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By: Jim Bruce
Typically it's the small things which guitarists include that create all the difference. A lot of of us have played Candy Man by Gary Davis, for a lengthy time, with varying degrees of success. I've performed it for years, and then I decided to take a closer look tosee what's happening in the picking patterns.

Of course, we understand that the Reverend employed just one finger and his thumb for his right hand picking, but that's simply the start of his genius for blues music. Loosen up those fingers and we'll make a start ... One Of The Last Greatest Blues Guitar Giants

Reverend Gary Davis was uncommon in quite a few respects. The complexity and musical richness of his music is very well known, and we might think ourselves to be quite fortunate because his prowess remained undiminished in his later years. Unlike many blues men, who discontinued performing and restarted after they had been 'found' again, Gary Davis in no way stopped playing.

It was still his habit to play the blues in the streets around Harlem until he became in vogue once again, after that started to make records and play live gigs once again. He was also quite inclined to give blues guitar lessons to pretty much any individual that asked him, it appears, and so the magic were handed on to youthful guitarists similar to Stephan Grossman and many others.

First of all, Davis used the thumb and index finger of his right hand to create all of those extremely complicated sounds. Of course, his finger could move rapidly and seemed to move separately from his thumb. He also used picks, which helps to be much more accurate.

He was really proficient in any key, either major or minor, but it wasn't that fact that exemplified his technique (for me.) The timing of his thumb beats were rock solid, as you would expect, and he could break out of the alternating bass pattern at will, either to double time and generate syncopated rhythms, or to create lightning rapid single string runs. For the second option, he would pick a string alternately with his thumb and finger, as if he had been using a plectrum. This was remarkable enough, but he frequently sang at the same time which is a great trick -try it sometime!

His thumb would also leap across to the treble strings if needed, to finish a run or a phrase, providing the impression of other finger was being applied. The consequence was a special experience of ragtime guitar playing which has certainly not been equaled.


Jim Bruce is a working blues man making a living playing and teaching in Europe. His acoustic blues guitar lessons are fast becoming the standard to reach for acoustic blues guitar picking.
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