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Fred McDowell's You've Got To Move - Slide guitar tips and techniques

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Blueshome and I have been chatting off list and agreed us slide players should have a topic for discussing slide moves, both upright and downright, as practiced by our heroes.

Slide licks are elusive as very few of them have a common name you can use that people understand and can immediately know what you're talking about.

I was thinking it might be good to try and coin some names for them where possible. For example, 'The Fred McDowell octave slide break' that we were discussing elsewhere. To that end I'll post another youtube of Fred and move the subsequent discussions to this topic.

For starters here's another youtube, Fred giving us a lesson in Fredness with a smokin' version of Shake 'Em On Down. I love the washboard rhythm groove and the trick slide moves over it:

To reiterate from the other thread, things I notice in this video of Fred in Vestapol tuning:

1) Right hand tends to lead with the alternating thumb on the higher of the bass strings (4th string) on the one and three of the bar and follows through with a big sweep with the thumbpick across the 6th, 5th and 4th strings on the 2 and 4 beats. The energy from the multiple strings sounding on the 2 and 4 beats gives it that great swing feel. The sweep also gets damped alternately with the right hand to accentuate the scratchy washboard sound and keep it tight, see 2:18. He breaks this pattern a lot to get different effects and syncopated licks but always finds his way back to that core, danceable groove.

2) The high octave breaks start out very fast and clean, the second time (2:05) he actually looks around the room and then jumps on it, bit of showmanship there perhaps, or maybe the producer was signaling him to start ending it. No fluffing around looking for multiple string licks at the 12th fret, just vibrato and flatting on one string. He keeps it simple, less is more, but breaks out of it to play a lick that, in the first break, includes a speedy high note (first thought it was a flat 3rd at the 15th fret, now think it's a sharped I at the 12+ fret (first high octave break starts around 0:44)), whatever it is it's very effective. He lets us down easy with a descending treble line back to the lower neck, and often ends it with a rapid-fire single string slide home.

3) The open 3rd string (major 3rd) is usually damped/skipped entirely and sometimes fretted at the first fret (sus4), though this is more apparent on other youtubes. This is classic 'modal' Delta blues, the major 3rd is too pretty so he kills it or alters it. Having said that I watched again and couldn't swear he never hits the 3rd string open. It sounds crap when I do it.

4) Slide on the inside strings. Fred likes to play the I on the second string 5th fret so he can slide up to it, use vibrato, and drop down to the 7th. Also noticed the use of slide on the lower three strings.

5) Glass slide on the ring finger. I'm a slide on the pinky guy myself but I wonder if Fred would have sounded like Fred if he'd done it any other way.

Rivers, A couple of observations:

The alternation from 4 to 6 in Vasterpol can also be found in the playing of Furry Lewis.

Fred quite often incorporates a hammer/pull on the 3rd string, 1st fret as you note.

The slide to the tonic on the 2nd string is a regular trick to allow vibrato on that note - B.W.Johnson did it all the time, but so did most players I think.

My thought was we could try to identify important 'building blocks' and lay them out for discussion, revision for some, new information for others. Which players used these building blocks in which songs, how to execute them, and variations of them.

So I guess I'm into pointing out the 'advanced basics' in case it's useful for anyone just starting to play slide, recognizing that hitting 'inside notes' cleanly are an important building block and can lift your playing a notch when you're starting out. It took me a while to latch onto that fact many moons ago and I'm sure we all hear slide players who don't play inside, and wish, for the sake of their performance, they would!

Use of chords in various inversions in combination with the slide and used as rhythm riffs are another building block I'd personally like to explore. Implied V, 7ths, sus 4, rel. minor, all these come into play. Of the old guys that I know of, Fred McD, Willie Johnson, Robert Johnson, Booker White, others, are interesting chordally. Of the modern players focused on country blues, Steve James is exceptional at this aspect, it's bread and butter to him.

Damping, left and right hand, that's another building block.

Let's stick with Fred for a while, here's another youtube, posted by Stefan Grossman by the looks of it, Louise, Vestapol:

Synchronicity, it's Freds birthday today, b. January 12 1904, Rossville, Tennessee. Larry Munroe is playing a lot of Fred and Fred's followers as we speak, on the Blue Monday show on KUT Austin tonight:

KUT Austin is a great reason to live here. God I missed having any semblance of good radio in the last few countries I've lived in. Slim Harpo's birthday yesterday BTW

Googling Fred I was surprised to see he did a session for the late and much missed John Peel's show: any of our UK readers know if the tapes survived?


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