Final class

Posted by Michael M. on 22nd August 2010 in General

For our final class of the session, we went back through many of the previous songs and worked on specific parts. At the end, I played a few more, including “Spanish Fandango” in open tuning and bits of “Frankie.” Below is a recording of the session.

Review of Past Classes and a Few More (mp3)

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Stagger Lee

Posted by Michael M. on 8th August 2010 in General

“Stagger Lee,” one of the great American murder ballads and one set right here in Saint Louis, was the new song for the fourth class. The chord progression is D-G-D-A-D. Immediately below is a recording of the class.

“Stagger Lee” and Key of D with Review (mp3)

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Here is the original 1928 recording.

“Stack O’Lee Blues” (mp3)

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The events behind the song happened just after Christmas 1895. This post about Mississippi John Hurt’s murder ballads on my main blog is one of my many posts about the event, including one about my open mic performance of it. One early recording of the song, very similar to the one I covered, came from the Down Home Boys, Long Cleve Reed and Little Harvey Hull. The record was released in 1927, but I have seen claims that it was recorded in 1900. I grabbed the copy below from this post at Public Domain 2ten, a site with many great recordings.

“Original Stack O’ Lee Blues” (mp3)

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Here is my version.

“Stagger Lee” (mp3)

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As covered above, the chord progression is D-G-D-A-D. The second D chord is short. Here is the bass line.

“Stagger Lee” bass line (mp3)

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For the sections using the D chord, hammer on or or slide into the F♯ played on the 1st string. For the hammer on, pick the open 1st string E and open 5th string A together, and then come down at the second fret of the 1st E string for the F♯. For the slide, make the D chord shape, but start a fret lower in pitch. Pick the 1st string E fretted at the first fret and the open 5th string A together, and then slide the D chord shape up for the F♯. Here are examples with each one played in a loop.

“Stagger Lee” D hammer on (mp3)

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“Stagger Lee” D slide (mp3)

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The section over the G chord has melody played on the 1st and 2nd strings and then an ascending run. The ascending run is played by using the pinky finger at the third fret. The run is B♭ at the third fret of the 3rd G string to B open 2nd string and then D at the third fret of the 2nd B string to E open 1st string. Here are looped recordings of the these two G melody parts.

“Stagger Lee” G melody 1st part (mp3)

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“Stagger Lee” G melody 2nd part (mp3)

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The next D chord is short and leads quickly into the A chord melody. Here it is played in a loop.

“Stagger Lee” A melody (mp3)

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Many of these parts and similar to parts of songs covered previously. Always try using already learned segments with this song and other new ones in the future.

Source Recordings

Posted by Michael M. on 29th July 2010 in General

Several students have asked about source recordings. 1928 Sessions on Yazoo Records is a favorite of mine. Amazon, among many places, has it on CD and mp3. Many record stores and online music retailers have it and many more of his recordings available.

Several songs are in the public domain. Here is one place to download many, but not all, of them. The Internet Archive has several songs. The Old, Weird America is a terrific blog dedicated to American folk music and the blogged Anthology of American Folk Music edited by Harry Smith. The post 21 “Frankie” by Mississippi John Hurt has excellent background material and a wealth of recordings available for download.

If you are seeking specific recordings or songs, let me know, and I will try to help find them.

Coffee Blues

Posted by Michael M. on 29th July 2010 in General

For our third class, the new core song was “Coffee Blues.” It has the familiar chord progression for blues songs in A. It is A-D-A-E-A. There are some differences in the style, though, that add to its sound. Next is a recording of the class.

“Coffee Blues” and Key of A with Review of G and C (mp3)

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“Coffee Blues” is a standard for me. I have played it out at open mic nights several times. Posts here and here on my main blog have video and audio, respectively. Below is my version.

“Coffee Blues” (mp3)

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The bass line features a particular way of playing with the D chord. For other chords, the bass alternates between the root note of the chord, such as a G note when playing a G chord, on the down beat alternating with a note a third, fifth or octave above. For the D chord, play an A note on the 5th string unfretted on the downbeat alternating with a D note on the 4th string unfretted. This pattern carries to many other songs.

