“MOST GUITARISTS, WHEN THEY PLAY SLIDE, USE
an open tuning,” says legendary blues guitarist Elvin Bishop. “Robert
Johnson, for instance, played open G a lot. Derek Trucks works his
magic in open E. I’ve fooled around with tunings a little, but mostly
play slide in standard tuning.
“Starting my career in the early ’60s in Chicago, my number one
role model was Earl Hooker, a guy I was lucky enough to see several
times in South Side blues clubs. All the blues musicians considered
him the greatest guitarist—you can ask Buddy Guy or B.B. King about
him. His slide tone and phrasing were amazingly voice-like, and he
could even play way past the fretboard perfectly in tune, whistling like
a bird. I saw him at Pepper’s Lounge on 43rd Street, playing Ray Charles’
‘What’d I Say’ for what seemed like half an hour. The people were
going crazy. You could close your eyes and see Ray singing as Hooker
played the melody. He could also, without removing the slide, play
fantastic conventional picking stuff—blues, jazz, country, anything.
“From watching him, I picked up on his method of playing in standard
tuning with a small light slide on the little finger, which leaves three
fingers to fret with, so you can mix slide with regular playing. You can’t
play big full chords, like with an open tuning, but it forces
you to really figure out melodies, which is good.
“On my new CD, Red Dog Speaks [Delta
Groove], there’s a lot of slide—plenty of
blues, of course, but also a couple of doowop
and gospel tunes where I ‘sing’ the lead
on slide and have horns doing the ‘background
vocals.’ It works pretty well I think.
“Ronnie Baker Brooks, talking about his
dad, Lonnie, says, ‘He taught
me everything he knew.’ That’s
how I feel about Earl Hooker.”