Robert Johnson has left an indelible mark on the story of blues and pop music. His haunting vocals and powerful guitar style captivated his audience of the 1930s as well as greatly influencing the works of such modern musicians as Muddy Waters (Kindhearted Woman and Walking Blues), Eric Clapton (Crossroad Blues and his new album Me and Mr. Johnson) and The Rolling Stones (Love In Vain). His 1936 recordings bridged the old traditional Delta sound with a more modern approach that echoed the coming of the electric Chicago blues sound.
All these lessons are taught by Tom Feldmann.
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"32-20 Blues" can be summarized as a sped up version of his A blues pattern. The tempo makes this a more challenging piece but once you grab hold of the chord progression you'll recognize that he really is using the same progression and chord fingerings as his slower A blues tunes like "Kindhearted Woman," "Phonograph Blues" and "Dead Shrimp Blues."
One of the most emotive slide pieces in recorded history, "Come On In My Kitchen" stands alone and is considered one of Johnson's most iconic pieces. Single string slide dominates the piece with the majority of times spent at the 12th fret. A perfect example of how effective it is when simply allowing the slide to follow, or create, the vocal melody.
"Cross Road Blues" is without a doubt Robert Johnson's shot heard around the world. Artists have covered it big and small from nearly every genre. Here Tom Feldmann takes you through both takes 1 and 2 giving you a step by step guide through Johnson's masterpiece.
"Dead Shrimp Blues" is probably the best beginners introduction to Robert Johnson's playing in A position. It holds all the elements that will be used
in his more complex arrangements but scaled down to the basics of the chord progression.
"From Four Till Late" is singular in the Johnson cannon and offers a look at playing in the key of C that is more urban blues than Delta borrowing elements from ragtime players like Blind Blake. As with most of Johnson's "borrowings" this is less showy than a Blake or Blind Lemon Jefferson piece but will certainly apply to theirs and other tunes in C position.
Crossnote Tuning is taking the major open chord, in this case E, and making it minor. This makes Crossnote Tuning extremely useful because you can still make use of barring the frets, but also gain the ability to use many of the fingering and licks used in E position standard tuning.
"I Believe I'll Dust My Broom" has become a slide staple due to Elmore James but Johnson's original recording of the tune has no slide whatsoever. Double
stops are used for the signature riff and fingering the 2nd, 5th, and 7th frets get you the I, IV, V progression.
"If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day" is very similar to "Traveling Riverside Blues" making use of the same techniques, just done a bit more frantic. The slide is used throughout but mainly sticks to the 12th fret with the exception being the "Roll and Tumble" Riff at the 3rd and 5th frets.
"I'm A Steady Rollin' Man" is typical shuffle in A but when run through Robert Johnson's filter you get a mix of urban blues and country blues rolled into
"Kindhearted Woman Blues" is one of Johnson's most popular and covered tunes out of A position. Robert Johnson recorded 29 tunes from 1936-1937 and 15 were done out of A position but "Kindhearted Woman" more than any other tune holds the keys for playing in Johnson's A blues style. After working through the piece you will easily tackle his other tunes in A.
"Last Fair Deal Gone Down" is a challenge. The slide is used throughout and follows the vocal melody using the 12th fret but the real challenge lies in
making the bass swing by using just the 6th string
"Little Queen of Spades" is extremely similar to "Honeymoon Blues" and the two songs break away from Johnson's standard A blues pattern that borrows heavily
from the playing of Northern urban bluesman Scrapper Blackwell. "Little Queen of Spades" takes from what Son House called "A Down the Staff" a popular
way of playing out of A position in the Mississippi Delta.
The intro to "Love In Vain Blues" is possibly the trickiest element to the song, double-stops rapidly picked leading to Johnson's trademark bass walk
down. The rest of the song allows for the lyrics to take center stage, G, G7, C and D7 are all you need to know for this timeless progression.
"Malted Milk" is extremely similar to "Drunken Hearted Man," the only tunes Robert Johnson recorded out of Drop D Tuning. Both tunes borrow heavily from
Lonnie Johnson's playing style which can also be found in other well known area players such as Ramblin' Thomas. You will be introduced to new ways
of playing familiar chords in this tremendously fun playing style.
"Phonograph Blues" follows in the "Kindhearted" Woman Blues footsteps but offers the best intro out of his 15 tunes in A position. You'll learn various ways for playing A, A7 and D7 chords up and down the neck as well as Johnson's trademark shuffle over the A7 chord.
"Preaching Blues" is quite possibly Johnson's trickiest song because there is very little repetitiveness. Single string slide is used throughout along with alternating bass but it really is a free for all and reminds us how "in the moment" these recordings were.
Playing a shuffle accompanied with slide licks in Vestapol tuning typically ends up sounding like Elmore James but the roots of that sound fall to Robert
Johnson and "Ramblin' On My Mind." The slide is used exclusively at the 12th fret lick while fingering the 2nd, 5th, and 7th frets get you the I, IV,
"Stones In My Passway" and "Terraplane Blues" are extremely similar tunes and both are great lead ins to the infamous "Cross Road Blues." While most people
focus on Johnson's slide technique it's really his strum that gets you his sound and "Stones In My Passway" will teach you the skills needed to get
the Johnson strum.
"Stop Breakin' Down" is perfect for those just getting into Spanish tuning with it's basic I, IV, V progression. You'll learn the typical Johnson bass walk down that is used in the intro's and outros for all his open tuning tunes and barring the 5th and 7th frets to make the IV and V chords. The slide does come in at the outro but otherwise is unused throughout the piece.
"Sweet Home Chicago" is often one of the first blues most people learn or at least the E shuffle form, which is used, in countless blues. It's hard to think on a time when this shuffle style did not overwhelm the landscape but when Johnson recorded "Sweet Home Chicago" it was a revelation, a new way of playing the guitar fashioned after the piano.
Ragtime, Hokum, Bawdy, whatever you choose to call it "They're Red Hot" is a fiery dance number. The chord progression is simply repeated over and over again, but getting the strum right is tricky and key.
"Traveling Riverside Blues" at its core is Johnson's take on Hambone Willie Newbern's "Roll and Tumble Blues." It is slide throughout, the verse voiced at the 12th fret and the riff between is where you'll find the "Roll and Tumble Blues" influence.
It is true that much of what we hear from Johnson's slide playing comes from Son House, and "Walkin' Blues" is directly traced to his works. The slide is used throughout the piece and the intro will be used in similar forms for many of Johnson's Spanish tuning songs. The line of extension of this song runs long starting with Son House, moving to Robert Johnson, and continuing through Muddy Waters and beyond.