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An article on how Paul Simon stole Martin Carthy's arrangement of the English folk song "Scarborough Fair"
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The playing of: Robert Johnson
Written by: Dave Rubin
|Format: Method||Medium: Book/CD|
|Series: Signature Licks||Publisher: Hal Leonard|
Blues expert Dave Rubin provides an introduction on Johnson's place in musical history, and extensive notes on his tunings, arrangements, fingerstyle technique and guitars. Features in-depth lessons and audio examples of 15 of his most famous songs.
Songs - Compositions - Recordings
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Book of the Month 2002-12
Guitar Book of the Month December 2002 - Dave Rubin: Robert Johnson Signature Licks
Robert Johnson is a guitarist you cannot bypass if you want to play blues. For most other artists, it is a question of what style you will play. But Robert Johnson is standing at the crossroad of many influences and styles that any blues player have to pass through. And if you want to study the guitar of Robert Johnson, which I think you should do, there is no better place to start than the Robert Johnson Signature Licks by Dave Rubin.
This is the second book by Dave Rubin that is featured as Book of the Month, and it will not be the last. Dave Rubin has an in depth knowledge of the subject he is covering, both when it comes to historic background information and the more guitaristic part of it. He puts the songs in the context of Robert Johnson's biography, and he points out the stylistic elements that you should not overlook. The book is published in Hal Leonard's Signature Licks series, one of my favorite series of guitar books. It is a book on the most important blues guitar player written by one of the best authors of guitar books, and published in one of the best guitar book series.
Robert Johnson recorded 29 songs. 15 of them are presented and anlyzed in this book. It is a good selcetion of songs that will give you a good insight into Robert Johnson's guitar playing. One might still say that two songs are missing: They're Red Hot and From Four Till Late. Both are in the key of C, and different, each in their own way, from the songs presented (there are no other songs in C). But then they are not typical of Robert Johnson, and rather shows how he was influenced by other players. The selection gives you the main picture, but not the compete picture of his playing styles. Get one of the books with compete transcriptions, if you want all the songs.
All the songs are played by Dave Rubinon the CD that comes with the book. All tunes are played as instrumentals, with no singing. This is of course not the real thing. But as long as our goal is to learn the guitar playing, it is a good approach. You should get the double CD with his Complete Recordings anyway, so the CD that comes with the book is only a supplement to help your learning. All tunes are played up to tempo, with none slowed down tracks as you usually get in the Signature Licks Series. But tempo is not the main problem if you want to learn this style of playing, so there should be no need for slowed down track.
The next tune is I Believe I'll Dust My Broom. This song has become the one of the signature songs of Elmore James, and it is usually one of the first tunes you will play if you are learing to play blues slide guitar. But Robert Johnson played this tune with his fingers, not with a slide. The song i presented in an unusual tuning, which is labeled Aadd9 in the book. It is E-B-E-A-C#-E. In all other transpriptions I have seen, the song is written in either Open D or Open E, and this is the tuning I have always been using for the song.
Sweet Home Chicago is probably the most well known blues shuffle. It was not the first, and the song is obviously inspired by Scrapper Blackwell's Kokomo Blues. But Robert Johnson set a standard by this tune.
Come On In My Kitchen is one of my slide favorites. It is followed by Terraplane Blues and 32-20 Blues. Then comes one of the most well known of Robert Johnson's songs: Crossroad Blues. It should be enough to say that the movie based on Robert Johnson's life is called Crossroads, and that the two box sets of Eric Clapton's music both are called Crossroads. It is followed by another classic, Walkin' Blues, based on Son House's My Black Mama.
Preachin' Blues is a benchmark song for blues slide playing. If you can play this tune well, then you really are a slide player. In the book it is followed by If I Had Posession Over Judgement Day, which is a Robert Johnson version of the Roll and Tumble theme. Then comes I'm a Steady Rollin' Man, another shuffle tune in A.
Hell Hound On My Trail is another tune that has contributed to the Robert Johnson myth. Dave Rubin has written the tune in an Open Em-tuning , and he hears a clear inspiration from Skip James in the song. In other transcriptions I have seen, the tune is written in Open D or Open E. Again Dave Rubin argues his case well, and the tune works very well in Open Em-tuning. I cannot tell who is right, and I do not find it to interesting to argue if Robert Johnson really used this or the other tunings. Your ambition by studying the playing of Robert Johnson should be to be a better you, not to be a copy of Robert Johnson. Experiment with the tunings, and choose the one you like better.
The book seems to be very well researched. I have no idea how someone can tell that a tune was played with the guitar tuned a half step down with capo on 2nd fret, unless it is written in the recording logs. But you get this kind of information in the book. Every important aspects of the music and the playing is discussed. This is a must for anyone who wants to study blues guitar.