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Author Topic: Blind Lemon Jefferson's Guitar Style--Queries and Tips  (Read 15542 times)

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Offline rvidales

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Re: Blind Lemon Jefferson's Guitar Style--Queries and Tips
« Reply #45 on: April 14, 2016, 10:41:27 PM »
Hi everybody,

I'm researching alternate tunings in Texas country blues music and was wondering what selections from Blind Lemon Jefferson's catalogue make the cut. Anybody have suggestions that include the song and particular tuning?

Thanks!

« Last Edit: April 14, 2016, 10:43:36 PM by rvidales »

Offline frankie

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Re: Blind Lemon Jefferson's Guitar Style--Queries and Tips
« Reply #46 on: April 15, 2016, 02:57:48 AM »
It's safe to say that Lemon appears to have been a standard tuning kind of guy. The two takes of Jack O' Diamonds, played with a bottleneck or knife, are both possibilities for Spanish tuning but since it's basically only a melody, it's difficult to say with complete confidence in what tuning he's playing for that one. My personal opinion is that he's probably tuned to Spanish.

I had this table posted in my website which is having some issues at the moment, so I'll repost it here. I think there are a couple of alternate takes missing, but all of those are also in standard tuning.

Volume
Track
Title
Key
Location
Month
Year
Pitch
101 I Want to Be Like Jesus in My HeartCChicagoDecember1925-1
102All I Want Is That Pure ReligionEChicagoDecember1925-1
103Got the BluesGChicagoMarch1926-1
104Long Lonesome BluesAChicagoMarch1926-1
105Booster BluesEChicagoMarch1926-1
106Dry Southern BluesCChicagoMarch1926-1
107Black Horse BluesCChicagoApril19260
108Corinna BluesCChicagoApril19260
109Got the BluesGChicagoMay19260
110Long Lonesome BluesAChicagoMay19260
111Jack O''Diamond BluesSpanish (G)ChicagoMay19260
112Jack O''Diamond BluesSpanish (G)ChicagoMay19260
113Chock House BluesCChicagoMay19260
114Beggin'' BackCChicagoAugust1926+3
115Old Rounders BluesCChicagoAugust1926+1
116Stocking Feet BluesAChicagoNovember1926-1
117That Black Snake MoanCChicagoNovember1926-2
118Wartime BluesEChicagoNovember1926-1
119Broke and HungryGChicagoNovember1926-1
120Shuckin'' Sugar BluesAChicagoNovember1926-3
121Booger Rooger BluesCChicagoDecember1926-1
122Rabbit Foot BluesAChicagoDecember1926-1
123Bad Luck BluesCChicagoDecember1926+1
201Black Snake MoanCAtlantaMarch1927-2
202Match Box BluesAAtlantaMarch1927-1
203Easy Rider BluesGChicagoApril19270
204Match Box BluesAChicagoApril19270
205Match Box BluesAChicagoApril1927+1
206Rising High Water BluesNo Guitar (C)ChicagoMay19270
207Weary Dogs BluesCChicagoMay1927+1
208Right of Way BluesEChicagoMay1927+1
209Teddy Bear BluesNo Guitar (F)ChicagoJune19270
210Black Snake Dream BluesNo Guitar (G)ChicagoJune19270
211Hot DogsCChicagoJune1927+1
212He Arose from the DeadCChicagoJune1927+1
213Struck Sorrow BluesAChicagoSeptember1927-1
214Rambler BluesGChicagoSeptember19270
215Chinch Bug BluesCChicagoOctober19270
216Deceitful Brownskin BluesGChicagoOctober1927+1
217Sunshine SpecialCChicagoOctober1927+1
218Gone Dead on You BluesAChicagoOctober1927+1
219Where Shall I Be?EChicagoOctober1927+1
220See That My Grave''s Kept CleanEChicagoOctober1927+1
221One Dime BluesEChicagoOctober1927+1
222Lonesome House BluesCChicagoOctober1927+1
301Blind Lemon''s Penitentiary BluesCChicagoFebruary1928-1
302''Lectric Chair BluesEChicagoFebruary19280
303See That My Grave Is Kept CleanEChicagoFebruary19280
304Lemon''s Worried BluesAChicagoFebruary19280
305Mean Jumper BluesCChicagoFebruary19280
306Balky Mule BluesAChicagoFebruary19280
307Change My Luck BluesCChicagoFebruary19280
308Prison Cell BluesEChicagoFebruary19280
309Lemon''s Cannonball MoanAChicagoMarch1928+1
310Long Lastin'' Lovin''AChicagoMarch19280
311Piney Woods Money MamaEChicagoMarch19280
312Low Down Mojo BluesEChicagoJune1928+1
313Competition Bed BluesCChicagoJuly1928-1
314Lock Step BluesCChicagoJuly19280
315Hangman''s BluesGChicagoJuly19280
316Sad News BluesCChicagoJuly19280
317How Long How LongCChicagoJuly1928+1
318Christmas Eve BluesCChicagoAugust1928+1
319Happy New Year BluesCChicagoAugust1928+1
320Maltese Cat BluesCChicagoAugust1928+1
321D B BluesEChicagoAugust1928-1
401Eagle Eyed MamaAChicagoJanuary1929-1
402Dynamite BluesCChicagoJanuary1929-1
403Disgusted BluesCChicagoJanuary1929-1
404Competition Bed BluesCChicagoJanuary1929-1
405Sad New BluesCChicagoJanuary1929-1
406Peach Orchard MamaAChicagoMarch1929-1
407Oil Well BluesEChicagoMarch19290
408Tin Cup BluesCChicagoMarch19290
409Big Night BluesAChicagoMarch19290
410Empty House BluesCChicagoMarch1929-1
411Saturday Night Spender BluesEChicagoMarch1929-1
412That Black Snake Moan No. 2CChicagoMarch1929-1
413Bed Springs BluesARichmondSeptember1929-1
414Yo Yo BluesERichmondSeptember19290
415Mosquito MoanCRichmondSeptember1929-1
416Southern Woman BluesARichmondSeptember1929-2
417Bakershop BluesCRichmondSeptember1929-2
418Pneumonia BluesERichmondSeptember1929-2
419Long Distance MoanCRichmondSeptember1929-2
420That Crawlin'' Baby BluesGRichmondSeptember1929-2
421Fence Breakin'' Yellin'' BluesCRichmondSeptember1929-2
422Cat Man BluesARichmondSeptember1929-2
423The Cheaters SpellERichmondSeptember1929-2
424Bootin'' Me ''BoutCRichmondSeptember1929-2

