One simply cannot talk about people of importance to this genre without tipping the hat to the most masterful musician, teacher, musicologist, producer, folklorist and preservationist of the traditional blues. By now, Stefan Grossman is a venerated, iconoclastic and respected acoustic blues figure of mega-proportions. He came out of the vibrant Greenwich Village, New York, 1960s scene around Washington Square, where so many American folk and blues musicians launched their careers. His friend and occasional collaborator, Steve Katz, formerly of the Even Dozen Jug Band, the Blues Project and Blood, Sweat & Tears, once half jokingly told this writer: “There we were, all these New York Jews playing the black blues.” Indeed, the blues had a strong influence on young New Yorkers during the folk revival. These musicians, Stefan Grossman, Happy & Artie Traum, Danny Kalb, and many others, in turn had a powerful influence on the acceptance of the blues by the American baby boomer generation at large; and, they significantly helped to launch the folk, roots & blues revival, thereby reinvigorating the careers of many original blues musicians whose careers had waned.
Many people know Stefan Grossman as the paramount teacher and entrepreneur in what has become the world’s largest “blues school”, Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop. He is one of the most skilled guitarists in the genre, having been a student of Rev. Gary Davis in New York City. He also picked up lessons directly from Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Skip James, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and others.
Mississippi John Hurt was one of the all time greats in the story of blues guitar. His guitar style revolves around an alternating bass approach and seems deceptively simple but is in fact full of tricks and turns. In this volume we focus on arrangements in the key of G and C.
Lesson One: Key Of G: Some of Mississippi John Hurt's best known tunes are played in the Key of G. This is a very convenient key for developing a strong alternating bass technique. Shake That Thing, Spike Driver's Blues, Casey Jones, Got The Blues Can't Be Satisfied and Joe Turner are all taught.
Lesson Two: Key Of C: Mississippi John played many songs in the key of C. He had so many fine arrangements in this key that we will need two lessons to cover a host of exciting songs. We begin with Satisfied And Tickled Too, Make Me A Pallet and Nobody's Dirty Business.
Lesson Three: More in the Key Of C: John had many unusual arrangements in this key and we shall explore four of these in this lesson. Spider Spider, Richland Woman Blues, Louis Collins and Let The Mermaid Flirt With Me are taught.
Level 2 • 32 page tab/music book with three compact discs
Review: Excellent Instruction! You Too Can Play In The Style Of Mississippi John Hurt. I've been meaning to write a review of “Shake That Thing”and “Avalon Blues” for a few months now. I found them at Colony Music in Times Square, NYC. If you are interested in playing the music of Mississippi John Hurt, I don't believe you will find any better instruction than Stefan Grossman.
He breaks down the songs musical phrase by musical phrase at a very slow tempo. His instruction is very clear and easy to follow. In the beginning, I had a little trouble getting used to playing an F chord by hooking my thumb around the neck of the guitar but it's an important skill to learn. With consistent practicing, I am now playing five songs very smoothly (although not quite up to MJH's tempo yet, but with a steady rhythm and competence!).
I bought this book in July along with Grossman's other book “Avalon Blues” (this is another Mississippi John Hurt book). There is a wealth of things to learn in both books. The material is presented in both standard notation and guitar tablature. Most of the MJH songs are in standard tuning but there are a few that are in alternate tunings which I haven't tried yet (an excuse to buy that 2nd guitar!). Some songs require a capo (“Candyman” is one of those songs...it's in the “Avalon Blues” book).
Anyway, the bottom line is if you enjoy fingerpicking, you will have a blast with these books. I was only playing (strumming) guitar for 1 1/2 years when I decided to try my hand at this type of music and after a few months, I'm actually playing it! If you practice regularly, you'll be playing these songs in no time and you can build up an excellent repertoire that people will enjoy for years to come. So far I can play “Louis Collins,” “Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me” and ‘I'm Satisfied” from this book. I can also play “Sliding Delta” and “Coffee Blues” from the “Avalon BluesÆ book.
Both books come with CDs that contain the original 1928 MJH recordings of the songs as well as the 1960s recordings made when Hurt was “rediscovered.” Grossman includes some additional recorded versions by other bluesmen (Rev. Gary Davis, Mance Lipscomb).
Grossman doesn't always tab out the entire song, but you get enough info to go back to the original recordings so you can figure out what to do and try to play along. I'm sure when MJH played the songs, he never played them the same way twice. That being said, Grossman also gives minor variations on how you can play some phrases. I also enjoy the extra background info that he gives. For example, in the song “Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me” he talks a little bit about white songster Jimmie Rodgers and how a trademark Jimmie Rodgers lick keeps appearing in this song. It's a cool sounding lick. I recently taught it to a friend who's been playing guitar for years!
This is really an excellent book for anyone who wants to sharpen their fingerpicking skills. It's not for the absolute beginner. You should be able to play a clean barre chord and have sufficient dexterity in your fretting fingers to play over four frets when needed (I hope that sounds intelligible). It will help too if you're not a slave to looking at your fretting hand while playing. All of this comes with time and practice. I don't see why a beginner can't be playing from this book fairly quickly as long as they have determination and a willingness to practice consistently. The fingers will learn to cooperate eventually. I speak from experience.
There's just something about this music that makes it very accessible, even to someone like me. When you listen to the original recordings, it sometimes sounds as if there's more than one guitar playing. As I was learning the songs, I was surprised at how simple and “bare-bones” the music was. This simplicity is what makes the songs of MJH sound so enchanting. The songs are not difficult to learn at all, the way Grossman teaches them. Some are easier to learn than others. This only increases your motivation to keep on learning more songs!
Me? I'm just a middle aged white woman who's used to playing Bach and Beethoven on the piano. Practicing classical music can be a slow and torturous process (for me and anyone who is stuck within hearing range of me). Being able to sit down and fingerpick these Mississippi John Hurt gems is so much fun! And my family doesn't even mind when I play them. These two books “Shake That Thing” and “Avalon Blues” have opened an entire new world of music for me. – Fingerpickin' Gal/Amazon Customer Review