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Texas Blues Guitar And Beyond

Although there were many Texas blues men worthy of note, just two helped to form the acoustic guitar genre in that region and their names became synonymous with that region's sound. Unusually, Lightnin' Hopkins and Mance Lipscombe were also buddies, having performed together at parties and other venues. In a documentary entitled 'The Blues According To Lightnin' Hopkins' both men demonstrated a supreme command of their guitars and how to hold an audience.

Both men used the monotonic thumb strike method of finger picking guitar, where the thumb doesn't alternate between two or more strings, like in ragtime or Travis picking, but hits just one or two bass strings. The sound is mostly muted or damped with the palm of the picking hand just after it's struck, so that it makes a 'thud' noise instead of a real musical note. From time to time the guitarist can let the note ring for effect, and it depends on the feel of the music. A thumb pick is often used, as this gives more power to the stroke, acting as a natural amplifier. Some guitar players used a finger pick also, but these two Texas men chose to play with a bare forefinger. You can see a great demonstration of the technique here

Lightnin' made his living from music at an early age, while Mance worked on the railroad, preferring to play for extra money and for fun. The powerful driving beat of the music when they played together was indeed something to hear, particularly when accompanied by a harmonica player such as Willie Dixon. It was common to double up on the picking hand thumb beat, so that it sounded like a heart beat, which was a powerful draw on the emotions of the listener. Both men had great and deep voices, which when added to the great finger style arrangements were very appealing. They also knew how to hold an audience by telling a story within the song and also varying their guitar styles.

Mance dropped out of the relative lime light when the music went out of fashion and was re-discovered in the 60s, when he started performing again. His new career brought his music in front of young Americans, both live and in the TV studio and fresh faced college kids regarded his guitar skills with outright envy. Hopkins toured Europe in the sixties and seventies, and it seems his picking never diminished. In later years he amplified his acoustic guitar to fill out his sound and he also hired a band to back him up on tour.


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