R. L. Burnside's Acoustic Guitar Recordings--Playing Positions/Tunings
R.L. Burnsides Acoustic Guitar Recordings--Positions/Tunings,
Compiled by John Miller
I thought it might be interesting to look at two of R. L. Burnside's early recordings on which he played acoustic guitar, to try and spot trends. The records are both currently available on Fat Possum Records, and are "R. L. Burnside's First Recordings", Fat Possum 80365-2, and "R. L. Burnside--Mississippi Hill Country Blues" (originally issued on the Dutch label, Swingmaster), Fat Possum 80341-2.
Here are the playing positions/tunings for the songs on "R. L. Burnside's First Recordings" and "R. L. Burnside--Mississippi Hill Country Blues" and an indication of the keys at which the various songs sound. The first recordings were recorded by George Mitchell in 1968. The other album was recorded mostly in 1980 and 1982, with three tracks recorded by George Mitchell in 1967. A performance slightly sharp of the indicated key will be followed by a plus sign, +, and one slightly flat of the listed key will be followed by a minus sign, -.
R. L. Burnside's First Recordings--Playing positions/tunings
|1||Just Like a Bird Without a Feather||E position, standard tuning||C-|
|2||Goin' Down South||E position, standard tuning||C#-|
|3||Come On In||E position, standard tuning||D|
|4||Little Babe||E position, standard tuning||Eb|
|5||Rollin' And Tumblin'||E position, standard tuning||C|
|6||Jumper On the Line||E position, standard tuning||Eb|
|8||Poor Black Mattie||Spanish||F#+|
|9||Long Haired Doney||Spanish||G-|
|11||Walking Blues||Vestapol, slide||Eb|
|13||My Time Ain't Long||E position, standard tuning||E-|
|14||Sat Down On My Bed And Cried||E position, standard tuning||E|
R. L. Burnside--Mississippi Hill Country Blues--Playing positions, tunings
|2||House Up On the Hill||E position, standard tuning>||F#|
|3||Gone So Long||E position, standard tuning||Eb|
|5||See What My Buddy Done||A position, standard tuning||G#|
|6||Don't Care How Long You're Gone||Spanish||G#|
|7||Lost Without Your Love||E position, standard tuning||D+|
|8||Shake 'Em On Down||E position, standard tuning, slide||D|
|9||Bad Luck And Trouble||E position, standard tuning||Eb|
|10||Just Like A Woman||Spanish||G-|
|11||Greyhound Bus Station||A position, standard tuning||G|
|12||Crying Won't Make Me Stay||E position, standard tuning||D+|
|13||Rolling And Tumbling||E position, standard tuning||E|
|15||I Believe||E position, standard tuning||Eb|
|16||Poor Boy||E position, standard tuning||E|
|17||Poor Black Mattie||Spanish||G#|
|18||Jumper On the Line||E position, standard tuning||E|
|19||Long Haired Doney||Spanish||G#|
Some thoughts on the recordings:
Apart from the obvious duplicate titles on the two discs, the following songs appear on the two albums with different titles: On the "First Recordings" album, "Just Like a Bird without A Feather", "Peaches" and "My Time Ain't Long" are the same songs as those titled, respectively, "Lost Without Your Love", "Mellow Peaches" and "I Believe" on the "Mississippi Hill Country Blues" album.
One of the most striking differences in sound between the two albums is the absence in the 1980 and 1982 sessions of any of the extreme low-tuned numbers played out of E position in standard tuning such as Burnside had in the 1968 recordings, with "Just Like A Bird Without A Feather", "Goin' Down South" and "Rollin' And Tumblin'". I wonder if Burnside's use of extreme low tuning on some of his early recorded cuts indicates a Rosa Lee Hill influence on his music, for of the people recorded from that part of the world, she is most notable for use of extreme low tuning.
"Come On In", from the 1968 recordings, is essentially a version of "Catfish Blues", despite never using a catfish verse. It is based on Robert Petway's version of that song (or other versions based on it) even to the extent of utilizing two slightly different accompaniment licks at the end of each verse, as Petway's version did.
Burnside's repertoire on these two recordings show a consistent approach of vamping underneath his singing with the vocal phrases answered by signature licks. The variable factor in the renditions tends to be how long or short Burnside chooses to phrase his vocals. He is far more consistent in the expression of his signature licks. He is also consistent in his almost total lack of harmony and chord changes as part of his musical structures. He is very much a groove and line player as opposed to a chordal player on these recordings.
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