Furry Lewis Guitar Keys and Positions

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Prewar recordings

compiled by Andrew Mullins

These are Furry's complete prewar recordings, made between April 1927 and September 1929. The first three titles have Furry singing over Landers Waller on guitar and Charles Johnson on mandolin. Given these were all recorded at the same session, I wonder about the pitch variance: all songs were played out of C position but pitched all over. Perhaps they had trouble and kept retuning, or perhaps some of the transfers or recordings are off.

I have used the JSP Masters of Memphis Blues for these recordings. I should compare the pitches with the Yazoo release (which covers most, but not all, of Furry's prewar titles).

Once Furry starts playing solo, it's not like he's a stickler for concert pitch anyway. He's frequently tuned low, and then a bit sharp or flat. Where this is a marked pitch difference, I've indicated it with a (+) for sharp and (-) for flat.

Furry was rediscovered in 1959 by Sam Charters, through Will Shade, and Charters recorded him in several sessions over the next couple years. Furry's fondness for open tunings apparently caught the attention of Scotty Moore (Elvis's guitar player in the early years), who was the engineer at Sun Studios when Furry recorded there in 1961. Charters recounts that "The sessions with Furry were a long series of discussions between the two guitarists about Furry's Mississippi tunings. We would begin a song and I would hear Scotty's voice over the studio loudspeaker, 'What's that tuning you're using, Furry?' and I would sit waiting while Scotty came into the studio and sat with Furry until they'd figured it out."

Sun Studios, it turns out, is also to blame for the objectionable reverb on Furry's records from the Prestige Bluesville sessions, more recently issued on the CD "Shake 'Em On Down" (which may or may not be available now thanks to Concord Records' buyout of Fantasy). According to Charters, there was an echo chamber built into the studio in the form of a closet with a cheap microphone picking up sound from a speaker in the ceiling. I'll hopefully get to the keys for most of Furry's postwar recordings one day.

Order Title Position/Tuning Pitch
1 Everybody’s Blues C Bb
2 Mr. Furry’s Blues C A (+)
3 Sweet Papa Moan C B (-)
4 Rock Island Blues Spanish G
5 Jelly Roll EAEGBE tuning Eb
6 Billy Lyons and Stack O’Lee C B (-)
7 Good Looking Girl Blues Spanish Ab (+)
8 Why Don’t You Come Home Blues Spanish Ab (+)
9 Falling Down Blues Vestapol D
10 Big Chief Blues Vestapol D
11 Mean Old Bed Bug Blues EAEGBE tuning D (+)
12 Furry’s Blues Spanish F#
13 I Will Turn Your Money Green [Take 1] Spanish F#
14 I Will Turn Your Money Green [Take 2] Spanish F#
15 Mistreatin’ Mama EAEGBE tuning D
16 Dry Land Blues E D
17 Cannon Ball Blues Spanish G
18 Kassie Jones, Part 1 Spanish G
19 Kassie Jones, Part 2 Spanish G
20 Judge Harsh Blues [Take 1] Vestapol D
21 Judge Harsh Blues [Take 2] Vestapol D
22 John Henry (The Steel Driving Man), Part 1 Vestapol Eb
23 John Henry (The Steel Driving Man), Part 2 Vestapol Eb
24 Black Gypsy Blues Spanish Ab (+)
25 Creeper’s Blues EAEGBE tuning Eb

Note: There has been some speculation in the Weenie forum as to whether Furry played some of his songs in E position using a tuning in which the 4th string is tuned up a whole step from D to E: EAEGBE. I haven't explored this to any degree but it's an interesting proposition. If anyone fools around with it, let us know what you think.

Postwar Recordings

Shake 'Em On Down (Fantasy CD)

compiled by Rivers

Furry is tuned down most of the time and that confuses the ear - it sounds 'open' but clearly is not sometimes. The reverb on the recording goes away after the 20th listen, thankfully.