Offline rvidales

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Re: Blind Lemon Jefferson's Guitar Style--Queries and Tips
« Reply #47 on: April 15, 2016, 10:58:06 AM »
Wow this is great. Quite a list.

Yeah I'm finding that he played most of his songs in standard tuning. However, on a few of them I've been able to discern some tunings based on how low he tuned his bottom bass string. "Rabbit Foot Blues," "Got the Blues," and "Peach Orchard Mama" all seem to have a different tuning. However, the nature of his recordings aren't very conducive for transcribing. 

Thanks for this list. Definitely helps!

Offline banjochris

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Re: Blind Lemon Jefferson's Guitar Style--Queries and Tips
« Reply #48 on: April 15, 2016, 02:43:58 PM »
Yeah I'm finding that he played most of his songs in standard tuning. However, on a few of them I've been able to discern some tunings based on how low he tuned his bottom bass string. "Rabbit Foot Blues," "Got the Blues," and "Peach Orchard Mama" all seem to have a different tuning. However, the nature of his recordings aren't very conducive for transcribing. 

As you can see from Frankie's list, Lemon's pitches could vary quite a lot, i.e. he tuned flat or sharp of standard pitch. All the tunes you mention are in standard, though. "Got the Blues" is in G and the other two in A.
Chris

Offline frankie

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Re: Blind Lemon Jefferson's Guitar Style--Queries and Tips
« Reply #49 on: April 15, 2016, 06:52:33 PM »
Lemon's pitches could vary quite a lot, i.e. he tuned flat or sharp of standard pitch. All the tunes you mention are in standard, though. "Got the Blues" is in G and the other two in A.

Exactly - and rvidales, one thing to remember is that pitch alone isn't a particularly good indicator of tuning...  what you're listening for is the relative relationships between the strings, independent of pitch. In my way of thinking, the following combinations of pitches on a guitar all qualify as "standard tuning":

E A D G B E
D G C F A D
F Bflat Eflat Aflat C F
Csharp Fsharp B E Gsharp Csharp
G C F Bflat D G

Offline Johnm

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Re: Blind Lemon Jefferson's Guitar Style--Queries and Tips
« Reply #50 on: April 15, 2016, 07:45:48 PM »
I like Robert Belfour's term for standard tuning:  "Natural".  And for him, "Natural" was usually pitched with the sixth string at about C# or so.  The whole issue of re-tuning away from standard pitch, whether you're talking about standard tuning, Spanish, Vestapol, or whatever, has to do with putting the position/tuning you wish to play in in a good singing key for your voice.  As Frank notes, the pitch at which a rendition sounds has little to do with the position which is used to play a song.
All best,
Johnm

Offline cblanch

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Re: Blind Lemon Jefferson's Guitar Style--Queries and Tips
« Reply #51 on: April 23, 2017, 03:36:58 AM »
Hi Frankie. I'm a very recent member of this quite incredible site and this is my first attempt at trying to contribute something of possible use.

