ......... Songs Of My Life With Innes Sibun



18............. Eric Gales 22............. Jimi Hendrix: Blues ‘67 44............. Ben Poole 50............. Martin Harley 56............. The History of Chess Records 106 . ......... Rory Gallagher’s Guitars

CLASSIC INTERVIEWS 64............. Eric Clapton 74............. Jeff Healey 80............. Johnny Winter 88............. BB King

Gear 100........... Classic Gear Gibson ES-335TD 104 . ......... Five To Try Tweed Amps

Learn to play


40............. Jimi Hendrix Licks Masterclass 110 . ......... Basics Authentic blues progressions 112 . ......... The Turnaround Stevie Ray Vaughn



© David Gahr/Getty Images

Son House and Muddy Waters, Newport Folk Festival, 18 July, 1969




he sight of these two pioneering blues legends sharing a stage together is perhaps far more significant in retrospect than for those lucky enough to witness it at the Rhode Island festival. Playing on the Friday evening, five years on from his return to performing, House took the stage alone before headliner Muddy Waters and his band. Around halfway through a powerful 12-minute reading of Downhearted Blues with his National resonator that belied his 67 years, he was joined by protégé Waters, contributing lead guitar.

In The Making




Blues masters answer our questions about playing, philosophy and tone




Danny Bryant Ahead of shows where he’ll record a double live album with a big band ensemble, the British blues journeyman talks roots, slide ambitions and the importance of spare trousers at gigs… Words Rob Laing


hat was your first guitar? “My first guitar was an Encore S-style guitar. We had a small local music shop here in Royston where I live and I managed to persuade my mum to take me down there and buy me this black guitar that they had in the window. I had fallen in love with it; I was 14 years old at the time and I can still remember the excitement of leaving the shop with my first guitar.” If the building was burning down, what one guitar would you save? “I have an early Gibson BB King Lucille, which is in mint condition. BB was a huge influence on me and that guitar has a really sweet tone that I haven’t found on other examples. I don’t take it out on the road, but I used it on the latest record. It really sings.”

note with them. I also find they cut a little bit of the high end from your tone, as opposed to a lighter more flexible one.” When was the last time you practised and what was it that you played? “I try and practise every day. It’s not always a conscious decision, I usually have a guitar next to me when I’m at home and I can’t resist picking it up and having a bit of a noodle. I’m trying to nail down all of those great early Freddie King instrumentals at the moment, which is a lot of fun. I tend to practise less when I’m out on the road, because I need to rest my fingers a little in preparation for the gig that evening.”

spare clothes was back at the hotel, so I had to cover up by putting my coat on and doing the whole gig like that. Ever since I always bring some spare trousers to the gig.” What aspect of playing guitar would you like to be better at? “I’d like to be able to play slide guitar. I listen to guys like Sonny Landreth and Derek Trucks and it amazes me what they can do. I promise myself about once a year that I’m going to crack on and make a real effort with my slide playing.”

When was the last time you changed your guitar strings? “About a week ago. When I’m home I love being a geek and getting one of my guitars out of my collection, cleaning it up and re-stringing it. Like visiting an old friend!”

What are you doing five minutes before you go on stage and five minutes after? “I usually have a quick warm-up before I go on. With a little warm-up, I tend to hit the stage ready and firing on all cylinders. Five minutes after, I’m usually ready to grab a drink and relax before going out and saying ‘hi’ to people at the merchandise stand. I really enjoy doing that at the end of a show.”

What advice would you give your younger self about the guitar if you had the chance? “I can’t read a note of music, which is something I wish I had learned when I was younger. I live to play blues music and wouldn’t change that for the world, but I think I would tell the younger me to absorb some completely different genres of guitar and then come back and incorporate that into my music. Of course, it’s never too late for anything, I just think you learn things much quicker when you’re a kid.”

