Playing Positions/Keys for Bill Williams' Blue Goose Albums

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Playing Positions/Keys for Bill Williams' Blue Goose Albums

Compiled by John Miller

I've been wanting to post the playing positions/keys for Bill Williams' two albums on Blue Goose Records from the early '70s for some time. Bill Williams hailed from Greenup, Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Ohio, and was one of the most exciting first-time discoveries of the 1960-1970 period. While having a foot firmly planted in the Country Blues, Bill also played Pop hits of the past, and patriotic numbers, like "The Star Spangled Banner".
Bill's playing was certainly influenced by that of Blind Blake, whom he spent some time with, but there are a lot of elements in his playing and repertoire which don't have any obvious predecessors. Bill was so far from any place that might be viewed as a music center that it's really kind of amazing that he was discovered and recorded at all. He was very proud of having been awarded recognition from his state as a "Kentucky Colonel". I met him once briefly at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and count myself very fortunate to have had the chance to hear him play, play with him a little and visit and talk. He was a friendly and intelligent man, and I just wish more people had had a chance to see and hear him play, to hear his recordings, and to meet him.
All of Bill's recorded repertoire was played in standard tuning. The "key" column in the table shows where his renditions sounded. A plus sign indicates a bit sharp of the indicated key; multiple pluses indicate more extreme sharpness. A minus sign indicates a bit flat of the indicated key with multiple minus signs indicating a more intensified flatness.

Bill Williams - "Low And Lonesome", Blue Goose 2004

1The ChickenG position (closed)F#
2Banjo RagG position (closed)F#
3My Girlfriend Left MeC positionB
4Bill's RagC positionC+
5St Louis BluesC positionB
6PocahontasA positionA minor
7Lucky BluesE positionE
8I'll Follow YouA positionA-
9Up A Lazy RiverG positionF#
10Too TightG positionG+
11Low And LonesomeE positionEb
12Total RagG position (closed)G-
13I Know What It Means To Be LonesomeC positionC-
14Frankie And JohnnyG positionF#


  • Like Rev. Davis, Bill Williams had a predilection for playing in a closed position G, like an F chord moved up two frets with a thumb wrap fretting the sixth string. I've indicated the G tunes where Bill chose that closed position. His slippery way of playing in this position, as best exemplified in his version of "The Chicken", was all his own.
  • Two of the songs in the program, "Bill's Rag" and "Pocahontas" bear strong resemblances to songs from the thumb-picking repertoire, Merle Travis's "Saturday Night Shuffle" in the case of "Bill's Rag" and John D. Loudermilk's "Windy and Warm", in the case of "Pocahontas". Do Bill's tunes represent the seeds from which the better-known tunes grew? Perhaps, but there's no way of knowing for sure, and Bill may have been influenced by recorded versions of the other tunes, too.
  • "My Girlfriend Left Me" shares its melody with Blind Blake's "Georgia Bound".
  • One somewhat disconcerting thing that can be heard from time to time during the course of the program is the sound of Bill grinding his teeth. Best to nip that particular habit in the bud, folks.

The Late Bill Williams - "Blues, Rags and Ballads", Blue Goose 2013

1Salty DogG positionF+
2Corn Liquor BluesG positionG--
3Listen To The MockingbirdA positionA-
4Make Me A Pallet On The FloorC positionB
5That's The Human Thing To DoF position, standard tuningEb+
6BubblegumD position, standard tuningEb--
7Darktown Strutters' BallF positionF
8Nobody's BusinessC positionC--
9Buck DanceC positionC---
10Some of These DaysC positionB+
11Blake's RagG positionF#--
12Railroad BillC positionC#--
13When The Roses Bloom AgainC positionC


  • Bill's posthumously released album had more Pop songs on it than his first album, including "Listen To The Mockingbird, reputedly a favorite of Abraham Lincoln, "That's The Human Thing To Do" ("Was That The Human Thing To Do"), a hit for the Boswell Sisters, and Shelton Brooks' "Darktown Strutters Ball". Playing in F didn't phase Bill Williams at all.
  • It's always neat to hear a guitarist's version of "Buck Dance" to see where it stands relative to the many other recorded versions.

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