In Their Own Words - Slidemaster Charlie Keating

In Their Own Words - Slidemaster Charlie Keating

By Charlie Keating
February 2014

I was young teenage guitar player in Boston about 1971, trying to figure things out. I heard about this thing called bottleneck slide guitar. I'm tried all kinds of things, lipstick cases, an old chisel, baby food jars. My first public performance playing slide was at Boston City Hall with my high school choir playing “Oh Happy Days.”

I played it like a lap steel using an old chisel.

I finally settled upon using a small baby food jar. The jar was a bit wide, so I had to use two fingers to maneuver. I had no idea they sold something called a “slide.”

I could fit it on one finger and still have three fingers free to play the fretboard. I'm figured this slide thing out, little by little.

Around that time I kept hearing about this fellow, Elmore James. I purchased an Elmore James album and brought it home. I was totally blown away, to put it mildly.

The music was infectious. I used to play along with my B.B. King albums, but this was something different.

I developed a few riffs, but something was missing. One Sunday afternoon I experimented with different tunings. I knew nothing about open tunings. So I really thought I was inventing something new when I tuned the guitar to an E chord (open E tuning).

It sounded good, the boogie stretch worked well. Then I put the slide on.

Oh my God! I had found the missing link, the holy grail; now that teenage slide guitar player did not sound half bad.

Eventually, I got tired of changing the tuning on my guitar, so I took my electric 12 string guitar and used it as a six string guitar, tuned in open E. I figured out that raising the action, just a bit, gave me a smoother sound and soon I was off to the races.

I've figured out a little more over the years, gotten a little better, but I always look back on that Elmore James album, those baby food jar slides and the revelation of open tuning one Sunday afternoon.

These days I see the slide on my finger as a wedding band, because after all these years, I'm married to the blues.

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