What plectrums do you use? “I use celluloid extra heavy picks. I have used the same style of plectrums for years. I like the extra heavy ones because they give you a lot of attack, you can really dig into the

What’s the worst thing that has happened to you on stage? “I split my trousers wide open on the first song of a gig in Holland – that was quite embarrassing. My suitcase with all of my

Danny Bryant will play UK gigs in March and April, including three special big band shows at the Belfast Empire (27 April), Edinburgh La Belle Angele (28) and London Borderline (29). For more information visit





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An electric fusillade of notes tears through the smoky air of the Central London Polytechnic. Like a jagged streak of lightning, Jimi Hendrix’s solo lights up the room and Eric Clapton’s throne at the top of guitar’s Mount Olympus trembles. Fifty years on from Jimi’s debut album we look back with those who were there to witness his rise…

Words  Julian Piper, Jamie Dickson & David Mead

© Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock


t starts here. It’s the 1st of October 1966 and Cream are playing at the Central London Polytechnic in Regent Street. Eric Clapton had left John Mayall’s Blues Breakers in July, and since teaming up with bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker, Cream seemed invincible. That three already well-established musicians should form a band was without precedent in British rock history. And, for Clapton, the powerhouse rhythm section of Bruce and Baker was the dream team. It allowed him the freedom to stretch out on extended jams, an innovative format owing more to jazz than rock or blues – and the band had been taking audiences by storm. An outsider jamming with Cream was unheard of, but when manager Chas Chandler asked if new

American guitarist Jimi Hendrix could sit in for a number, Clapton agreed. Hendrix had flown in from New York a week before, but thanks to Chandler’s clever PR, a huge buzz was already going. Clapton couldn’t have anticipated what was about to unfold. “He was very, very flash – even in the dressing room. He stood in front of the mirror combing his hair and asked if he could jam. He played Killing Floor, a Howlin’ Wolf number I’d always wanted to play but which I’d never had the complete technique to do.” The effect on Clapton was cataclysmic, shattering any preconceptions about blues guitar – and his confidence. Writer Keith Altham was present. “Hendrix blew into Howlin’ Wolf’s Killing Floor at breakneck speed, just like that – stopped you in your tracks.”



Classic Gear

Jimi’s Epiphone FT79 This faithful acoustic was Jimi’s go-to jamming and writing tool at home in London


ne London sight that any guitarist should see is the Handel & Hendrix exhibition at the 25 Brook Street, Mayfair flat that Jimi shared with girlfriend Kathy Etchingham from 1968 to ’69. Until recently, the star of the exhibit was Jimi’s ‘51 FT79 acoustic, serial 62262, which he bought for around $25 in New York and Chas Chandler remarked he was so attached to it, he would take it with him into the bathroom. The FT79 was made by Epiphone from 1941 to 1958 when it was relaunched as the Gibson Texan. Originally built with walnut back and sides, laminated maple was used from 1949, as on this example, while the neck, previously cherry, was re-spec’d to mahogany in 1954. While we’d strongly recommend a visit to Jimi’s former digs, this particular exhibit sold at Bonhams in late 2016 for £209,000



1 Single parallelogram inlays on the rosewood 25.5-inch scale neck 2 The guitar’s headstock is adorned with a vertical oval inlay




3Well-worn and muchplayed Jimi would have this guitar in his hands for much of the day during his residency at the Mayfair flat



classic interview

Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton

classic interview

Classic Interview

Eric Clapton In the midst of recording his own new material, Eric Clapton suddenly started jamming on Robert Johnson songs... and ended up with a whole album, Me And Mr Johnson. Clapton spoke to us in 2004 about Johson’s influence… Words  Brad Tolinski and Harold Steinblatt

© Future


ne was dubbed the King Of The Delta Blues Singers years after his death in 1938, while the other was actually known as ‘God’ in the early part of a long career that continues to flourish. Both are known for their brilliant guitar playing, singing and songwriting, and for exerting an enormous influence on the development of popular music. And one was the spiritual and musical mentor of the other, who has never missed an opportunity to express the profound admiration he has for his legendary forerunner. We are talking, of course, about Robert Johnson and Eric Clapton, artists from very different times, places and social circumstances whose music and even lives have long been linked together. Mississippi Delta acoustic bluesman Robert Johnson recorded only a handful of sides back in the late thirties, and while he was not especially popular in his own lifetime, the intensity and brilliant craftsmanship that characterise his recordings – not to mention the elaborate myths associated with his life and death – had a huge impact on American blues players like Muddy Waters and Elmore James, and ultimately on rock and roll. Clapton, for his part, discovered Johnson at 16, when he acquired a copy of King Of The Delta Blues Singers, the landmark LP that featured such now universally recognised classics as Cross Road Blues,

