Staff Post

Guitar Stuff: Monotonic Bass, Travis Picking, Mississippi John Hurt and More

John Hurt

bruce cockburn is one of the biggest influence on my guitar playing (and lyric writing). studying his playing has led me to other players i've grown to love as well - mississippi john hurt, big bill broonzy, ali farka toure, and more. he studied music formally (like me) but pursued writing and performing his own songs rather than devoting himself to any one style/idiom - an inspiration in a lot of ways. i just came across a feature of him in an issue of acoustic guitar magazine from a few years ago. i was particularly interested in how he approaches his songs as guitar arrangements that stand on their own first - then laying melodies, etc over the guitar part. it doesn't always work that way for me but his arrangements are virtuosic. here's big bill broonzy playing "hey, hey". this song was covered by eric clapton on his unplugged record. i don't play the blues nor do i consider what i do to be "bluesy" but i appreciate the style and technique. what's most unique about his playing is the thumb steadily pounding the monotonic bass on the lower two strings.

and here's bruce demonstrating the monotonic bass thing with the thumb with the chords and melody up top (a la big bill broonzy).

a related style is "thumb-style" or "travis picking". here's mississippi john hurt playing "you got to walk that lonesome valley". his style is more of a folk-blues style. simple chord shapes, the alternating bass with the thumb, melody played on the higher strings simultaneously. i use a similar style on a LOT of my songs - "queen of my heart", "can't save yourself", "keep me in your heart", my version of dylan's "love minus zero / no limit" and many more.

speaking of acoustic guitar magazine. here's their review of my record, how faint the whisper from a few years ago. you can imagine how thrilled i was to get compared to dylan and cockburn and townes van zandt. i was also listening to bob dylan's new morning A LOT at the time so it was cool they picked up on that too!

Luke Brindley, How Faint the Whisper

Luke Brindley's lyrics convey a haunting mistiness that is mirrored in the moody black-and-white photos of the CD booklet. Tasty dark vocal harmonies add to the effect, and Brindley propels his songs with catchy accompaniment vamps. A variety of influences is apparent in this debut collection, including the rambling acoustic environment of New Morning—era Dylan and the smokiness of early Townes Van Zandt vocals, while the melodies and fingerstyle guitar patterns bear a clear Bruce Cockburn stamp. At the same time, Brindley has his own compelling musical voice. It all adds up to a satisfying musical experience. (Luke Brindley, www.lukebrindley.com) —Gary Joyner

read it here.

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