One simply cannot talk about people of importance to this genre without tipping the hat to the most masterful musician, teacher, musicologist, producer, folklorist and preservationist of the traditional blues. By now, Stefan Grossman is a venerated, iconoclastic and respected acoustic blues figure of mega-proportions. He came out of the vibrant Greenwich Village, New York, 1960s scene around Washington Square, where so many American folk and blues musicians launched their careers. Many people know Stefan Grossman as the paramount teacher and entrepreneur in what has become the world’s largest “blues school”, Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop. He is one of the most skilled guitarists in the genre, having been a student of Rev. Gary Davis in New York City. He also picked up lessons directly from Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Skip James, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and others.
Tablature/music 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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"The Forty-Fours," as its earlier form was sometimes referred to, was a piano-driven "barrelhouse honky-tonk blues" that was performed as an instrumental.
Little Brother Montgomery, who is usually credited with the development of the song, taught it to another blues pianist along the way by the name of
Lee Green; Green, in turn, taught it to Roosevelt Sykes. As Sykes explained: "He [Lee Green] was the first guy I ever heard play the "44" Blues. Several
people had been playing it through the country of course — Little Brother Montgomery and several others, but nobody had ever recorded it and
there was no words to it, no words or lyrics at all. So Lee Green, he took a lot of time out to teach me how to play it." By the time he recorded it
in 1929, Roosevelt Sykes supplied the lyrics and called the song "44 Blues"
This is a Mississippi John Hurt song played out of the key of C. As many of John's arrangements, this is an easy tune to master and has a beautiful swinging
Rev. Gary Davis called this type of playing "old fashion picking." But as all things "Rev. Davis" his approach was unique. This tune has been called "Delia"
or "All My Friends Are Gone." I refer to it as the later as I play an Elizabeth Cotten tune titled "Delia." It is played in the key of C. Whereas most
players when picking in this key would have an alternating bass going from the fifth to fourth to sixth to fourth string. The first bass note is a
C and establishes the sound. But Rev. Davis alternates between the sixth and fourth strings while in the C chord. He never touches the C bass note!
This give a distinct and ambiguous sound to the arrangement. I changed one section to a counterpoint line and this is the only challenging phrase.
Many guitarists have picked up this arrangement. The story is akin to "Frankie and Albert," "Louis Collins" and other songs of jealousy and murder.
"Amazing Grace" is a Christian hymn published in 1779, with words written by the English poet and Anglican clergyman John Newton (1725-1807). I have
set my arrangement in a Dropped D tuning. I add a few blues tinged licks to this beautiful melody.
In 1934 Big Bill Broonzy recorded "At The Break Of Day". The recording is a piano guitar duet but the guitar is easily heard. Big Bill is playing in
the key of C. The guitar arrangement follows the vocal line. A fun tune to master.
Mississippi John Hurt's hometown was in Avalon, Mississippi. He recorded this blues in 1928 and it was the clue for Tom Hoskin's finding him in 1963. The
arrangement gives us a chance to focus on playing the alternating bass in the key of E with some unusual fingerings for the A and B7 chords.
"Baby Let Me Lay It On You" has a long line of history. I first heard Rev. Gary Davis play this risque blues when I studied with him. He played it in the
key of G. I then discovered that Rev. Davis's ex-student Blind Boy Fuller had recorded the tune, also in the key of G in 1938. His recording was so
popular that he recorded "Baby Let Me Lay It On You Number 2." But the song goes back further! In 1932 Walter Coleman record the song. In 1935 the
State Street Boys, a group that included Big Bill Broonzy and Jazz Gillum recorded "Don't Tear My Clothes" which has the same melody and structure.
The next few years saw several more versions, including "Don't Tear My Clothes" by Washboard Sam in June 1936, "Baby Don't You Tear My Clothes" by
the Harlem Hamfats in May 1937, and "Let Your Linen Hang Low" by Rosetta Howard with the Harlem Hamfats in October 1937.
And if that wasn't enough in the folk revival of the late 1950s Gino Foreman, a student of Rev. Gary Davis, taught a version to Eric Von Schmidt, a Boston
blues-guitarist and singer-songwriter. He then taught it to a young up and coming folk singer named Bob Dylan, who made it famous on his Columbia Records
In 1935, Burlington record store manager and talent scout James Baxter Long secured Fulton Allen a recording session with the American Recording Company (ARC). Allen, Gary Davis and George Washington went to New York City to record and they each did solo recordings as well as helping out on each others recordings To promote the material, Long decided to rename Allen as "Blind Boy Fuller" and also named George Washington as "Bull City Red."
In 1935 Big Joe Williams recorded "Baby, Please Don't Go". It has become one of the most covered songs in the story of the blues.
I play it in the key of E using a driving monotonic bass. The notes are not hard to find. The key is in the sound you produce. You can't approach this
timidly. You need to make sure that you are playing the guitar and not the guitar playing you!
I first heard Charlie Patton's 1929 recording of "Banty Rooster" and when Son House was rediscovered I heard the tune first hand from him. It is played in an Open G tuning (D G D G B D). It is played in a Delta style, which relies heavily on right hand strum movements combined with accurate single string licks. It has a powerful driving rhythm with haunting bass runs.
This is an original instrumental and one that I love to play in concert. It has three distinct sections. The first has a moving bass line played against
a melody. My mind was in a Jerry Reed mode when I composed this. The second section is a meeting of Chet Atkins and Bert Jansch. The first two measures
are very country and this contrasts against a counterpoint line. The third section was for my dear friend Mickey Baker (of Mickey & Sylvia/Love
is Strange fame) and introduces some funky R&B licks. Putting all these sections together and you have a challenge for your fingers and a feast
for your audience.
The event the song refers to would have been remembered in Atlanta. According to the research of John Garst, just before Christmas in 1892, Frank Dupree
robbed an Atlanta jewelry store and made off with a diamond ring. In the process, he killed a Pinkerton agent and wounded a bystander. He escaped to
Chattanooga, Tennessee, and then on to Detroit, where he was captured. After a sensational trial and despite public sympathy (probably because both
he and Betty were white), he was hanged in 1922. He was the last man to be executed by hanging in Georgia before the introduction of the electric chair.
Early versions of the ballad related the whole sordid tale, but over time "Betty and Dupree" evolved into a more sentimental story of love and sacrifice.
After learning arrangements in the key of C by Charlie Patton, Frank Stokes and Elizabeth Cotten I realized that playing in the key of C can achieve many
interesting melodic and dynamic sounds. The first position C chord can be moved up and down the fingerboard with interesting results. Elizabeth Cotten's
Delia is a great example of this. For this original three part instrumental I explored these sounds and fingerings to hopefully produce a lyrical composition.
When I first heard Big Bill Broonzy I knew that I wanted to play exactly like him. There was a power, drive and excitement in his playing. Big Bill had his own approach to play a blues in A. In this lesson we explore Big Bill's ideas and licks.
Tommy Johnson recorded "Big Road Blues" in 1928. It was one of the most influential recordings of early Mississippi blues. Many bluesmen learned either from Tommy's record or from seeing him in person. 'I ain't goin' down that big road by myself' became a classic blues line, sometimes changed to 'dark road' or even 'road of love' by other singers. Big Road Blues was Johnson's first record, and although he was not the first Mississippi blues artist to record, he was in the studio before Charley Patton, Son House, and Robert Johnson were and his records' success established him as the first big name recording artist in Mississippi blues.
Tommy's playing did not depend on an alternate bass. As most Delta musicians, his playing uses a more rhythmic right hand approach. The use of strums
and brush strokes are very important in his playing. Make sure to study the directions of these brush strokes in the tab. These give the arrangement
the drive and energy needed. The guitar is in a Dropped D tuning
Doc Watson made "Black Mountain Rag" a staple in the repertoire of all flatpickers. It was a must instrumental if you wanted to join the flatpicker's club!
Chet Atkins took this tune and made a fingerpicker's delight arrangement in Open G tuning. The arrangement taught in this lesson is a variation on
how Chet played the tune. It has three distinct sections and none are too difficult. The challenge is to get that "sound" and "speed" and have a steady
alternating bass that pulsates throughout your playing.
Rev. Gary Davis remarked on Blind Blake's playing that he had a "sportin' right hand." "Blake's Rag" is an introduction to Blake's playing in the key of
C. The "stumblin' bass" of Blake's technique is a hallmark of his playing. This lesson slowly dissects this technique.
"Blues Ain't Dry" is an original arrangement played in the Dropped D tuning. The progression is the same as that used in "Keys To The Highway" and
"Crow Jane". Traditionally these are played in the key of E. I thought it interesting to see how the texture and sound would change transposing
this to the key of D. The tuning helps to bring out the power of the bass.
Lightnin' Hopkins was a master of playing a blues in A. He had a distinct and original sound centered around several hallmark licks and a heavy monotonic
bass. In this lesson we explore Lightnin's approach.
This is a blues in Dropped D that borrows many phrases and licks from the playing of the great Lonnie Johnson. Lonnie's recordings from the 1920s to
mid-1930s are an absolute must to hear and study. During this time period he usually played with his guitar tuned D G D G B E. Some folks call
this a Dropped G tuning or English tuning. Lonnie plays in the key of D even though he is tuned in this manner.
Mississippi John Hurt's playing in the key of E has a special sound and feel. In this lesson we explore his use of first position chords plus a trick or
two up the neck. From here you can try tackling the note-by-note transcriptions taught by John Miller in his Mississippi John Hurt lessons of "Avalon
Blues" and "Cow Hooking Blues."
I was quite lucky. I spent hours and hours with Son House listening to him play, tell stories and teach me licks. There was a lot I could pick up from his old recordings but there were certain phrases I just could decipher. Son was kind enough to show me how to play these passages.
In this lesson I teach a Delta blues in the key of A based on the playing of Son House, Charlie Patton, Tommy Johnson and Robert Johnson. All were
masters of playing in the key of A and had similarities. We discuss various licks and fingerings that give this style such a distinct sound.
Rev. Davis use to tell me how he taught Blind Boy Fuller and if Fuller had stayed with him longer he would have been a good guitar player!!! Well, Blind Boy Fuller was a great blues guitarist and yes indeed, he did learn lots of licks from Rev. Davis.
Both their blues playing in the key of A is distinct and easy to recognize. They used certain phrases in common. In this lesson we investigate these
various ideas and put them together.
Steve Mann was a dear friend and a great guitarist from California who had a dynamic and original approach to fingerstyle guitar. This instrumental combines
ideas and licks from Steve's playing with blues phrases from the playing of Robert Johnson, Son House, Tommy Johnson and other Delta players. It is
played in the key of A and has plenty of the proverbial "meat on the bone" for you to explore, understand and play.
An improvised blues in C heavily influenced by the playing of Big Bill Broonzy, Rev. Gary Davis and Blind Blake. There's plenty of single string runs, pull-offs, hammer-ons, counterpoint lines and slurred blues notes. This is not for the beginner or faint of heart. It is a complete workout for playing a blues in C.
