Club Staccato: Final Show at El Mercado

club staccato THURSDAYS IN JUNE greenOk, if I really want to concentrate, I’m going to have to turn down this Bennie Green track, “We Wanna Cook,” and focus on the task at hand. For instance, I nearly titled this email “Last Night at El Mercado,” which, while arguably a little zingier than “Final Night at El Mercado,” could be a little confusing. I’m writing this on a Monday afternoon, and I don’t know what *did* happen at El Mercado last night, but that’s neither here nor there. I *am* planning to go down tonight and catch some Bill Kirchen with my pal Frank, but that is also only marginally tangential to the message at hand.

What *is* germane is that this Thursday, Club Staccato plays our final residency show before Eric leaves town for the summer. So if you’ve been *thinking* of catching our show, now is the time to make the transition from pensive philosopher to rugged individual of action, and take steps accordingly. Did I mention this is our last show of any kind as Club Staccato till the fall? I believe I did. And I meant it, too. We won’t be getting the band back together at some reasonable midpoint like the Shoney’s parking lot in Lenoir City, Tennessee, or even an unreasonable midpoint like the Flying J Travel Plaza in Texarkana (unreasonable because Arkansas is no kind of midpoint between Austin and Portand, Maine, not because there’s anything inherently unreasonable, to the best of my limited knowledge on the subject, about the Flying J Travel Plaza per se).

Nope, this is it, for now. So come on down, have the queso, pick up one of our live CDs if you simply *must* have some Club Staccato to get you through the summer, and we’ll see you in a couple of months.

Guerro’s & El Mercado

Club Staccato, my band with fellow songwriter/guitarist/singer/New England native Eric Bettencourt, will be playing tonight’s Sun Radio live broadcast from the Guerro’s courtyard. We go on at 6pm, followed by guitar monster Will Knaak at 7pm. You can also hear the show live at 100.1FM or stream it at, but before you kick back in the comfort of your own front seat going 2 miles an hour down Lamar at rush hour, ask yourself this: does your car have queso? I thought not. My advice? Plan accordingly.

We’ve got two more shows at El Mercado before Eric heads back to Portland for the summer. So catch us while you can – we’ll be there this Thursday, June 22nd, at 7:30pm. And if you were planning on a quiet evening on the back patio with a light, refreshing screwtop chardonnay, a six-pack of Twinkies and the Ghostbusters soundtrack on your iPod, ask yourself this: do your Twinkies have queso? As I expected. So again I say…plan accordingly.

That’s all I got. Hope to see you around and about…
Club Staccato lo-res couch

Fretboard Confidential on YouTube

So I’ve been releasing free short instructional videos on YouTube for the past view months, and hosting them on as well. I kicked things off with something called “The Buddy Guy I-IV Lick,” and you can check it out below.

Playing the Changes: Using the Altered Sound on a Blues in A

One of the things that distinguishes the way most jazz musicians play the blues from the way most blues musicians do is the way the jazz musicians approach the end of each four-bar line of the blues form. For starters, the jazz version of the blues form usually includes a few extra chord changes, so the whole twelve bars end up looking like this:

10-20-15 PTC Turning the Corner 12 bar progression - no arrows

It’s easier to get a handle on if you look at things line by line. So, in the first four bars, we’re just adding in a A7alt. chord in bar four:

10-20-15 PTC Turning the Corner 12 bar progression - line 1

“Alt.” stands for “altered;” an altered chord is a dominant seventh chord with any of the weird notes added on top: the b13, the b9 or the #9. We’ll get to why you’d add them in just a moment.

In the second line, we’ve now got a F#7alt chord in bar 9. F#7alt is the VI chord in the key of A and the secondary dominant of the upcoming Bmin chord in measure 9:

10-20-15 PTC Turning the Corner 12 bar progression - line 2

Finally, in the third line, we’ve got the aforementioned Bmin7, the ii in the key of A, followed by the V we’d expect, E7. Then, in the last two measures, it’s like we’ve taken measures 7 through 10 and compressed them, so they go by twice as fast – A7, F#7, Bm7 and E7, or I, VI, ii, V:

10-20-15 PTC Turning the Corner 12 bar progression - line 3

So what are these chords doing there, and why are most of them altered? If you look again, you’ll see that all of the altered action is happening at the end of a line. In fact, now all three lines of the form end with an altered chord. What’s more, each altered chord is the V chord of the change that begins the next line. So the A7alt in measure 4 is the V of the D7 in measure 5, the F#7alt is the V of the Bmin in measure 9, and the E7alt is the V of the A7 that would begin the next chorus of the form:

10-20-15 PTC Turning the Corner 12 bar progression

There’s more to altered chords than I’m going to explain here, but I’ve always found it easiest to think of them as “extra-dominant” chords. Dominant chords are supposed to be the chords to take you elsewhere the most convincingly, but since nearly every chord on the blues is already dominant, an altered dominant chord gives you the added tension necessary to resolve to yet another (un-altered) dominant chord. That tension comes from the altered chord’s “altered tones” – the b13th, b9 or #9 that have been “altered” or raised/lowered a half step from the natural 13th or 9th that should occur diatonically in the chord.

Right. So what good is it, knowing all this? Well, if you’re hip to where to alter the chords on the blues, you can then create melodic lines when you improvise that reflect those altered changes. The lick below is an example of just such an approach. For the first two bars, it’s just blues licks in A. In measure three, we climb up chromatically from the root to the b7, and then in measure 4, we work back down to the F natural, or b13 of A7 and descend through the 3rd, root and b7 of an A7 arpeggio before resolving to the F#, or the third of D7, at the start of measure 5.

