Insider’s Guide to Essential Blues Guitar Riffs with Larkin Poe
In The Insider's Guide to Essential Blues Guitar Riffs, blues artist Larkin Poe play popular blues guitar riffs and share their personal gear including a Custom Shop HSS Strat!
By Perry Martin & Ben Nemeroff
Blues is a timeless art form. Rooted in emotion and story-telling, it’s a genre that owes a ton to the legends that have helped shape it. At the same time though, the personal aspect of the genre means there’s always a new story to tell. Nobody knows this more than Rebecca and Megan Lovell, aka Larkin Poe, who’s new album “Self Made Man” puts a modern and personal spin on a classic genre. They stopped by on an episode of Fender Play Live to talk all about their influences, share some covers of blues classics found on Fender Play, and share their insights into this timeless genre.
Covered in this episode recap:
-- New Music: "She’s A Self Made Man"
-- Larkin Poe Covers: Essential Blues Guitar Riffs by John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf and More
-- Blues Advice from the Experts
-- Larkin Poe’s Go-To Gear
-- The Blues Insider’s Gear Guide
New Larkin Poe Single - Shes a Self-Made Man
Here at Fender Play Live we were lucky enough to hear a stripped-down live performance of Larkin Poe’s new single “She’s A Self Made Man” off their new album of the same name. It’s a heavy southern-blues-rock-inspired track with some great wordplay to boot. “We thought the title was funny,” replied guitarist Rebecca Lovell when asked about the song title. Her sister Megan adds, “We like poking fun at these kind of insidious ideas, like we’re qualifying success by gender….why can’t we take the old adage and turn it on its head? We could be self made men!” With the combo of clever word play, searing blues riffs, and soulful singing from both sisters, “She’s A Self Made Man” is a an instant classic. Check out their performance from Fender Play Live below:
Larkin Poe Covers: Essential Blues Guitar Riffs
Boom Boom - John Lee Hocker
John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” is as essential blues as they come. Even the most casual blues listeners would undoubtedly recognize the classic pentatonic riff that defines this tune. When asked why they chose to cover this song on Fender Play Live, Larkin Poe’s response was simple: it’s hard to not love John Lee Hooker. “He was such an instrumental blues player in bringing blues music to pop culture”, says guitarist Rebecca Lovell. “This tune is so sassy…we love the sass.” Watch below as Larkin Poe covers the blues icon’s famous hit:
Want to learn how to play “Boom Boom” on guitar? Check out the song lesson here on Fender Play.
Learn the essential blues riffs, techniques, and classic songs by legends like Robert Johnson, Stevie Ray Vaughan and more with the Blues Form Basics: I IV V Collection in Fender Play!
Smokestack Lightning - Howlin Wolf
Larkin Poe hasn’t always been a blues band. The Lovell Sisters played bluegrass and folk music early in their career, but they have been students of the blues over the last several years, which is evident in their latest record. Citing the similarities between bluegrass and mountain music and blues, the duo also attributes their love of the genre by watching the blues legend Howlin’ Wolf play live. "He's one of those guys that you quickly stumble upon as being such a legend in the way that he sings, the way that he’s so powerful on stage” notes Rebecca. They’re also quick to mention Hubert Sutherland, who penned the iconic riff played throughout “Smokestack Lightning”, noting how his foray into fingerstyle inspired Rebecca to learn the technique as well. Check out Larkin Poe’s stripped-down cover of this classic below:
Got five minutes? Learn how to play Sutherland’s classic riff from “Smokestack Lightning” right here on Fender Play.
Who Do You Love - Bo Diddley
Despite none of Bo Diddley’s recordings of “Who Do You Love” ever reaching the charts, it’s an undeniable rock classic. Filled with clever wordplay and swagger, rock artists for generations are indebted to this early example of rock and roll. Watch as Rebecca and Megan put their own spin on the tune below, complete with spot-on harmonies and a killer lap-steel slide solo by Megan:
Learn how to play Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” here on Fender Play.
12-bar Blues Homework
Since this is Fender Play Live, that means host Eugene and Larkin Poe aren’t going to leave without giving us some homework. For the beginner players, Eugene recommends trying out a 12-bar blues progression. It’s a simple series of just three chords that have been the foundation for countless songs in Rock, Blues, R&B, Funk, and tons of other genres. You won’t find more versatility out of a chord progression than the humble 12-bar. If you’ve mastered that, you can take a stab at your first solo with this lesson on Fender Play.
For the intermediate players, the homework is playing that ultra-cool riff from Smokestack Lightning, which you can learn right here on Fender Play.
And if you’re already at the advanced level, the your task is simple: cover your favorite blues tune. And make sure to continue the blues tradition and put your own spin on it! Browse Fender Play’s list of blues artists right here.