Playing a blues in the Dropped D tuning is challenging and exciting. It was always my dream to be able to establish a string rhythmic alternating bass and then riff on top with interesting and exciting licks. The next step was to be able to improvise in this style verse after verse.
The early recordings of Lonnie Johnson heavily influenced this approach. When I first heard these I thought he was playing in a Dropped D tuning. But after studying his arrangements I discovered that he was actually tuned to D G D G B E or a G6 tuning! This did not discourage my playing in Dropped D but rather expanded my experimentation.
This is not an easy lesson. You'll need to feel totally in control of the alternating bass before adding the melodic lines. Good luck and have fun!
Once you can do this doors will open.
An easy blues in the key of G using an alternating bass. This is a great lesson to start coordinating the right and left hands while fingerpicking
a melody and keeping the alternating bass flowing.
David Laibman heard this fiddle tune from the New Lost City Rambler's in the early 1960s. He arranged it in the key of A combining a Chet Atkin's feel
with counterpoint lines. The trick is to find the correct tempo and make sure your alternating bass is steady and strong while playing the melodic
lines in the treble. This is a real party pleaser.
The Buck Dance was a popular dance step at the turn of the last century. If you were a guitarist at that time you needed to have an arrangement to satisfy
your dancing customers. Most country blues guitarists had their own unique versions, i.e. Mance Lipscomb, Jesse Fuller, Sam McGee etc. They all seem
to be played in the key of C. But Rev. Gary Davis, being Rev. Davis, created a unique arrangement different from any other versions I have heard. His
is a two sectioned instrumentals with the first being heavily dependant on his right hand rhythmic patterns while playing full block chords. His second
section sounds and plays like many of his novelty tunes in C. Rev. Davis would perform this instrumental and tell a story of a car being chased by
the police. This lesson is great training for both your right and left hands.
The Buck Dance was a very popular dance at the turn of the last century. Most Black and White guitarists had their own take on what to play so that their
audience could strut their stuff! This arrangement comes from the playing of Sam McGee (from sunny Tennessee). He recorded this in the 1920s. It is
played using first position chords in the key of C. Played using an alternating bass there are a few surprises where the bass figures do "their own
thing." A challenging guitar piece that should end up being played lightning fast!
"Buckets of Rain" is a song by Bob Dylan, recorded on September 19, 1974 in New York City and released in 1975 on Dylan's critically acclaimed album "Blood On The Tracks". Dylan's recording has him playing in a Dropped D tuning.
I decided to set my arrangement in an Open D tuning so that the guitar could pick up sympathetic tones. I was looking for a bigger sound. The motto of playing the minimum to get the maximum is an important element to my guitar playing. Plus by using an alternating bass technique the Open D tuning fills the air with a strong rhythm against a catchy melody.
George "Little Hat" Jones was born in Bowie County, Texas, in 1899. He was a street busker in the 1920s in San Antonio, and he recorded one 78rpm for Okeh Records on June 15, 1929. That same day, he played guitar on nine tracks by Alger "Texas" Alexander in the Okeh studio. On June 21, Okeh had Jones record four additional songs. On June 14, 1930, Jones recorded six more tunes for Okeh. These three sessions represent the entirety of Jones's recorded output: ten songs of his own and nine with Texas Alexander. Jones never recorded another song, and died at the age of 81 in 1981, in Naples,Texas.
Tommy Johnson recorded "Bye Bye Blues" for Victor Records in 1928. He was accompanied by Charlie McCoy. The arrangement is Tommy's blues in E that bears similarities with Charlie Patton's "Pony Blues" and Willie Brown's "M&O Blues" and Son House's "Depot Blues".
In my arrangement I try to combine the playing of Tommy and Charlie McCoy.
This was the tune that Rev. Gary Davis would use for his first lesson. He heard it in 1905 from a traveling musician named Porter Irving. This version
of "Candyman" has been played and recorded by countless artists, i.e. Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal, Grateful Dead, Hot Tuna, David Bromberg, Roy Book Binder
and more. It's a tricky arrangement played in the key of C with an alternating bass and a moving bass figure. Rev. Davis referred to this style as
"old fashion picking" but it sounds as modern today as it did in 1905.
This is a great arrangement in the key of A with several surprises. The first is that John Hurt's version of "Candyman" is a totally different song to
Rev. Davis's classic rendition (played in the key of C). John's features a sophisticated arrangement that has a distinctive instrumental break and
variations on the accompaniment to the vocals. Mississippi John Hurt's playing can sound deceptively simple and easy but his "Candyman" will open your
ears and fingers to his intricate playing.
Tommy Johnson was born near Terry, Mississippi, and in about 1910 moved to Crystal Springs, where he lived for most of his life. He learned to play the guitar and by 1914, was supplementing his income by playing at local parties with his brothers Major and LeDell. In 1916 Johnson married and moved to Webb Jennings' plantation near Drew, Mississippi, close to the Dockery Plantation. There he met other musicians, including Charlie Patton and Willie Brown. He recorded for both Victor in 1928 and Paramount Records in 1929. His recordings featured classic performances and were imitated throughout the Delta.
"Canned Heat Blues" is played in a Dropped D tuning. It has a wonderful melodic lick that propels the playing. You'll need to give special attention to the brush strokes. Brushing up towards the bass strings give a different texture than brushing down to your treble strings. As his "Big Road Blues" this is played in a Dropped D tuning.
"Canned Heat Blues" was recorded during the Prohibition Era when liquor was not allowed. Throughout the USA bootleggers made their own brews. The term
'canned heat' refers to a homemade drink made from denatured and jellied alcohol (commonly known as Sterno). People would drink this mixture as
a form of surrogate alcohol. But
Sterno is poisonous and terrible results would follow after drinking it.
I have one lesson on "Careless Love" played in the key of C. I thought it interesting to try setting the melody this time in a Dropped D tuning. The
end result gives a completely different feel. Whereas playing this in the key of C feels tight and closed the Dropped D tuning allows a more open
sound. The arrangement basically uses an alternating bass technique.
"Careless Love" is both a blues and jazz standard. The lyrics were first published in 1911 by Howard W. Odum in the Journal of American Folklore. It has been recorded by hundreds of artists from Bessie Smith, Ottilie Patterson, Pete Seeger, Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, Bob Dylan, Bill Monroe, Johnny Cash, Frankie Laine, Skip James, Brownie McGhee, Snooks Eaglin to Janis Joplin.
I have taken the melody line and set it in the key of C. An alternating bass is used with first position chord fingerings. This is a good first step
in mastering the alternating bass technique.
"Careless Love" is one of the most popular blues songs. I have arrangements in the keys of C and D and decided to set it in the key of E to hear the difference. It certainly has a different texture and feel depending on the key you choose. The right hand technique uses an alternating bass for this lesson.
This is a tune from the repertoire of Mance Lipscomb. It is played in the key of E. Mance's playing used a monotonic bass - which translates to the right
hand thumb playing on one bass string to deliver a driving rhythmic sound. Mance would combine this at times with an alternating bass that helped to
add texture to his playing.
Rev. Davis told me he heard this arrangement in 1905 from a passing musician named Porter Irving. Porter also played "Candyman". Both these tunes became very popular in the folk revival of the 1960s. "Cocaine Blues", as played by Rev. Davis, has been recorded by Bob Dylan, Dave Van Ronk, Jackson Brown and a host of other guitarists.
Rev. Davis called this way of playing "old fashion music". Only five first position chords are needed: C, C7, E7, F and G. But the trick to achieve the sound is in the fingering of the C chord. Rev. Davis fingered the C chord with his ring finger on the third fret/sixth string, middle finger on the second fret/fourth string and index finger on the first fret/second string. He never hits the C root note in the bass when playing the C phrases.
There are plenty of lyrics available for this version of "Cocaine Blues". The arrangement has a verse, chorus and instrumental break. Have fun learning
The Memphis Jug Band recorded "Cocaine Habit Blues" on May 17th, 1930 in Memphis. The singer is Hattie Hart. The song is credited to Jennie Mae Clayton who was Will Shade's wife. But the origins of the song goes way back before the band recorded it. In Howard Odum's 1911 'Folk-song and Folk-poetry as found in the Secular Songs of the Southern Negroes: Part 1' the song is annotated as "Honey, Take A One On Me". In fact, "Cocaine Habit Blues" has almost the identical melody and verses as "Take A Whiff On Me". Charlie Poole with The North Carolina Ramblers recorded this as "Honey, Take A One On Me" on July 25th, 1927.
There are many, many versions of this song from Lead Belly to the Byrds. The playing of "Cocaine Habit Blues" aka "Take A Whiff On Me" should not be confused with Rev. Gary Davis's "Cocaine Blues" aka "Coco Blues". Though the lyrics are similar the guitar arrangement is totally different.
I approached the arrangement in the Key of C and tried to imitate the melody line as played by the harmonica player. Nothing too difficult and you should have fun playing and singing this song with friends.
"Coffee Blues" is Mississippi John Hurt's version of "Spoonful." Most bluesmen had a version of this song. Check out Rev. Gary Davis, Charlie Patton, Papa
Charlie Jackson or Howlin' Wolf singing their renditions. Mississippi John plays "Coffee Blues" in the key of A. The arrangement features his trademark
licks and is similar to his "Monday Morning Blues."
The term "Colored Aristocracy" goes back to the 1850s, and the title of a book on the Black elite of St. Louis, MO. In 1899 that phrase became the title
of a cakewalk number. In 1936, the Rich family recorded a string band tune of the same name. It has since become a very popular piece for old-time
five-string banjo players. In the early 1960's David Laibman heard a recording of "Colored Aristocracy" by the New Lost City Ramblers. He arranged
it for fingerstyle guitar in the key of A. As with most of David's arrangements this is a challenging piece to play. Your right and left hands will
get a good work-out!
"Come Back Baby" is a slow blues song written and recorded by the blues singer and pianist Walter Davis in 1940. Dave Van Ronk recorded a version in 1961. His arrangement became a 'must learn' for New York City up and coming fingerpickers. I duly put my 16 year old mind and fingers to work and was finally able to play Dave's arrangement. Over the years I have added some of my own touches and licks.
The guitar is in standard tuning and we are playing in the key of A. An alternating bass gives a piano feel to the playing. The right hand thumb imitates
the left hand of a pianist. The melody line and riffs weave in and out of this steady rolling beat.
Fred McDowell was a great Mississippi Delta bluesman. He was a great influence on my bottleneck playing. I was fortunate to get to know him. He had a distinct style of creating a bass riff with single string lines and then contrasting this with a melody played on the treble strings. For "Como Blues" (named for the community he came from) I try to recreate this texture but without a bottleneck.
This lesson is to show you how to play funky blues licks in an Open D tuning. It also highlights the various sounds you can achieve with your left and
"Corrina, Corrina" is a 12-bar country blues song in the AAB form. Bo Carter first recorded it in 1928. The Mississippi Sheiks, as the Jackson Blue Boys
with Papa Charlie McCoy on vocals, recorded the same song in 1930; this time as "Sweet Alberta" substituting the words sweet Alberta for Corrina, Corrina.
