One simply cannot talk about people of importance to this genre without tipping the hat to the most masterful musician, teacher, musicologist, producer, folklorist and preservationist of the traditional blues. By now, Stefan Grossman is a venerated, iconoclastic and respected acoustic blues figure of mega-proportions. He came out of the vibrant Greenwich Village, New York, 1960s scene around Washington Square, where so many American folk and blues musicians launched their careers. His friend and occasional collaborator, Steve Katz, formerly of the Even Dozen Jug Band, the Blues Project and Blood, Sweat & Tears, once half jokingly told this writer: “There we were, all these New York Jews playing the black blues.” Indeed, the blues had a strong influence on young New Yorkers during the folk revival. These musicians, Stefan Grossman, Happy & Artie Traum, Danny Kalb, and many others, in turn had a powerful influence on the acceptance of the blues by the American baby boomer generation at large; and, they significantly helped to launch the folk, roots & blues revival, thereby reinvigorating the careers of many original blues musicians whose careers had waned.
Many people know Stefan Grossman as the paramount teacher and entrepreneur in what has become the world’s largest “blues school”, Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop. He is one of the most skilled guitarists in the genre, having been a student of Rev. Gary Davis in New York City. He also picked up lessons directly from Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Skip James, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and others.
The Open D Tuning (D A D F# A D), also referred to as the Vestapol tuning, is a powerful and evocative tuning that was widely used by guitarists in the 1920s to play country blues, ballads, rags and folk tunes. In this lesson I focus on arranging five of my favorite blues melodies in Vestapol plus an original instrumental.
The religious tune When I Lay My Burden Down was in the repertoire of both Black and White traditional guitarists. I have arranged it in an Elizabeth Cotten/Mississippi John Hurt style. The beautiful blues Goin' To Germany was recorded by the Cannon's Jug Stompers in the 1920s. I have always wanted to find the right setting for this melodic country blues and the Vestapol tuning gave me the feel and textures that I was looking for.
Sam McGee played guitar behind Uncle Dave Macon when he recorded, I've Got The Morning Blues in Vestapol. This is a fun tune to play and leads nicely in to Hesitation Blues, a song recorded by many artists. My arrangement tries to combine a sliding jug sound with some funky blues licks. Peg Leg Howell's Skin Game Blues is a rare example of an early blues song with three distinct sections. Peg Leg played this with a bottleneck but for our arrangement we will rely on our fingers to make the notes sing out.
We finish the lesson with Innocence Abroard. An original instrumental that ties together the right and left hand techniques we have studied.
A detailed tab/music booklet is included as a PDF file on the DVD. Each tune is taught phrase by phrase and played slowly on a split-screen. Bonus audio tracks of the original 1920s recordings are included. These are the records I first heard that influenced me to rearrange the melodies to the Vestapol tuning.
Titles include: When I Lay My Burden Down, Goin' To Germany, I've Got The Morning Blues, Hesitation Blues, Skin Game Blues and Innocence Abroard
105 minutes • Level 2 • Detailed tab/music PDF file on the DVD
Review: I believe that Stefan Grossman is one of the great teachers in fingerpicking guitar. The song Goin' to Germany is one of the best songs in Open D Tuning that I have heard. It is great to see an instructor who has passion for what he is doing. – Larry Davidsonon/Amazon Customer Review
Review: Better living through open D tuning is but a few, quick string tweaks away. Not only will the air be sweeter, the sunshine brighter, the chords richer in their full-bodied ring. But a whole crate-digger's world of 1920s mojo opens up too. And you can thank Britain's pelting rain for this one. Holed up inside for two monsoon months left vacationing Stefan Grossman with the needed time to finally crack the code to longstanding, evasively nagging issues. Like how to arrange Peg Leg Howell's "Skin Game Blues" without bottlenecking? Or do justice to Cannon's Jug Stompers' evocative "Goin' to Germany" with only six strings? With the greatest of ease, you'll now learn the promiscuous "Hesitation Blues," whose allure has seduced everyone from Rev. Gary Davis to Jelly Roll Morton to hillbilly Charlie Poole (their dalliances are among the bonus audio tracks). Yet Grossman's original instrumental "Innocence Abroad" generates quite the mystique of its own, thanks to a bend-n-shake lick which seduces every time it shimmies on by. Added up, his DVD offers 105 voila minutes of step-by-step, play-along epiphanies on the art of "Fingerpicking Blues Guitar in Vestapol Tuning." Interlaced among the six highlighted blues are Stefan's personal tales (from Rev. Davis to Maria Muldaur), inspirational cues (from samurai swords to baseball games) and tips on how to zap in "a little magic." Now if only Grossman availed his easygoing you-can-do-this instruction to help you tackle household repairs. – Dennis Rozanski/Blues Rag