Looking at your table of keys, both in terms of chord shapes used and absolute pitches in reference to A 440, it strikes me that if I was BLJ, working the streets playing and singing a variety of material pitched to suit my voice, I'd probably keep my guitar tuned to 'standard tuning', 3 frets flat of concert pitch (C sharp, F sharp, B, E, G sharp, C sharp) and use a capo to raise the pitch of my guitar accompaniment (played out of C, G, A or E 'shapes') to match the absolute pitch I found most comfortable to sing each particular song in. I probably wouldn't be performing "Jack O' Diamonds", hustling dimes on a street corner.

Anyone who's worked the streets, knows you really have to work to keep a crowd, even when you've got someone to 'bottle' the crowd for you.. If you're blind, without a lead boy, it must be massively more difficult.. Stop to re-tune between numbers and a crowd will melt away literally in seconds. And, by all accounts, BLJ, despite his blindness was a master at dominating a street crowd and proud of his ability to recognize the sound of anything less than a dime thrown into his tin cup (and would, with great disdain, remove the offending item and throw it back...a great way to shame your audience to be more generous). Using a capo instead of re-tuning makes much more sense.

And it has other obvious advantages too.. Pre-War steel string sets came in one gauge..Heavy (14 to 64). No one knows for certain what guitar (or guitars) Jefferson used on the streets, but it was most likely made by Lyon & Healy in Chicago.

By 1900, L & H built 25% of all guitars made in the US, under as many as 7 distinct brand names, positioned at different quality/price points in the market, as well as all the different grades of guitars sold by the two great mail order catalog retailers, Montgomery Ward and Sears & Roebuck.

Of all the L & H brands, the Washburn brand instruments were always in a class of their own, built by a separate team of craftsmen from the finest materials in limited numbers (averaging less than 1,000 instruments a year, over the first 3 decades of the 20th Century).

From the cheapest (a Ward or Sears "catalog" parlour, delivered COD, with case, for $4) to the top-of-the-line Washburn (a model 399 grand concert for $175) all L & H instruments were well made and, more importantly, well designed, but no guitars had truss rods in those days and not all guitars were designed for steel strings, regardless of who made them.

If you're a blind, black street singer/beggar, with an old, cheap, ladder-braced, second-hand, parlour, originally built for gut strings, it makes sense to tune down...you don't need an engineering degree to tell you it's not a good idea to try to tune a set of 14 to 64 gauge steel strings to concert on a guitar designed for gut strings..after you've ripped the bridge off one, you don't try it again (for those engineers out there, a set of gut strings at concert pitch in standard tuning on a guitar with a 24.8" scale, exerts about 80 lb ft of torque on a guitar bridge. the corresponding torque exerted by a set of 14 to 64 steel strings in standard tuning at concert is about 220 lb ft of torque, probably more than the peak torque the driven wheels of your car puts down to the road...unless you drive a muscle car, of course).

Anyway, sorry about that..must have been first-post nervousness in such exalted company that prompted such a long-winded attempt to make a very minor point. Oh, and by the way, tuning down 3 frets gives you that audible C sharp on the open 6th string and you can even play "Beggin' Back"  out of C shapes with the capo on the 6th fret...  >:D

It's safe to say that Lemon appears to have been a standard tuning kind of guy. The two takes of Jack O' Diamonds, played with a bottleneck or knife, are both possibilities for Spanish tuning but since it's basically only a melody, it's difficult to say with complete confidence in what tuning he's playing for that one. My personal opinion is that he's probably tuned to Spanish.

I had this table posted in my website which is having some issues at the moment, so I'll repost it here. I think there are a couple of alternate takes missing, but all of those are also in standard tuning.