The song has become a standard in a number of musical styles, including blues, jazz, rock and roll, Cajun, and Western swing. Mississippi John Hurt
played "Corrina, Corrina" in both the key of C and D. In this lesson we focus on his arrangement in C. It's a beautiful guitar piece using first position
chord and easy to master.
The Dropped D tuning is very useful. You can easily play in the keys of D, G and A. It offers advantages in each of these keys. For a blues in A it is especially cool as when you play the fourth chord, the D7, you will have a low, booming D note on the sixth string. I picked up this idea from Mance Lipscomb.
"County Line" is an original instrumental based on Mance's playing of "Shake, Shake Mama". Mance would general use a monotonic bass approach. Instead
I am employing an alternating bass throughout the arrangement. The opening phrase is very melodic and drives the playing.
It's hard to trace the exact source of "Crow Jane," but it's a song that has outlasted many others from the early days of the blues. Its roots lay in the
Piedmont region of Virginia and North and South Carolina. Rev. Gary Davis was known to perform it during the 1920's, and the first recording was made
in 1927 by guitarist Julius Daniels. The chord progression is used in many other blues, most notable "Keys To The Highway" and "Blood Red River." It
is played in the key of E using first position chords. This is a fundamental arrangement to have in your repertoire.
"Crow Jane" is one of the most widely recorded blues songs. The same progression is used in "Keys To The Highway" and "Red River Blues". It is played in the key of E in Standard tuning.
In this arrangement we explore playing with an alternating bass as well as a monotonic bass. We also go beyond the fifth fret (where the frets are
rusty!!) and use variations on the chord fingerings.
Cry Havoc is an original three part instrumental played in the key of E. It is a blues composition with its first section influenced by the chordal work
of the Atlanta twelve string bluesman George Carter and his "Rising River Blues." There are some interesting fingerings and chords used in this arrangement.
This is David Laibman's arrangement of the Dallas String Band's 1927 recording of "Dallas Rag". This arrangement caused a storm amongst fingerpickers in
the early 1960s. David created and arrangement that put all the pieces together of a string band. Played in the key of C and with a typical ragtime
chord progression but with a combination of single string runs, counterpoint melodies, alternating bass and original chord fingerings. A truly fun
arrangement to play but one that will take some time to master and bring up to speed.
A great arrangement with our guitar in a dropped D tuning. In this we lower the sixth string a full tone down - from an E to a D. If you play a first position
D chord and then alternate your bass from the sixth to fourth strings you will hear the power of this tuning. This arrangement is not difficult. You'll
learn a few new chord fingerings for this tuning. Work on the arrangement phrase by phrase and you'll quickly hear the melody being played against
a strong driving alternating bass.
Already featured in these lessons is a version of "Death Come Creeping" in Dropped D tuning. The arrangement taught now is in Open D tuning. The tuning
will give you a "big" sound with all the strings singing out in harmony. The hardest part of this arrangement is getting in to the Open D tuning. But
with the help of a digital tuner and your ears you should find this easy. Once you have mastered this easy arrangement you can try playing the fretted
notes with a bottleneck/slide.
A three-part song from the playing of Elizabeth Cotten. It is played in the key of C. The first section revolves around the melody playing against an alternating
bass. The section section present a surprise and the moving of the C chord fingering up and down the fingerboard to catch melodic notes. And finally
the third section gives the arrangement added drive with a double-time phrase. A great tune to get a handle on fingerpicking in the key of C. The tune
comes from an Irish vaudeville song from the turn of the last century.
This is my take on the 1929 Blind Blake recording. It is not note-for-note. Only in my dreams can I play exactly like Blind Blake! It's a real fun tune
to play. The arrangement is in the key of C and has many of Blake's trademark licks and stumbles.
Blind Lemon Jefferson recorded this version in 1927. It is played in the key of G combining an alternating bass with simple treble licks and bass counterpoint lines.
Fingerpicking in the key of F can be a challenge. This is a great little instrumental to become acquainted with playing in F and using first position chords.
The F chord, played with your left hand thumb wrapping around the guitar neck, to fret the first fret/sixth string might prove challenging but is a
very worthwhile fingering that will come in handy playing in different keys. An alternating bass is used while raggin' the F blues!
Elizabeth Cotten is best known for this song. It has been played by every fingerpicker and is a perfect beginner's piece to discover the alternating bass.
It is played in the key of C using first position chords. The arrangement is known around the world. I have had audiences singing along in Japan, Australia,
Argentina, England and across the USA. A great introduction to fingerstyle guitar.
I first heard Big Bill Broonzy play this old pop standard. It was written by Billy Hill, and recorded by Benny Goodman in 1936, whose version was a number
one pop hit. This arrangement is played in the key of C and is not too difficult. It's a great tune to play in concert, though I have found that everyone
knows the first verse and half of the chorus but few can remember the second and third verses!
This is the second arrangement I teach of "Glory of Love." I'm still playing in the key of C and still heavily influenced by Big Bill Broonzy's version
but this time around I'm adding more Blind Blake stumbles and rolls.
"Goin' Down Slow" is a blues composed by St. Louis Jimmy Oden. He recorded it in 1941 and has become a blues standard and one of the most famous blues
of all. Many blues artists have recorded the tune. My arrangement is heavily influenced by the playing of Lightnin' Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb. It
is played in the key of A but in a dropped D tuning (D A D G B E). This tuning is very effective for play blues in A.
The song "Going to Germany" was written by Gus Cannon and was first recorded and released by Cannon's Jug Stompers in 1929. It is one of the most beautiful
blues I know. I have been trying to arrange this for years and finally discovered that it sat very well in the Open D tuning. The arrangement has some
interesting riffs but it not difficult to play.
After many years as a medicine show performer, Gus Cannon first recorded as “Banjo Joe” with Blind Blake in Chicago in November of 1927. But he earned a central place in jug band history when he formed the Cannon’s Jug Stompers at about the same time. Will Shade recommended the Jug Stompers to his record label and they started recording in Memphis in January of 1928. In 1929 the Jug Stompers recorded the exquisite Going To Germany with Noah Lewis singing and playing the harmonica. This is the second arrangement I have done of this song. The first was in Open D tuning. The arrangement in this lesson is in standard tuning and in the key of G. I’m using first position chords with an alternating bass technique. Nothing too complicated to learn and a beautiful song to play and sing.
This is a popular children's ring game song. It is played in a dropped D tuning. The playing is loosely based on Dave Van Ronk's classic arrangement but
we add more left hand movements.
Skip James was perhaps the most stylistically original of the blues performers from the Mississippi River Delta region, with his unusual cross-note (open D minor) tuning, haunting falsetto vocals, and an intense, variable marriage of music and lyrics. Countless artists have come under his spell, including Eric Clapton, Ritchie Blackmore, Dion Dimucci, Buddy Guy, and even Beck, among many others.
Skip James made 18 released recordings for the Paramount Record Company before the Depression carried him into obscurity. In this lesson we study two of Skip's best-known compositions. Both are played in the Crossnote tuning. Your guitar is tuned to an open Em chord (E B E G B E) or you can tune down to an Open Dm tuning (D A D F A D).
"Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues" has the melody played on the bass strings with a recurring lick on the third string. "I'm So Glad", made famous by the rock group Cream, is a tour de force of fingerpicking in the Crossnote tuning.
"Hesitation Blues" is a popular song adapted from a traditional tune. One version was published by Billy Smythe, Scott Middleton, and Art Gillham. Another was published in 1915 by W.C. Handy as "Hesitating Blues." Because the tune is traditional, many artists have taken credit as writer, frequently adapting the lyrics of one of the two published versions. Adaptations of the lyrics vary widely, though typically the refrain is recognizably consistent. The song is a jug band standard and is also played as a blues and sometimes as Western swing. I first hear versions by Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers, Jesse Fuller, Sam Collins and Rev. Gary Davis.
Playing a blues in Am with the chord progression of "Hit The Road Jack". This lesson illustrates playing a melodic uptown melody line and then improvising on the theme. Challenging but so much fun.
A fancy blues in A with lots of movement from the first to the twelfth frets. The arrangement collects ideas from many blues guitarists and puts them
together in a challenging instrumental.
"Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight" is an American popular song composed in 1896 by Theodore August Metz with lyrics by Joe Hayden. Metz was the bandleader of the McIntyre and Heath Minstrels. One history of the song reports: "While on tour with the McIntyre and Heath Minstrels, their train arrived at a place called 'Old Town'. From their train window, [Metz] could see a group of children starting a fire, near the tracks. One of the other minstrels remarked that 'there'll be a hot time in the old town tonight'. Metz noted the remark on a scrap of paper, intending to write a march with that motif. He did indeed write the march the very next day. It was then used by the McIntyre and Heath Minstrels in their Street parades."
The version taught in this lesson is from the playing of Mississippi John Hurt. Played in the key of C using an alternating bass technique.
This arrangement has an interesting story. In 1964 I heard Steve Arkin frail a beautiful version of "House Carpenter" on banjo. As I was just trying to
learn how to frail I asked Steve if he could teach me his arrangement. His banjo was tuned to an Open C tuning. I couldn't quite grasp the technique
of double thumb frailing that Steve was using. So in order to retain the melody in my mind I decided to arrange it on guitar and later to attempt it
on banjo. "House Carpenter" has a beautiful melody and the Open C tuning adapts to this well. Using an alternating bass in Open C creates a drone like
quality which adds to the haunting beauty of this ballad.
This is from the playing of Frank Stokes. He learned to play the guitar as a youth in Tutwiler, Mississippi and, after 1895, in Hernando, Mississippi,
which was the home of the guitarists Jim Jackson, Dan Sane, Elijah Avery (of Cannon's Jug Stompers), and Robert Wilkins. His recordings from the 1920s
feature great singing, guitar playing and songs. His playing is similar to that of Mississippi John Hurt. Both used a strong alternating bass. Frank
recorded "How Long Blues" with Dan Sane. Frank would fingerpick while Dan flatpicked back-up adding driving bass runs. "How Long Blues" is played in
the key of C using first position chord and should be an easy piece for you to master.
The song "Hunkie Tunkie Blues" was written by Charley Jordan and was first recorded and released in 1930. The arrangement taught in this lesson is note for note how Charley played it. It is played in the key of E in Standard tuning.
The playing is quite unusual. It starts with an almost calypso feel. You need to make sure your strums in the first four measures are strong and full
as these lead in to a unique A phrase that introduces precise melodic picking until the last bars. A great arrangement that is different from any
other pre-war blues in E.
This song was made popular by Merle Travis though first found in The Southern Zion Songster of 1864. Merle played it in the key of E. The arrangement in
this lesson sets the tune in the key of C. It is a beautiful melody and we play this against an alternating bass using first position chord fingerings.
