How to Play Depot Blues by Son House (Guitar Lesson)


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Orville Johnson

Depot Blues

Orville Johnson teaches a classic blues song entitled "Depot Blues." This lesson was inspired by the blues great Son House.

Taught by Orville Johnson in Songs with Orville Johnson seriesLength: 35:31Difficulty: 3.0 of 5
Scene 1
Orville introduces the tune, plays through the solo he will teach and talks a little about bluesman Son House, upon whose playing Orville's guitar arrangement is based.

House was born near Clarksdale Mississippi, raised there and in Louisiana, was drawn to preaching in the Baptist church and at age 15 was actually a practicing pastor. He started playing guitar in his early 20s and moved back to Mississippi and played alongside other major blues pioneers Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, and Willie Brown. He spent time in prison after killing a man, allegedly in self-defense. His first recordings were made for the Paramount label in 1928 and 29. Arguably his best cuts were made for Alan Lomax and the Library of Congress in 1942 and 43. He disappeared from the music scene for many years until his rediscovery in the early 60s. He was in ill health by then but still managed to play many concerts and make several new recordings. His grave is in Mt Hazel Cemetery in Detroit Michigan.

He was a great slide guitar player and a mighty singer and a huge influence on Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson and others. His music is still played today. The White Stripes covered his song Death Letter Blues and played it at the 2004 Grammy Awards.

Scene 2
Orville describes the chords we need to know. E, A7, and B7. The B7 shape will be moved up to make a C7 and a C#7 toward the end of the piece. The song starts with a long slide on the 5th string. Orville talks about how do this accurately and with a smooth sound. He also shows how to get a snappy, popping sound out of the bass strings.

Another subject that is well covered is finger damping or pick damping, the act of bringing your picking finger back down on the string to stop the note you just played. In this lesson Orville plays with bare fingers rather than fingerpicks which contributes to his round tone. He talks about keeping your right hand fingers in touch with the strings and not letting them fly too far away. This helps with your accuracy and tone.

Scene 3
Orville continues with the first three licks of the song that happen over an E chord. They all start with the sliding 5th string move and all three use mostly the same notes on strings 1 and 2 with slight variations in phrasing and timing.

Scene 4
The first chord change takes us to an A7. We hold the chord with our left hand and play a phrase with our picking hand that includes what Orville calls a rest stroke. This name comes from classical guitar conventions and you should make sure you get this idea because we'll use it a lot in subsequent lessons. More about two hand damping here, too, to cut off the E chord when you return to it and give it a percussive, staccato sound.

Scene 5
More detail on the rest stroke. Orville talks about not rushing, not hurrying when you play blues. Cultivate a relaxed manner and try to take as long as you can to get from one place to another, taking care to do so without dragging the song tempo.

Scene 6
Orville recaps the tune up to the point we're currently at.

Scene 7
Orville demonstrates the next lick on the E chord moving on strings 1 and 3. This lick finishes with two strums on the chord.

Scene 8
Now we're at the last bit of the tune using the B7 shape. In this scene, Orville breaks down the strum pattern for this section and talks about how to make the feel of the groove present while still hitting the accented chords. We then wrap up the song by repeating the lick from Scene 7.

Scene 9
Orville plays the whole song one more time and talks about different things you can do with your thumb on the 6th string in the early part of the tune. Think about those train whistles while you play this song!

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Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.


yellowkid1yellowkid1 replied on October 24th, 2016

I really enjoy these pieces where you learn licks you can use elsewhere. Thanks Orville!

alfrednoelalfrednoel replied on May 13th, 2015

Hi Orville......great instruction and song, thanks

jookiejamesjookiejames replied on November 16th, 2012

I just learned Depot Blues and it is a great tune! There are so many things you can do with the basics...it offers much opportunity for being creative. Best of all, Orville is a master of explanation and makes it virtually impossible to NOT learn what he is teaching! Thanks once again Orville! You're the best and I am so pleased to have discovered JamPlay and the wonderful people within!

