Guitarist Albert Cummings is one of those rare modern blues players with a great mix of chops, vibe and feel. We sat down with Cummings to discuss his new Hal Leonard DVD, Working Man Blues Guitar.
Did you study a lot of instructional material — like your new DVD — when you were coming up as a player?
I can't really think of any that I've watched and learned from. Early on I watched some videos on B.B. King. Of course, they were back when there were VHS tapes so I can't even watch them now. Hal Leonard sent me several tapes of some very well-known guys.
I found that most guitarists can easily show someone how to play something, but they can't tell you why they are playing it. I've always studied the why more than the how.
I wanted to provide something I didn't see on most of the tapes. I wanted to make it very simple to understand. This DVD is not set up for the absolute beginner, although I think it is probably a very good thing to watch to set the mind thinking correctly. When we finished making the DVD, I remember one of the camera men saying he thought he could play guitar now just by listening to me talk about the easy approach. That was a great moment because it was exactly what I was striving for.
What prompted this DVD release?
I did an interview with a friend who works with Hal Leonard. He knows a lot about my approach and my style of thinking. He always found that the way I think of guitar was/is very interesting. He brought it to Hal Leonard, and they approached me to discuss my style. I guess I take what I do for granted because I was extremely honored that Hal Leonard found my style so unique that they wanted to share it with the world.
What do you hope guitarists will take away from the DVD?
I think I cover a lot of ground with on it. The one thing I want people to get out of the DVD is that all you need to play guitar is two hands and a brain. Yes, and a little thing called determination! I meet many players on the road who are intimidated by people who have gotten really good at playing. It's just the fact that they have spent more time practicing and learning, and that's all it is.
I wanted to teach people about good practice and bad practice. I tried to focus this DVD on helping people create their own style and being able to express their feelings with their guitar. I know tons of very well-known guitarists who can play what they've practiced very well, but they can hardly step away from what they have learned. This to me is a waste.
I've always said, "Be yourself because everyone else is taken." I want to encourage people to express what's on their mind with their guitar. It might sound difficult, but I think it is easier than most people think, depending on how they look at it.
What players do you really try to learn from?
I am watching and learning from everyone. I can learn from even the worst player because I believe watching what not to do is just as important as watching what to do. I love to watch anyone play guitar. One idea can change your whole approach to a different style, so I'm always on the lookout. B.B. King joked with me one night back stage. He said, "We don't steal licks, we borrow them!" That has always stuck in my head. We are all melting pots of our influences.
When can people expect the next CD or DVD from you?
I'm working on another album right now. For some reason, I seem to be bubbling up with all these cool grooves and guitar songs. I plan to dig back into the rocking blues music that gave me my start. I am really excited about getting back out there and playing guitar. It just makes me smile!
That grape-colored Fender Strat you have looks amazing! What would it take for to part with that guitar?
That's a funny question! The Fender Custom Shop made that special for me, and I think the only way it will leave me is when someone pries it from my dead, cold fingers!