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.
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."
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.
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.
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."
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
"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!
"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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
“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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.