Kindhearted Woman Blues and Come On In My Kitchen. The Surrey teenager, who’d discovered the blues several years earlier, was instantly captivated by Johnson, and over the years has cited him not only as his most important influence but also as a kind of emotional soulmate. The music, Clapton once said, “called to me in my confusion, it seemed to echo something that I had always felt.” And the fact that Johnson’s songs are filled with references to sin and the devil, that he was rumoured to have actually sold his own soul to the Evil One in exchange for his musical talent, and that he was murdered under still mysterious circumstances no doubt appealed mightily to the young Clapton, who spent years struggling with his own demons. Now, almost 40 years into a career that has seen him record five tunes by Johnson, Clapton has released Me And Mr Johnson, an album consisting entirely of his own band arrangements of tunes by the Delta bluesman. But how is it that a notorious perfectionist – one who says he cannot stomach listening to many of his own most celebrated recordings – felt comfortable and secure enough to issue a collection of his versions of some of the greatest songs by the man he still characterises as “holy”? The answer, asserts Clapton during a rare interview in New York, is that he is no longer the same person he was 30 years ago – that his recent marriage and young children, in particular, have changed his priorities to the point that he was able to do something he never imagined himself



classic interview

BB King

BB King

classic interview

Classic Interview

BB King Captured in time as BB King was about to play what turned out to be his final UK tour, Guitarist talked to the legendary bluesman in 2006, taking us back to the beginning in Memphis, and the birth of rock ’n’ roll… Words  Julian Piper

© Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo


itting in an armchair, smiling rather like an avuncular Uncle, the first thing that strikes you is that BB’s a lot smaller in the flesh than he appears on stage. But despite the rigours of decades of relentless touring he’s in good shape; he has a few minor physical problems with his knees, but for a man who’s 80 years old he appears to be in rude health – and obviously happy. Nowadays, after the myriad twists and turns of a career spanning more than half a century, the name BB King is as indelibly linked to Memphis as Elvis Presley or Sun Records. The early tracks that he cut in Sam Phillips Sun Studios helped define just about everything that’s happened in rock ’n’ roll ever since. And as we all know, BB’s been out there ever since, playing in excess of 200 gigs annually. Understandably though, it’s those early Memphis days that form the era of his life that BB holds in greatest affection, and given the opportunity to talk to Guitarist, he seemed genuinely pleased to reminisce.

“When I first came to Memphis from Mississippi, the very first place I wanted to go was Beale Street – I’d heard so very much about it. For me, the place was like a college of learning, just about everything went on there!” he laughs. “Maybe there was some guy playing guitar on a stool, another preachin’ a little further down, another shooting craps. Every kind of music too; I got the chance to see Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson and all the big bands like Duke Ellington or Count Basie.” Memphis was the largest city for 200 miles in any direction and, because it had electricity, probably also the loudest. BB smiles as he remembers. “It’s true, because we never had electricity where I lived out in the country until I was 19,” he admits. “A lot of us from the Delta met up in Memphis and this was all prior to John Lee Hooker going to Detroit, prior to Jimmy Reed and Muddy Waters going to Chicago. That’s what I prefer to think the electricity in the city really was – together we were like a waterfall generating our own electricity!” BB got his first real break taking part in a Beale Street talent show organised by Rufus



fiveTo Try Warm and expressive, there ain’t nothing bluesier than a tweed combo

Tweed Amps W

hat do we mean by a ‘tweed’ combo? Outside of the cosmetics, the reference point for this are the early combo amplifiers designed by Leo Fender and Doc Kauffman, such as the Deluxe, initially introduced in 1946 as the 10-watt Model 26, before morphing into classic form in 1954, producing 15 watts of power from two 6V6 power valves. We typically talk about the ‘sag’ or loose, vibey response such small, valve-rectified combos produce. When you dig in, the note hits slow but blooms warmly into a singing note. Add a little more power and you’re talking about amps such as Fender’s 1954-spec Bassman with 50 watts of power and four 10-inch speakers. Here there is more clarity and headroom but still that natural, woody crunch when you dig in. However, a Bassman is a big unit to lug around and seriously loud on today’s pub and club stages where the now-common volume restrictions could prevent you from getting the best from larger tweed amps. As an interesting historical footnote, however, the first version of the Bassman produced a mere 26 watts and mounted a single 15-inch speaker. Thus, the quintessential tweed amps could properly be thought of as low wattage in character, with easily accessible, punchy yet yielding drive tones and pliant cleans. The selection on this page are some latter-day contenders to that regal heritage.

