May 2018

Blues Progressions Part 2: Riffs and More

We completed our two part lesson on the blues in the May issue of In Tune with a look at minor chord progressions and riff-based blues songs.

Here are some listening examples.

The Thrill Is Gone: B.B. King’s masterpiece is a perfect example of a minor-key 12-bar blues.

Stormy Monday: T. Bone Walker’s original version of this classic song is full of variations on the standard 12-bar blues structure.

Stormy Monday: The Allman Brothers Band built on the original and added some of their own variations.

Mannish Boy: Muddy Waters built this sone on a classic blues riff. A call and response between the singing and the band drives the song. Variations on the riff and theme have been used by dozens of other blues and rock artists.

I’m a Woman: Koko Taylor’s take on the same theme. Notice how she personalized the words.

“Boom Boom”: John Lee Hooker’s classic is another example of a blues built on a repeating riff. This time, it’s a I iii V. This live performance has the rough edged drama that sometimes gets lost on studio recordings.

La Grange: Blue rock band ZZ Top was heavily influenced by Hooker, among others. On La Grange, they borrowed the riff from “Boom Boom” and even adopted some of Hooker’s vocal mannerisms.