Erin Harpe – Women of the Country Blues Guitar
Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop
Blues Guitar Instruction DVD / 124 Minutes
There are dozens of titles available at Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop, and there is a diverse collection of artists that provide the instruction. One of these fine instructors is Erin Harpe, talented guitarist and vocalist with serious on-stage experience. Her contribution to the catalog is a two-hour lesson, Women of the Country Blues Guitar. This is a not only a cool opportunity to learn some classic tunes, but it is also an important history lesson for the learner. The subjects of this lesson include artists that you probably have heard of, such as Memphis Minnie, but there may be a few surprises for you too.
Memphis Minnie is one of the best known women of blues guitar, having recorded over 200 songs between 1929 and 1959. Erin Harpe guides the student through seven of Minnie’s tunes, and after playing through a song (and singing it too!), Erin provides a little history and a description of how to play the song along with split screen examples. Where necessary, Harpe goes through solos in more detail too. Each of these is broken up neatly into chapters so the learner can jump back and forth to the parts they need more help with. Memphis Minnie songs in this lesson include, “I’m a Bad Luck Woman,” “Nothing in Rambling,” “Can I do it for You,” “ Where is My Good Man At,” “What’s the Matter with the Mill,” and “When the Levee Breaks.”
A similar learning strategy is used with the other four songs, each of which was originally performed by artists with fascinating backstories. Geeshie Wiley and L.V. ”Elvie” Thomas made their way from Houston, Texas to Grafton, Wisconsin, to record country blues for Paramount Records, and you will find “Pick Poor Robin Clean” and “Motherless Chile” included in the lessons. There is also “I’m So Glad” from Mississippi’s Jessie Mae Hemphill. Jessie started playing guitar in 1930, but never was in the limelight, and did not start releasing albums until the 1980s. Lastly, there is the mystery of Mattie Delaney from Mississippi, who recorded only two songs in 1930 for Vocalion Records. There is nothing written about her after this, and it is beyond cool that her version of “Down The Big Road Blues” has not been forgotten.
As some of these songs were originally recorded in open G tuning (also know as Spanish tuning), Erin demonstrates tuning the guitar in this manner as well as some common chords that are used with this tuning. This is a handy reference and it is nice that Harpe guides the learner through this before teaching the songs that use this tuning.
There are a few bonus features on the Women of the Country Blues Guitar DVD. For starters, there is a .pdf booklet on the disc that includes tablature and lyrics for each song. This document does not come up on the DVD menu, but you can find it with Internet Explorer (PC) or Finder (Mac). Also, there are audio tracks by the original artists for each of the ten songs in the lesson; this provides a nice comparison to see how close the student is to achieving competency with the source material.
This DVD is a professional project with good lighting, clean editing, plenty of camera angles, and crystal clear sound. The guitar cuts through nicely, both through headphones and laptop speakers, but it would be nice to play it through a quality pair of speakers if you have the opportunity. It is helpful that the learner can move along at their own pace, though these lessons would probably be most appropriate for intermediate and higher level students. There are plenty of other blues DVDs available from guitarvideos.com that would be more appropriate for beginners.
If you are looking for a good value in guitar instruction it would be a fine idea to head on over to Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop website and see what they have to offer for you. For less than the price of one in-person lesson you can pick up a DVD or two that will get you a good head start towards your guitar playing goals.
Stefan Grossman is a music publisher AND a serious guitar slinger. He hails from Brooklyn, and was taught by the esteemed Reverend Gary Davis as well as other legends that include Son House, Skip James, and Mississippi John Hurt. After endless touring, in the late 1960s he started to produce instructional albums with play-along tablature, including his famous 1967 LP, How to Play Blues Guitar. As time went on the catalog grew and these titles became available on CDs, VHS tapes, and DVDs; now there are downloadable lessons too!
Women of the Country Blues Guitar from Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop has a lot going for it, as Erin Harpe is an outstanding teacher, and this is a well-made DVD with compelling subject matter. Better yet, it is also a great value, as the learner only has to pay $29.95 for a two-hour lesson. Even if you are not a guitar player, it is fascinating to see how the songs are constructed, as well as the effort that goes into learning and playing these tunes!