by Steve Trovato
If there’s one fistful of notes that never gets old, it’s the blues scale. Once it finds its way into the hands of a young, inspired guitarist, it typically stays there for a lifetime. Though the blues scale is timeless, many players yearn for ways to import new melodic colors into their blues-based solos.
The simplest way to do this is to change one note of the blues scale, resulting in a soulful sound you may have heard in the playing of Hollywood Fats, Duke Robillard, Charlie Christian, and Larry Carlton—a sound often referred to as the “voodoo” blues scale. Listen to this audio guitar lesson and follow along below to learn how to play the voodoo blues scale.
In Ex. 1a you’ll find a typical E blues scale—a pentatonic scale with the bluesy b5, or Bb, added. Morphing this universal shape into the voodoo blues scale is easy: Just lower each b7 to the natural 6 by replacing every D with a C#, as shown in Ex. 1b. Play through this mutated blues scale a few times, and see if you can come up with alternative fingerings such as Ex. 1c, a pattern Stevie Ray Vaughan used in his immortal blues extravaganza, “Rude Mood.”
Ex. 2 is an SRV-approved voodoo maneuver that uses Ex. 1c’s fingering and sounds mean over a swingin’ E7 shuffle—even though it doesn’t actually tag the b7. (Instead, it nails the 6, C#—remember?) And for yet another voodoo fingering, try Ex. 3. It has a similar flow to the previous example, but occurs lower on the neck and features a Charlie Christian-style slide from the b3 up to the 3 (G to G#) on
the first string’s 3rd and 4th frets.
When you’re ready for the ultimate voodoo blues lick, try Ex. 4. In the key of E, this phrase contains elements of voodoo blues, country, and jazz. Begin in the fourth position. Follow the fingering and string markings closely. Robben Ford—another master of the voodoo blues scale—showed me the meaty E9,13#11 grip that closes this example, and I’ve been playing it ever since.