jookiejamesjookiejames replied on November 16th, 2012

I just learned Depot Blues and it is a great tune! There are so many things you can do with the basics...it offers much opportunity for being creative. Best of all, Orville is a master of explanation and makes it virtually impossible to NOT learn what he is teaching! Thanks once again Orville! You're the best and I am so pleased to have discovered JamPlay and the wonderful people within!

jookiejamesjookiejames replied on September 22nd, 2012

I just love your teaching style and have learned so much! I hope to see more songs under your listing.

savanhorn1savanhorn1 replied on August 22nd, 2012

So great to have you teach this at PSGW and then be able to come home and have this lesson so that I can get this song down right away. You are such a terrific teacher.

Orville.JohnsonOrville.Johnson replied on August 25th, 2012

Thanks. Glad you're here on Jamplay. you'll find the other tunes I taught last week on here too.

tony1489tony1489 replied on November 6th, 2010

I enjoy your instruction and would like to perform some of your arrangements, but they're too short...kinda like samples. Is there a longer/full transcription of Depot Blues available?

mangomango replied on October 14th, 2010

I don't know why but your lessons flow in through the brain and out through the fingers!! You've got that teach'n mojo

moose 1moose 1 replied on July 3rd, 2010

I'm at a loss for words as they've all been said. Thanks again Orville.

draculadracula replied on July 20th, 2010

Great job, but I still can't figure out what "hangin' crepe on my door" means (in verse 4).

Orville.JohnsonOrville.Johnson replied on September 9th, 2010

there's an interesting discussion about that here on the WeenieCampbell website (a site devoted to country blues music) http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=2513.0;prev_next=prev

mstewart85mstewart85 replied on June 29th, 2010

Thank you so much for this lesson. Excellent teaching. Keep it coming. I can do this!

pkingpking replied on June 19th, 2010

nice, broken down well and the coolest guy called orville i know good 1

bluedog12bluedog12 replied on May 1st, 2010

Very nice! Thank you!

dallendouglasdallendouglas replied on February 2nd, 2010

Thanks as well Orville,I love that you like the sound of playing with bare fingers.I do as well and am being constantle chastised by my Guitar playin buddies(all in good spirits though)

pattydpattyd replied on December 12th, 2009

Wow! Orville thanks so much. I love this song and you made it so easy for me to learn it. Maybe in the future you can introduce something by Robert Johnson? Looking forward to more of the old blues!

sendbahtsendbaht replied on December 12th, 2009

Thanks Sir, You and I are around the same age around 40 right.:) I'm retired living in Thailand learning the blues. Fills the day in a great way. Been enjoying Hawkeye but came over here just to learn a song from you. Thanks so much.

blackriderblackrider replied on December 11th, 2009

What a great tune, what a nice pace and teaching style! Thanks Orville for making me sound better.

whookiwhooki replied on December 11th, 2009

More ... Please.. please.. please

harryjharryj replied on December 11th, 2009

great lesson. youre teaching is great. Yourself , mary and hawkeye are constantly inspiring me to improve . keep them lessons coming!thanks

dennytdennyt replied on December 9th, 2009

Oh I feel them blues.. great lesson. Thanks!

axisaxis replied on December 8th, 2009

woohooo! I'm learnin' a Son House tune, how cool is that!? Thanks so much Mr. Johnson.

skaterstuskaterstu replied on December 8th, 2009

This looks awesome! Just need to get myself past my jetlag and picking up my guitar again, combined with Mazza's lessons this is great!

cdwalshcdwalsh replied on December 7th, 2009

I am so excited to have you on the teaching staff. Together with Hawkeye's lessons, yours should make me into the blues player I want to be.

J.artmanJ.artman replied on December 7th, 2009

Wow, Orville...this is my first time really checking out your lessons, and you are an amazing teacher. I love your style of playing, very nice!

jkrivisjkrivis replied on December 6th, 2009

Your teaching style is easy to understand and fun. Really appreciate it!

mistamista replied on December 6th, 2009

Mister Orville you are fantastic Greets from Belgium

mattbrownmattbrown replied on December 3rd, 2009

Man, these lessons are awesome! Thanks Orville!

