Robert Johnson Guitar DVD
taught by Scott Ainslie

Buy this CD Now

Acoustic Guitar Article and Videos

The November 2009 issue of Acoustic Guitar Magazine features Scott's article on Robert Johnson with TAB and accompanying video clips.

read more

Whether the goal is to begin performing Johnson’s pieces, to get Johnson pieces already in your repertoire to sound more authentic, to add a few Johnson licks to your own arrangements, or just to work through some Johnson songs slowly in private to better understand what he was doing, this DVD will help.

-Living Blues

Robert Johnson
Signature Licks DVD
taught by Scott Ainslie

Mysteries surround Robert Johnson’s life and death. Even his burial place is uncertain. And then there is the question of why he alone among country blues artists is a superstar in the 1990s. But perhaps the biggest mystery is how he made those pain-wracked, virtuostic sounds, the 29 songs that stand as a great definition of ‘Blues.’

Each of his pieces is a jewel, a fully thought-out, masterfully played little symphony for voice and guitar. And while those songs are among the most-covered by Blues (and even Rock) musicians of every description, it is rare to hear a cover that sounds remotely like the original.

Enter Scott Ainslie, a Durham, North Carolina-based musician and teacher, who continues with this video the work he began with his 1992 book, Robert Johnson/At The Crossroads. Ainslie’s efforts make it a whole lot easier for guitarists to penetrate the dense, rich world of Johnson’s recordings.

Whether the goal is to begin performing Johnson’s pieces, to get Johnson pieces already in your repertoire to sound more authentic, to add a few Johnson licks to your own arrangements, or just tow work through some Johnson songs slowly inprivate to better understand what he was doing, this [DVD] will help. The prerequisites are a familiarity with guitar chords (and slide technique for some pieces), fingerpicking ability, and a set of Johnson reissues.

Ainslie sits and patiently explains how to play each song, along with some tidbits of information on Johnson (much more is included in his book) and some general guidance on playing. A split screen format allows close-up views of both his hands simultaneously. And after teaching a song in piecemeal fashion, Ainslie plays and sings the whole thing through.

The lesson opens up with Kindhearted Woman Blues, the first song that Johnson recorded, and an arrangement he would reuse in several other songs. While it uses standard tuning and simple chord forms, it also quickly reveals the difficulty involved in sounding like Johnson. Unfortunately, the video does not help you achieve Johnson’s tortured vocal quality, which is an even more important part of his sound than his guitar wizardry.

The pieces on the video–Kindhearted Woman Blues, Sweet Home Chicago, Drunken Hearted Man, Ramblin’ On My Mind, Walkin’ Blues, Come On In My Kitchen, and Crossroads Blues–are a fairly good representation of Johnson song-types. They should help players work through many of the songs not included.

Some of Johnson’s pieces, however, (They’re Red Hot, From Four Till Late, Hellhound On My Trail) are unrelated to any of these seven. For those, the player may check out Ainslie’s book, which transcribes, in notes and tablature, key sections of all 29 Johnson pieces.

Mastering the seven songs on this video, however, is a challenging task that will take many more hours than the one required to watch it. And at the end, we are still left with a mystery at the heart of Johnson’s sound.

–Living Blues