So far, we’ve examined different kinds of blues progressions, tips for playing on the bandstand, and two common blues feels: the shuffle and the slow blues. In this column, as well as the following one, I’d like to dig deeper and discuss other standard blues feels that you’ll be likely to play. I’ll try to reference certain songs so that you can listen to exactly how these feels are on a recording.
Remember that many blues artists like to change the feel of certain tunes so that it is unique to the performer. Someone may call a tune that would typically be played as a standard shuffle and say “hey! Let’s do it as a jump blues!” Otherwise, the bandleader may not say the name of a song and instead, shout out “Jump Blues in C” before quickly counting off. Here’s the low down on a few more feels to get under your belt.
Jump Blues and Boogie Woogie
When people refer to “Jump blues,” they often count off a quick tempo and listen for a walking bass pattern. The tune will usually have a “swing” feel and it’s not uncommon to find a ii-V turnaround in bars 9 and 10 instead of the V-IV turnaround. Stick to the walking shuffle bass pattern and try implementing chromatic motion when moving from the ii chord to the V like this: 2 – 3 – 4 – #4 – 5. Additionally, since a “jump blues” has evolved from old time swing tunes where they only used upright bass, think like an upright player. It’s difficult to hit two attacks (as we discussed with the shuffle feel), especially at faster tempos, so although the tune swings, try only playing one attack per note. Some bandleaders use the term “boogie woogie” to mean the same thing, but perhaps not as fast as the jump blues.
Suggested listening: “Flip, Flop, Fly” (Big Joe Turner) or “Jump, Jive, and Wail” (Brian Setzer)
Two-Beat: Simple and Elegant
Many rock or country influenced blues rely on the “two beat” feel. These tunes are often up-tempo and bouncy, so stick to a simple pattern with a few embellishments when moving from chord to chord. Play the root note on beat one, followed by the 5th on beat three of the measure (or the root on beats 1 and 3 with the 5th on beats 2 and 4). If possible, play the 5th below, simply because it provides more bottom; however, don’t worry if you’re playing in a key where you can’t get the lower 5th (such as in the key of G where a 4 string bass limits you to playing a low E). A common addition to the feel is the flat 7 between the 5th and root or a short chromatic move of b7 – 7 – 8 every other time.
Suggested listening: “Got My Mojo Workin” (Muddy Waters) or “Folsom Prison Blues” (Johnny Cash)
The Beauty of the Bump: Playing 1 Note
Many traditional blues tunes are driven by a guitar groove that doesn’t necessarily have a specific bass pattern to accompany it. In this case, reverting to a box or walking shuffle may not be the best option, even though the drummer may still be playing a shuffle feel.
Although it may seem counter-intuitive, one of the best ways to fit into this situation is to pedal or “bump” the root note. Take a “Thoreau-ian” approach to this and go for simplicity. Think about the groove, the duration of the note, the tone and attack of the note, and how you can control the dynamics of the band. You can also take a chromatic approach to move from chord to chord, but once you get there, keep bumpin’ that root! By sticking to just the one note, you’ll provide low-end power to a song that evolved from the front porch acoustic style blues that originally didn’t have a bass accompaniment.
Suggested listening: “Rock Me” (Muddy Waters)