Aug 10

Magic Slim and the Teardrops

This was the third time I’ve seen Magic Slim and the Teardrops this year at Kingston Mines, but it was a special treat, because in the first set Magic Slim played a Fender Jazzmaster. This was his primary guitar on his early recordings, including my favorite album of his, Grand Slam (1982). In his hands (he uses a thumb and a finger pick), the Jazzmaster had a more twangy, stinging tone than does the Les Paul Classic that I’ve see him play before and which he played during the second set. (He doesn’t use effects pedals, but plugs directly into the amp.)

Magic Slim at Kingston Mines August 14, 2010

Magic Slim at Kingston Mines August 14, 2010

Magic Slim is a master of the shuffle. Many of his songs are based on this fundamental blues rhythm. Born Morris Holt on Aug 7, 1937 in Torrence, Mississippi, Magic Slim is one of the elder statesman of Delta-flavored Chicago blues. He was given his blues moniker by West Side Chicago bluesman, Magic Sam, a Mississippi friend. Magic Slim is no longer slim, but he’s still tall and he definitely still has the magic. There are guitarists who can play faster and with more flash, but very few who can convey the depth of feeling Magic Slim can with seemingly little effort.

At this performance, The Teardrops consisted of Jon McDonald (Fender Stratocaster and vocals), Andre Howard (electric bass) and Brian Jones (drums). They provided a solid rhythmic base for Slim’s singing and playing. During the second set, a trombone player joined the band (I couldn’t catch his name). Additional photos of this event are on Flickr.

I’m already looking forward to more Magic in September when the band returns to Kingston Mines as well as to Buddy Guy’s Legends.

Aug 10

Guitar Lesson

I started working up “Blues Break in ‘G'” on Monday. It’s the third of the songs in G in Kenny Sultan’s Introduction to Acoustic Blues (2001, p. 26) and is a continuation of “Step It Up And Go.” I went over it in my lesson today with Jim Goelitz. I was confused by a chord fingering that Sultan suggested, but Jim said the way I was fingering it was better. There are still some rough spots when I play the song, but it’s mainly getting my fingers used to slightly different patterns. The songs have a very different feel than those in E and A and overall seem easier.

We also talked about chords and Jim introduced me to the concept of “half-stepping” into a chord change. It’s something I had often heard in music and even played, but I wasn’t familiar with the term. It consists of leading in to a chord change by playing a chord a half-step (one fret) above or below the next chord. This adds interest to the chording.

Aug 10

Harlem Avenue Lounge

August Lordy of ChicagoBluesBeat.com told me a few months ago that the Harlem Avenue Lounge was one of his favorite Chicagoland blues clubs. It’s just a few minutes from my house, but I just now made it there for the first time. I’ve driven by it a number of times, but I’m not sure I even noticed it. It’s not inviting from the outside. I was curious in particular about their Thursday night “Open Mic Blues Jam.” They have a house band play for an hour starting at 8:30 and then anyone who signs up can play.

The house band was much more impressive than I expected, especially guitarist Pistol Pete, who played with the speed and intensity of a Buddy Guy.

Pistol Pete with house band at Harlem Ave. Lounge

Pistol Pete with house band at Harlem Avenue Lounge

The first guest players I heard were hardly beginners. I couldn’t imagine getting up there myself in the near future, certainly not before I’d played for a while with other musicians. I plan to go back to hear more.

Aug 10

How much practice is enough?

As I perfectionist, I’m inclined to believe that no amount of practice is “enough.” More is always better. If your fingers are sore, it’s time to stop, but short of that, you can probably benefit from more practice.

When I first started taking lessons, Jim Goelitz, my teacher, suggested I practice twenty minutes, then spend ten minutes sitting quietly to let what I’d done sink in. I was to repeat this routine twice a day.

After a while, forty minutes a day of playing didn’t seem enough. There was so much I wanted to learn. Now I aim to practice at least sixty minutes a day. Sometimes I’ve managed to practice two hours in a day, but then there are others days when I barely manage thirty minutes. Sometimes. to my regret, the day gets away from me entirely.

In late March 2010, I started keeping a log of daily practice time, so I would know how much time I was actually spending. My weekly average so far is 5.3 hours a week. There are some weeks when I’ve managed an hour a day or close to it.

I’ve read of musicians who play several hours a day. I wish I could make the time to play more, because I have observed that practice does make a difference. As I play songs over and over, I notice improvement. I can play more smoothly, with less stumbling. My fingers gradually take over and I don’t have to consciously micromanage their movements.

I aspire to make playing the guitar “second nature,” so that through repetition and practice it becomes essentially automatic, not requiring conscious thought. The most common example of this is learning to ride a bike. Once you’ve learned, your body “knows” what to do and you no longer have to “think” about what needs to be done.

Some aspects of playing are already approaching “second nature,” but I still need to extend that to things I haven’t even begun to learn. Learning music is a never-ending process. It’s a journey without a destination.