I decided to stick to two specific genres of music now that I'm approaching my 60th year. I'm past a lot of the music that is flashy or even personally original. I find even when I am flirting with "the muse," I'm more apt to adapt a current song for some use in ministry than take the time and focus to write anything original. I don't think I've written a new song since a little ditty I wrote for a puppet show back in 2002. Rather now, I'm enjoying simply sitting back and playing simple chords and licks for the fun of it. Yeah, I'm still strumming along with worship songs and sets…I made a commitment decades ago to stick with that and I'm not apt to negotiate with God. A commitment and promise is just that…something that I'm not bound to give up. But the Blues are self-explanatory…the genre is raw, simple, emotionally complex and real.
A guitar player playing the blues doesn't have to impress anyone with three or four chords and improvisation that is more about "feel" than even technique or expertise. I've listened to them all – from Robert John and Muddy Waters to the contemporary likes of Bonamassa and Moore. It hasn't been too difficult to learn specific patterns on the fretboard or get that gritty sound out of my amplifier. In addition, it's not too difficult to tap into feelings of brokenness and pain. Truth is, that's the reality of the blues as well as the real story of most of our lives. If "one-upmanship" is the plague of contemporary culture that is addicted to consumerism and popularity, the blues allows one to sit still, be quiet and accept the laments of daily life. Because if there is ONE thing we all have in common, it is the restlessness and hurts of the heart.
For me, the blues are hopeful because they start with where we are…they pull me out of my self-proclaimed and narcissistic sense of entitlement, my expectations of unending comfort, and the delusion that life is all about my happiness and fulfillment. Life is more…the journey of faith is more…in fact, it is in the silence and struggles of life in which most of us discover anew the presence of God. Playing the blues as a guitar player lends itself to honesty and humility…because the truth is I really only know a few things about the music and instruments I play, though I do know how to be very good at bluffing. I used to pride myself in being able to look like I'm playing really well…now I just take solace in doing my best, playing when I'm comfortable, and simply enjoying simple and truthful music. Most days I play, I'm in a room alone with backing tracks put together by some brilliant musicians. But my Fender Strat, that incredible Anderson electric that I've been blessed with, my Mesa amp and plethora of fun efx pedals do get their workout and I'm happy. So here's to 12-bar blues and penatonic scales. Here's to some of the online instructors and videos that have helped me have more fun and learn more about how to lean into playing genre. And here's to my wife Vicky who has to live with the 5 watt setting on my amplifier that still feels like it is shaking the walls (and I don't live at any level above a "1," surely not an "11"). So, that's it for today. A few reflections that are more revelatory than instructional…confessional than inspirational. But, some days, that's the best I can do!