More Blues Feels! Rumbas, Funky Blues, and Rock-n-Roll
Here are three more feels to have at your fingertips whenever you’re stepping into a blues gig or jamming situation. As I’ve mentioned in previous “feels” columns, bandleaders enjoy putting their own spin on certain tunes and will often deviate from the recorded version of the song by changing the feel. It’s also nice to break up the monotony of shuffles and slow blues tunes by adding some of these funkier, more “modern” types of grooves.
Rumba: A Little Bit o’ Latin with A Little Bit o’ Soul
The standard rumba feel in blues is not necessarily the same as an authentic “Latin” rumba. Latin rumbas originated in Cuba and the term usually refers to a style of rhythm or dance. In blues, the rumba takes on a New Orleans feel, which is a cross between a straight-ahead and a second line groove. Listen to the drummer for this one… they will probably play a pattern that involves both the snare and the tom with embellishments on the ride cymbal. Play the walking pattern but return to the 5th instead of the octave for the last note of your groove: 1-3-5-6-5. The typical rhythmic pattern can be counted like this (attack on the underlined beats):
One – and – two – and – three – and – four – and (repeat)
Depending on the rhythm played by the guitarist, the feel may involve all eighth notes, giving the groove a staccato feel, or the first attack may be played as a dotted quarter note without any rests between the notes. You can also try using a glissando into certain notes (such as the 3rd of the arpeggio) if it seems to coincide with what the other players are doing.
Suggested Listening: “Crosscut Saw” (Albert King):
Funky, Straight Ahead Blues: A Bass Player’s Favorite
One word: Groove.
Although this applies to all playing, the funky and straight ahead tunes will get people on the dance floor, so do your best to lock in with the drummer. Many funky blues songs have specific patterns (listen to the recording or the band leader for this) and they follow the standard 12 bar or 16 bar form. It’s a nice break from playing shuffles all night and it does give the bass player an opportunity to stretch out a bit (it’s also the most likely tune for the dreaded “bass solo!”). That said, remember that you’re still playing blues and your position in the band is to provide the foundation.
Over-playing, which is easy to do in a funk situation, can actually take away from the tune. Try to establish a groove that remains consistent while giving yourself some room for embellishment. Listen to what the rhythm guitar players are doing since they will often double the pattern along with you. You’ll be able to hear a wrong note if there is one and if you throw in a fill, be aware of the guitar player placing a fill there as well. You’ll both hear an “opening” in the music where you can fill, especially if you’re both playing the same groove, so try to anticipate who will play what.
Suggested Listening: “If You Love Me Like You Say” or “Honey Hush” (Albert Collins):
Rock’n’Roll: Roll Over Beethoven!
A long, long, time ago (the 1950’s and 60’s), a bunch of guys from a far away land (England) started playing blues and got their records played on the radio. They learned about it from other folks on this side of the Atlantic… Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, and far too many more to name. They played it fast, with electric guitars, and typically with a straight-ahead rock beat. Sometimes they used a different form and they frequently decided to throw in stops to provide space for interesting vocal statements or guitar runs. They also figured that it would be cool for the turnaround to stay on the V chord for two bars instead of moving down to the IV chord. This crazy music, soon to be called “Rock’n’roll,” became widely popular.
Alright, alright… enough of story time.
The point of my strange and incredibly generalized history of rock and roll is to demonstrate how your knowledge of blues progressions automatically gives you the ability to play this style of music. Although the songs are all different, mainly due to the stops and exactly what the chord form is, you’ll quickly be able to fit in by understanding how similar the two genres are. Pay attention to where the stops are, watch the band leader, and you may be lucky enough to play a song that you’ve heard on the radio at one point in time so that you can hear it in the back of your head.
In terms of the bass pattern, stick to a walking shuffle pattern: 1-3-5-6 and return to either the 5th or octave. One of the big differences between rock tunes and blues tunes is the dominant 7th chord. Certain rock tunes will play a specific figure where the guitar player goes back and forth between the 5th and 6th scale degree and they may only play the 7th on the bar just before going to the next chord. Listen for this move and remember the power of the dominant 7th; that note will signal movement to the IV chord and may want to be avoided if the other rhythm players aren’t adding the 7th. For the feel, try playing two attacks per note. If the tune is too fast and you’ll lose the groove by playing the double attack, just go with quarter notes.
If the tune swings and has the “boogie woogie” feel, go with the swing eighth notes; if it’s straight ahead, play straight eighths.
Suggested Listening: “Johnny B. Goode” (Chuck Berry), “Long Tall Sally” (Little Richard):
For those of you keeping track of the feels discussed in previous columns, you’ll see that the focus of this column drifted away from some of the “old school” or “authentic” types of feels. The standard shuffle and slow blues originated in the Delta region of the south, Chicago, and Texas, and they typically represent “traditional” blues. Rumbas, funky blues, and rock blues have evolved over the years due to cultural and commercial influences and have greatly broadened the scope of what is considered “blues.” So, take a listen to some of the suggested tunes (especially Albert Collins… one of my favorites) and try to get familiar with some of these funkier styles.
Ryan Madora is a professional bass player, author, and educator living in Nashville, TN. In addition to touring and session work, she teaches private lessons and masterclasses to students of all levels. Visit her website to learn more!