I’m a big fan of the sound of slide or “bottleneck” blue guitar. It’s hard to say exactly where I first became aware of it, but I can remember one particular song which made a lasting impression on me. I first heard George Thorogood’s version of “The Sky is Crying” when I was about seventeen — most likely on a cassette tape. My buddy was washing his pride and joy on his driveway: a candy-apple-red vintage Mustang. The first line of the Elmore James composition “The sky is crying, look at the tears roll down the street” blasted on the stereo while soapy water rolled like tears down the inclined driveway and into the street.
It’s a funny coincidence that life was mirroring art at that particular moment, but that’s how it happened. (I think I would have still gravitated towards slide guitar without it.) It took a few years before I heard Elmore James’ original version of the tune, but I was not disappointed.
It’s hard to top Elmore’s original version in my humble opinion, but I found this soulful version by Gary B.B. Coleman while doing a little research.
There are at least fifty versions of this song by various blues and rock musicians: Albert King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Allman Brothers. As you can imagine, they’re not all recorded in the slide guitar vein, but some are.
In case you’re wondering, it’s called slide guitar because the guitarist uses a (glass or brass) bottleneck to slide across the guitar neck — as opposed to fretting the notes (pressing them down to the fret board with your fingers). Slide guitar takes some finesse to really get the desired sound. I would compare playing slide guitar to European style hockey — more finesse and less physicality — as opposed to North American style hockey and regular guitar playing. (It’s an example which might not make a lot of sense to some people.)
A lot of slide guitar songs are played in open tunings where the strings are tuned to sound a chord without fretting any notes (pushing down any strings). So in Open D tuning the strings are not their normal notes of (E, A, D, G, B, E), but rather (D, A, D, F#, A, D) to sound a D chord. There are other technical things about slide guitar, but those are some of the basics. For my money, it doesn’t get much better than “the King of the Slide Guitar” Elmore James.
Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon.