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Author Topic: Shirley Griffith--Tunings, Positions, Keys  (Read 2351 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Shirley Griffith--Tunings, Positions, Keys
« on: November 10, 2010, 12:23:12 PM »
Hi all,
I've long been a fan of the Indianapolis-based singer and guitarist Shirley Griffith, and believe he was one of the strongest country blues musicians to record for the first time in the 1960s or later.  Here are the tunings, playing positions and the keys in which the performances from his three albums.  Where the keys are sharp or flat of standard pitch, a minus sign indicates the pitch is low and a + sign indicates that the pitch is high.  His first album to be released was a duo album with his friend and neighbor, J. T. Adams.

Shirley Griffith & J. T. Adams--"Indiana Avenue Blues", Prestige Bluesville

Title                                               Playing position/tuning                         Key
1) Walkin' Blues                        Shirley & J.T., D position, standard tuning      E flat
2) Match Box Blues (J.T., vocal)   Shirley & J.T., E position, standard tuning       A flat
3) Indiana Avenue Blues             Shirley & J.T., E position, standard tuning       E flat
4) In The Evening                      Shirley & J.T., A position, standard tuning       A flat
5) "A" Jump                              Shirley & J.T., A position, standard tuning      A flat
6) Oh Mama How I Love You        Shirley & J.T., A position, standard tuning      A flat
7) Kansas City (J.T., vocal)          Shirley & J.T., E position, standard tuning      E flat
8 ) Bright Street Jump                Shirley, D position, J.T., E position, standard   E flat
9) Done Changed the Lock on my Door   As on "Bright Street Jump"                 E flat
10) Blind Lemon's Blues (J.T., vocal) Shirley & J.T., A position, standard tuning  A flat
11) Naptown Boogie                   Shirley & J.T., Dropped-D tuning                  D flat

Notes:
   * Shirley and J. T. were obviously playing partners of long standing.  They communicated and listened to each other really well.  One realization that came to me as I've listened to them play, is that in a duo setting, when the phrasing of the lead player is irregular or "crooked", whether the ensemble sound ends up making sense depends on the response of the player who is seconding.  If the seconding player hears where the lead player is going with the phrase and shortens or lengthens the accompaniment as appropriate, all is well.  When the seconding player stubbornly adheres to a metrically regular accompaniment, it makes the lead player sound inept. Some of you may have heard such instances with people backing Honeyboy Edwards or Robert Lowery and trying to shoe-horn phrase lengths which are being determined in the moment into a conventional "12 bars of 4 beats each" sort of treatment.  
Bearing this in mind, J.T. Adams must be accorded very high standing indeed as a seconding country blues player, for he is with Shirley every step of the way, and is never thrown off when Shirley goes short or long.
   * Shirley particularly liked to sing in E flat and A flat, and it's interesting to note that he would pitch to E flat whether he was accompanying himself out of E position or D position in standard tuning.  This trend holds true for all of his albums.
   * The duo's instrumental, "Indiana Avenue Blues", "A" Jump", "Bright Street Jump" and "Naptown Boogie" are all strong dance numbers, with J.T., for the most part, playing flat-picked boogie bass lines and Shirley delivering some scintillating leads.  "Indiana Avenue Blues" is sort of a non-slide version of "Dust My Broom", and "Naptown Boogie" is especially strong, with J.T. quoting Charlie Christian's "Seven Come Eleven" a couple of times.

Shirley Griffith--"Saturday Blues", Prestige Bluesville

1) Meet Me In The Bottom                      E position, standard tuning             E flat
2) River Line Blues                                E position, standard tuning             E
3) Shirley's Jump                                  E position, standard tuning             E
4) Take Me Back To Mama                     C position, standard tuning             B+
5) Saturday Blues                                 E position, standard tuning             E-
6) Left Alone Blues                               G position, standard tuning             G
7) Big Road Blues                                 Dropped-D tuning                         C#++
8 ) Bye Bye Blues                                  E position, standard tuning             E-
9) Hard Pill To Swallow                          D position, standard tuning            D-
10) Maggie Campbell                             Spanish tuning                             G
11) My Baby's Gone                               D position, standard tuning            E-