Blind Boy Fuller was born in 1907. He was one of the most popular of the recorded Piedmont blues artists that also included Josh White, Blind Gary Davis and Buddy Moss. He helped shape the 1930s blues scene. Unlike many blues artists, Blind Boy Fuller can be completely engaging as both a party-oriented performer and a somber bluesman. He was one of a family of 10 children, but after his mother's death he moved with his father to Rockingham. As a boy he learned to play the guitar and also learned from older singers the field hollers, country rags, and traditional songs and blues popular in poor, rural areas.
This arrangement of "I Shall Not Be Moved" is played in the key of E using an alternating bass. It is similar to Mississippi John Hurt's arrangement
Mississippi John Hurt usually played in standard tuning. But he had a few gems in Open G and Open D tunings. "If You Don't Want Me" is one such gem.
It is John's take on "Big Road Blues" by Tommy Johnson as far as lyrics. The guitar arrangement is uniquely John's. He recorded this on his 1966
Vanguard album "John Hurt Today".
Skip James recorded "If You Haven't Any Hay Get On Down The Road" in 1931 for Paramount Records. He played this on the piano. When he was rediscovered in 1964 we finally were able to learn directly from Skip and not the old, rare crackling 78s.
Skip played most of his guitar arrangements in the Crossnote Tuning (E B E G B E). But he also used Standard tuning for a few tunes. He had an arrangement
on guitar for "If You Haven't Any Hay Get On Down The Road" but titled it "All Night Long". This was played in the key of E. I picked up some of
Skip's licks and put together the version taught here. It has the idiosyncrasies of Skip's timing and fingerings and is interesting to compare
to Willie Brown's "M&O Blues" and my "New Pony Blues".
“If You Live” was written by Mose Allison. I first heard this played on the guitar by Steve Mann in the mid-1960s. It has taken me over 50 years to resurrect the arrangement using licks from Steve’s playing. The tune is played in the key of E. Steve’s playing imitated the basic riff that Mose played on the piano. A very groovy feel and the guitar becomes a six-string piano!
What a great song! I learnt this first hand from Mississippi John Hurt. It is played in the key of C using the John Hurt alternating bass. When I first
arrived in England in 1967 this became a staple of my performances. The double entendre lyrics set against an innocent sounding arrangement can
tickle any audience.
The Open D tuning offers many tonal possibilities. It can be used beyond playing blues or folk songs. In this lesson I take the haunting melody of "In My Life" and set it in the Open D tuning. Experimenting with various chords and inversion the melody line takes on a new dimension. This lesson will offer you some intriguing new pathways on your guitar for arranging.
This is an original instrumental composition. There are certain sounds when playing in the Open D tuning that are evocative to my ears. I have tried to
combine these with traditional themes. "Innocence Aboard" has three distinct sections. The alternating bass is used throughout the arrangement. My
aim was to play the minimum to achieve the maximum. Learn the tune and see what you think.
Recorded by Frank Stokes in 1929, "It Won't Be Long" is played in the key of C using first position chords. It is an easy arrangement with a few surprises.
This arrangement will help to build your control of the alternating bass and playing in the Key of C.
What a great song! Uncle Dave Macon recorded this in the 1920s with Sam McGee playing guitar. This lesson is note-for-note what Sam played. In the 1920s
and 1930s there were few white fingerpickers. Sam McGee was the best known and he recorded some classic tunes, i.e. "Buck Dancer's Choice," "Railroad
Blues" and "Franklin Blues" are great examples of his guitar playing skills. For "I've Got The Morning Blues" he plays in the Open D tuning. Sam uses
and alternating bass throughout the arrangement.
Josh White was the first blues guitarist that influenced my playing Initially I was only acquainted with his mid-1950s to 1960s recordings. His version of "John Henry" caught my ears. His use of treble vibrato while playing the melody lines combined with a strong alternating bass produced a magical sound.
Josh played "John Henry" in an Open D tuning. My arrangement takes some licks from Josh plus others I found while practicing the tune.
Make sure you listen to Josh White's recordings made during the 1930's. He recorded many religious songs all played in the Open D tuning. These are
a must for any guitar student exploring the Open D tuning.
The precise author of "A Closer Walk" is unknown. Circumstantial evidence strongly suggests it dates back to southern African-American churches of the nineteenth century, possibly even prior to the Civil War, as some personal African American histories recall "slaves singing as they worked in the fields a song about walking by the Lord's side." Songs with similar chorus lyrics were published in the 1800s, including "Closer Walk with Thee" with lyrics by Martha J. Lankton and music by William Kirkpatrick, which was published in 1885.
K. C. Moan is perhaps the Memphis Jug Band's finest recording, excellent two-guitar work supporting long, drawn-out notes on the harmonica and an intricate kazoo solo from Ben Ramey.
The vocal completes a spellbinding performance. The Memphis Jug Band recorded this in 1929. K.C. stands for the Kansas City Railroad Company. When I thought about arranging this song the Dropped D tuning immediately came to mind. It is the perfect tuning to imitate a train whistle as well as the driving wheels. I'm using an alternating bass, which sounds especially rich and strong in the Dropped D tuning. You'll need to work on getting the treble notes to sing out.
My friend Steve Katz showed me the first part of this rag. I then added the second section. It is played in the key of C and revolves around first position
chord fingerings. It is a great exercise in learning how to play an alternating bass while your index and middle fingers of your picking hand play
the first and third strings.
Charley Jordan was a St. Louis blues singer, songwriter and guitarist, as well as a talent scout, originally from Mabelvale, Arkansas. He was known for a unique style that drew on his rural roots. He recorded numerous singles for Vocalion and Decca between 1930 and 1937, and also performed with some well-regarded bluesmen from the 1920s to the 1940s. He played with Peetie Wheatstraw, Roosevelt Sykes, Casey Bill Weldon and Memphis Minnie. Noted for his "crisply firm guitar", he had most of his biggest hits, including "Keep It Clean", in the early to mid-1930s.
His arrangement for "Keep It Clean" is played in the key of E. I teach note for note what he played. He uses an alternating bass for the first sung line and then changes style to a more intricate picking sound. Charley was the master of contrasting guitar sounds.
Another arrangement from the playing of my dear departed friend Steve Mann. Steve was very influenced by Dick Rosmini. Steve took a classic Blind Lemon
Jefferson song and rearranged and put his stamp on the song. There are some great blues licks and riffs. This arrangement will help expand your blues
In 1966 Ray Charles had a hit with this Nickolas Ashford, Valerie Simpson, and Josephine Armstead song. Many artists have recorded "Let's Go Get Stoned,"
i.e. the Coasters, James Brown, Booker T and the MGs, Big Mama Thornton and Joe Cocker. The playing of my old and departed friend Steve Mann influenced
my arrangement. I play it in the key of C.
I learnt this tune from Rev. Gary Davis. It has direct lineage in Piedmont children's rhymes. My arrangement is not as complex as Rev. Davis's. It's fun to play and will give you an idea of one of the ways Rev. Davis played in the key of C.
"Little Sadie" is a 20th-century American folk ballad in D Dorian mode. It is also known variously as "Bad Lee Brown," "Transfusion Blues," "Late One Night," "Penitentiary Blues" and other titles. It tells the story of a man who is apprehended after shooting his wife/girlfriend. He is then sentenced by a judge. The earliest written record of the song dates from 1922. Clarence Ashley recorded "Little Sadie" in 1930 and Doc Watson performed it on record and in concert until he passed away.
Recorded on December 21, 1928 in New York City. Mississippi John Hurt said, when asked about this sweet murder ballad, that he "made it up from hearing
people talk. He was a great man, I know that, and he was killed by two men named Bob and Louis. I got enough of the story to write me a song." The
arrangement is in the key of C and has a verse, chorus structure.
Tommy McClennan was a Mississippi Delta bluesman who moved up to Chicago. He recorded in the late 1930s to early 1940s. He had a raw and driving sound. For years I enjoyed his recordings but ignored his guitar playing. Boy, I must have had cotton in my ears. In these last years I have had fun transcribing his playing. What sounds like casual picking is actually a very accomplished and effective arrangement.
Tommy favored the keys of C, G and E. "Love With A Feeling" is played in the key of C in Standard tuning. Tommy produces a unique sound. He plays with
a freedom and strength that is hard to capture. Give it a try and make sure to hear other Tommy McClennan recordings.
Tommy McClennan was one of America's most successful down-home blues recording artists. He was born in Durant, Mississippi, and grew up in the town
and later moved up to Chicago.
He started to record in 1939 for the Bluebird label. Among Tommys most notable numbers were "Bottle It Up and Go," "Cross Cut Saw," "Travelin' Highway Man," and "New Highway No. 51 Blues." McClennan was famed for his raucous, uninhibited singing and guitar playing. But when you listen carefully to his playing you start to hear very clever and intricate fingerstyle blues.
“Love With A Feeling” is played in the key of C. It has echoes of the playing of Big Bill Broonzy but played with a totally different touch.
Willie Brown was a close friend of Son House. Together in 1931 they traveled with Charlie Patton and Louise Johnson to Grafton, Wisconsin to record for Paramount Records. This recording session produced some of the seminal performances of the Delta Blues. Willie played behind Patton on several songs and only recorded two solo pieces: "M&O Blues" and "Future Blues".
"M&O Blues" in played in the key of E. It is a very well thought out guitar arrangement that compliments the vocal line. The opening phrase presents a Delta lick that is heard with variations in the playing of Son House, Charlie Patton and Tommy Johnson.
This is a great song played by countless blues players. The song's origins are somewhat nebulous and can be traced back to the 19th century. Various versions
of the lyrics were first published in 1911 in an academic journal of ethnomusicology. Some sources attribute the modern score to W. C. Handy who later
modified into a song known as "Atlanta Blues." In 1928 Mississippi John Hurt recorded this as "Ain't No Tellin'." The arrangement taught in this lesson
comes from John's playing in both his early and 1964 recordings. It is played in the key of C using first position chord.
This blues has a long and popular history. The song was first recorded as "Don't Tear My Clothes" in January 1935 by the State Street Boys, a group that included Big Bill Broonzy and Jazz Gillum. In the same year Walter Coleman recorded it as "Mama Let Me Lay It On You". The next few years saw several more versions, including "Don't Tear My Clothes" by Washboard Sam in June 1936, "Baby Don't You Tear My Clothes" by the Harlem Hamfats in May 1937, "Let Your Linen Hang Low" by Rosetta Howard with the Harlem Hamfats in October 1937 and "Mama Let Me Lay It On You" by Blind Boy Fuller in April 1938. Fuller's version was so popular that he recorded it a second time as "Mama Let Me Lay It On You, Number Two".
During the 1960s folk revival Eric Von Schmidt, a well-known face in the East Coast folk scene, heard the song via the Blind Boy Fuller recording as well as performances by Rev. Gary Davis. Eric credits Rev. Gary Davis for writing three quarters of his version of the song. Eric taught his rendition to Bob Dylan he then recorded the song on his debut Columbia album.
