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As an amateur guitarist, I tend to make progress very slowly, like a gang of ants spiriting an entire roast pig away from a picnic.

Years ago, maybe even as a teenager, I wanted to learn the Keith Richards/Chuck Berry style of playing to the point where I could improvise an entire solo chorus with double-stops.

(A double-stop is two notes played at once. It sounds fuller and fatter and bluesier and cooler than one note, and is a signature part of the Chuck’n’Keef approach to soloing.)

Took me a lot of aimless noodling to get there. But as of a couple of years ago, I’ve learned some of the basic hand positions for the most common double-stops, and can now construct an appropriately ragged solo chorus from them. Mission accomplished.

I think I’ve found a new guitar goal, courtesy of a man who did not play no rock n’ roll:

I don’t care that Mississippi Fred McDowell doesn’t change chords. You don’t need to, when you can make the notes roll out of the guitar like that.

And if you look at about 2:10 or so, he makes it look so easy with his picking hand. All that sound appears to be coming entirely from his thumb and his forefinger.

(For that matter, his fretting hand isn’t doing that much either. He’s tuned to an open chord, so his thumb can get a nice ringing sound picking the open strings on the bottom, while his index finger plucks the melody on the top strings.)

I found a blog post that details Mississippi Fred’s favorite open tuning. I might just have to buy myself a thumbpick and see if I can’t teach the muscles of my right hand some new tricks. I’d love to be able to make that sound, or something like it.

The good news is, the level of coolness in a fingerpicked blues song is directly related to the age of the picker. So if it takes me 15 years to suss this out, I’ll be just entering my prime by then.


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