Rick Estrin

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First Verse Breakdown

Hey Sonic Junction,

Rick Estrin here, with the first lesson in this series on the James Cotton/Otis Spann piece, "Lightnin". The song is in in the key of E, played in crossed, or 2nd position, on an A harp. This song utilizes almost all of Cotton's signature devices: intentional slop contrasted with very occasional pretty notes, the ominous sounding, slow vibrato, flexible time for additionally nuanced expression, and a couple sections of percussive, aggressive attack. These are all devices that give Cotton's style it's in-your-face ferocity, and maximum emotional impact. All that stuff will be coming your way in subsequent lessons - For right now, let's establish the theme in verse one.

Have fun with it!


PS. As we get further into the piece, if you find you're scaring yourself a little bit - good! That probably means you're doing something right!



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

Backing Track

Print Print Chords & Tab

A Harp in the Key of E.

Loop 0:00 Introduction To Series

Loop 4:00 Run-Through of First Verse

Loop 5:06 Breakdown of First 4 Bars

Loop 8:06 IV Chord Breakdown

Loop 9:12 Turnaround Breakdown

Loop 14:40 Slow Practice Loop of First 8 Bars

Loop 15:09 Review of First 8 Bars

Loop 17:38 Turnaround Review

Loop 21:06 Closing Thoughts





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Bill Blatner
Bill Blatner Jan 13, 2019

I am so bummed out to discover that you were right here in Boston and I missed it (I'm about 2 hours west in Northampton MA).  I'm hoping to catch you in Maine this summer.

On the other hand, I was totally inspired to resaturate myself in James Cotton music.  I've listened to about 100 cuts in the last two days and haven't exhausted all the stuff I have of him with Muddy and on compilations like Harp Attack and Superharps.  What a performer.

When you said, "Playing clean, that ain't nothin"" I couldn't agree more.  It's really hard to get those 3-hole draw half step bends with the right amount of the 4 hole to consistently sound "right." 

One question I have: When you (and Cotton) are playing it sometimes sounds like you're sucking the reeds right out of the harmonica.  Are you pulling that hard or is it just getting the right grip on the note?  My tongue block on the 2-hole draw has gotten a lot better but it still sounds kind of anemic at times.  More energy or more finesse? (or something else?!)


Rick Estrin
Rick Estrin Jan 13, 2019

Definitely more finesse - a more focused "grip" on the trajectory of the air is one way I could try and describe it. I have heard that Cotton had a very fierce, physical attack, but I hear a lot of finesse at work creating that impression.                                                     That Cotton tribute show was at The Narrows, in Fall River - It was a lot of fun.

Alan Jan 12, 2019

Great lesson. Many thanks Rick.

Rick Estrin
Rick Estrin Jan 12, 2019

Thank you, Alan

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