Mark Evangelos Presentation “Guitar Slide Tricks of the Old Blues Masters in Open & Standard Tunings” May 19, 2014

Mark Evangelos brought several instruments along to his presentation/workshop for RGC in the Red Room including a Yamaha travel guitar in standard tuning, an old Stella round-hole guitar in open G tuning and an all-metal dobro in open D tuning. The former Bostonian’s blues background stretches back to the 1960’s when he had the good fortune to learn slide techniques and tunings first hand by performing with artists such as James Peterson, Hound Dog Taylor, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and many others.

Mark got things rolling by talking about various artists, the instruments they played and the tunings they used. For example, open D (D-A-D-F#-A-D) also called “Vastopol” tuning, was used by James Peterson, Hound Dog Taylor, Elmore James and Homesick James, and Rev. Gary Davis. Open G was used by Johnny Shines, Muddy Waters, Son House and Robert Johnson.

“Can’t Be Satisfied” and “Walking Blues” were songs Mark played to demonstrate open-G tuning. He used a brass slide on most of the songs that evening. Later, Mark switched to his dobro and played “Mole’s Moan” by Geoff Muldaur in open D.

Mark then had everyone who brought guitars tune to open G for a play-along on Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago.” The opening riffs played at the twelfth fret on the first two strings are instantly recognizable. Mark had each player, in turn, play through a twelve-bar chorus, improvising as they went along on the usual blues chord changes. (foot stomping to keep rhythm was optional!)

Next was a demonstration of more open-D songs, including Elmore James’ “Dust My Broom” whose opening is virtually identical to “Sweet Home Chicago.” Next was a rousing spiritual, “You Got To Move.” Mark noted that playing in open D can easily be accomplished by shifting open-G fingerings over one string toward the bass side.

Lightning Hopkins used standard tuning. Muddy Waters also used standard tuning in addition to open G. John Lee Hooker sometimes used open A as well as standard tuning. Bo Diddley used open E. Each artist would use a particular tuning for various reasons including their personal vocal range and the ambiance generated by a tuning.The group then raised the question of which finger to put the slide on. Putting the slide on the little finger allows the other fingers of the left hand to fret notes in addition to playing notes with the slide. Other artists use the ring finger, and some use the middle’s often a matter of personal preference and individual technique. Slides also are made with various materials: brass, nickel-plated steel, glass. Some can even be improvised by using materials such as bone, bottlenecks, even beer bottles.

The meeting finished up with a Question and Answer session, with additional insights throughout the evening provided by the attendees based on their own knowledge and experience.

~ John Williamson

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