1. Peavey Classic 30 £759

There’s a reason why players such as Steve Earle rely on Peavey Classic combos and why they turn up on so many pub and club stages: they’re dependable, relatively inexpensive and they sound good. The 50-watt version gives more headroom and clout but we’d plump for the bluesy 30 with its quad of EL84s in the power stage, spring reverb and single 12-inch speaker. Also check out Peavey’s Delta Blues 115, also clad in tweed, which offers a more expansive sound from a 30-watt, EL84 combo platform, due to its 15-inch speaker which grants a more commanding bottom end. We know a lot of players who swear by these amps and the large drive makes them relatively unusual in today’s amp market which has standardised on 12-inch cones.

104  BLUES

2. Fender Custom ’57 Tweed Deluxe £1,813

If you want to go direct to source for your tweed amp, there’s only one brand to try. Woody and organic, Fender’s vintagespec Tweed Deluxe is tonal heaven for anyone who likes an amp whose every period-correct capacitor and hand-wired circuit sings out when you dig into a note. The amp’s duo of 6V6 output valves mean there’s only 12 watts on tap here, so there isn’t a lot of headroom, but believe us it’s plenty loud and the modest headroom means the amp’s 5E3 circuit brims with natural drive tones that respond to player input beautifully. Simply one of the best small amps we’ve played, period. Think of Larry Carlton’s fluid, vocal leads on Steely Dan tracks such as Kid Charlemagne and you’re in the kind of honeyed tonal territory that this amp delivers. However, if you’re looking for a tonally neutral blank canvas for a panoply of drive effects, this amp has too little headroom and too much of its own heart to be a solution. That’s not a criticism, but rather it’s greatest strength – it does one thing very well indeed and we doubt you’ll play a more organic and juicy little amp than this. If you want something that represents the very essence of what great players have played tweed amps for, this is it.

3. Swart Mod 84 £1,699

This one’s a bit of a curveball. The amps of US sound engineer Michael Swart are a vintage audiophile’s delight, with a distinct ‘tweed’ theme through the hand-wired range. However, despite the cloth-covered exterior, the 18-watt MOD84 utilises a brace of typically ‘British’ power valves, in the form of EL84s, to provide a voicing that edges towards VOX AC15 territory, The superb reverb is driven by a 12DW7 dual triode valve to draw the tonality back in the direction of classic American surf guitar tones. With a vibey tremolo circuit and dovetailed pine cabinet the MOD84 is a very compelling trans-Atlantic tonal experience.

4. Roland Blues Cube Artist £869

Okay, don’t shoot us – we know it’s a left-

field choice, maybe even sacrilegious for some, and it’s not actually clad in tweed, either ( although the tan Tolex isn’t far off the general vibe) and yet… this compact, 80-watt modelling amp from Roland really turned expectations on their head when we tried it and, for our money, it really delivers what many look for in traditional tweed combos – warm, singing lead tones and clear, warm cleans – in a very accessible new form. There are no valves inside and the tone is formed by Roland’s Tube Logic modelling tech which, in this particular amp, is designed to emulate Fender’s smaller, Tweed-era combos. We have to say that, valve prejudices aside, the Artist is punchy, involving and compelling. Add in features such as the ability to blend clean and dirty channels, gorgeous reverb and the ability to revoice the amp completely in a few seconds using Roland’s Tone Capsule technology, developed with luminaries such as Robben Ford and Eric Johnson, and it’s a very serious alternative to traditional valve combos. The Tone Capsules fit into a socket in the rear of the amp, in-keeping with their valve-like appearance and each re-maps the amp’s voicing, so in a sense this could be viewed as several amps in one if you invest in the various Tone Capsules, which start at around £168 on the high street. Some might find the asking price a bit salty for a non-valve amp, but all the same we recommend that you try one –you might be surprised.