The arrangement I teach is straight from the fingertips of Rev. Gary Davis. It is played in the key of G using the arsenal of tricks and licks that
Rev. Davis used in playing a blues in G.
One of Rev. Gary Davis great instrumentals. He called this piece "Cincinnati Flow Rag" as well as "Slow Drag." It's a ragtime dance instrumental that combines
the stumbles of Blind Blake with the genius of Rev. Davis. Played in the key of C. I combine "Cincinnati Flow Rag" with Blind Lemon Jeffferson's "Hot
Dogs" - but played in a Rev. Davis style. This is a real fun instrumental to play. It will take some practice but is worth every moment.
"Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" is a song written by Joe Zawinul in 1966 for Julian "Cannonball" Adderley. It became a surprise hit. The tune has been re-recorded numerous times, most notably by The Buckinghams, who reached # 5 in August 1967, adding lyrics to the tune.
This popular composition is usually credited to Texas fiddler Luke Thomasson, although it has been published that Luke's son Benny (a famous Texas-style fiddler who popularized the melody) long remembered the night he heard both his father and uncle composing the tune on the family porch (c. 1900?). Several sources have noted this tune's resemblance to an Oklahoma-collected tune called "Old Paint," and there is an ongoing debate about whether "Midnight" is derivative of "Paint" (or vice versa). The Library of Congress recording "Cowboy Songs, Ballads, and Cattle Calls from Texas" (LOC lp L28), collected by John A. Lomax and edited by Duncan Emrich, has a version of the "Paint" song by Jess Morris which has quite similar melodic material with "Midnight on the Water." The liner notes to the album point out that Morris was born in 1878 and would perhaps have been contemporary with the Thomassons, who, like Morris, lived in the Texas panhandle.
Duck Baker arranged this three part instrumental. It is set in a Dropped D tuning.
Alan Lomax went down to Mississippi in 1942 looking for Robert Johnson. He didn't find Robert as he had died several years before. But on this field trip
for the Library of Congress he recorded Son House, Willie Brown, McKinley Morganfield (later known as Muddy Waters) and a left-handed guitarist named
William Brown. He recorded three tracks by William Brown at Sadie Beck's Plantation in Arkansas (as Lomax was chased out of Mississippi!). "Mississippi
Blues" is a piano blues played in the key of A. The original recording has vocals but I have performed this tune for many, many years as an instrumental.
It has become a very popular guitar solo and one that separates the men from the boys and the women from the girls. It might take you time to master
this arrangement but you'll find it more than worthwhile. Have fun!
Barbecue Bob was a popular twelve-string blues artist from Atlanta, Georgia. He recorded many sides in the late 1920s. "Mississippi Heavy Water Blues"
was one of his "hits". It recounted the great Mississippi floods of 1927. Barbecue Bob played this out of an open G tuning. I have arranged it in a
quasi-open G tuning (D G D G B E). You tune down a full tone the sixth and fifth strings. My right approach uses an alternating bass. The tuning allows
this to be easily played and to finish off each verse with Barbecue Bob's trademark bass snapped lick.
In this lesson we learn how to fingerpick in waltz time. The Memphis Jug Band recorded Mississippi River Waltz in 1928. Waltzes were unusual on race records though were probably not a novelty to the jug band, which would have been expected to play such pieces for dancing by both blacks and whites. The original recording is an instrumental and I thought what a great melody to try and arrange. I play it in standard tuning and in the key of G using first position chords. The left hand is easy enough and the challenge is to play a steady waltz time with your right hand. A great exercise plus a lovely tune to play.
Mississippi John Hurt played this at his home audition in 1928 for Okeh producer Tommy Rockwell. He then went to Memphis and New York City to record his
legendary sessions. John's blues in A convey a strong dance feel. The lyrics might have a blues tinge but the guitar playing had a happy and strong
This lesson presents Mississippi John Hurt's arrangement of "Monday Morning Blues". John's playing sounds deceptively simple but once you tackle his playing you realize there is much more than you imagined. His playing in the key of A is especially intriguing.
His blues have a happy quality produced by his strong pulsating alternating bass. Over this sound he weaves melodic lines. It's fun to play anything
by Mississippi John Hurt. "Monday Morning Blues" will help you strengthen both hands.
A Mississippi John Hurt blues played in the key of A. The drive of the arrangement comes from a strong alternating bass. The hardest part is the control
of the first position long A chord and the sliding of this position from the first to second frets. The E7 phrase introduces a lick that then runs
in to an interesting A turnaround.
Mississippi John Hurt made "My Creole Belle" one of his most loved and requested numbers. It is a beautiful yet simple arrangement in the key of C using
first position C, F and G chords. The tune was written in 1900 by J. Bodewalt Lamp and was played by marching bands. John Phillip Sousa included this
in his repertoire. The original title was "Creole Belles - March & Two Step" and has three distinct sections. Folks use to do the cakewalk dance
to this tune. A fun tune to play and gets folks to sing along.
In 1970 I was living in London, England. I was recording my first solo studio album for Transatlantic Records. This would turn out to be a double album. We were recording at the Sound Techniques Studio in Chelsea when Dick Waterman and Son House came by to say hello. It struck me that this would be a great moment to record a few tunes with this legendary great Delta bluesman. Son agreed and we set up the studio microphones for Son and myself.
We recorded two tunes: "New Pony Blues" and "Yonder Comes The Blues" (which also included Paul Rowen on harmonica). The music was improvised on the spot.
I started "New Pony Blues" playing licks from Charlie Patton's "Pony Blues" which is played in the key of E. After the first verse I introduced licks
that Son had taught me and got into synch with his vocal phrasing. What a thrill! A dream come true.
Elizabeth Cotten's self-taught, upside-down, left-handed guitar style made her one of the most original guitar and banjo players in the history of American
folk music. Her song "Freight Train" has been played by most fingerpickers from Chet Atkins, Lenny Breau to Mike Seeger. "Oh Babe Ain't No Lie" is
another original composition. Like "Freight Train" it is played in the key of C using first position chords. But this has a verse and chorus structure.
The tune was a staple in The Grateful Dead's repertoire.
"Oh Mary Don't You Weep" is a Negro spiritual that originates from before the American Civil War. It is what scholars call a "slave song," a label that describes their origins among the enslaved, and it contains"coded messages of hope and resistance." It is one of the most important of Negro spirituals. The first recording of the song was by the Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1915. It became very popular in the Folk Revival of the 1960s. Pete Seeger gave it additional visibility by performing it at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival, and playing it many times throughout his career, adapting the lyrics and stating the song's relevance as an American song, not just a spiritual. My arrangement is very much influenced by the playing of Mississippi John Hurt. And like John I play it in the key of E.
A great tune to begin tackling the alternating bass technique. Played in the key of G and using a first position G chord. The melody is played on the first
three strings while the bass alternates between the sixth and fourth strings. There is a simple chord change at the closing phrases. This is a tune
from the playing of Elizabeth Cotten.
Blind Blake's first recording featuring "West Coast Blues" was released in 1926. This signaled that the "six string piano" had arrived. This
was a very influential record. In 1928 a local Tappahannock, Virginia barber, William Moore, who also played guitar on the side, went to the Paramount
recording studios in Grafton, Wisconsin and put down a handful of sides. His Old Country Rock was essentially a reinterpretation of Blake's "West Coast
Blues" but played at a much lazier tempo and in a Dropped D tuning. He also used the same guitar part for his "One Way Gal." This is a great lesson
to do after "Death Come Creeping." It will reinforce your understanding of playing in Dropped D. First position chords are used through this two-sectioned
rag. Lots of fun!
There was a period that I explored the Open C tuning. This tuning is quite adaptable to many types of songs and I decided to arrange Blind Lemon Jefferson's
"One Kind Favor." The combination of an alternating bass and a few key notes played with a strong vibrato seems to work well with this tune. Once I
had the basic arrangement of the melody I decided to add a second boogie section to contrast against the verse.
Rev. Davis's called the playing of "People That I Use To See, Can't See No More" "old-time picking". This was they way guitarists played at the turn of the last century. They picked the guitar like a piano with an alternating bass playing the "bum-chick" of the pianist's left hand. A technique we refer to as an alternating bass.
But as with most of Rev. Davis's playing there is a difference. Guitarists playing in the key of C using an alternating bass usually play the root note first (C note on the third fret/fifth string) and then the fourth string. This bass pattern can also be played fifth, fourth, sixth, fourth bass strings. Instead Rev. Davis fingers his first position C chord with the third fret/sixth string and second fret/fourth string and first fret/second string. In this "old-time picking" he does not finger the root note on the fifth string. The bass alternates between the sixth and fourth strings.
The resulting sound is unique and I have only seen Rev. Davis do this. He has several songs in the key of C that feature this approach: "Cocaine Blues", "You Got The Pocketbook But I Got The Key".
"People That I Use To See, Can't See No More" is almost identical to the arrangement of "Cocaine Blues" with the exception of a phrase extended. Once you feel comfortable with the playing of this song you should try comparing the sound to a Mississippi John Hurt tune in the key of C. By changing the bass picking pattern the feel and drive of the playing totally changes.
Unlike blues artists like Big Bill Broonzy or Memphis Minnie who recorded extensively over three or four decades, Blind Boy Fuller recorded his substantial body of work over a short, six-year span. Nevertheless, he was one of the most recorded artists of his time and by far the most popular and influential Piedmont blues player of all time. Fuller could play in multiple styles: slide, ragtime, pop, and blues. Ari Eisinger has a great lesson devoted to Fuller's playing note for note.
This is a straight shuffle in the key of E. We use first position chords. We start with an alternating bass on each beat. We then change this to every other beat changing the feel of your playing.
This lesson is a great exercise in mastering your right hand picking technique.
"Pretty Girl Milking Her Cow" (Cailin Deas Crúite na mBó in the Irish language) is a traditional 18th-century Irish ballad. The English version is attributed to Thomas Moore (1779-1852). Originally sung in Irish Gaelic, the song was popular through the early 20th century. It enjoyed a revival when an updated swing version sung by Irish-American singer/actress Judy Garland was featured in the 1940 film Little Nellie Kelly. The updated version is true to the original musical air, and incorporated original lyrics by MGM Musical Director Roger Edens, and featured Garland singing the song to George Murphy using some of the original Gaelic lyrics in the first chorus, which was true to the traditional air, before moving into an up-tempo swing version typical of the era.
I first heard Duck Baker play this tune. My playing I have somewhat simplified from his arrangement. The stark beauty of the melody sits well in the Dropped D tuning.
"Rag Mama Rag" was recorded by Blind Boy Fuller in 1935. It was his first recording session. Rev. Gary Davis (known then as Blind Gary Davis) and George
Washington (known as Bull City Red) traveled to New York City to record as well. On the recording of "Rag Mama Rag" you can hear Rev. Davis playing
in the background. The tune revolves around the circle of fifths and is played in the key of C using first position chords. In this lesson we explore
the many possibilities of raggin' the blues in this structure.
