Wednesday, October 13, 2010

In Praise of the Electric Slide Blues Guitar

As we continue with blues week, I thought I would invigorate today’s selection with several songs that explore the use of the electric slide guitar. The slide guitar has been a mainstay in the blues since the 1920s; however, it was Elmore James who popularized the electrified slide guitar and brought the style of playing to new heights in the early 1950s. This was not your father's lap steel either. 

Elmore James: Dust My Broom

One song James recorded a number of times was the Robert Johnson composition of “Dust My Broom.” James’ characteristic style is cleanly heard on this cut and was henceforth copied by a series of guitarists for the next several decades. Although this recording is not his original 1951 version, it is an early recording none the less.

Taj Mahal

Although the Allman Brothers version of this T-Bone Walker song is probably the best known recording, Taj Mahal recorded and released the song several years prior to the Allmans. “Statesboro Blues” appears on Taj’s debut album and features the likes of Ry Cooder (another great slide player) on rhythm guitar. Taj Mahal, who adopted the name after dreaming about India during his high school years, plays the killer slide guitar.

Rory Gallagher: Bullfrog Blues

It’s hard to believe this rockin’ blues number was originally released in 1928, but it was recorded by its author William Harris that year. The song became a signature tune and often extended into long jams for the Irish guitar legend Rory Gallagher. Gallagher is using a Coricidin D bottle as a slide with his Fender Telecaster.

This type of bottle used for a glass slide was probably initiated by Duane Allman in the 60s. The Coricidin bottle was out of production in the late 1970s in favor of cheaper blister packaging. I managed to get one in 1978 before they went off the market; however, I find it a little big and hard to use.

This performance was an encore from the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1977, but did not appear on the show when it aired.

Johnny Winter: It’s My Life Baby

This is the newest of the slide guitar cuts and comes from Winter’s 1984 “Guitar Slinger” album. While it is impossible to know what guitar Johnny is using, I imagine that he is using his signature Gibson Firebird as this is typically the electric guitar he uses.

He puts on a fantastic show. I got to see Johnny live in 1977 at the Tomorrow Club in Youngstown, Ohio. My brother Chuck, the late Nick Brack, and I drove up from Pittsburgh and caught him and 38 Special. Check out the ticket price - $5.50 in advance - you can't get a bargain like that today.

By the way, the ticket had WYDD written on the back. Pittsburghers will remember that WYDD at 104.7 took on an album rock format in the early 70s and gave WDVE a run for the money.  In the long run WDVE prevailed and WYDD's album format was gone by the early 80s.

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