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I don't mind no men friends but I'm scared they might cramp my style - Blind Lemon Jefferson, Saturday Night Spender Blues

Author Topic: Playing Positions/Keys for Bill Williams' Blue Goose Albums  (Read 661 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Playing Positions/Keys for Bill Williams' Blue Goose Albums
« on: September 04, 2013, 05:10:34 PM »
Hi all,
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.  Thanks to Stuart for making CD versions of these albums, which I have on vinyl, available to me on CD dubs.   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 "Keys" 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
SONG                                                          PLAYING POSITION                                      KEY
1) The Chicken                                             G (closed)                                                    F#
2)Banjo Rag                                                 G (closed)                                                    F#
3) My Girlfriend Left Me                                C                                                                 B
4) Bill's Rag                                                  C                                                                 C+
5) St. Louis Blues                                         C                                                                 B
6) Pocahontas                                              A minor                                                       A
7) Lucky Blues                                             E                                                                 E
8 ) I'll Follow You                                           A                                                                 A-
9) Up A Lazy River                                        G                                                                 F#
10) Too Tight                                                G                                                                G+
11) Low and Lonesome                                 E                                                                 Eb
12) Total Rag                                                G (closed)                                                    G-
13) I Know What it Means to Be Lonesome    C                                                                 C-
14) Frankie and Johnny                                 G                                                                 F#

   *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
SONG                                                              PLAYING POSITION                                  KEY
1) Salty Dog                                                      G                                                            F#
2) Corn Liquor Blues                                          G                                                            G--
3) Listen to the Mockingbird                               A                                                            A-
4) Make Me A Pallet On the Floor                        C                                                            B
5) That's the Human Thing To Do                       F                                                            Eb+
6) Bubblegum                                                    D                                                            Eb--
7) Darktown Strutter's Ball                                 F                                                            Eb+
8 ) Nobody's Business                                          C                                                            C--
9) Buck Dance                                                    C                                                            C--
10) Some of These Days                                     C                                                             B+
11) Blake's Rag                                                   G                                                            F#--
12) Railroad Bill                                                   C                                                            C#--
13) When the Roses Bloom Again                        C                                                             C

   * Bill's posthumously released album had more Pop songs on it that 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 see a guitarist's version of "Buck Dance", since it was so widely recorded.  Algia Mae Hinton's version in E is the only one I've encountered that was not played in C.

All best,
« Last Edit: September 27, 2013, 06:13:07 AM by Johnm »

Offline jopoke

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Re: Playing Positions/Keys for Bill Williams' Blue Goose Albums
« Reply #1 on: October 03, 2013, 02:28:10 PM »
Thanks for taking the time to post these John.
Love both his albums. Ready for some blue goose reissues.


Offline Johnm

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Re: Playing Positions/Keys for Bill Williams' Blue Goose Albums
« Reply #2 on: October 03, 2013, 03:07:56 PM »
Thanks, Joe, nice to see you around these parts.  I think for any Blue Goose albums to be re-issued, their going to have to be bought or licensed from Shanachie.
All best,

Offline Steve Pajik

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Re: Playing Positions/Keys for Bill Williams' Blue Goose Albums
« Reply #3 on: October 14, 2013, 08:24:26 AM »
Thanks for taking the time to share your insights with us, John. Williams is one of my favourite guitarists. He blows my mind, really!

Just curious: when you met/saw him, did you happen to witness a performance of "The Star Spangled Banner"? He once deemed that his most challenging piece, didn't he?

I had no idea about the teeth grinding. I have a congenital hearing deficiency (hence, my facetious moniker!) and I often miss these types of things! But now that you've pointed it out ....  :)

Offline Johnm

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Re: Playing Positions/Keys for Bill Williams' Blue Goose Albums
« Reply #4 on: October 14, 2013, 08:50:48 AM »
No, Deaf Steever, Bill did not play "The Star Spangled Banner" in the brief time I spent with him.  I think I remember him playing "Listen To the Mockingbird" in his set at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, though.
All best,

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