Blues Advice from the Experts
Keeping The Blues Modern
Blues is a genre that has been played for well over a century at this point, and there’s been countless blues masters from decades throughout the twentieth century. With that in mind, it might be intimidating to try and carve out your own style in that genre, but Larkin Poe believe that there is always new territory to explore. “It’s important to have artists that are continuing to play with the genre and try to push it to new places”, says Rebecca. Megan follows up by noting that “blues music shouldn’t be a time capsule, it should be alive and well today”. So how do you keep it modern? As Rebecca puts it, it’s important for them to “not be afraid to insert our own creative perspective”. The blues might seem intimidating to some, but that’s what makes it such a great genre - there is a personal element that will always be unique to the player.
To learn more about songwriting, check out this Songwriting Crash Course ft. Butch Walker from Fender Play Live.
Pay Homeage To The greats - By shaking things up
On Fender Play you can learn how to play songs by tons of blues legends - from Willie Dixon to Buddy Guy to B.B. King. Larkin Poe believe it’s important to pay homage to these great artists who have come before, and that point is made clear throughout this episode in the way they talk about and cover these artists with tons of passion and emotion. Rebecca notes that when it comes to playing blues, “We gotta be authentic in the way we do it, and pay homage and reverence to the past.” That being said, they also note that that you shouldn’t be afraid to mix it up a bit. “Be willing to shake it up and not be so precious with the songs”, notes Rebecca. “The biggest disservice you could do to a genre…is let it sit behind glass.”
Want to learn some blues classics? Browse Fender Play’s catalogue of blues artists right here.
Slide Guitar Tips From a Pro
Slide guitar carries its own mystique for guitar players. It’s a whole other world that can be intimidating for players of all levels. After wowing us with her incredible slide playing throughout the episode, Megan was kind enough to give some advice to people who want to learn to play slide. “Find your slide player, find that person and then learn every solo they ever played.” Megan notes for her it was Jerry Douglas, prolific lap steel guitarist who’s played with everyone from Alison Krauss to Phish to Eric Clapton and more. She also notes it’s important to learn to play by ear since a major part of slide guitar is finding the correct pitch.
Acoustic VS Electric
At one point in the episode an audience member asks, “I’m a beginner player focusing on the blues, should I put down my acoustic and stick with my electric to really nail down the basics?” Rebecca’s emphatic response: “NO!”. “It comes down to personal preference. When I go back and listen to the early blues recordings that are really emotional and meaningful to me, those guys are playing acoustics. And yes it’s so fun to play loud…but I do think that there is a stamina you can build with acoustic.” So there you have it - acoustic and electric are both great choices for playing the blues!
Larkin Poe’s Go-To Gear
Custom Shop HSS Stratocaster
Rebecca Lovell’s guitar of choice is a buttercream custom shop stratocaster, which packs a punch with a humbucker pickup in the bridge position. “This helps the guitar cut through the mix during live performances” says Rebecca. Its true, the HSS Stratocaster is a great choice to for today’s modern blues musician looking for a high gain secret weapon. This Weapon-Of-Blues-Destruction is the the bridge position humbucker, which can provide your leads with a huge punch when paired with an overdrive pedal like the Santa Ana Overdrive we talk about in the guide below.
The Blues Guitarist’s Guide to the HSS Strat
Our Pick - Player Series HSS Stratocaster
The Stratocaster is an iconic piece of music history and Americana that has transcended all genres and play styles. It's never gone out of style since its release in 1954 and gone on to become one of the most successful guitars of all time. The Player Series HSS Strat is one of our most versatile instruments because it combines a timeless model with contemporary appointments including a dedicated bridge pickup control and "Modern C"-shaped neck. The Player Stratocaster is for the player looking for legendary design, all the classic features and most-of-all versatility. Check out our new Headline Bundle featuring the Player Stratocaster.
Beginner Pick - Affinity Series HSS Stratocaster
HSS Affinity Stratocaster pack comes with everything you need to start on your blues guitar journey. The Fender Frontman 15G amplifier gives you the option of clean or overdrive channels for having flexibility for practicing and jamming. Best of all, this pack includes a Free three month subscription for Fender Play®.
For the Modern Musician - The American Ultra Stratocaster HSS
The American Ultra Series Stratocaster is the choice for the modern blues musician looking for classic Stratocaster tones mixed with contemporary design. The Ultra features a 10" - 14" compound radius for years of comfortable while practing your pentatonic scales and blues leads.
Blues Guitar Amps and Effects
Blues Junior IV
This small combo, brings modified preamp circuitry and spacey spring reverb to bring you all the blues bluesy tone needed. 15-watts is perfect for studio and apartment musicians looking for something that sounds great at a multitude of volume levels and settings. Need to hit the stage? Try cranking up the volume at our next local gig!
Learn more about the Santa Ana Overdrive in the shop.
The Santa Ana Overdrive - Gritty Blues Tone
Nothing pairs better with reverb than a crunchy overdrive pedal to really make your leads stand out. The Santa Ana brings you control of 7 different elements allowing you to hone in on the perfect blues grit for your setup.
Don’t have a reverb amp like in the video?
Learn more about the Santa Ana Overdrive pedal.
Watch the full Fender Play Live episode - Essential Blues With Larkin Poe on YouTube here.