This comes from a 1942 Library of Congress recording done at Sadie Beck's Plantation in Arkansas by Alan Lomax of a left-handed guitarist named William
Brown. This is the same artist that recorded "Mississippi Blues." This arrangement in the key of G is capoed high on the fingerboard to give a specific
sound as well as to make your left hand fingering easier. The arrangement is like a jigsaw puzzle built around three chords and an alternating bass.
This is a basic ragtime blues played in the key of C. The chord progression has literally been used for hundreds of songs. The guitar part combines playing
techniques and ideas from Blind Boy Fuller and Rev. Gary Davis. Single string runs and a rhythmic chord pattern combine with the alternating bass to
give you a challenging lesson.
"Railroad Bill" is a blues ballad that dates to the 19th century and has been performed and recorded by many folk artists throughout the 20th century.
People have conjectured that the subject of the song is an African American outlaw named Morris Slater who robbed freight trains in the 1890s.
Slater's nickname was Railroad Bill. Only a few of the song's dozens of stanzas seem to refer specifically to Slater's activities. The majority
of the stanzas are quite general.
The first recording of "Railroad Bill" was made by Riley Puckett and Gid Tanner on September 11, 1924. Will Bennett, a Black musician, recorded it
in 1929. My version is played in the key of C. It was influenced by the Will Bennett recording and the playing of Ramblin' Jack Elliot.
It is a great introduction to playing an alternating bass technique using first position C, E, F and G chords.
From the playing of Steve Mann. This is a New Orleans piano styled blues played in the key of E. It has the feel of "Drown In My Own Tears." A tricky piece
of guitar playing but very rewarding. It will extend your knowledge of playing blues in E. Lots of great licks and tricks.
This is my arrangement of Pearl Dickson's 1927 recording of "Little Rock Blues". Pearl does the vocals while Maylon and Richard Harney (better known as Pet & Can) play guitars. I try to play both guitar parts. It is played in the key of G.
This is a very popular tune played by both blues and country players. Papa Charlie Jackson recorded his version in 1924 on a six-string banjo. Mississippi
John Hurt had a version played in the key of G. Flatt & Scruggs played this in a bluegrass context. The arrangement taught in this lesson is played
in the key of C and somewhat in a Chet Atkins' style. The structure revolves around the Circle of Fifths. A few new chord positions are taught. This
is another arrangement to help build a solid foundation with the alternating bass.
Rev. Davis taught me this song. He had several different styles for playing in the key of C. This arrangement does not revolve around an alternating bass. Instead it has distinct phrases that pick out the melody, then a single string run, followed by a phrase using the alternating bass. It has that unique Rev. Davis approach that might take you some time to master.
With such a great title I expected some great lyrics. It sounds like it could be a vaudeville song from the turn of the last century. Rev. Davis never sang this to me. In my research I have not been able to find it performed or recorded by any other artist.
"Searching the Fingerboard" is a standard ragtime blues chord progression in C:
We begin using first position chords and then explore other chord fingerings up the neck. During the C/C7/F/Ab7 part we experiment with rhythmic licks and single string runs.
The aim of the lesson is to free you beyond the fifth fret and teach you different techniques to combine with the alternating bass.
"See See Rider", also known as "C.C. Rider", "See See Rider Blues" or "Easy Rider", is a popular American 12-bar blues song, originally recorded by Gertrude "Ma" Rainey in 1924. The song uses mostly traditional blues lyrics to tell the story of an unfaithful lover, commonly called an easy rider.
Numerous musicians have recorded their own versions, including Big Bill Broonzy, Mississippi John Hurt, Lead Belly, Lightnin' Hopkins, and Peggy Lee. Broonzy claimed that "when he was about 9 or 10 - that is, around 1908, in the Delta (Jefferson County, Arkansas) - he learned to play the blues from an itinerant songster named "See See Rider", "a former slave, who played a one-string fiddle.
This lesson offers two different arrangements both played in the key of C. The first uses an alternating bass played in a Mississippi John Hurt style. The second uses a monotonic bass played in the style of Mance Lipscomb.
One of the finest arrangements of the popular blues "See See Rider." Played in the key of D and in standard tuning. You only need three first position
chords: D, G and A but your right hand thumb needs to keep a solid and steady alternating bass as the melody weaves in and out of these chords.
This is a delightful Elizabeth Cotten song that she put together with her granddaughter. It has been covered by many folk and rock musicians. Libba strummed
her guitar when she played this tune. Instead our arrangement combines several distinct techniques and is a great exercise in combining the alternating
bass with Rev. Gary Davis rhythmic licks. The arrangement is in the key of G and should be a challenge for your fingers.
The perfect song to start your study of the alternating bass. Played completely within a first position G chord. This is Mississippi John Hurt's arrangement
of the classic 1925 recording of Papa Charlie Jackson. "Shake That Thing" was a dance tune and the simplicity and power of the alternating bass drives
Shine On Harvest Moon is a popular early-1900s song credited to the married vaudeville team Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth. It was one of a series of Moon-related Tin Pan Alley songs of the era. The song was debuted by Bayes and Norworth in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1908 to great acclaim. It became a pop standard, and continues to be performed and recorded even in the 21st century. I heard Mance Lipscomb play an arrangement and decided to transcribe it. Then I started to listen to old recordings from the turn of the last century.
I discovered there was a great opening section, which I slowly arranged. The arrangement that evolved has a lot of Mance and a lot from the early recordings and a 1931 recording by Ruth Etting. It is challenging to play but a great song to perform, as audiences around the world all know the chorus.
"Show Me The Way To Go Home" was the song sung in the film Jaws as the shark was closing in for the kill! It was written in 1925 and is a standard pub and bar song throughout the English Isles and the USA. I arranged this in the key of C. It has a well-known chorus with lesser-known verses. I use an alternating bass throughout the arrangement.
Big Bill Broonzy is one of my favorite guitarists. He has influenced so many musicians from Eric Clapton to John Renbourn. His playing has a drive that
is infectious. His playing in the key of C, and especially when raggin' the blues, is especially contagious! "Shuffle Rag" has several distinct sections.
The arrangement features single string runs, monotonic bass phrases juxtaposed next to alternating bass phrases, blues bends and more. After over 50
years of playing this tune I still try it at least once a day!
Time to start raggin' the blues. Once you feel confident in playing the alternating bass we can go beyond first position chords. This arrangement is in
the key of D and is a variation of "I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate." It's an up-tempo jazz dance song, written by Clarence Williams and
Armand Piron, and published in 1919. It is variously believed to be based on a bawdy tune by Louis Armstrong (about Kate Townsend, a murdered brothel
madam) or transcribed from a version performed by Anna Jones and Fats Waller. The lyrics of the song are narrated first person by Kate's sister, who
sings about Kate's impressive dancing skill and her wish to be able to emulate it. She laments that she's not quite "up to date," but believes that
dancing like "Sister Kate" will rectify this, and she will be able to impress "all the boys in the neighborhood" like her sister. You need to keep
in mind that you're playing a dance tune. Your alternating bass needs to be solid and rhythmic. Practice this arrangement slowly and bring the tempo
up to dance speed gradually.
"Sitting on Top of the World" is a folk-blues song written by Walter Vinson and Lonnie Chatmon, core members of the Mississippi Sheiks, a popular country
blues band of the 1930s. Walter Vinson claimed to have composed "Sitting on Top of the World" one morning after playing a white dance in Greenwood,
Mississippi. The Mississippi Sheiks recorded it in 1930. In May 1930, Charlie Patton recorded a version of the song (with altered lyrics) called "Some
Summer Day." During the next few years cover versions of "Sitting on Top of the World" were recorded by a number of artists: The Two Poor Boys, Doc
Watson, Big Bill Broonzy, Sam Collins, Milton Brown and His Musical Brownies, and Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys. The song has become a staple
in the repertoire of western swing bands. The version taught in this lesson was influenced by Doc Watson's arrangement. It is played in an Open D tuning.
Columbia Records came to Atlanta in November 1926 and recorded a variety of spiritual acts and blues guitarist Peg Leg Howell. Born in 1888 in Eatonton,
Georgia, Joshua Barnes Howell was a generation older than most of the prewar Atlanta bluesmen. Like Lead Belly and old Henry Thomas in Texas, his repertoire
extended to country reels, field hollers, ballads, and other pre-blues styles. He recorded several times for Columbia and his records sold well. In
1927 he recorded "Skin Game Blues," a song about work camps and card games.
Playing a slow, Lightnin' Hopkins styled blues in A is fun and powerful. Playing this in a Dropped D tuning adds more interest as when you progress to the fourth chord (the D7) your low sixth string D note suddenly rocks the room!
I am playing this arrangement using a steady on the beat, monotonic bass. This gives a distinct drive and feel. Playing this arrangement with an alternating bass would change the texture from a rock hard blues to a dance sounding ragtime blues. It is worth trying both to help you get control of your right hand picking.
This arrangement of a slow blues in C brings together elements from the playing of Blind Blake, Rev. Gary Davis and Jelly Roll Morton. Rev. Davis would
tell me that when playing the guitar you needed to make it sound like a piano. Hopefully this instrumental does that. There are some interesting turnarounds
as well as licks.
In this lesson, I teach you how to improvise a slow blues in E in the style and technique of Lightnin' Hopkins. Lightnin's playing just exudes the
blues feel. This lesson appears on YouTube and is nearing 4 million views! The sound certainly reverberates for guitar players and listeners.
Skip James's 1931 recordings are haunting. Most are played in a Crossnote tuning where your guitar is tuned to an open Em chord (E B E G B E). "Special Rider Blues" is a rarity for Skip as it is played in an Open G tuning. This tuning was popular with Delta blues artists Charlie Patton, Son House, Willie Brown, Tommy Johnson and others. But in their hands a completely different feel and sound was produced compare to Skip's "Special Rider Blues".
The guitar arrangement has two parts. His playing behind his vocals combines a Bach like lick between vocal lines with octaves played under the singing. His guitar break is totally unique and offers octaves played up the fingerboard resolving to a modern, almost John Faheyesque chord change and back to his haunting main lick.
A must tune to study if you want to learn the possibilities the Open G tuning can offer.
A popular variation of John Henry played completely around a first position G chord. This will help you focus on the alternating bass technique. The idea
is to play a melody in the treble while your bass rocks from the sixth to fourth strings. Mississippi John Hurt recorded an exquisite version of this
tune in 1928.
This arrangement combines playing techniques of Mance Lipscomb and Mississippi John Hurt. From Mance we take the idea of playing a ragtime blues in the key of A in Dropped D tuning (D A D G B E) From Mississippi John Hurt we borrow his alternating bass. The Dropped D tuning is very effective when we go to our D chord and the low sixth string D note booms out. There are many variations of "Spoonful" from Mississippi John Hurt's "Coffee Blues" to Howlin' Wolf's "Spoonful."