Volume
Track
Title
Key
Location
Month
Year
Pitch
101 I Want to Be Like Jesus in My HeartCChicagoDecember1925-1
102All I Want Is That Pure ReligionEChicagoDecember1925-1
103Got the BluesGChicagoMarch1926-1
104Long Lonesome BluesAChicagoMarch1926-1
105Booster BluesEChicagoMarch1926-1
106Dry Southern BluesCChicagoMarch1926-1
107Black Horse BluesCChicagoApril19260
108Corinna BluesCChicagoApril19260
109Got the BluesGChicagoMay19260
110Long Lonesome BluesAChicagoMay19260
111Jack O''Diamond BluesSpanish (G)ChicagoMay19260
112Jack O''Diamond BluesSpanish (G)ChicagoMay19260
113Chock House BluesCChicagoMay19260
114Beggin'' BackCChicagoAugust1926+3
115Old Rounders BluesCChicagoAugust1926+1
116Stocking Feet BluesAChicagoNovember1926-1
117That Black Snake MoanCChicagoNovember1926-2
118Wartime BluesEChicagoNovember1926-1
119Broke and HungryGChicagoNovember1926-1
120Shuckin'' Sugar BluesAChicagoNovember1926-3
121Booger Rooger BluesCChicagoDecember1926-1
122Rabbit Foot BluesAChicagoDecember1926-1
123Bad Luck BluesCChicagoDecember1926+1
201Black Snake MoanCAtlantaMarch1927-2
202Match Box BluesAAtlantaMarch1927-1
203Easy Rider BluesGChicagoApril19270
204Match Box BluesAChicagoApril19270
205Match Box BluesAChicagoApril1927+1
206Rising High Water BluesNo Guitar (C)ChicagoMay19270
207Weary Dogs BluesCChicagoMay1927+1
208Right of Way BluesEChicagoMay1927+1
209Teddy Bear BluesNo Guitar (F)ChicagoJune19270
210Black Snake Dream BluesNo Guitar (G)ChicagoJune19270
211Hot DogsCChicagoJune1927+1
212He Arose from the DeadCChicagoJune1927+1
213Struck Sorrow BluesAChicagoSeptember1927-1
214Rambler BluesGChicagoSeptember19270
215Chinch Bug BluesCChicagoOctober19270
216Deceitful Brownskin BluesGChicagoOctober1927+1
217Sunshine SpecialCChicagoOctober1927+1
218Gone Dead on You BluesAChicagoOctober1927+1
219Where Shall I Be?EChicagoOctober1927+1
220See That My Grave''s Kept CleanEChicagoOctober1927+1
221One Dime BluesEChicagoOctober1927+1
222Lonesome House BluesCChicagoOctober1927+1
301Blind Lemon''s Penitentiary BluesCChicagoFebruary1928-1
302''Lectric Chair BluesEChicagoFebruary19280
303See That My Grave Is Kept CleanEChicagoFebruary19280
304Lemon''s Worried BluesAChicagoFebruary19280
305Mean Jumper BluesCChicagoFebruary19280
306Balky Mule BluesAChicagoFebruary19280
307Change My Luck BluesCChicagoFebruary19280
308Prison Cell BluesEChicagoFebruary19280
309Lemon''s Cannonball MoanAChicagoMarch1928+1
310Long Lastin'' Lovin''AChicagoMarch19280
311Piney Woods Money MamaEChicagoMarch19280
312Low Down Mojo BluesEChicagoJune1928+1
313Competition Bed BluesCChicagoJuly1928-1
314Lock Step BluesCChicagoJuly19280
315Hangman''s BluesGChicagoJuly19280
316Sad News BluesCChicagoJuly19280
317How Long How LongCChicagoJuly1928+1
318Christmas Eve BluesCChicagoAugust1928+1
319Happy New Year BluesCChicagoAugust1928+1
320Maltese Cat BluesCChicagoAugust1928+1
321D B BluesEChicagoAugust1928-1
401Eagle Eyed MamaAChicagoJanuary1929-1
402Dynamite BluesCChicagoJanuary1929-1
403Disgusted BluesCChicagoJanuary1929-1
404Competition Bed BluesCChicagoJanuary1929-1
405Sad New BluesCChicagoJanuary1929-1
406Peach Orchard MamaAChicagoMarch1929-1
407Oil Well BluesEChicagoMarch19290
408Tin Cup BluesCChicagoMarch19290
409Big Night BluesAChicagoMarch19290
410Empty House BluesCChicagoMarch1929-1
411Saturday Night Spender BluesEChicagoMarch1929-1
412That Black Snake Moan No. 2CChicagoMarch1929-1
413Bed Springs BluesARichmondSeptember1929-1
414Yo Yo BluesERichmondSeptember19290
415Mosquito MoanCRichmondSeptember1929-1
416Southern Woman BluesARichmondSeptember1929-2
417Bakershop BluesCRichmondSeptember1929-2
418Pneumonia BluesERichmondSeptember1929-2
419Long Distance MoanCRichmondSeptember1929-2
420That Crawlin'' Baby BluesGRichmondSeptember1929-2
421Fence Breakin'' Yellin'' BluesCRichmondSeptember1929-2
422Cat Man BluesARichmondSeptember1929-2
423The Cheaters SpellERichmondSeptember1929-2
424Bootin'' Me ''BoutCRichmondSeptember1929-2

