Corey Harris

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Special Rider Blues

Run-Through and Main Riff

Corey Harris Lesson >

Special Rider Blues > Run-Through and Main Riff

In this first lesson we begin learning Special Rider Blues by Skip James. This is one of my favorite tunes to play. When I played for Ali Farka Toure years ago, he was surprised that it wasn't from Mali! Later on in the lesson I will demonstrate how he influenced my playing of this tune. For now, we will focus on the basic beginning riffs. I hope you enjoy it. Thanks.

Topics and/or subjects covered in this lesson:
Delta Blues

Print Print Chords & Tab

Special Rider Blues background listening: Skip James

loop @ 1:22 open E minor tuning (E A E G A E)

loop @ 1:57 run-through

loop @ 6:32 main lick (note: pay attention to Corey's variations)

$2.3^ $2.0 $6.3 $2.0 $2./5 $2.0 | $5.0 $2.5 $2.3p2 $5.0 $6.3 $2.0 $2./5 $2.0 | $5.0 $2.3^.$1.0 $2.0.$1.0 $6.3 $2.0 $2./5 $2.0 |

loop @ 9:13 2nd riff

$5.0h3.$2.0h3 $4.0.$1.0 $4./5.$1./5 $4.5.$1.5 $1.5 $1.5 $4.5.$1.5 $1.5 $1.5 $4.5.$1.5 $5.0 | $6.0 $4.0.$1.0 $4.3.$1.3 $4.0.$1.0 $4.3.$1.3 $4./5.$1./5 $2.3^ | $5.0 $2.3^.$1.0 $2.0.$1.0 $6.3 $2.0 $2./5 $2.0 |

loop @ 11:46 singing part




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angelo bricchi
angelo bricchi Dec 16, 2016

Hey there mr Corey,i am Angelo s wife Diana , i have heard sooo much about you, i saw the filmato of you looking for your roots in Africa (mother Africa) that i just want to tell you how much we appriciate your wonderful free music mind THANK YOU  <3 and may all the shining Gods of love for sound for ROOTS AND RHYTHM be with you xxx


Corey Harris
Corey Harris Jan 25, 2017

Thank you very much.  Honor! Mar 21, 2016

 Have to leave the "civilized" world in a couple weeks for a long while (disappearing into the mountains for work until the fall).  I have to sign off sonicjunction until then, and can't wait to pick back up.  Thank you so much again for the lessons.  I'm finally going somewhere with guitar!  

I can polish this song up more, but was just excited and wanted to post my progress before signing off.  See you in autumn~

Corey Harris
Corey Harris Mar 21, 2016

Greetings Joe.  Sounds good and thanks for posting.   Yes you are getting somewhere with the guitar for sure here.  Your playing sounds nice and relaxed and the tempo and pulse is good.  I think you just need to work a little more on the middle part and get more comfortable with it.  Listen to the little variations in the tune and use them sparingly like spice...but use them!  

When you sing, try singing out your words instead of cutting them short.  I know that when we play guitar that happens when we are learning a song but with practice that can be overcome.  Sing through every phrase and give every word rhythm and attention.  Nice work.  Enjoy your time in the mountains.  Plenty of time ot really dig in to the guitar.  Thanks for posting. Honor! Mar 13, 2016

I started out with Catfish, but hadn't scrolled all the way down on your tracks.  Skip is hands down my favorite and your interpretation is unbelievable.   This is where I'm at after a week.  I can stomp to it too, but singing all the verses is where I'm headed.  Don't have the tune dialed enough to carry the words yet.  I know I need to speed up the solo a bit and get the transition into it smoother.  I'll work on that.  

Thanks Corey.  This is trully an honor to follow your lead.  I have big-big-respect for your art!!! Mar 13, 2016

I've got a computer that is trying its hardest to die, but I've put it on life support and keep loving it one-way, despite its best efforts.  Sorry for the lag:(

Corey Harris
Corey Harris Mar 16, 2016

Thanks for you comments and for posting a video Joe.  You have a very relaxed approach and good posture and your guitar sounds nice.  It seems like you have got a pretty good handle on the line except for 1) the end lick on the 5 chord that you play with the A string is different than how I play it.  I wasn't sure if that was intentional or not.  Listen again to Skip or my version.... 2) the lick played on the B string is also a little different.  Listen closely to how it is different from how I do it...I bend the string sometimes there, in the main body of the lick.  Also pay attention to your tempo or the pulse of the tune and that will solidify your effect.  Nice work and thank you.

heinz fibich
heinz fibich Jan 26, 2015

GREAT PLAY - Corey - Your individual deep blues and soul - You put it in - uncompairable ! yes ! - blues is a feeling - and You got that special feeling - in play and voice...