When a young and penniless songwriter and musician was wandering down a dimly-lit street in St Louis he saw a woebegone woman, who cried: "My man's got a heart like a rock cast in the sea." A while later, in a Memphis bar called Pwee, William Christopher Handy sat down and wrote a memorably sad song about the woman, one that became one of the most celebrated in jazz history. The song was first published on September 11 1914. It remains a fundamental part of jazz musicians' repertoire. It was also one of the first blues songs to succeed as a pop song. It has been performed by numerous musicians of all styles from Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith to Count Basie, Glenn Miller, Guy Lombardo, and the Boston Pops Orchestra. It has been called "the jazzman's Hamlet."
The form is unusual in that the verses are the now familiar standard twelve-bar blues in common time with three lines of lyrics, the first two lines repeated,
but it also has a 16-bar bridge written in the habanera rhythm, popularly called the "Spanish Tinge" and identified by Handy as tango. While blues
became often simple and repetitive in form, "St. Louis Blues" has multiple complementary and contrasting strains, similar to classic ragtime compositions.
Handy said his objective in writing "St. Louis Blues" was "to combine ragtime syncopation with a real melody in the spiritual tradition." This
arrangement is played in a Dropped D tuning. I first heard my friend Tokio Uchida play this. He had heard Chet Atkins's version. I guess that's the
There are many different arrangements for this murder ballad. This arrangement is from the playing of Mississippi John Hurt. It is played in the key of
D and in standard tuning. It is a great exercise in combining hammer-ons and slides played against a constant alternating bass.
Stealin’ Stealin’ is the Memphis Jug Band’s most famous number. Their performance is relaxed, nostalgic, and superbly played. They recorded it on September 15, 1928 in Memphis, TN. It features Will Shade (harmonica), Vol Stevens (acoustic guitar), Ben Ramey (kazoo), and Jab Jones (vocals, jug). I have arranged the tune in the key of C using first position chords. It is played mainly with an alternating bass with one phrase in a Rev. Gary Davis style.
The only difficult part of the arrangement will be learning how to finger the infamous C7 chord of Rev. Gary Davis (also played by Merle Travis). A great tune to play and sing with friends. Many artists from The Grateful Dead to Arlo Guthrie have recorded it.
This is a concert piece. It is a three part instrumental played in the key of E. The first section is pianistic in approach. For the second section I put
on my Chet Atkins' hat. For the third section I pretend to be Merle Travis and "walk the strings." Lots of different techniques and styles for you
to try to master.
The most accomplished of the "dead-thumb" guitarists, Mance Lipscomb's propulsive bass lines anchored his dance-like, spontaneous melodies. A consummate
country blues style fingerpicker, the music of Lipscomb is a pathway to discovering a musical culture of the early 20th century that has had a profound
influence ever since. Mance's recordings were rooted in both White and Black song and dance forms that not only included blues forms, but ballads,
waltzes, children's songs, jigs, reels, and polkas as well as styles Lipscomb himself coined descriptions for, such as the buzzard lope, cakewalk,
slow drag, and ballin' the jack. Mance use to say that "Sugarbabe" was the first song he learned to play. The arrangement taught in this lesson is
in the key of E and uses simple first position chords.
"Summertime" is an aria composed in 1934 by George Gershwin for the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. The lyrics are by DuBose Heyward, the author of the novel Porgy on which the opera was based, The song soon became a popular and much recorded jazz standard, described by Robert Cummings as "without doubt ... one of the finest songs the composer ever wrote ... Gershwin's highly evocative writing brilliantly mixes elements of jazz and the song styles of blacks in the southeast United States from the early twentieth century".Composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim has characterized Heyward's lyrics for "Summertime" " as "the best lyrics in the musical theater". The song is recognized as one of the most covered songs in the history of recorded music, with more than 33,000 covers by groups and solo performers.
My playing of “Summertime” is heavily influenced by an arrangement by Duck Baker. Duck played the melody in the higher register while I keep it in the lower. It is played in Em.
This song dates back to sometime in the 19th century. There is no evidence of exactly where or when this song was first played. According to Charles Wolfe
some sheet music indicates that it could have been written in the 1840's perhaps for a minstrel show, which was very popular at that time. Cecil Sharp
collected it in 1918 and in 1929 Charlie Poole and The North Carolina Ramblers recorded it. The tune has a haunting modal flavor. I found that the
DADGAD tuning was well fitted for playing the song.
There are various approached to playing in the key of D. For this arrangement we are in standard tuning using first position D, G and A chords. An alternating
bass is used throughout the arrangement. This arrangement is part of the family of songs about cocaine usage, which was very popular at the turn of
the last century.
"Taking Your Place" was recorded on October 3, 1929 in Memphis, TN by the Memphis Jug Band. It is a straight blues in the key of C with few surprises. The opening phrases have a distinct treble lick. Memphis Minnie used the same motif in her recording of "Good Girl Blues", recorded on June 5, 1930 as well as Arthur Pettis in 1930 for his "Good Man Blues". As to who first created this guitar part is anyone's guess but it is rare to hear a blues arrangement copied by one artist no less two.
"Tennessee Waltz" was a big hit for Patti Page in 1950. It is a popular country song with lyrics by Redd Stewart and music by Pee Wee King written in 1946 and first released in January 1948. Many artists have recorded this tune from Connie Francis to Otis Redding to Chet Atkins.
I thought it an interesting challenge to set my arrangement in an Open D tuning. The tuning allows for a rich and full sound for the melody.
When one thinks "Texas blues" the name Lightnin' Hopkins is usually first on the list. The musicologist Mack McCormick opined that Hopkins was "the embodiment of the jazz-and-poetry spirit, representing its ancient form in the single creator whose words and music are one act".
Lightnin' had the perfect guitar approach to compliment his gin-soaked raspy voice. His playing in the keys of E and A are tour de forces of the blues sound.
In this lesson we check out various Lightnin' licks and picks in the key of E.
"Blarney Pilgrim" appears as tune #1099 in O'Neill's 1850 (1903). There are numbers of variations of this tune at sessions, and quite a bit of confusion over its tonal center - which is really of concern only to those backing/accompanying the tune. The melody was especially popular at sessions in the 1970s, and though a few people may now think of it as somewhat tatty, it is still popular at sessions and so it's a good idea to get a firm hold of it. While some people appear to treat the tune as in G throughout, to my ear it sounds right to think of the A-part and C-part in Dmix and the B-part in G - since the tonal center of the A-part and C-part is D (both using a hexatonic scale), while the tonal center of the B-part is G (using a pentatonic scale). One could, of course accompany it in G the first time through and then "mix it up."
I originally arranged "The Blarney Pilgrim" in Open G tuning. I recorded with John Renbourn as a duet. But that version seemed to miss the mystery
and modal texture that the tune offers. I then set the melody in a Dropped D tuning and the results are much more satisfactory. A fun tune to play
and add to a medley.
"The Drunken Wagoner" is an old time fiddle tune that Art Rosenbaum recorded on a field trip. He played the tune to Duck Baker who then played it to me. I was struck by the melody and the construction of the tune. It has three distinct sections. The first is played on the three lower strings of your guitar. The second section moves to the middle voice and the third section to the upper strings.
Besides being a wonderful and fun instrumental to master it also serves as an exercise to gain control over your right hand fingerpicking movements.
The "Teddy Bears' Picnic" was written as an instrumental in 1907. In 1932 Jimmy Kennedy added lyrics and this has become a well-loved tune known throughout
the world. It has three distinct sections. It is a challenging arrangement but well worth the effort!
This is an original three part instrumental. Martin Carthy composed the first section and it intrigued me as it had so many of the trademarks of British
fingerstyle, i.e. Bert Jansch, Davey Graham and of course Martin. There's a batch of interesting fingerings and chords and you need to have confidence
in your right hand. An alternating bass appears in the second section but the arrangement does not rely on this technique.
"There's a Table Sitting in Heaven" is a beautiful melodic gospel tune. It is from the playing of Rev. Gary Davis. It is played in the key of C. This is
not a note for note transcription of how Rev. Davis played the tune but rather my arrangement heavily influenced by Rev. Davis's playing.
Lonnie Johnson was the "guitar monster" of the 1920s and 1930s. He recorded hundreds of sides. His instrumentals with Eddie Lang are considered guitar masterpieces. Lonnie's blues slur (wham) is instantly recognizable. His playing swings but can also cry the blues. I put together this instrumental as an introduction to Lonnie's sound. The guitar is tuned to a Dropped D (D A D G B E) and we are playing in the key of D.
Robert Johnson arranged many of his blues in the key of A and in standard tuning. This arrangement takes several of Robert's trademark licks and puts them
together for a straight blues in A. This is a challenging lesson that demands your attention to your right hand as well as some "up the fingerboard"
chord shapes. A challenge well worth attempting.
In searching for footage for the Vestapol DVD "Shady Grove - Old Time Music from North Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia" I came upon the music of Kilby Snow. Kilby was a virtuoso Autoharpist. He was awarded the title of Autoharp Champion of North Carolina at the age of 5. He recorded only a single album for Folkways Records in the 1960s. But his family has now put together a box set of his playing that is very worthwhile getting.
He was known for his "drag note" playing style, a technique that relied on his left-handedness to produce slurred notes that would be impossible for a right-handed player to recreate due to the reversed relationship between thumb and finger.
One of the films I found had Kilby performing "Troubles". The combination of his voice and autoharp was beautiful. I couldn't get the sound out of my head so I decided to try and arrange it for guitar. John Miller has written: "I don't know the origin of 'Troubles', it may be Kilby's own number, but it seems to combine elements of the song Dock Boggs did as 'Sugar Baby', 'Red Rocking Chair', and 'Walking Boss'. Kilby sure was a soulful singer, and what an amazing autoharp player he was."
I play it in the key of C in Standard tuning.
This beautiful song comes from the playing of Kilby Snow. Kilby performed this on autoharp. The haunting melody is a variant of "Sugar Baby", "Red Rocking Chair", and "Walking Boss".
My arrangement is in the key of C and relies on effective uses of hammer-ons and pull-offs. It combines an alternating bass technique with simple strumming.
I could play this tune all day!
The key of G offers specific advantages. It is ideal for the alternating bass technique i.e. Mississippi John Hurt's style of playing. Marshall Owens recorded
several sides for the Paramount Record Company in 1931. One of these was "Try Me One More Time." Owens's arrangement was set in an Open G tuning but
I have arranged it in standard tuning in the key of G using a John Hurt approach. We'll use easy first position chords with an alternating bass. Nothing
too difficult but a wonderful blues to play and sing.
Rev. Gary Davis taught me this arrangement. It appears on his highly recommended album "Harlem Street Singer". "Tryin To Get Home" was a popular gospel song in the Carolinas, where Rev. Davis grew up. It was recorded in 1929 by Blind Joe Taggart.
Rev. Davis would approach his guitar as if it were a full Baptist church. His gospel arrangements in the key of C all have a common thread. The six strings of his guitar all represent voices with call and response threading throughout the playing.
Both of your hands will get a good workout as you study and master the playing of this piece.
Turnarounds can greatly enhance an arrangement. In this lesson we study 15 different endings for a blues in C.
