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March 2016 Articles
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Issue: March 2016

I've Got A Mind To Ramble
By Les Reynolds

Welcome to Part II of a very short series on slide guitar.

Last time, I wrote about the possible origin of slide guitar technique and focused on the popular tale of a Hawaiian teenager. I then noted the comments of several local men who play slide guitar at least a percentage of the time.

A disclaimer: As you will soon see, this month's article is not what a "normal" Ramble column should be about – which is local blues music or musicians. I apologize. I stalled in hopes it would turn out as I planned. I cajoled. I begged. I hoped.

Another disclaimer: I have not, nor will I, conduct extensive research on the topic of this particular installment on women and slide guitar.

A brief explanation: I had years ago already done the extensive research, and had come up with a list of names – none of whom have any Louisville connections (other than perhaps – whether I know it or not – showing up here to perform at some point in the past). The thing is, I had to do that extensive research in order to get most of the names on the list.

What names did I discover? The first two didn't actually require any research: Bonnie Raitt (a "household name" as far as female guitarists in general go) and Rory Block (Piedmont and Delta blues style player – perhaps well-known only to blues fans). The names become more obscure from here on. We have Cindy Cashdollar (steel guitar, Asleep at the Wheel, etc.), Sarah Jory (UK, country pedal steel), Joanna Connor (Chicago blues/rock), and Ellen McIlwaine (Canadian multi-genre guitarist and songwriter). There are others, but they are too obscure to mention.

When I Googled the phrase "female blues guitar players;" I found several very good ones. However, I found few, if any, who play slide. Sometimes the descriptive results blurb included the word "slide," but the actual search result failed to provide what I was looking for.

The bottom line is, I found nobody here who even claims to play slide with any regularity. So why am I continuing to write this column? Well, because I promised I would write one. And, as I mentioned earlier, I am stalling – writing a little here, a little there, in hopes that maybe I am wrong. Maybe I'll find a few.

A few women who sing blues in town were contacted for their opinions on this subject. Most didn't really have much to say. They basically didn't have an answer. A name or two was offered, but that resulted in one I already had and another couple that resulted in either a fruitless search or non-response to query. I found two women – neither of who actually live in Louisville, but are very familiar to the city's music lovers – who sometimes play slide: Aim Me Smiley of the Troubadours of Divine Bliss, and blues-rock virtuoso Kelly Richey.

The Troubadour says she learned to play slide by trial and error, by ear until she got the desired tone and notes.

I'd always loved slide, especially after I heard Bonnie Raitt play it. I absolutely love the soulful and mournful sound it creates," Aim Me says. She mentions she'd like to continue to write more with the slide and develop her technique. She currently plays slide on two or three of her original songs.

Richey reports that she plays with a beer bottle as a slide and gets a great response "even though I am no Bonnie Raitt." She started off playing slide with a Bic lighter and was "afraid I was cheating so I stopped." Richey has written a number of unfinished songs with slide and she travels with her own personal (empty) beer bottle in the back of her amp. She mentions several YouTube videos of herself playing guitar slide with a bottle and even with a drumstick.

So, that's it. In a month, that's what I got. In my opinion, it's very telling that Yours Truly (a slide guitar "junkie" with a strong interest in female musicians) can't find any more than this. I also reached out to local blues festival producer and radio show host Mike Suttles, who was also unable to render much assistance.

Having been overly optimistic for a 2-parter on slide guitar, I suppose this mission was, in "military speak" an "incomplete success."

So, does anybody know of any female slide players out there, in or around the 'Ville? I'd be interested…

And, to those of you who do play some guitar, I issue the following challenge: pick up a slide. Try it. You'll like it. And since most of you, if not all of you, are likely real musicians who understand music theory, you'll find even playing slide in standard tuning – while quite challenging – is doable. (Open tuning, as mentioned in the first article, is much, much easier).

So. Who. Wants. In?

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