Fred Vine Talks about the Blues – Apr 17, 2017

The April 17 meeting of RGC featured local guitarist and bluesman, Fred Vine, who started playing guitar around 1965. His speciality is Delta and Piedmont fingerstyle acoustic blues invented and made famous by American journeymen blues guitarists such as Robert Johnson, Blind Blake and Reverend Gary Davis. Fred discussed the history and evolution of this music and demonstrated many of the techniques.
A number of the attendees joined in as Fred explained some of the basic structures of the blues. Not only were the guitarists present pleasantly entertained and well-instructed, but Fred himself was relaxed and enjoying the lively interaction that is typical of RGC meetings. He had already performed two gigs that day and was pleasantly surprised with the relaxed and congenial atmosphere.
Fred brought his National Resonator guitar which has a factory-installed magnetic pickup. The guitar was made in San Luis Obispo, California. Fred strung it with D’Addario Half Round strings, with gauges of .013 - .056. The sound of his resonator guitar running through Jerry Carter’s amp was satisfying to Fred and all present.

In order to illustrate his technique, Fred played through “Key to the Highway”, an 8-bar Big Bill Broonzy song played in the key of E. He had the attendees who brought guitars play along with him as he did a section-by-section analysis of the song.

One of our attendees made a video of Fred as he ran through the piece at a leisurely pace. With Fred’s permission this video will be posted to YouTube and be available to all through a link on this site.

According to Fred, one of the beauties of the guitar is that it is always revealing new things about itself as one plays. One inspirational tool Fred utilizes is what he calls “doodling” on the guitar. That is, randomly playing riffs and combinations of notes to see what develops. He says, “Doodle long enough, and the guitar will reveal its secrets to you.”
Blues songs are normally played solo with voice by a single performer. Most of them have twelve-bar phrases, but some have eight, such as “Trouble in Mind,” and “Key to the Highway.” Fred emphasized that playing Blue songs is “All about the groove,” a strong bass accompaniment by the right thumb on strings six and five (or four and five) accompanying a 1-5-4 chord progression. Blues is played fingerstyle, sometimes with the help of finger and/or thumb picks. It is not well suited to flatpicking. Some other playing techniques Fred mentioned are palm-muting most of the bass notes; using a thumb pick along with the first and second fingers of the right hand; and using a lighter touch with the left hand...that is, using just enough finger pressure to avoid string buzz. The lighter touch also helps minimize hand fatigue when playing. For Fred, a lighter string action on a guitar doesn’t make playing any easier for him; he actually prefers a heavier action which has an added benefit of giving the guitar a fuller sound.
The eight- or twelve-bar segments are connected with a turnaround section similar to a solo break. Fred often uses familiar chord shapes moving them into various positions. This can be a convenient technique to get to a desired position on the neck. Once these movements are worked out, the piece can be worked out in all keys, although some adaptations will be necessary.
Fred finished out the evening playing some of his favorites. First was Rev. Gary Davis’ “Candy Man,” in the key of C. Fred recommended that players of the Blues (or any genre) research the material they are going to play, and the artists that have performed the songs. To emphasize the point more fully, Fred then played one of his original songs, “Who’s Who in the Blues,” the lyrics of which lists the names of many of the most prominent Blues players of the past and present.
Dave Van Ronk is one of the players Fred has worked with in the past. Dave was known for playing guitar in a Ragtime style. Fred drew from that resource to write another original song, “The Linnie Rag”. Fred’s song has two basic sections, the first in the key of G and the next in C. Ragtime music characteristically has multiple sections, each in a different key than the one before.
Fred followed his rag with another original, “Canandaigua Morning” inspired by his observations of the very peaceful atmosphere around 5 am on Canandaigua Lake.
By shifting from standard tuning to Open D (D – A – D – F# – A – D), Fred then played his “Genesee Delta Stomp” using a metal slide instead of fingering the notes on the guitar.
Fred’s last offering of the evening was a rousing “You’ve Got to Move.”

After two hours of “the Blues”, we all went home surprisingly cheerful!
~John Williamson & Richard Taglieri

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