May 8

Be Careful With a Fool - Johnny Winter Guitar Lesson


Edited: Jun 14


What a great lick! Click to play (from 0:07)!


A very long time challenge!


I first "learned" the intro to Johnny Winter's mind-blowing rendition of this BB King classic back in 1987 the old fashioned way. I had a book with the notes tabbed out and slowed my 33rpm vinyl album down to 16rpm so I could make sense of and practise it at half speed. With light gauge strings and a low action I could soon bluff it fairly well even then playing along with the record but I knew something wasn't quite right with the timing and it certainly wouldn't have held up strongly enough to play it with a band.


I've never had to gig it and maybe never will but it remains another of those things which has always felt that little bit out of reach. Now, with heavier strings and a much higher action on my guitars than in the 80s (and 90s) I want to finally nail the lightning fast flurry he plays when the band drops out at the end of that intro (see video above @ 7 seconds in).



Semi-success at last!


A fair bit of time has been put in getting to the bottom of the actual timing and laying the notes out in Taplature format. I can't say for sure that this is how Johnny Winter was picturing the shape of the notes but after 30+ years of intermittent puzzling over this one I'm finally happy it works as intended.

Johnny Winter - Be Careful with a Fool Intro lessonJohnny Winter - Be Careful with a Fool Intro lesson

(Scroll down to the next post to see this played at half speed)



Cracking the code


I occasionally scratched my head over those 30+ years as to how the bass and drums knew when to come back in. My book just referred to this fast flurry of notes as being in "free time", indicating that the author also didn't quite understand how it all fitted together. It's not just me and him either; the outstanding Anthony Stauffer of Texas Blues Alley did a lesson on this one a while back and although he's found his own way around it he's had to mess with the timing of things a fair bit to make his version fit, adding (I think; have not fully examined) an extra beat to his backing track.



Recently I decided to dig a bit to solve the mystery and have set myself the target of getting this one officially up to speed. Focusing in on the rhythm section revealed that they aren't doing anything too unusual. Both bass and drums drop out on the one beat of bar 3 (marked in red below). The drums then come back in on the one beat of bar 4 with the bass joining back in on the "and" of beat 3.


Johnny Winter ChordsJohnny Winter Chords
Be Careful with a Fool. Intro and Verse Chords.


Applying Occam's Razor


After the straight semiquaver pickup into the fast flurry, viewing just about everything else played as triplets within triplets (see here for an investigation of a somewhat slower but more famous example of these) allows us to land exactly as planned when the drums kick back in.


I'll sign off now and work on putting up a video of my version played through at a leisurely 30bpm, which is less than half speed (the original runs at 65bpm) so you can clearly see and hear how this one fits together.


May 27Edited: Jul 30

Here's that slow run-through ...



I have a video that needs to be finished which shows me running this up through different speeds until it falls apart. Life as ever is busy but will see if I can get that done soon.



Fancy trying this one out?


I can't seem to add it here but you can download a MIDI file with the backing for the intro we're looking at plus verses through my profile in the (free to join) Taplature members area. MIDI lets you set the speed of playback in bpm easily so it's ideal for practice! Also recommended is my favourite free MIDI player which I've used in lessons and for myself for many years

Jun 13Edited: Jun 14

Got round to it at last! A few weeks since I recorded the clips this it sounds better to me now than I thought at the time.



I'll let this simmer for a while and maybe do some further digging on some of the building blocks that make it up. Although I've generally got the notes, Johnny Winter's version still sounds a whole lot more effortless and I'll keep looking for anything that can help my efforts move in that direction. Join me here in the Taplature forum for some guaranteed free progress with this or anything else you're finding tough on guitar!

New Posts
  • A fresh challenge for me! This one came up in a lesson yesterday afternoon for the first time and I've been dragged off on a new journey which I'll document here. Knowing the song quite well but without ever having thought about how to play it, my instinct was that this was a straight 4 beat. Upon listening in with my student it soon became clear I was very wrong! There's a triplet feel which I first settled on as being a 6/8 count. The problem is that it underlies a vocal rhythm which doesn't appear to have any hard structure, at least in the verse sections! I offered my student a reasonable way of viewing things and surprisingly quickly she had a functional version running, singing and strumming. I knew I wasn't done with this one though and spent half my evening digging through for a better understanding. That sparked off the challenge I'll be undertaking here ... learning to sing the verse along with a guitar part based on the bass line from the record. This looks exceptionally challenging and as of today I can't do it ... at all! Practising what I preach I'm confident that my own method will yield success. The basic approach is outlined in my blog article here " Caught in a Trap? How to sing and play guitar at the same time! ". I've claimed that these steps can offer success with any singing while playing challenge, and this looks to be as tough of one as I've found to date! First stage was to come up with a simple guitar part that matches the rhythm of what the bass plays on the record. Mixing the rhythm of "Don't Give Up" with the same twiddles I've used in teaching U2's "One" gives a pattern that works comfortably over the 3 chords Am, C and G (then Am again) of the verse. You can hear it in the video below and I'll be no doubt be examining it in great depth before long in this thread. To the drawing board! I wrote this out in 6/8 Taplature and then worked through the first couple of rounds of the sequence adding the syllables of the lyrics where they fall against the guitar part. Watch this space! And that's about as far as I've got. I'm no singer, so for me this more of an investigation of mental mechanics than anything especially musical. It's also the sort of thing that often holds hidden benefits; let's see where it leads! Join me in this thread to ask any questions, cheer me on, have a laugh, show off your skills (if you can already do this) or anything else related. Hopefully we can all learn something!
  • I'll use this section for showing my own use of Taplature in practice. Take a look, and if you fancy joining me here feel free to start your own thread to examine the problems standing in your way on guitar. I'll be on hand to offer advice ... on the house!
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