The problem is compounded by Furry's ability to play certain signature licks in both standard and open tunings. Particularly interesting in terms of left hand technique is Longing Blues. Furry uses a slide on the intro and then seamlessly throws it away and plays without a slide for the rest of the song. I believe he's in standard tuning, so comparisons with Johnny Shines' use of the slide in standard tuning are inevitable.

1John HenryVestapolC(-)Slide
2When My Baby Left MeVestapolC(-)Slide
3Shake 'Em On DownEAEGBE tuningC(+)No slide
4Big Chief BluesSpanishFSlide
5Old BlueSpanishE(-)No slide
6I'm Going To BrownsvilleSpanishE(+)Slide
7Back On My Feet AgainSpanishF(+)Slide
8White Lightnin'EAEGBE tuningCNo slide
10St. Louis BluesSpanishE(+)Slide
11Baby You Don't Want MeSpanishE(+)Slide
12Done Changed My MindECNo slide
13Goin' To Kansas CityEC(+)No slide
14Judge Boushay BluesVestapolC(+)Slide
15Casey JonesSpanishE(+)No slide
16This Time TomorrowSpanishE(+)No slide
17I Will Turn Your Money GreenEAEGBE tuningC(+)No slide
18Frankie And JohnnieGD(+)No slide
19Longing BluesSpanishE(-)Slide on intro only
20Long Tall Gal BluesEAEGBE tuningC(+)No slide

Furry Lewis, Folkways Records FS 3823

compiled by John Miller

This album was Furry's first post-rediscovery recording. He was recorded by Samuel Charters on October 3, 1959.

Longing BluesSpanishF#Slide
John HenryVestapolC#Slide
I Will Turn Your Money GreenEAEGBEC#No slide
Pearlee BluesSpanishF#Slide
Judge Boushay BluesVestapolDSlide
Casey JonesSpanishF#No slide
East St. Louis BluesE, standard tuningDNo slide

Furry Lewis-Good Morning Judge, Fat Possum FP80374-2

compiled by John Miller

These recordings of Furry were made in 1962 and 1967 by George Mitchell.

Good Morning JudgeVestapolD-Slide
Worried BluesSpanishENo slide
Blues Around My BedEAEGBED-No slide
Why Don't You Come Home BluesSpanishGSlide
Don't You Wish Your MamaSpanishAbSlide
Furry Lewis RagC, standardC-No slide
Roll And Tumble BluesSpanishAb+Slide
Old HoboG, standardEb-No slide
Farewell I'm Growing OldSpanishFSlide
Furry Lewis Careless LoveVestapolC-Slide

Furry Lewis & Mississippi Joe Callicott-The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions

compiled by John Miller

Judge Harsh BluesVestapolEb-Slide
Let's Shake Hand In HandG, standardF#-No slide
Waiting For A TrainG, standardGNo slide
Let Me Call You SweetheartSpanishG+Slide
Big Chief BluesSpanishAb--Slide
Casey JonesSpanishAb--No slide
Take Your Time RagC, standardCNo slide
John HenryVestapolC#-Slide
Skinny WomanSpanishAb--No slide
See That My Grave Is Kept CleanVestapolEbSlide
Glory Hallelujah, When I Lay My Burden DownSpanishG+Slide
Furry's Monday Woman BluesE, standardENo slide
Furry Lewis BluesE, standardEbNo slide

Furry Lewis, Bukka White & Friends, Party! At Home, Arcola A CD 1001

compiled by John Miller

Going Away BluesVestapolC-Yes
John HenryVestapolC-Yes
Skinny WomanSpanishF#-Yes
Old Dog BluesSpanishF#-No
Let Me Call You SweetheartSpanishF#-Yes
Farewell To TheeSpanishF#-Yes
Mama's FishSpanishAbNo
When I Lay My Burden DownSpanishAbYes
Kassie JonesSpanishAb+No