“Coffee Blues” bass line (mp3)

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Here is a version of the melody alone. As a basic variation, slide into the A and D chords from the first fret.

“Coffee Blues” melody (mp3)

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I have broken the tune into smaller phrases with each one looped for about a minute. This song can be played with four small sections rearranged several ways to make the whole thing. You can work on each small part and then patch them together.

Sliding into the D and A chords adds syncopation. Start with each chord form played one fret below. Strike the 5th string open A in the bass simultaneously with the melody note. For the D chord, the first melody note is an F on the first fret of the 1st string with a slide up to the second fret for the F♯. The next melody note comes between bass notes toward the end of the section. It is a D played on the third fret of the 2nd string. Here is the D slide looped for practicing.

“Coffee Blues” D slide (mp3)

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For the A chord, the first melody note is a C on the first fret of the 2nd string with a slide up to the second fret for the C♯. Again, the next melody note is played a string lower between bass notes after a short rest. It is an A played on the second fret of the 3rd string. Here is the A slide looped for practicing.

“Coffee Blues” A slide (mp3)

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The licks above are D and A versions of the same thing. Your right hand index and middle fingers do very similar motions, just shifted to different strings. The right had thumb does the exactly same thing for both chords.

The section on the E chord is different. Pick the open Es on both the 1st and 6th strings. Then pick the 4th string open and hammer on with the index finger on the first fret for syncopation. Here it is in a loop.

“Coffee Blues” E hammer on (mp3)

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A clean version of the whole E section has a following a third fret 2nd string D and then open B. Here is the whole E section of “Coffee Blues” in a loop.

“Coffee Blues” E section (mp3)

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Give the individual sections attention and then work on stringing them together.

Shake That Thing and G Review

Posted by Michael M. on 27th July 2010 in General

In addition to covering “Creole Belle” in the last class, we went back to the key of G to review “Spike Driver Blues” and to add “Shake That Thing.”

Gary hunted down a couple of resources for “Spike Driver Blues” from GuitarNick. The site has this tablature of “Spike Driver Blues” and this video on YouTube. While I do have a prejudice against tab, the video looks good although the version is a little different.

“Shake That Thing” has some big similarities to “Spike Driver Blues.” Both are in G. Both make use of the E note in the bass played on the 4th string at the second fret, but they otherwise do not stray from the G chord. First, here is a short version.

“Shake That Thing” (mp3)

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A standard alternating G bass will work for the verses. Underlying the refrain, though, the bass line has a run. I played it in a loop for practicing.

“Shake That Thing” bass run (mp3)

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Finally, here is a version of the melody alone. I did throw in one bass note in the refrain section for continuity.

“Shake That Thing” melody (mp3)

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As you can hear, “Spike Driver Blues” and “Shake That Thing” share many elements even though the overall songs are quite different. Developing a library of the small elements eventually allows new songs to fall into place more quickly.

Creole Belle

Posted by Michael M. on 21st July 2010 in General

For our second class, we reviewed last week and started “Creole Belle.” The song was published as “Creole Belles” by J. Bodewalt Lampe. See sheet music here and here. In this post on my main blog, I have a link to a documentary with a brief discussion of the song and its transformation. I have played it an open mic or two with video and audio in blog posts here and here, respectively.

The chord progression is C-F-C-G-C. Remember to play the F using your thumb on the low 6th E string and the G using your ring and little fingers on the 1st and 6th E strings and your middle finger on the 5th A string. Learning this song will help with “Richlands Women Blues,” “Nobody’s Dirty Business” and quite a few other songs in C.

I recorded the class tonight. If you want it, I recommend downloading to your computer over using the streaming version. Typically, you will need to click with the right mouse button and then choose to save it. The same recommendation goes for the other sound files. Here is the unedited version (mp3). A streaming version is below.

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Below is a simplified version followed by recordings of the bass line alone and the melody alone.

“Creole Belle” short version by me (mp3)

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As we discussed in class, I think humming or singing while playing the bass line is a good way to get the overall feeling of the song.

