How To Play Sweet Home Chicago by Magic Sam

You might not be familiar with the name Magic Sam but the chances are you've heard this song before. Robert Johnson recorded a beautiful acoustic version of the track in the 1930s and the song was further popularised when it was featured in the film The Blues Brothers (it's actually dedicated to Magic Sam in the film and on the soundtrack album). One way or another it's a tune every blues guitarist should be familiar with. The arrangement found in this lesson is essentially a direct transcription of the track found on Sam's album West Side Soul. I've made a couple of tiny changes here and there to clarify things which are a bit ambiguous on the original. I've also combined the rhythm and lead guitar parts, which sound like they're played by two different players on the original. You can either play it as written or get someone else to back you up on rhythm guitar while you concentrate on the lead.

Find the transcription below. Probably the hardest thing is getting all the rhythms correct. I suggest taking it phrase by phrase: listen closely to the original, and pay close attention to the rhythmic notation above the tab, counting your way slowly through the more tricky passages. (Can't read rhythmic notation? I highly recommend you get into this as it's a super-useful skill to have which will make you a much better musician and player.)

I'm not going to go into a full analysis of the piece right now, but one of the things I like is the way Sam is really bringing out the flavour of each of the chords in his lead licks. Rather than just playing one scale throughout, he's often emphasising notes from the chord he happens to be on at the time. Something to think about next time you're improvising on a blues. 

I'll leave the right hand picking up to you. From the footage I've seen I think Sam himself played with his right-hand fingers. I'm mainly using a pick: all downstrokes for a nice aggressive feel on the opening riffs, a combination of up and downstrokes for the more complex single note lines, and the occasional note played with the middle finger of my picking hand. Experiment and find what works best for you. If you'd like a high-quality PDF of my transcription, download it here.