Although I have to say that there were times this year when I was very blue indeed. This wasn’t just down to Covid but a number of other things that coalesced into a mountain of worry that couldn’t be ignored or gotten around. I think I became quite depressed at times which is not my usual style.
Thankfully, things have improved but it proved to be something of a warning to me. Since retiring I’m now trying to write full-time, however, this year has proved to be a problem. The combination of the virus and some quite extreme family issues has stopped me in my tracks. To date I have been averaging two books per year but so far this year I have yet to complete one. And this got me down. The problem was that I didn’t have a Plan B.
Late one sleepless night I was desperately browsing YouTube when I came across this and it set me on fire. It’s a clip (one of many) from a fabulously gifted guitarist called Justin Johnson and it brought back many memories. I was a musician, a guitarist, for much of my early life, and one of the very first things I attempted to play was The Blues. A small group of us were deeply into Blues music and we used to scour second hand shops for old Chess albums of Blues masters like Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. We formed a band and tried playing them on stage although not authentically I have to add. We played Rhythm and Blues which was really popular in the UK in the 60s with bands like The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds and The Animals.
Listening to Clapton’s version of Robert Johnson’s ‘Crossroads’ made me want to listen to the original and there it was again. That sound. However, being a young man from Birmingham, England and not Birmingham, Alabama I had no idea how it was done. Whatever it was, it could make a guitar weep or howl. I later found out about Slide Blues guitar but, by then, I had progressed from The Blues and was playing other things. However, not being able to create that sound for myself has been a deficiency that has stayed with me ever since.
Listening to Justin Johnson I remembered this. I then ordered a cheap glass bottleneck and read up on the technique. The key was the tuning. I’d always played in standard tuning and I realised that was why I could never figure it out. I had an old battered acoustic that I tuned to open D and then applied the bottleneck. I slid up to the 12th fret and it sounded amazing. I then tried something else and it sounded like a bag of cats. I then realised that it was not a simple art to master but I also felt that it could be done. I’m getting into it now and have bought a new guitar. While I still occasionally get the ‘bag of cats’ sound, it is getting better.
I’m finding The Blues to be very cathartic which, I suppose, was the main reason that it was invented. I find that I’m just that little more peaceful inside after I play for a while and this has meant that I’m writing more. So, my Plan B is actually helping me with my Plan A.
So, am I saying that everyone should start playing Slide Blues? No, of course not. However, I think that everyone should think about a Plan B and whether that’s music, running, needlework, crosswords or online learning doesn’t matter. If it reduces the head space available for worrying in these hard times then that’s all that matters.