“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.”