10-20-15 Playing The Changes - Turning the Corner in A - one system

Fingerstyle Blues Turnaround in A

This week we’ll check out a fingerstyle blues turnaround for the key of A, or, as many of us probably think of it, “the other good blues key.”

This time, we’re using a bass line that moves every two beats over the V and IV chords, a sound that conjures up the feel of a Swing era rhythm section (measures 1 & 2 as shown below, which correspond to measures 9 & 10 of the 12-bar blues progression). Upon returning to the I chord, we get into some quicker chord changes which, particularly once we hit the bVI or F7 chord, come straight out of the East coast ragtime guitar tradition, before wrapping up with a couple of Freddie Green-style chord voicings (F7/C to E7/B in measure 4).

Over all of that, we start out with some sixths on the 1st and 3rd strings over the E chord, move to single-note blues licks over the D7-to-E7 measure, and wind up playing mostly chordal stuff over the last couple of measures.

Check out the notation, tab and audio below, and let me know if you have any questions or thoughts in the comments section below!

FSB Turnaround in A

Walking Bass Line Fingerstyle Blues Turnaround

I love the sound of walking bass lines on the blues, and in the key of E there are plenty of possibilities for coordinating blues licks and chord voicings over a continuously moving bass. If you begin working out chord substitutions that themselves incorporate movement in the bass, you’re halfway there. For example, here’s a set of chord changes to play over bars 11 and 12 of a blues in E:


On the third beat of the first measure shown, you could certainly play just an open position A7 chord, but I’ve included this voicing at the 8th fret (with an open A in the bass) to make it easier to see what happens next. Which is: once you’re comfortable playing through this chord sequence, you can grab individual notes from the chord voicings to make single-note licks, and/or separate the bass notes from the upper voices of the chords to create syncopated chord hits. All of which would look and sound like this:

100115 Walking Bass Lick

If you’ve got questions, comments, or topics you’d like me to address, leave a reply below and I’ll do my best to discuss them in an upcoming post!

II7-V7-I Fingerstyle Blues Turnaround

You can change things up on a twelve-bar blues by replacing the standard V-IV-I turnaround with a II-V-I turnaround. Ordinarily, you’d play bars 9-12 of a blues in E like this:

II-V-Fingerstyle Blues Turarnound Chord Progressions - V IV I


A II-V-I turnaround – this version, at least – could replace the A7 in bar 10 of the form with two beats of F#7 and two beats of B7, like this:

II-V-Fingerstyle Blues Turarnound Chord Progressions - II V I


If you want to geek out on the theory, this works because we’re basically saying, first, “hey, instead of going from B7 to A7 to E, let’s just play two bars of B7,” which was a pretty common way to play the blues progression in the swing era. Next, the logic goes, “Well, if we’re playing B7 for two bars, why don’t we temporarily borrow the V of B7 – that’d be F#7 – to put some extra emphasis on the last couple of beats of B7?” That, as the classical cats like to say, would make F#7 the secondary dominant of B7 and would give you a rousing “V of V of I” progression – F#7 to B7 to E7 – to bring you back to E in a big way.

But if you have no desire whatsoever to geek out on the theory, here’s some tab, notation and audio to show you how it’s done. Have fun!

II-V fingerstyle blues turnaround example


Cactus Cafe • July 31st

I’ve played the Cactus Cafe a handful of times over the years and it’s always been memorable. One night I went to see Jorma Kaukonen, who was touring his country record and had Cindy Cashdollar on dobro and Barry Mitterhof on mandolin. It was a fabulous show, and packed to the rafters, but at the intermission I heard someone calling my name over the P.A. It was Grif Luneberg, the Cactus’ m.c., booker, manager and all-around overseer for nearly thirty years. “Hey,” he said, when I finally figured out what was going on, where he was standing, and had carefully elbowed my way to his side of the room, “you wanna open for Jorma tomorrow night?” Um – yeah. Another night my bluegrass band, the Grassy Knoll Boys, shared a bill with Laurence Juber, who of course seemed to do more with six strings than we had managed to do with twenty-three of them and a few voices thrown in for good measure. When I met Chris Smither there to interview him for Acoustic Guitar, he had just arrived from the airport, where one of his bags had been delayed. He had his guitar, but his favorite gigging shoes were in the missing suitcase, the ones he liked best for tapping his feet during shows. A good journalist goes the distance for a story, so while Smither soundchecked, I drove the airport in search of the missing footwear. He was a charming interviewee, and gave a great show that night.

On Friday, July 31st, I’ll be back at the Cactus to play an opening set for Lost And Nameless. I met Chris Peterson during my bluegrass days in Austin, and we’ve been admirers of each others’ music ever since. His band is crowded with great singers, pickers and performers and is well-worth catching anywhere around town, but particularly in a room as welcoming to both artist and audience as the Cactus.

Doors at 8pm Friday, July 31st. I’ll be playing a half-hour solo set at 8:30pm, followed by Lost and Nameless. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door.

Concert Window

I’ll be doing my second Concert Window show this coming Wednesday, July 22nd, live from my composing studio at 8pm Central. The shows are not archived, so it’s like a live event – you actually have to show up and watch it while it’s happening! You can post comments during the show (or heckle me), make requests, and score all kinds of extras for tipping plentifully – this time, you could land yourself an unreleased demo, a one-of-a-kind cartoon or a Skype lesson with yours truly. (No mugs or t-shirts yet, but that would make it even more like an NPR pledge drive…)

For more information and advance tickets, go here. Below, a clip from my first such show back in June.

High Profits Sneak Preview

Bat Bridge Entertainment’s new series High Profits premieres this Sunday night on CNN (10pm/9pm Central). Here’s a scene from the opening episode. Warning: some wading-through-of-advertising is required.