5. Fender FSR Blues Junior LTD £579

The 15-watt 1x12 Blues Junior, even in standard spec, is our ‘desert island’ amplifier. Its power stage of two EL84s delivers juicy and punchy tones at the kind of volumes most of us play at, is easy to carry and well priced. The Factory Special Run Lacquered Tweed version adds 50s styling to the blend, making it nigh-on irresistible. A no-brainer for pub bluesers who don’t need endless headroom. Sounds stunning paired with mid-boosting low-gain overdrives such as the Klon and its clones as Fender’s amps typically have a slight midscoop, which means that mid-rich drives such as Klons and their derivatives and Tube Screamers make a good pairing with Juniors for punchy blues leads .

fiveTo Try



“Quintessential tweed amps could properly be thought of as low-wattage in character, with easily accessible, punchy yet yielding drive”







Rory Gallagher’s Guitars

Rory Gallagher’s Guitars


Always Edged In Blue Rory Gallagher was one of the most important and incendiary blues guitarists of his generation. Though he sadly passed away at the young age of 47 in 1995, the Irishman’s amazing blues legacy still resonates 22 years later. With interest in Rory’s playing on the up again, we met his brother, Donal, to discuss the magic of his music and the instruments he used to make it Words  Julian Piper  Photography  Will Irleland


ontreux Jazz Festival, 1977: “I’m gonna hang these young boys by their toes up here tonight,” Albert King said when he walked out on stage. The great bluesman was directing his comment at Rory Gallagher and Louisiana Red, who were to join him at times during his set on that occasion. As introductions go, it was hardly welcoming, and must have been particularly intimidating for Rory. But as the recording of that night shows – notably on King’s nine-minute-long reading of As The Years Go Passing By – Rory more than justified his presence, reeling off an extended fiery solo that perfectly complemented King’s own playing. Four decades later, the details are still perfectly etched in Donal Gallagher’s memory. “That wasn’t a very cordial affair,” he recalls. “Rory was under a lot of pressure at the time. It was the one break he had for holiday, and because Warners wanted to sign him, I’d gone to California. Then, Claude Nobbs, who was the director of the Montreux Festival, said that he had Ronnie Hawkins and The Band due to appear for a reunion gig, but Robbie Robertson had refused to play. Would he stand in? “The next night, Albert King was due to

play and was being recorded for the album that became On The Road. I think the record company wanted to get Rory on the album, too, and needless to say, Rory was chuffed to bits. He went down to find that there wasn’t going to be any rehearsal and King wasn’t being at all communicative. Rory felt very awkward and that he wasn’t really wanted. “When eventually he was called on stage, the band didn’t make it very pleasant for him; there were no keys written down and it was a case of being thrown in the deep end. If you could swim, fine – if you couldn’t, tough! Rory tried looking at Albert’s fretboard to see what key he was in, but that didn’t help. Albert King had such a unique system of playing – the guitar was upside down and he was left-handed. Rory asked one of the brass players, who just said, ‘B natural, boy – B natural.’ And that was it! Rory was really up against the wall, but when you listen to the album, he does a smashing couple of solos and really acquitted himself well.”

One Of A Kind

As Donal talks about his brother 20 years after his untimely passing, it’s a poignant reminder that there’s never been another guitar hero quite like Rory Gallagher. From the earliest days, when he blew out of Cork with Taste, his brass-knuckle-inyour-face approach to playing was always

capable of outgunning anyone else on the block. Only the formative blues players he adored, such as Muddy Waters and Albert King, were in the same league. Rory was always a triple threat; it’s difficult to think of any white blues player who has ever matched the intensity of his performance, the brilliance of his guitar playing or had the strength of his songwriting. And the blues in all its forms was the cornerstone, the essence of everything he did. “If you spoke to Rory, he’d always talk about some obscure blues guy, never about himself, and there never seemed to be any musical barriers to his playing,” Donal continues. “His blues appreciation stretched from the hard-line electric Chicago style of Muddy Waters, through to the subtle country blues of people like Big Bill Broonzy and Blind Boy Fuller.” Nowhere is this more evident than in Rory’s early Taste recordings, now reissued as part of a four-CD box set. A jazz-inflected version of Leadbelly’s Leaving Blues, heavily borrowing from folk icon Davey Graham’s version on Folk, Blues And Beyond, sits comfortably alongside Gallagher originals, plus Howling Wolf’s Sugar Mama and Muddy Waters’ Catfish. “Rory was also a huge fan of Bo Carter and the Mississippi Sheiks. He wrote a song about them, and it was one of the reasons that he bought his National Steel guitar.



Guitarist Presents 16 (Sampler)  

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