This is a Rev. Gary Davis instrumental. It takes the chord progression G/E7/A7/D7 and expands its possibilities beyond the first position. Lots of new
fingerings are taught as well as Rev. Davis's rhythmic licks. This instrumental will challenge both your right and left hands.
On June 29, 1860 Henry Worrall walked into the Clerk's Office of the Southern District Court of Ohio and filed copyrights for two instrumental guitar songs. "Worrall's Original Spanish Fandango" called for the guitar strings to be tuned to an open-G chord (D, G, D, G, B, D, from low to high), with the explanation that the music was to be read as if the guitar were in standard tuning... Worrall's other copyright entry that day, "Sebastopol," was composed several years earlier, when the Crimean War was raging. To commemorate the lengthy siege of the Russian city of Sebastopol (later spelled Sevastopol), Worrall composed a stately march that imitated a bugle and military marching band. He subtitled his piece a "Descriptive Fantaisie for the Guitar." This time, the music instructed players to retune their guitar to open D so the song's elegant treble-string melodies and chiming harmonics fell easily under the fingers. In its 1860 form, "Sebastopol" has little harmonic variation and sounds decidedly un-African, but its main melody and voice-leading approach to chords became staples for blues and folk performers as varied as Libba Cotten, Robert Wilkins, Mississippi John Hurt, and Furry Lewis. - Jas Obrecht
Over the years "Sebastopol" turned in to "Vestapol". I first heard Elizabeth Cotten play this tune. The Open D tuning allows for some easy yet wonderful guitar sounds. By playing an alternating bass you are free to glide over the fingerboard choosing melodic lines. The important element is your alternating bass. Make sure you are playing this with commitment. I tend to damp my bass in this technique. This allows for an even more driving bass feel.
Walk Right In was written by Gus Cannon and originally recorded by Cannon's Jug Stompers in 1929. It is the only jug band song to become a #1 hit record: the Rooftop Singers' version of Cannon's Walk Right In went to the top of the charts in 1963.
The song has also been recorded by: Dr. Hook; The Brothers Four; The Ventures; Jos̩ Feliciano; Trini Lopez; Jimmy Smith, Jan & Dean, Lester Flatt; Janis Joplin; Jerry Lee Lewis; Billy Strange; Duane Eddy and Janice Joplin. And unfortunately Gus Cannon never received credit or royalties from these numerous recordings. I approached arranging Walk Right In with my Rev. Gary Davis hat. It falls nicely on the fingerboard using various licks that Rev. Davis taught me in the key of C.
I first heard "Waterbound" played by Art Rosenbaum on five-string banjo in the 1960s. I initially played it by strumming back-up for a banjo and/or fiddle player. The melody never seemed to fit in a fingerstyle arrangement. Fast-forward 50 years and I was hit by the idea of setting the piece in an Open D tuning. Lo and behold it worked!
What a lovely tune to play and sing. You'll have fun learning this piece.
Blind Boy Fuller was one of the most popular of the recorded Piedmont blues artists with rural African Americans along with Blind Blake, Josh White, and Buddy Moss. A massive talent, he recorded some 130 tracks in the relatively short span of 5 years before ill health ended his career.
"Weeping Willow" is played in the key of A. It is a beautiful blues with the unusual twist of going to a Dm and not D7 when the fourth is played. It has trademark Rev. Gary Davis licks and indeed the good Reverend mentored Fuller in his early years.
Fuller used the same arrangement a few years later for his "Ain't No Getting Along".
"When I Lay My Burden Down" is an American spiritual song, which has been recorded by many artists in a variety of genres, including folk, country, blues,
rock, and gospel. It is very melodically similar to another popular gospel song, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." I'm playing this in the Open D tuning
and using an alternating bass. This is a very easy tune to play and a great introduction to the Open D (Vestapol) tuning.
It is always a challenge to fingerpick in F. I thought it a good idea to compose a piece that would explore the fingerboard in this key. It uses an alternating bass throughout. There are three distinct sections. Once you have mastered this arrangement playing in the key of F will be a little less mysterious.
The instrumental also served as a good tune to play in duet with John Renbourn. We recorded it on our first album. The title "Why a Duck" comes from a Marx Brothers film. They were a big influence in my growing up.
Not all blues from the 1920s and 1930s were fingerpicked. Jim Jackson was a popular Memphis songster who basically strummed his guitar. He was a very popular
blues and hokum singer, songster, and guitarist, whose recordings in the late 1920s were popular and influential on later artists. Jackson was born
in Hernando, Mississippi and was raised on a farm, where he learned to play guitar. Around 1905 he started working as a singer, dancer, and musician
in medicine shows, playing dances and parties often with other local musicians such as Gus Cannon, Frank Stokes and Robert Wilkins. He soon began traveling
with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, featuring Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, and other minstrel shows. In his last years he ran the Red Rose Minstrels, a
traveling medicine show which toured Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama.
"Will the Circle Be Unbroken" is a popular Christian hymn written in 1907 by Ada R. Habershon with music by Charles H. Gabriel. A reworked version of the
song, intended as a funeral hymn, was written by A. P. Carter and released in 1935 by the Carter Family. The Carter version, titled "Can the Circle
be Unbroken," uses the same music and the same verse structure but with different verse lyrics and a modified chorus. That version has often been recorded
as "Will The Circle Be Unbroken." The arrangement taught in this lesson is in Open D tuning. It is an easy arrangement to master.
"Will the Circle Be Unbroken" is a popular Christian hymn written in 1907 by Ada R. Habershon with music by Charles H. Gabriel. The arrangement taught
in this lesson is played in the key of D and in Dropped D tuning. An alternating bass is used through out the playing with the addition of slides,
hammer-ons, pull-offs and strums. A great tune to practice these techniques and further master your control over the alternating bass technique.
Big Bill Broonzy was a great influence on my playing. He was the first country blues artist that I discovered. His guitar playing had a powerful drive.
"Willie Mae" is based on his playing and the use of the monotonic bass. Combining this technique, also used by Mance Lipscomb, with the alternating
bass can spice up your playing giving an interesting and pulsating sound. It is interesting to note how the same left hand fingerings can be used but
by changing your right hand technique the feel of the music can change from a gentle rag to a driving blues feel.
My Geordie friend Tom Gilfellon taught me this lovely arrangement played in an Open G tuning. He thought the tune derived from a Carter Family recording.
The Carter Family did record a tune titled "Working On The New Railroad" but the melody is different to Tom's version. The mystery is where does
this melody originate. Write me if you discover its origins!
Play that boogie-woogie! In this arrangement we are in a Dropped D tuning playing in the key of D. Several variations are taught. The trick is to play
a boogie bass line against a melody. Fun, fun, fun! Difficult but well worth all the hours needed to practice this arrangement.
During the recording my first solo studio album in 1970 for Transatlantic Records who should drop by the studio but Dick Waterman and Son House. I asked Son if he's like to record a few tunes. He agreed and we set up the studio microphones for Son, myself and Paul Rowen on harmonica.
We recorded two tunes: "New Pony Blues" and "Yonder Comes The Blues". The music was improvised on the spot. I could see and hear that Son was happy not to be playing guitar but just singing. I started "Yonder Comes The Blues" by pretending to be Willie Brown playing second guitar to Charlie Patton's "Moon Goin' Down". Son instinctively understood what I was playing and we both time traveled to a juke joint in 1920s Clarksdale, Mississippi. Five minutes in my life I will never forget.
I'm playing in the key of A. The phrases are typical Delta blues guitar licks in the key of A. You have to be confident and sure that you are playing the guitar and the guitar isn't playing you to be successful in the style.
"You Are My Sunshine" is a song popularized by Jimmie Davis and Charles Mitchell in 1939. It has been declared one of the state songs of Louisiana because of its association with Davis, a country music singer and governor of the state in the year's 1944 to 1948 and 1960 to1964.
The song has been covered numerous times - so often, in fact, that it is "one of the most commercially programmed numbers in American popular music." Doris Day, Nat King Cole, The Marcels, Ray Charles, Ike & Tina Turner, The Rivingtons, Andy Williams, Burl Ives, Frank Turner, The Beach Boys, Aretha Franklin, Anne Murray, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and many others have recorded the tune. But none did it with more charm and warmth than Mississippi John Hurt.
The arrangement taught in this lesson is played in the key of C in Standard tuning using an alternating bass technique.
In 1965 I took Mississippi John Hurt up to Rev. Davis's Bronx home. We spent a wonderful afternoon together. I just sat there while these two legends told stories and played guitars. It was truly an amazing afternoon.
The next day I returned to Rev. Davis's home for a lesson. He immediately asked if I liked John's playing. I replied that I did. Rev. Davis was a very competitive musician. He remarked that John played "old fashion music". I had never heard Rev. Davis use this term. I asked him if he could play "old fashion music" and he then proceeded to play "You Got The Pocketbook I Got The Key".
As always, Rev. Davis was full of surprises. His playing in this style had a unique approach. He used an alternating bass but instead of the usual playing of hitting the root note first, the C on the fifth string, he hit the G on the sixth string. He never touched the root note while playing phrases in the C first position. Instead he fingered the C chord with his ring finger on the third fret/sixth string, middle finger on the second fret/fourth string and index finger on the first fret/second string.
The resulting sound and texture, though played in the key of C, as many of Mississippi John Hurt's arrangements, is totally different in feel and sound. Rev. Davis used the same approach for his "Cocaine Blues" and "People That Use To See, Can't See No More". He told me this was how folks played around 1905.
This is a beautiful arrangement using first position chords. I tried and tried to get Rev. Davis to sing the song in order to discover the lyrics but he never did.
The Memphis Jug Band recorded "You May Leave" in Memphis on November 26th, 1930. I love this tune for its lyrics and melody. The lyrics bring back memories of Rev. Davis's "Candyman" and Mississippi John Hurt's "I'm Satisfied". I always thought that John's lyrics were unique but the in the last verse of "You May Leave" they sing: "I'm satisfied, satisfied, my tote-load shaker by my side. You may leave, but this will bring you back, back, bring you back."
The playing behind the verse is in the tradition of Mississippi John Hurt. A strong alternating bass while playing first position C, F and G chords. The instrumental break comes straight out of the ragtime tradition. The sound is reminiscent of a 1930s carnival show. I play the single string run alternating between my thumb and index finger.
Blind Blake recorded "You're Gonna Quit Me" in 1927. I first heard the tune in the early 1960s played by Rev. Gary Davis. I then heard Mance Lipscomb play the song. All the arrangements played by Blake, Davis and Lipscomb have similarities. In this lesson I combine elements of their playing.
We start with Blind Blake's introduction. The guitar solo merges ideas from Rev. Davis and Mance Lipscomb. The lyrics from Blake and Lipscomb are presented.
"You're Gonna Quit Me" became somewhat popular during the folk-revival. It has a blues feel but the use of diminished chords gives it an urban texture.
Bob Dylan recorded it in 1992 on his album "Good As I Been To You".