   * A solid portion of Shirley's repertoire came from his early models in Mississippi, where he was born:  Tommy Johnson and Ishmon Bracey.  His covers of their material are superb and he captured many of the nuances of their recorded performances, as in the opening solo to "Maggie Campbell", where he goes long in the second four-bar phrase of the intro, adding an extra bar of the I chord just as Tommy Johnson and Charlie McCoy did on the original recording. Something about Tommy Johnson's music inspired and continues to inspire careful emulation; you get the same sort of feeling hearing how Houston Stackhouse did Tommy Johnson numbers.
   * A second strong thread in Shirley's repertoire shows the influence of Scrapper Blackwell, or perhaps of a shared Indianapolis style of playing common to most of the guitarists in Indianapolis of that era.  In this program, "Hard Pill to Swallow" and My Baby's Gone" both show a strong Scrapper influence.
   * Perhaps the most exciting portion of Shirley Griffith's repertoire is that for which there is no known model.  In this program, "River Line Blues" and "Take Me Back To Mama" both fall into that category.  "River Line" is sensational, with a striking opening change from E7 to C#7 that I have never heard anyone else do in the same fashion, and a spectacular, very down vocal, wow! "Take Me Back To Mama" has a strong pre-blues feel, like a children's song.

Shirley Griffith--"Mississippi Blues", Blue Goose

1) Shaggy Hound Blues                       E position, standard tuning               E
2) Big Road Blues                              Dropped-D tuning                           C#
3) Going Away Blues                          E position, standard tuning               E-
4) River Line Blues                            E position, standard tuning               E flat
5) Mean Mistreater Mama                   A position, standard tuning               A flat
6) Delta Haze Blues                           E position, standard tuning               E flat
7) Cool Kind Papa from New Orleans     D position, standard tuning              E flat
8 ) One Room Country Little Shack        E position, standard tuning               E flat
9) Bad Luck Blues                              D position, standard tuning              E flat
10) Bye Bye Blues                             E position, standard tuning               E flat
11) King of Spades                            A position, standard tuning               A flat-
12) Maggie Campbell Blues                 Spanish tuning                               A flat-
13) Flying Eagle Blues                        E position, standard tuning               E flat++

   * The most exciting addition to Shirley's recorded repertoire on this album is the opening number, "Shaggy Hound Blues", which one would have to assume is his own invention.  It is superlative, and ranks with the very finest blues performances of Charlie Patton, Tommy Johnson, Ishmon Bracey, et al.  I believe this is on the Weenie Juke, and if you've never heard it before, it rates a request (or a few requests).
   * "Delta Haze Blues" is the same instrumental that was called "Shirley's Jump" on his solo Prestige album.
   * Although there is a fair amount of program overlap between this album and Shirley's solo album on Bluesville, listening to the same songs done over is not remotely disappointing, mostly because Shirley was always so present in his singing and playing. Even when playing set pieces, he never sounded like he was going on automatic pilot; he always sounded fully engaged, and as a result, each performance ended up sounding as fresh as paint.

I was fortunate enough to see Shirley Griffith perform twice, once at the Philadelphia Folk Festival and once at the first Ann Arbor Blues Festival. He made a powerful impression on me. He was not a dynamic or showy performer, he was a pretty quiet, "taking care of business" sort of guy, but boy, once he started singing and playing, I was hooked. I hope you all have an opportunity to hear his music.  I should say that Art Rosenbaum, who recorded the two Bluesville albums, may have put out previously unreleased material by Shirley on his Dust-to Digital discs.  I'm not sure, because I don't have them, but anything by Shirley is worth seeking out and hearing.
All best,
Johnm

« Last Edit: May 11, 2011, 06:47:37 AM by Johnm »

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Shirley Griffith--Tunings, Positions, Keys
« Reply #1 on: November 10, 2010, 12:54:19 PM »
Thanks for this John. As you know I strongly share your enthusiasm for this under known musician.
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

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Offline jopoke

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Re: Shirley Griffith--Tunings, Positions, Keys
« Reply #2 on: December 01, 2010, 01:40:15 PM »
The compilation lp "Indianapolis Jump" has some great tracks from Griffith and other folks:

