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Blue Jean Blues Guitar Lesson (Slow Blues Guitar Lesson)

If you want to become a great blues guitarist one of the things you will have to learn to play is a slow blues. See often times guitarists are so consumed with being able to play FAST. But the truth is, a slow blues can be just as difficult or more than something uptempo.

Today I want to share a classic example of how this is done. In this post, I walk you through how to play "Blue Jean Blues" as recorded by ZZ Top.

This song is a great slow blues guitar lesson in a 6/8 time signature. We’ll unpack the chords, rhythms, bass lines, and even dive into soloing.

So make sure you’re tuned up and let’s get started!

Who wrote Blue Jean Blues?

The song "Blue Jean Blues" was written by the members of ZZ Top: Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill, and Frank Beard. As a band, ZZ Top has been known for their collaborative songwriting process, with all three members contributing to the creation of their music. 

"Blue Jean Blues" is a great example of their collective talent, and it showcases their ability to play the blues!

Blue Jean Blues Chords

To play “Blue Jean Blues” you only need to know 3 chords Bm, Em, and F#.

For Bm, I would play a bar chord in the 2nd position like this:

For Em, here are two great Billy Gibbons-style chord shapes. Of course the standard Em in an open position like this:

Or you could also play the Bm bar chord up at the 7th fret and it becomes Em like this:

“Blue Jean Blues” is in the key of Bm. These chords could be thought of as the i, iv, and V chords in Bm.

Bm = i chord

Em = iv chord

F# = V chord 

This tune is a slow minor blues in a 6/8 time signature. So that means we are going to count 6 beats per measure like this:

1 2 3 4 5 6 

Well, now that you’ve got the 3 main chord shapes you’ll need. Next, let’s talk about putting them into the chord progression. 

Remember that we are in a 6/8 time signature so in each bar we will have 6 beats. The progression is 20 bars long. If you are familiar with the 12-bar blues that will help you understand this progression. Essentially it is the same thing as a 12-bar blues it’s just stretched out a bit, and then the turnaround is cut short. 

Let’s take a look at the chord progression. It starts off with 8 bars of Bm.

Bm (8 bars)

Then you go to Em for 4 bars and then back to Bm for 4 bars.

Em (4 bars)

Bm (4 bars)

So that is essentially the same as a 12-bar blues but the chord lengths are DOUBLED. See in a typical 12-bar blues you would have this:

Bm (4 bars)

Em (2 bars)

Bm (2 bars)

 

But “Blue Jean Blues” does this: 

 

Bm (8 bars)

Em (4 bars)

Bm (4 bars)

Then the turnaround progression brings in the F# chord (the V chord) for 2 bars. Then it returns back to Bm (the i chord) for 2 bars like this: 

F# (2 bars)

Bm (2 bars)

Now that might be a typical minor blues progression WITHOUT doubling the length of the chords

The entire progression looks like this:

Bm (8 bars)

Em (4 bars)

Bm (4 bars)

F# (2 bars)

Bm (2 bars) 

That gives us a total of 20 bars. Pretty cool huh? Glad you think so.

Now compare that to a typical 12-bar blues in Bm which might go something like this:

Bm (4 bars)

Em (2 bars)

Bm (2 bars)

F# (2 bars)

Bm (2 bars)

Do you see how the first part of ZZ Top’s progression is just stretched a bit, but then the end is left the same? 

These are the types of things you will see in blues songs. And it’s why I really recommend becoming familiar with that first 12-bar blues progression. Then from there, you will see how so many songs just put unique twists on it.

The Groove 

Next, let’s talk about adding more rhythm to this progression. Let’s start by adding a walk-up bass to it. Here we have just two notes leading into the Bm chord. First, play the 3rd fret on the 6th string. And then play the open 5th string. After that strum Bm like this:

This is a pickup bass line that starts on beat 4. So you would count:

1 2 3 4 5 6

         G   A | Bm chord

This creates the groove for the song. Now that is how I would approach playing the i chord. Let’s next look at an example of what Gibbons might plays going to the iv chord (Em).

Here he plays the 2nd fret on the 6th string and that leads into the iv chord (Em).

Ok, so that covers us for the i chord and the iv chord. Lastly, let’s take a look at the turnaround progression. Here Gibbons would often play the 3rd fret on the 6th string as a pickup leading into the V chord (F#). Once he got to the F# chord he would play the 2nd fret on the 6th string, to the 4th fret on the 5th string, and then the 4th fret on the 4th string. This is a “root-fifth-root” pattern common in millions of songs.

After those 2 bars of F# the progression moves back to Bm and here I would play this: 

Scales and Slow Blues Guitar Licks 

Billy Gibbons shows his exceptional slow blues guitar style in the guitar solos on "Blue Jean Blues." He delivers a masterful performance that captures the essence of the blues.

Throughout "Blue Jean Blues," Gibbons demonstrates his mastery of dynamics, effortlessly moving between soft, introspective passages and more intense, soaring moments.

The primary scale being used for soloing is the Bm blues scale.

Here's a breakdown of the notes in the Bm blues scale:

B - D - E - F# - G - A

To play the Bm blues scale on guitar, you can use the following pattern:

This pattern shows the Bm blues scale in its most common position on the guitar. Here is the same pattern in frets and strings. 

6th string frets = 7, 10

5th string frets = 7, 8, 9

4th string frets = 7, 9

3rd string frets = 7, 9, 10

2nd string frets = 7, 10

1st string frets = 7, 10 

Conclusion:

"Blue Jean Blues" by ZZ Top is an amazing jam. Be sure to take it slow and when you are ready try playing it along with the recording. While many players focus on speed, the art of playing a slow blues is equally important and can be quite challenging.

This song shows the essence of slow blues in a 6/8 time signature. Also, the 20-bar structure is a unique twist on the traditional 12-bar blues. While the chord lengths at the front are extended, the turnaround remains unchanged, resulting in an engaging progression that keeps the listener captivated.

"Blue Jean Blues" is a valuable addition to any guitarist's repertoire. So have fun playing it and for more blues guitar check out this blog on the 101 Best Blues Songs to Learn on Guitar

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