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Dave Van Ronk

Dave Van Ronk can be described as an irreverent and incomparable guitar artist and interpreter of black blues and folk, with an uncannily precise ability at impersonation. He is perhaps underestimated as a musician and blues guitarist. His guitar work, for which he credits Tom Paley as fingerpicking teacher, is noteworthy for both syncopation and precision. It shows similarities to Mississippi John Hurt's, but Van Ronk's main influence was the Reverend Gary Davis, who conceived the guitar as "a piano around his neck." Van Ronk took this pianistic approach and added a harmonic sophistication adapted from the band voicings of Jelly Roll Morton and Duke Ellington. He ranks high in bringing blues style to Greenwich Village during the 1960s. He was one of the very few hardcore traditional revivalists to move with the times, bringing old blues and ballads together with the new sounds of Dylan, Mitchell and Leonard Cohen. In his autobiography Bob Dylan states, "I'd heard Van Ronk back in the Midwest on records and thought he was pretty great, copied some of his recordings phrase for phrase - Van Ronk could howl and whisper, turn blues into ballads and ballads into blues. I loved his style. He was what the city was all about. In Greenwich Village, Van Ronk was king of the street, he reigned supreme."
 
Tablature is available as a PDF file for each lesson. Lessons are filmed with multiple cameras and consist of a performance, explanation, and conclude with a slow tempo split screen that follows the tab/music.

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Dave Van Ronk Single Song Downloads


Cocaine Blues
Level: 2
Tuning: Standard

Rev. Gary Davis was a huge influence of Dave Van Ronk. Cocaine Blues was one of Rev. Davis's best-known arrangements. It is what Rev. Davis would call "old fashion picking." He had heard it played in 1905 by an itinerant musician named Porter Irving. The arrangement is played in the key of C and uses simple first position chords. The bass figure is not your usual C chord, fifth to fourth to sixth to fourth alternation. Rev. Davis alternates between the sixth and fourth string, never playing the C root note on the fifth string. This gives a special flavor to the arrangement. Add to this the hammer-ons and pull-offs and that Dave plays this using a reverse alternating bass (fourth to sixth strings) and you have a challenging arrangement to master. "Cocaine Blues" competed with "Green, Green Rocky Road" for being Dave's signature tune.

 


Down South Blues
Level: 2
Tuning: Standard

This is a version of Scrapper Blackkwell's 1927 recording. It is played in the key of A using first position chords. Dave uses a monotonic bass throughout his playing. He teaches two variations and both are good examples of how he played blues in A. In this tune his playing depends on full chords being played. In later years Dave made this his standard set-opener. 

 


Green Green Rocky Road
Level: 2
Tuning: Dropped D

Perhaps Dave Van Ronk's most popular and requested number. Played in the key of D and in the Dropped D tuning. This lovely arrangement is played with an alternating bass. A lovely song to sing and play and not hard to master.

 


Kansas City Blues
Level: 2
Tuning: Dropped D

Dave Van Ronk's arrangement of the famous "Kansas City Blues." First recorded in 1927 by the Memphis songster Jim Jackson. It was one of the first, and biggest Race Record hits. The song's melody line was re-used and developed by Charlie Patton (Going To Move To Alabama) and Hank Williams (Move It On Over) before emerging in the film Rock Around The Clock. Its lyrical content presaged Leiber and Stoller's Kansas City. Dave's arrangement is in the key of D and in the Dropped D tuning. His guitar playing complements the vocal though does not echo the melody. A cool bass riff is interweaved while the bass alternates.


 


Midnight Hour Blues
Level: 2
Tuning: Standard

This is a Leroy Carr blues that was recorded in 1932. It was recorded as a piano-guitar duet with Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell. Dave's arrangement captures the feel of a piano accompaniment. He plays this in the key of G and in standard tuning. An unusual aspect to Dave's arrangement is his use of a monotonic bass throughout his playing. This highlights the different feel a monotonic bass produces in contrast to the alternating bass. 


 


Spike Driver's Moan
Level: 2/3
Tuning: Standard

Dave Van Ronk originally heard "Spike Driver's Moan" on the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music. The recording was from 1928 and featured Mississippi John Hurt. The tune is played completely around a first position G chord. An alternating bass is used throughout the arrangement. Mississippi John's playing is somewhat easy but Dave took John's playing and added the "Van Ronk Touch." The first thing he did was reversed the picking pattern. So instead of alternating from the sixth to fourth, Dave alternates from the fourth to sixth. This allowed him to add a moving bass figure, very much like that used in Rev. Gary Davis's "Candyman." Coordinating these elements will be your challenge. 

 


Sunday Street
Level: 3
Tuning: Dropped D

This is an original Dave Van Ronk song. The structure is a standard 12 bar blues in D. It is played in the dropped D Tuning and in the key of D. The arrangement uses an alternating bass. The accompaniment to the verse uses interesting chord fingerings that are in constant motion. Dave teaches four variations on playing the chorus. There are a lot of notes that Dave plays quietly that add to the harmonic backdrop of the notes he plays with volume. As with most of Dave's arrangement the playing calls for a great sense of dynamics. This is a difficult tune so you'll need to start off slowly. Keep in mind the feel and groove of the guitar arrangement 

 


That Will Never Happen No More
Level: 2
Tuning: Standard

Blind Blake recorded That Will Never Happen No More in 1927. It is a great ragtime blues played in the key of G and using first position chords. Dave's rendition follows Blake's arrangement. Nothing too difficult and a real fun tune to play and sing.