Songs with Orville Johnson

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

Orville Johnson teaches a select group of his favorite songs, including a few originals.



Lesson 1

Come Back Baby

Orville Johnson teaches his version of the classic blues song "Come Back Baby."

Length: 29:43 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 2

Depot Blues

Orville Johnson teaches a classic blues song entitled "Depot Blues." This lesson was inspired by the blues great Son House.

Length: 35:31 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 3

Railroad Bill

Orville Johnson teaches the traditional blues song "Railroad Bill."

Length: 16:10 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 4

Bye Bye Baby Blues

Orville teaches the classic blues song "Bye Bye Baby Blues" by Little Hat Jones.

Length: 21:48 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 5

Spanish Fandango

Orville Johnson teaches the classic "Spanish Fandango."

Length: 32:50 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 6

A Bicycle Built for Two

Orville Johnson teaches a classic song entitled "A Bicycle Built for Two." This song is also known as "Daisy Bell."

Length: 23:54 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 7

Weave and Way

This fantastic tune entitled "Weave and Way" is a great song for beginners that want to take things to the next level. Alongside the simple chord progression, Orville also demonstrates 3-4 very different...

Length: 44:19 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 8

Texas Gales

Orville presents this fiddle tune entitled "Texas Gales." This song lesson offers an opportunity to work on right and left hand synchronization as well as flatpicked melody lines.

Length: 34:11 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 9

Gold Rush

Orville presents a great fiddle tune titled "Gold Rush." This is yet another great beginner song that offers a secondary lead option that, by the end, will leave you with a complete tune perfect for jamming...

Length: 49:22 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 10

The Sailor's Hornpipe

Orville will teach this classic tune titled "The Sailor's Hornpipe." This up beat song imitates the life of a sailor and the duties aboard the ship. This lesson provides the perfect opportunity for a beginner...

Length: 12:56 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only

About Orville Johnson View Full Biography Orville Johnson was born in 1953 in Edwardsville, Illinois and came up on the St. Louis, Missouri music scene, where he was exposed to and participated in a variety of blues, bluegrass and American roots music. He began singing in his Pentecostal church as a young boy, in rock bands in middle school, then took up the guitar at 17,with early influences from Doc Watson, Rev. Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, and Chuck Berry. In the early 1970's, Orville spent several seasons playing bluegrass on the SS Julia Belle Swain, a period-piece Mississippi river steamboat plying the inland waterways, with his group the Steamboat Ramblers.

Orville moved to Seattle, Washington in 1978, where he was a founding member of the much-loved and well-remembered folk/rock group, the Dynamic Logs. Other musical associates include Laura Love, Ranch Romance, File' Gumbo Zydeco Band, Scott Law, and the Twirling Mickeys. Johnson, known for his dobro and slide guitar stylings and vocal acrobatics, has played on over 100 albums. He has appeared on Garrison Keilor's Prairie Home Companion, Jay Leno's Tonight Show and was featured in the 1997 film Georgia with Mare Winningham. His musical expertise can also be heard on the Microsoft CD-ROMs, Musical Instruments of the World and the Complete Encyclopedia of Baseball. He teaches as well at the International Guitar Seminar, Pt. Townsend Country Blues Week and Puget Sound Guitar Workshop.

Orville released 4 recordings in the 1990's: The World According to Orville (1990) Blueprint for the Blues (1998) Slide & Joy (1999) an all-instrumental dobro tour de force and Kings of Mongrel Folk (1997) with Mark Graham. He also appeared on 4 discs with the File' Gumbo Zydeco Band and produced Whose World Is This (1997) for Jim Page and Inner Life (1999) for Mark Graham. In the 21st century, he has released Freehand, a new Kings of Mongrel Folk disc, Still Goin' Strong, and been featured in the soundtracks of PBS' Frontier House and the Peter Fonda flick The Wooly Boys as well as the compilation cd Legends of the Incredible Lap Steel Guitar.

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