I know it’s something that I and many others have always said, but starting with the roots and getting into the blues as a foundation to your playing is so important. Far too many young players these days want to immediately play complex and physically impressive guitar, that they speed right by what they really need to know in the first place. The majority of these players are even the kind of students I get from time to time, who realize they either need to “get back to” their blues roots, or need to get some blues roots to begin with!
A funny example of this on a larger scale was when everyone got totally overdosed on speed metal and the hair bands of the ‘80s, how all of those metal guitarists were suddenly professing their allegiance to
“the blues” and were talking about how they were such blues-rooted players! Trouble is, most of these folks think blues began with Led Zeppelin, because that’s where they began listening to the guitar. If you ask the Jimmy Pages and Eric Claptons of the world who they listened to, then you’d get a real sense of who you should be listening to as well.
As I’ve pointed out before, my earliest beginnings as a guitarist were in classical guitar, which at the age of ten, gave me a healthy respect for the guitar and its physical difficulties and challenges. Then the Beatles came out, and I immediately got an electric guitar! After playing the popular music of the day for about 3 years, and also sticking with classical, I suddenly fell deeply in love with the blues and its players. Around this period of 1965-67, there was a bona fide blues “boom” going on, and bands like The Paul Butterfield Blues Band (with Mike Bloomfield), The Blues Project (with Danny Kalb) and many other groups were really starting to put a focus on “real” blues. I immediately starting going back and back, into not only early blues, but early Rockabilly and Country as well, desperately and hungrily devouring all the information I could. Friends of mine would get together with me after school, and the jamming and playing would seem to go on forever! It was a time of great learning!
This kind of learning from the blues and all early forms of American music continued right through college for me, and I took that momentum with me right into my true career, which really began in earnest when I moved to Woodstock. Armed with so much depth to my playing by that point, even at the age of 18 I seemed to have a world of musical experience there in my fingers!
So my advice to you is to really get into the earlier players, and immerse yourself in, and fall in love with the blues. If you love Eric Clapton, then you’re going to want to hear Skip James. If you are crazy about Jimmy Page, then listen to Otis Rush, and if you love Jack White, listen to Son House. Get back to those blues roots, and you’ll be so thankful that you did. The possibilities and the inspiration are literally endless!