“Creole Belle” bass line (mp3)

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“Creole Belle” melody (mp3)

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We also went through “Shake That Thing.” I will make some recordings of it later.

If you want to see other people teaching “Creole Belle,” have a look at this video by John Miller and this video by Fred Sokolow, both on YouTube.

Spike Driver Blues

Posted by Michael M. on 17th July 2010 in General

In the first class, we started with “Spike Driver Blues.” I had intended to record the entire class, but I made a mistake using my recorder. Here are a few mp3 sound files to aid you. Click on the mp3 link to get the file itself.

First, here is the original 1928 recording.

“Spike Driver Blues” (mp3)

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Here is my version with singing and some syncopation.

“Spike Driver Blues” my version (mp3)

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Here is the an instrumental clip with the melody squared up to fall more in line with the bass line. I think it makes learning the tune easier. Later, I will break down the bass line and melody line separately.

“Spike Driver Blues” straight version instrumental (mp3)

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Alternating bass is the core of Hurt’s playing. Here is a straight alternating G bass line. It is played on the 6th and 4th strings.

Alternating G bass line (mp3)

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“Spike Driver Blues” uses two main bass lines. One is the bass line played above. The other G6 line uses the 6th string fretted at the 3rd fret and the 4th string fretted at the second fret. Here is a bass line for “Spike Driver Blues.” It does not have the bass fill, but it does have the G6.

“Spike Driver Blues” simple bass line (mp3)

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Here is a version of the melody played to fall on the beat.

“Spike Driver Blues” straight melody alone (mp3)

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Finally, here is a video from YouTube of the man himself in his appearance on Rainbow Quest.

Class outline

Posted by Michael M. on 16th July 2010 in General

Wednesdays, July 14 – August 11, 2010 8:00 – 9:20 PM

“Mississippi” John Hurt was born in the early 1890s in Teoc, Mississippi, the plantation of the famous McCain family. He moved to the Avalon community as a baby and spent the majority of his life there. He learned to play guitar at about age 10 by sneaking to play the guitar of a family friend who frequently stayed the night. He developed a thumb and two finger style and accompanied it with a gentle voice. He earned a recording contract in the late 1920s when his neighbor fiddler Willie Narmour recommended him to OKeh records. After years of obscurity, he gained fame in the Folk Revival during his final years after fan Tom Hoskins working with Dick Spottswood rediscovered him using the lyrics of “Avalon Blues.”
His picking style features a bass line, typically alternating, picked with the thumb and melody and harmony notes picked with the index and middle fingers. His favorite key probably was C, but he also played in G, D, A and E as well as playing in open D and open G tunings. Using his style, he played blues, gospel, country, ragtime and popular songs.

Class goals and outline

  • History
  • Keys and chords
    • G with the ring finger on the bass E string
    • F using the left thumb on the bass E string
    • A with the index finger flat
  • Thumb picked alternating bass
  • Melodic lines
  • Singing
  • Core songs
    • “Spike Driver Blues” (G)
    • “Creole Belle” (C)
    • “Coffee Blues” (A)
    • “Stagger Lee” (D)
  • Your goals and requests

Recommendations and requests

  • Listen often. I enjoy the 1928 recordings the most. The St. Louis Public Library has a variety of recordings. Find whatever you like and listen.
  • Use a recording device. I think the way to learn the music is by listening, not by sheet music or tablature. It helps to be able to hear it repeatedly, though. I will attempt to record the classes, but distributing the recordings might be difficult.
  • Practice often. You are training your brain. It takes repetition. Keep your guitar handy. I used to play very short parts over and over while watching television.
  • Watch others. Seeing someone else play the music can help you get your fingers in the right places at the right times. There are commercial DVDs and many freely available videos on YouTube and other sites. St. Louis has some great fingerstyle guitarists to see in person.
  • Ignore the details. I do not think there is a perfect way to play this music. If there is, I am nowhere close to it. Learn the style and use it to your own ends.
  • Sing. The real music happens when all three parts, bass strings, treble strings and voice, blend.
  • Advise me. Let me know what you want from this class. Let me know what is not working and what is.
 
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.