Getting Some “Roots” into Your Playing

By Arlen Roth

Almost all western and particularly American music is deeply rooted in either Blues, or Blues-related forms, such as Country and Western and early Jazz. My appreciation for where the music I loved came from started at a very young and curious age for sure, and this of course, left and indelible mark on me and my playing. It has also left a permanent mark on how I feel about the guitar and American music in general, and I how I love to pass it on.

About 90% of students who come to me seem to want to have a deeper understanding of the blues and basically all forms of original “rootsy” American music. It seems that even though they may be fairly good general players already, they still feel a need to get “deeper” into where it all really comes from. I t was a funny thing how after the crash of interest in the ‘80s “hair” bands happened, and interest in heavy metal had mostly waned, that the guys who waned to survive were suddenly calling themselves “blues players”, or at least were trying to profess their deep allegiance to blues roots. The problem was that 99% of these musicians thought of their blues roots only as far back as Led Zeppelin or Cream. I hate to break it to them, but this sure ain’t the “roots!”

Arlen Roth

You must always try to go back as far to the sources of the music you like as possible. The tracing of this path can really be quite easy. For example, when I fell in love with The Beatles and then The Stones in the early to mid-‘sixties, I quickly discovered that players such as Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins were their forerunners. Then I suddenly realized that folks like T-Bone Walker, B.B King, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush and others took it back even further. That not being nearly enough, I was quickly introduced to the earliest Blues and Country players such as Son House, Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, Blind Blake, Jimmie Rodgers and Maybelle Carter. The fascination just grew and grew, and it’s amazing how addicting this early music can become, especially when you realize just how broad the selection is, and how many variations and twists and turns there can be within even one genre! It is so inspiring, that to this day, I still find myself discovering yet more details about the past, and more artists and new songs to uncover! I find that I get all excited again like when I was 15 and 16 years old, when I was first developing this deep love for the “roots.”

So, no matter what style you’re into, there are the real forerunners you should pay attention to. These people in their own way were so fresh with their ideas and approaches that hearing them is really a glimpse into the origins of certain music forms themselves! So it you’re into electric Jazz guitar, don’t miss Charlie Christian, if you’re into Blues, you must study Robert Johnson and Son House, and if you’re into Country picking, you’d really do yourself a disservice to overlook Merle Travis or Mother Maybelle Carter. Without these founders, there’d be nothing to listen to or play today! Have fun in your quest!

Article courtesy of Gibson Lifestyle

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