Is there any sound sweeter than slide guitar?

Hey folks – thanks for stopping by! Lots of trouble in the world, as there always is and I’m sure we’ve all got our own. Let’s take a few minutes to forget our worries or better yet – wallow for a while and cry the blues – I know that always makes me feel better!slide-guitar

When it comes to the blues, I’m a sucker for the slide guitar, whether acoustic, electric, dobro, lap, or pedal steel. It emulates the human voice and the bending notes of blues harmonica players and for me takes guitar playing to that soul level.

Here is Mississippi Fred McDowell who played in the style of North Mississippi, which has a hypnotic kind of droning sound that distinguishes it from other blues styles that use more chord changes. I like this video because it’s gives me of that real down home feel of the blues.

There are so many that I want to talk about but I’ll start with Derek Trucks. What can I say about this guy that hasn’t been said? He’s been called one of the best slide guitarists alive. Deeply rooted in the southern blues tradition, the prodigious nephew of Butch Trucks, Derek was touring with the Allman Brothers by 11 years old. Here’s a sample of him playing a solo at an Eric Clapton show:



From my not-so-academic research (i.e. google and wikipedia) it seems like the earliest appearance of slide guitar appears in the Mississippi delta, from a one string instrument called the Diddley Bow. Here is a video from the Alan Lomax archive of Napolean Strickland playing a diddley bow he made himself. Napolean was from the Northern area of the Mississippi Delta. I like this video because it gives a feel of how this style of playing comes from the folk music of a community passed on between the generations. That is what rootnotemusic is all about – sharing the knowledge and keeping traditions alive:

Some other prominent slide guitarists include Blind Willie Johnson, Son House, Robert Johnson, Elmore James, Muddy Waters, Allman Brothers, Canned Heat, Joe Walsh, Bonnie Raitt, Sonny Landreth, and many others.

The slide has a brother – the pedal steel guitar – which can be heard in other styles of roots music including country and Hawaiian. It is also used in gospel music in a style called “The Sacred Steel.” One of the more mainstream players that has come out of this tradition is Robert Randolph and the Family Band. While Robert’s playing is influenced by blues, funk and rock – he got his start playing Sacred Steel in the House of God church.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw him on Austin City Limits five or six years ago. It was the middle of the night, I couldn’t sleep so I flipped on the TV to see what was on and there it was on PBS. It blew me away – maybe I was touched by the Lord through his music because I felt changed when I heard him! I’ve since seen Mr. Randolph live probably about four times. This video is kind of funny because there is this guy who keeps yelling “Yeah!” over and over – but that just shows a Robert Randolph show. He invokes that wild enthusiasm from the crowd. People just lose it!

I’m a huge Ben Harper fan. He grew up very near where I grew up in the low-desert area of Southern California (known to locals as the Inland Empire) and he plays from a variety of roots traditions including folk, blues, gospel, and reggae. I really respect that he always stands up for what he believes and throws in a political, social, or spiritual message here and there. Here’s a sweet clip of him playing the lap slide guitar, another variation:

I’m sure there are many others out there who can slide with the best, so please let me know about your favorites! But for me, Duane Allman and Sonny Landreth just epitomize slide guitar. One of my favorite Duane Allman guitar pieces is in the Boz Scaggs song, “Loan Me A Dime”. It’s a long song, but here is just Duane’s solo:

Sonny Landreth! I mentioned him in the last post on Louisiana music. I saw him at the Funk Box in Baltimore (now the 8X10 Club). He is from Lafayette, Louisiana and has been called by Eric Clapton, the “most underrated guitarist around”:

While this post mainly focused on blues slide guitar, I’m going to end it with some slide guitar from another continent. Here is Indian slide guitarist, Debashish Bhattacharya who is one of the world’s finest musicians. He is a Grammy nominee in World Music.

This was a brief discussion of some the players I’m familiar with, whose playing does it for me, but there are so many more out there that I haven’t even touched on. Hit me up and let me know who you think is the best!

Slide guitarists:

Debashish Bhattacharya
Sonny Landreth and check this video of him : Sonny Video
Muddy Waters and here’s a great song: Still A Fool
Duane Allman
Robert Johnson
Joe Walsh
Bonnie Raitt, check this video of her playing with John Lee Hooker: I’m In The Mood
Blind Willie Johnson, known for this haunting tune, Dark Was The Night.
Son House
Elmore James
Alan Wilson of Canned Heat
Derek Trucks
Mississippi Fred McDowell
Johnny Winters
Joe Bonamassa
Ry Cooder
Ben Harper
Robert Randolph
The Campbell Brothers
Jerry Douglas
Chris Whitley
Warren Haynes
Watermelon Slim

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12 comments

    • Oh wow – I’ll have to add him to the list… Thanks so much for the info! Watermelon Slim – I will definitely check him out.

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  1. Awesome post, very inspiring! Interestingly, the slide is also making it’s way to more ‘mainstream’ music, (Wilco, Slash, etc) with good succes!

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  2. Thank. You. I love slide guitar and that was a wonderful collection. Favorite? This time for sure – John Lee Hooker and Bonnie Raitt “I’m in the Mood.”

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