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Sweet Home Chicago Guitar Lesson - A Blues Classic.

Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange
Difficulty Rating: Advanced

Here's a challenge for any non-beginners: An instrumental version of Robert Johnson's "Sweet Home Chicago" ... should keep you busy for a while. I know it did me, and I could still do with more practice!

There are so many versions of this it's not funny. I had a listen to many on YouTube (Freddie King's is fantastic) but I kept coming back to Robert Johnson's. His playing is so unique, and of course he wrote it. I know I didn't do it justice but at least I tried.

It's in E and it follows what I think of as "12 bar progression version 2" which has that move to the IV chord at measure 2 of the 12 (in the tab it's bar 6 because of the intro). There are many ways of juggling the chords within the 12 bars, but this one is one of the most common. So, in Roman numerals it goes:

| I - - - | IV - - - | I - - - | I - - - | IV - - - | IV - - - |
| I - - - | I - - - | V - - - | V - - - | I - - - | I - V - | ... which means, in the key of E:

| E - - - | A - - - | E - - - | - - - - | A - - - | - - - - |
| E - - - | - - - - | B7 - - - | - - - - | E - - - | E - B7 -|

Being the blues, of course, you can call all and any of those 7th chords. Sometimes the flat 7 is in play, sometimes it's not, but you can always use it in fills and riffs 'n licks. I did alter the progression slightly: I stuck a ii7 chord in there -- an F#m -- just before the V chord in a couple of instances (bars 13 and 25) and threw in a C9 at bar 50. They should be considered detail and nothing essential. They're just there to add interest and both are common ways of doing that.

The actual playing of this is quite tricky. The arrangement kept getting more and more complex as I ran through it. I had it pretty well worked out, then I struck on the idea of incorporating a walking bass line. Several hours later I had it pretty well worked out and decided to leave it at that. I shot and recorded it, but watching back I should have given it a couple more days to really lock it in.

The Intro

This was sort of copied from the Robert Johnson version ... sort of. I have it written as E7, but it would translate into something like E7 to Edim to Am to E ... It's a very standard figure that's been used for ages. I think even Robert Johnson himself had copied it from others.

The 12 bar tune

I play through the 12 bars four times (I've color-coded each block of 12 bars in the tab to help you keep track). Passes 1, 2 and 4 are pretty much the same, although you'll see/hear that I never settled on any one way to do it. It takes a lot of concentration in the beginning to get the fingers to keep the bass line going while adding those top figures. Both hands get a real work out. I use a lot of different ways of expressing myself ... strums, picking, plucking, muting ... but you should feel free to do it your way. I learned a long time ago that we all have different physiology and, if you're anything like me, find it impossible to play exactly like someone else ... which is a good thing in my opinion. Find the comfortable, reliable, and most importantly musical, way of playing it. Don't worry if you need to toss any bits out. Even that walking bass line can go and you can just keep thumping away at the root notes. The main thing is to keep a good groove happening.

You'll notice that I sometimes play the same chord in two different configurations, for example the A7 (really an A9) at bar 45 ... I hit the open string version first followed an eight beat later by the fretted version. Why? In that case because I need to get to it quickly and the open string configuration is easy to do (just let go of the strings) and the fretted version can be 'vibrato-ed', as I hint at in that measure. Again, these are just details and reflect the way I hear it and play it, but don't fell like you need to copy exactly.

The third time trough the 12 bars, I switch to whole different thing. This is (sort of) the part where the lyrics go "one and one is two", etc. The IV chord disappears at measure two, I pare it all back and play around with a little double stop up at ht efifth fret region. The treble note of that double stop is an E note on string 2, and from time to time I also hit the open E string, giving me two Es in unison. Just another little detail, but it does add to the vibe. I then do a quick bass line and move back up to the staccato thing before going back to the feel. Then at bar 39 I insert another 'Johnson-ism', a bending double stop. The tab shows the note on string two moving up from fret 8 to 9 ... it only does so in pitch. You need to bend that note on the eighth fret up a semitone. That little bit at end is easier to play than it sounds because an open B string comes into play. Finding open strings to use in licks like that is a good way to play quick riffs cleanly as you can get your left hand fingers into position while the open string note is being played. It's still tricky, though!

I end the whole thing oddly ... a quick generic blues line then strums through an E13 chord. I'm sure you'll come up with something better.

Have fun with this and give it time to settle in ... I got very frustrated with it as I worked it out but I found that with concentration, it came together nicely.