I corrected the quoted section so it appeared formatted as a quote, was missing initial '[' - rivers
« Last Edit: April 26, 2017, 06:25:32 PM by Rivers »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Blind Lemon Jefferson's Guitar Style--Queries and Tips
« Reply #52 on: April 23, 2017, 09:08:30 AM »
Hi cblanch,
Welcome to Weenie Campbell.  The scenario you propose in which Lemon routinely tuned a minor third low and capoed to the third fret to sound at A 440 in standard tuning is implausible, I think, for a number of reasons:
   * For someone playing on the street who is blind, it would make no sense to rely so completely on a device that is so easily mislaid, lost or stolen.  Far easier and more practical is to be able to tune to the pitch that enables you to play the different songs in your repertoire in the playing positions that you've determined work best for them.  Tuning up or down quickly is not a big deal for someone who spent the time playing that Lemon did, and there's no reason he needed to be in tune to any fixed pitch reference point--simply being in tune with himself in the relative sense would suffice perfectly well.
   * All of the guitars that Lemon played were twelve frets to the body, and a fair percentage of Lemon's tunes that he played out of E position, G position and A position in standard tuning worked in the range of the ninth to twelfth fret on the first and second strings.  Capoed at the third fret, anything he played above the ninth fret would require him to be fretting above the point at which the neck meets the body of the guitar.  The ease and fluidity with which he played in that portion of his range when required to by a song's demands make the capo on the third fret theory a non-starter.
   * In all of Lemon's recorded repertoire, there is only one song, "Beggin' Back", that would have required him to tune more than a whole step higher than concert pitch.  The great majority of his repertoire has him either at concert pitch or slightly lower.  The habitual use of a capo to sound at lower than concert pitch would be very odd.
   * Once Lemon started recording, I don't know how much sense it makes to posit theories with regard to his playing practice that use his busking as the basis for his guitar playing method.  He was a hugely popular and successful recording artist, a best seller.  I don't believe it is known how much he continued to busk after he began recording.  What's more to the point is how he functioned in the recording studio, especially since that is what Frank's table addresses.
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: April 24, 2017, 11:53:08 AM by Johnm »

Offline Lastfirstface

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Re: Blind Lemon Jefferson's Guitar Style--Queries and Tips
« Reply #53 on: April 24, 2017, 05:36:18 AM »

From the cheapest (a Ward or Sears "catalog" parlour, delivered COD, with case, for $4) to the top-of-the-line Washburn (a model 399 grand concert for $175) all L & H instruments were well made and, more importantly, well designed, but no guitars had truss rods in those days and not all guitars were designed for steel strings, regardless of who made them.

If you're a blind, black street singer/beggar, with an old, cheap, ladder-braced, second-hand, parlour, originally built for gut strings, it makes sense to tune down...you don't need an engineering degree to tell you it's not a good idea to try to tune a set of 14 to 64 gauge steel strings to concert on a guitar designed for gut strings..after you've ripped the bridge off one, you don't try it again (for those engineers out there, a set of gut strings at concert pitch in standard tuning on a guitar with a 24.8" scale, exerts about 80 lb ft of torque on a guitar bridge. the corresponding torque exerted by a set of 14 to 64 steel strings in standard tuning at concert is about 220 lb ft of torque, probably more than the peak torque the driven wheels of your car puts down to the road...unless you drive a muscle car, of course).


The photo of BLJ has him holding a tailpiece guitar, none of which were "built for gut strings."

Offline Stuart

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Re: Blind Lemon Jefferson's Guitar Style--Queries and Tips
« Reply #54 on: April 24, 2017, 09:47:40 AM »
String tension for a guitar (usually measured in pounds in the U.S., but sometimes in Newtons) and torque (measured in Newton meters or foot pounds) are not the same.


Offline Pencapchew1988

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Re: Blind Lemon Jefferson's Guitar Style--Queries and Tips
« Reply #55 on: January 17, 2024, 09:58:45 AM »
Itís kind of funny how a lot of people donít notice that Blind Lemon was holding a tailpiece guitar. Iíve noticed a lot of art where itís depicted as a stain on the bottom of the guitar.

 


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