Here are the positions/tunings for Peg Leg Howell's songs on his Testament Record, "The Legendary Peg Leg Howell", recorded on April 11, 1963 in Atlanta at a session supervised by George Mitchell, who with Roger Brown and Jack Boozer had found Howell living in dire poverty in Atlanta shortly prior to the recording date.
Title Position/tuning Pitch
1. Blood Red River E minor, standard tuning E flat
2. John Henry Vestapol, slide D +
3. Uncle Sam Blues C, standard tuning B
4. Jack Rabbit Blues G, standard tuning F#
5. Worried Blues G, standard tuning F#
6. Jelly Roll Blues Spanish tuning A flat -
7. Jo Jo Blues E, standard tuning E flat
8. Skin Game Blues Vestapol, slide E flat -
9. Coal Man Blues Spanish G +
10. Let Me Play With Your Yo Yo G, standard F#
A couple of thoughts about these performances and their relationship to his early recordings:
* One trend from Howell's early recordings holds true: While playing several tunes in Vestapol and Spanish tunings, he plays only slide in Vestapol (no non-slide pieces) and only non-slide pieces in Spanish (no slide pieces). There is no obvious technical reason for things to have turned out this way, so to utilize those tunings in such a sharply defined way is interesting.
* In these later recordings, G in standard tuning assumes a predominance of preference that it did not have in Peg Leg Howell's early recordings. These later accompaniments in G are for the most part, boom-chang, and pretty simple, certainly nothing like the nifty guitar parts of his early recordings. But then, in 1963, he was a very tired and unwell old man who had not played in years.
* Peg Leg Howell's "Blood Red River" is probably the keeper of the session, a very ominous rendition in minor with a spooky melody. In general, though, it is surprising, considering that he had not played for many years, how many songs he played at this session that he did not record in the '20s. It makes you think that his repertoire in his active period as a street performer must have been much larger than what was documented on his early recordings.