Get Out And Play Part 2

Photo by Oscar Jordan

The reasons you’re likely to blow chunks the first time you attend a blues jam is simple. The construct of the blues jam is set up for people who play blues jams regularly. I’ve seen iconic household name musicians humiliate themselves at blues jams because they only know their own songs. They rarely play covers. Anytime you get a bunch of strangers together who are told to be entertaining by playing popular blues standards, that’s a recipe for excruciating fist biting. All kinds of things can go wrong and usually will. Here’s a short list of reasons why things can go wrong:

1. Nobody knows the same songs.
2. They only know part of a song, but they try to play it anyway.
3. Nobody knows how to lead a band.
4. The drummer is just awful.
5. The drunk chick gets on stage and starts counting off “Don’t Stop Believin'” before she realizes nobody knows how to play it.

You may also have to tolerate the guy hosting the jam. You may have to deal with nepotism, apathy, poor organizational skills or just plain jerkism. You may be thinking you don’t need this because you get plenty of bondage and discipline already. But you do need this. The blues jam is not only the place where you can learn to function on stage, it’s also the place to work on your networking skills. It’s also about social interaction and finding out what it will take to accomplish your musical objectives. Your musical objectives will involve people and you need to learn how to deal with people to accomplish your goals. This is the place to find band members. It’s a start anyway. In the meantime you’ll be crafting your very own little stage show within the framework of 3-4 easy songs.

While you’re showing up week after week enduring chronic sweating and explosive diarrhea, you’ll also want to be at your best so you will attract future band mates. You don’t want to scare people off by sucking. It doesn’t matter how nice a guy you are, nobody wants to play with a guy who totally blows. That’s why it’s important to do some homework and have a basic plan before you arrive. Here are a few tips to prepare you of this ordeal.

Learn The Language Of Blues Music.

You can’t spend all your time listening to Mastodon and expect to play good blues. You have to take some time out to live in Blues World. Pick out some classics and study the various permutations of the I IV V and the artists that made them famous. Stay away from Stevie Ray Vaughn and go right to the crux of the biscuit. Nobody ever wants to hear SRV covers. Nobody. You can’t go wrong with the three kings (B.B. King, Freddy King, Albert King), Buddy Guy or Otis Rush. In this day and age of the Internet, DVDs and guitar instruction, there is absolutely no excuse for not having access to the guitar styles of these fine artists. Learn the twelve bar blues progression until you can hear it in your sleep. The secret is to know a chord change is coming before it actually happens. It shouldn’t be a surprise. Also understand how turnarounds work. Take note of how the masters create introductions and endings and memorize at least three or four of them. You don’t have to act like a seventy-year-old black guy who just fell off a cotton truck, but it’s important to understand the form from an academic standpoint so you’ll always know where you are within the progression.

Tune in next time for Part 3 where we’ll get into specifics about what to work on to step up your game.

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