A Most Important Standard Blues Guitar Song
In the annals of modern and popular music there are certain songs that for one reason or another become standards, the common knowledge tunes that musicians play, study and teach. Although many songs have achieved such a stature, in guitar playing one song you’re going to have to play, teach and understand is the 1947 blues classic Stormy Monday, credited to T-Bone Walker entitled Stormy Monday. Its the song that inspired BB King to play the blues and in 1983, the song was inducted into the Blues Foundation Blues Hall of Fame. There is no blues song which is more definitive or important to a guitarist.
I’m Actually Going To Say 3 Definitive Versions (?!)
1947 T-Bone Walker
Surprisingly the chord progression associated with version credited to the author is not what most people think of when working with the tune. The original version is very close to a basic 12 bar blues with 2 notable exceptions:
- Walkers use of chromatic passing chords around the I chord is masterful.
- In bar 7 there is a subV of V (Ab7) producing the smoothness only ½ steps provide.
1961 Bobby Bland
This arrangement is considered by the cognoscenti to be “the” recording of Stormy Monday and these changes represent the standard approach of most musicians when playing or teaching the song. Plan felt as though he needed something different so he employed a series of chords that I have heard referred to as the “Chicago Changes” where bars 7 & 8 break the feeling of the blues tonality by employing the root motion associated with the first three chords from the key of G major: (again lots and lots of chromatic passing chords which usually are not notated)
G – A minor- B minor
I Maj – II minor – III minor
Brightening up the sound of the progression with strong to the major scale and its harmonies continues in bars 9 & 10 with the inclusion of a good old II –V cadence. Interestingly these are essentially changes for another T-Bone Walker song called ‘Perfume Girl’.
The rhythm guitar on this iconic track is playing passing chords like crazy, often there are too many of them and to my year they obscure the essence of a wonderful chord progression. It’s just my opinion, but so many passing chords make this song very difficult to teach and to replicate. For listening pleasure it’s on the top of my list, you be the judge:
1971 The Allman Brothers
This is the “other definitive” versions of the song for those are Allman Brothers fans or classic rock fans who have not explored blues in great depth. Most musicians do not consider their twist on the chord progression to be the ‘player’s version’ of the song but the twist and turns are very nice.
The important part about this version is the use of IV minor in bar 10, giving that section an amazing, jazzy or almost modal quality –it’s a very sophisticated and jazz like concept. I would explain this as being borrowed from the key of G minor, whose IV chord is indeed C minor. At Berklee this falls under the heading of ‘modal interchange’.
The Strumming Lesson
Although there are a seemingly endless number of sold approaches to playing blues changes,my lesson plan appears below. The suggested rhythmic figure is practically the most simple possible but it encourage the student to accent on 2 and 4, playing with a nice sense of groove and getting the best perspective on the changes and form. (To drive home the basic blues progression my first lesson for the song omits the Ab7 sub V).
The Soloing Lesson
If you want a nice sounding solo to Stormy Monday, you have to play the changes. Call it a key of the moment or what have you, one long blues scale is not going to cut it. I often say and write: “a solo is a stream of single notes that imitates the sound of the chord changes”. Below are a few ideas for using Stormy Monday as a vehicle for an improvisation lesson.