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12 Bar Bidness, Baby

  10/22/10 19:19, by , Categories: Guitar, BFMN Exclusive, Dan Grigor, Video , Tags: 12 bar, 12 string, 12-bar, 12-string, blues, dan grigor, guitar, live music, music video

I went to a great birthday party the other day. It was a JAM party and I brought my guitars. It was also a costume party so I wore my leather and cape. As a guest of a friend of the birthday girl I only knew three people there, my guitar-player son-in-law, my daughter, and wakitu. It was a blast. When I got there I found that many of the guests were fans of my YouTube channel and my songs. One guy said he has been watching my videos for a few years. They were all jazzed that we would finally get to jam. What a treat for me to show up and be the q-list celeb, signing CDs and sitting in with the band, all the while lookin’ cool in my leather and cape. Silly fun, that’s what!

Click through for a video!

The always-present problem in a room full of musicians ready to jam is finding common ground. Covers are good for that and there are usually a few songs that everyone knows or kind-of-remembers. We were all pretty much over the hill, so that made it easier. We each knew a bunch of those big-hair songs from our stadium rock concert days so off we went. Everyone got to play a few songs and I played some of mine. We had a lot of fun and everybody loved us with all our clunkers and forgotten lyrics. I think that was part of the entertainment for the audience. Watching us try to figure out what to play when and by whom. They all sang along and helped remember the lyrics and cheered us on, knowing full well we had never played together before.

In a conversation with another guitar player there, it was revealed that he never really played the Blues. Unless that I, IV, V chord pattern was in a song he knew (Johnny B Goode, Red House, etc.) he had no idea what I was talking about.  To me, it is second nature. I grew up in New York, where there was always a good Blues jam bar nearby. Hanging out in the Village in those days with all those little music and poetry rooms, you never knew who was going to wander in for a jam. Dylan, Clapton, B.B. King and many others I saw live with their jackets off, drinking beer, smoking cigarettes and jamming with the house band, often on someone else’s guitar.  It was fabulous, amazing stuff to witness.  Casual, intimate jams, free of “the show,” the hype and the rock star.  Just a couple of guys sitting around playing music in a dive bar and you could tell it was good for them. It was certainly good for us.

That I, IV, V pattern is such a piece of Americana. One of the most influential genres in the history of music, its roots are right here in the States. Born out of our growing pains and used since then and forever to give voice to a visceral set of emotions. Raw pain and total happiness and everything in between has been, at one time or another articulated, by a blues riff. A hanging single B.B. King note that just goes on forever and makes you weep for countless reasons. Or a screaming SRV solo vamped over a warped I,IV,V that makes you get up on your toes. It doesn’t matter. The Blues can voice it.

It is so easy to play that anyone (a pirate, a wizard, a superhero or even a leatherclad troubadour) can do it. The chords are easy on any instrument; the scale has only 5 notes and the melodies are now so ingrained in our heads that all you need do is write down two lines that rhyme and one that don’t. BAM you got the Blues! Fast, slow, countrified, refried, jazzed up with 9th chords, jazzed down with open-tuned out-of-tune one-string slide guitars, sung out, sung low, played hard or sweet as an angel, the Blues has something for everyone and it never fails to get feet moving.

No matter how much of a music snob you are I bet there is Blues in your collection. You may not even know it. Even the masters touched upon the pattern occasionally. How could you not? There are only 12 notes. It wasn’t until America came along that it went mainstream, but that basic rhythm, that simple scale, that visceral emotion – it is very nearly your heartbeat. It is, I believe, a part of  us all.

So embrace the Blues, my friends. There is no easier way to break the ice at a JAM session than with a good old 12-bar blues. Knowing that pattern in a few keys means you quite literally “know” millions of songs and all you need then is the lyrics. That’s a lot of lyrics dude. Have fun.

In the meantime, millions of players are out there on Thursday night JAM nights all over the world getting to know one another and making great music. The next time you find yourself at a campfire with a few guitars you can get everyone singing and stomping their feet. Embrace the Blues my friends, somehow it makes people happy and fun to be around.

Here we have video of us crankin’ out Road Trip to the delight of the silly-outfitted crowd. How often do you get actual video of a pompadoured greaser in shades grinding to your 12-bar riff?

Not very often, not very often at all.

Here’s how it works:

A 12-bar Blues is a pattern of chords played over 12 measures, usually in 4/4 time. That is 12 counts of 4. It is played using the first, the fourth and the fifth chord tones of the key it is played in, hence the often-used term I, IV, V or one,four,five. Those chord tones are all Major tones, which means the chord played is a Major chord. The Blues has a way of bending the rules and is often played with minor and or dominant seventh and ninth chords for added flavor as well.

By way of example, let’s look at a 12-bar pattern in the key of C which has no sharps or flats (all the white keys of a piano).

A C major scale uses the notes CDEFGABC. The first is C, the fourth is F, and the fifth is G.

To play a standard 12-bar blues in C, play the following:


Put that in the key of A using the same formula and you have Johnny B. Goode or Red House.


Click here for some tips on How To Not Suck at the Blues.

The song in the video, Road Trip, is in the key of E using E, A and B. I am using the capo because I tune the 12-string down a whole step and the capo brings it back up to pitch.

Stay tuned!

Hey, do me a favor email this to someone you love. thanks

This entry was posted by and is filed under Guitar, BFMN Exclusive, Dan Grigor, Video. Tags: 12 bar, 12 string, 12-bar, 12-string, blues, dan grigor, guitar, live music, music video

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Comment from: Ed Lapple
Ed Lapple

Dan, well said, well said. I personally think that the world would be a whole lot better place if we had a whole lot more Thursday night jam sessions. The blues offer a commonality of musical language that makes it easy and effortless to communicate, with other musicians whom you have just met, in a jam. I hate it when I get up to jam and some player looks on in disdain when I say, “Let’s do a 12-bar in A.” 12-bars are a format that you perform within. If you go in the backyard and play touch football there are rules, if you go to the bar for some 8-ball there are rules and as you drive there, well, the DMV has rules for that as well. These rules are formats which allow us to all play the game without confusion or argument. (Maybe guitars should have horn buttons like cars?) Are they limiting? Well only by your imagination or lack there of. B. B King, Clapton, SRV, Satriani, Grigor all play with uniquely identifiable, individual voices and they all can do it inside of that limiting, old, 12-bar format. The eloquence of each is a joy to hear and when you can discover it on a Thursday night, when their jackets are off and their jam is in “the pocket,” well that’s a treasure that’s hard to duplicate. Thanks for reminding us and I think the leather coat is a cool touch.

11/10/10 @ 20:05

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