Thank You so much

Kurtis Feb 19, 2014

 This might be a better attempt. I tried to use the base string. Anyway, I could probably take about a hundred more shots at it right now, but I'll call it quits before the neighbor comes Kool-Aid man through the wall....paper wall blues.

Kurtis Feb 17, 2014


This is my go at the main lick. Also, my first attempt at the record feature on this site. 

What's your words on it?


Thank you,


Kurtis Feb 17, 2014

Also, my tuning is GCEA if that helps. The G is up where my thumb is. GEA are all the same notes as your GEA, but they may be a little higher. The C string is like the Bass on the Uke I guess, but I didn't use it here. I use it as the bass in the other videos I posted here though.

Corey Harris
Corey Harris Jan 23, 2014

@Tara.  Thank you for the kind words.  I am glad that you have picked up the guitar again and I hope to see your posts here soon.  


tara Jan 13, 2014

My absolute favourite version of this skip james tune.  I will not forget the first time i discovered it and how i felt whilst listening to it, as it inspired me to pick up my acoustic guitar again.  Thankyou Corey.

Alex Barbera
Alex Barbera Feb 28, 2013

@Corey..thanks!!! Yes it's a really nice coincidence! Sometimes they kindly happens! :)....Sorry for middle section you mean that non singin part, right? :) 

Corey Harris
Corey Harris Feb 28, 2013

@Peter are off to a great start.  I would suggest that you listen again to the lesson and try to let the strings ring out a bit more on this section.  Also the part where you play the octaves up the neck needs a little work.  On the next lesson I will try and slow these parts down so that you can better hear what is going on.  Nice work and thanks for posting.

Corey Harris
Corey Harris Feb 28, 2013

@Alex...nice job.  What a coincidence that you were learning this tune and I post a lesson on it at the same time.  I think that the middle section (where you play the harmonics and go up the neck) needs some work.  Slow that part down and get the tempo to go with the rest of the song.  Sounds like you dropped the time a little.  Thanks for posting.

Corey Harris
Corey Harris Feb 28, 2013

@ Mike...thanks.  Looking forward to your posting a video.

Alex Barbera
Alex Barbera Feb 28, 2013

@Peter....thank you! I really love this tune!! It's one of my favorite ever :))) Nice that you started again to play your acoustic lady!!! :DDD 

Peter Wolf
Peter Wolf Feb 27, 2013

Feels good to unpack the acoustic.  I'm just getting started with this tune, trying to figure out the riff and where the 1 beats are.  I look forward to learning all the variations, and how to turn this into a song.

P.S. Alex you rock!

Peter Wolf
Peter Wolf Feb 23, 2013

Agreed!  I gotta get me some of this :-D

I've actually still been practicing Devil Got My Woman trying to get the singing down.  So, this seems like the logical song on which to rejoin.


Alex Barbera
Alex Barbera Feb 23, 2013

@Jd...I have the same opinion of Skip James....his style was so unique and sublime...many others musician from Bentonia do play this music really well but the way he interpreted the whole thing is really something that leave me without sense of position...there's a nice video where Skip James is playin Devil got my woman with all the greatest bluesman in a room...all of them in absolute and religious silence...

i think that in this tune Corey is really at his best...there is this version on youtube which is really fantastic...It's really hard with Skip James to do your own version and at the same time pay respect to the original...Corey for sure really suceeds in this....there's a lot Mali and Africa in his guitar girlfriend says, watching the lessons of Corey and the way he speaks, that he doesn't look like an american...he really looks like an African...I think it's a compliment! :D

Alex Barbera
Alex Barbera Feb 23, 2013's my feedback...I've been workin on this tune since the last 2 months..When I saw that the new lesson was on special rider I really remained without words...thanks A LOT!

JD Krooks Crouhy
JD Krooks Crouhy Feb 22, 2013

Wow i love this song too ! There a lot of African feeling in it ! I've discovered the great Ali Farka Toure (that you have so much chance to play with him!!) before country blues. I've played with a Mauritanian singer friend long time ago but i wasn't so much in fingerpicking, i used flatpick more and that wasn't the same feeling. No i feel ready to explore african music again with a new approach. But i haven't so much time while getting older ;). But your lessons are the perfect way to learn Blues and African music ! I still have, Keep your lamp and Kind hearted woman to post but i'll do this song !!!

For me Skip Jame is an "OVNI" in blues. His voice, lyrics, tuning and style is unique ! in a way his was one of the greatest i think. I said Ovni because is doesn't feel like traditionnal blues for me. He have is own world and style. i've heard that John Hurt who played with Skip James at folk blues festival said that he considerated himself like an entertainer and Skip James like a genius ! I thinkSkip James is less known because is style is very hard to dig and play ! And his singin too is hard to imitate...

Mike Caren
Mike Caren Feb 22, 2013

Wow.  This is going to be a great journey.  You're run through totally blew me away ... absolutely beautiful.  

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