Watch the Swamp Music online guitar lesson by Chris Buono from 40 Day Rhythm SWAT Camp
All the accompaniment styles we've looked at assume the player is a member of a rhythm section with at least a bassist and a drummer. There are times, however, when the guitarist must work alone, supplying the melody, harmony, and rhythm.
This style was the rule, rather than the exception, during the pre-war (World War II) era of blues, a period characterized by a rural, acoustic, "down home" style. Then, guitarists were called upon to provide an extended evening's worth of entertainment to house-fulls of rowdy partygoers with nothing more than a voice and a guitar - and an acoustic guitar at that. In the hands of players like Robert Johnson or Blind Blake, this type of playing could be very complex, but a simpler introduction to the technique exists in some of the early recordings of Muddy Waters.
Muddy had already begun developing his trademark electric, small-band style of blues when he made his first recordings for Aristocrat (later Chess) Records in the late 1040's. His first hits, however, were electric re-creations of songs he played years before, when he was still working on Stovall's plantation in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Most of these records included Big Crawford's acoustic bass accompaniment and an occasional bass drum, but the central instrument was electric guitar - out front, powerful and supportive of Muddy's voice.
In several of Muddy's early recordings, like "Rolling Stone" and "Still A Fool," he plays in the key of E, for the most part abandoning chord changes to create a hypnotically repetitive feel. Figures 1-3 show the gradual development of this approach. Begin by playing a steady shuffle on the low E-string (you can use a pick or your thumb). Mute the bass strings with the heel of your picking hand, playing the melody in Figure 1 with your bare fingers. The melody is built around an E-blues scale and uses the same rhythm as the bass.
Figure 2 is a melody with a slightly different rhythm - concentrate on keeping the bass-line steady while the melody moves around. Practice this very slowly at first and, over time, the bass will become automatic so you can devote all of your attention to the melody.
Figure 3 is a bit more elaborate; like most blues, it's much harder to read than play. The strength of this style lies in simplicity and directness - what Muddy called the "Deep Blues."