Maggie Campbell      Shirley Griffith, J.T. Adams      
Saturday Blues      Shirley Griffith, J.T. Adams      
Indianpolis Jump      Shirley Griffith, J.T. Adams      
Big Road Blues      Shirley Griffith, J.T. Adams      
Mandolin Stomp      Yank Rachell, Shirley Griffith   
Kill It Kid                   Shirley Griffith, J.T. Adams      
I Dont Feel welcome   Shirley Griffith, J.T. Adams      
The Hop Joint      Shirley Griffith, J.T. Adams      
Kentucky Guitar Blues   Shirley Griffith, J.T. Adams   
Lowdown Dirty Ways   Pete Franklin   
The Fives      Pete Franklin   
Penal Farm Blues      Pete Franklin   
Spanish Blues      Bertha Lee Lewis   
Little Girl Blues      Scrapper Blackwell      
Cherry Blues      Scrapper Blackwell   
Big Leg Woman      James Easley, Pete Franklin, Raymond Holloway

Thanks, Joe

Offline Johnm

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Re: Shirley Griffith--Tunings, Positions, Keys
« Reply #3 on: December 01, 2010, 03:23:30 PM »
Hi Joe,
Was that "Indianapolis Jump" available on Fantasy in a CD format, or just on vinyl during the Bluesville era?  Thanks for any info.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Shirley Griffith--Tunings, Positions, Keys
« Reply #4 on: December 01, 2010, 10:44:38 PM »
Hi Joe,
Was that "Indianapolis Jump" available on Fantasy in a CD format, or just on vinyl during the Bluesville era?  Thanks for any info.
All best,
Johnm
Different John, see http://www.wirz.de/music/grifffrm.htm where the back liner notes can be read. There is also a small insert to the LP which contains additional data by Bruce Bastin.
« Last Edit: December 01, 2010, 10:51:57 PM by Bunker Hill »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Shirley Griffith--Tunings, Positions, Keys
« Reply #5 on: December 01, 2010, 10:52:45 PM »
Thanks for the link to Shirley's page at Stefan's website, Bunker Hill.  When will I learn to think of looking there?  Looks like the Flyright material duplicates some of the songs recorded later for Prestige but there are several cuts that were not on the Prestige albums.  Hmmm.
All best,
John 

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Shirley Griffith--Tunings, Positions, Keys
« Reply #6 on: December 01, 2010, 11:08:29 PM »
Looks like the Flyright material duplicates some of the songs recorded later for Prestige but there are several cuts that were not on the Prestige albums.  Hmmm.
Same titles different performances in all cases. Trust me.

Offline jopoke

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Re: Shirley Griffith--Tunings, Positions, Keys
« Reply #7 on: December 02, 2010, 06:52:29 AM »
Yes, they are different perfomances.  The entire album is amazing.  Scrapper's material is also killer...

Take it easy, Joe

Offline lindy

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Re: Shirley Griffith--Tunings, Positions, Keys
« Reply #8 on: December 02, 2010, 08:23:17 AM »
A quick trip to Amazon turns up a used copy of the original LP for only $95.

http://www.amazon.com/Indianapolis-recorded-Rosenbaum-Scrapper-Blackwell/dp/B003DVI77Q

Lindy

« Last Edit: December 02, 2010, 02:34:02 PM by lindy »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Shirley Griffith--Tunings, Positions, Keys
« Reply #9 on: December 30, 2010, 09:06:30 AM »
Hi all,
I've recently been able to hear the Flyright "Indianapolis Jump" album for the first time (thanks, Joe!), and the playing positions for the tracks featuring Shirley Griffith work out as follows:
1) Maggie Campbell Blues--Shirley, Spanish tuning, J.T., A position, standard tuning
2) Saturday Blues--Shirley, E position, standard tuning, J.T., A position, standard tuning
3) Indianapolis Jump--Shirley and J.T., A position, standard tuning
4) Big Road Blues--Shirley, dropped D, J.T., A position, standard tuning
5) Mandolin Stomp--Shirley, A position, standard tuning, Yank Rachell, mandolin
6) Kill It Kid--J.T., C position, standard tuning, Shirley, C position, standard tuning
7) I Don't Feel Welcome--Shirley and J.T., A position, standard tuning
8 ) The Hop Joint--J.T., G position, standard tuning, Shirley, G position, standard tuning
9) Kentucky Guitar Blues--J.T., A position, standard tuning

NOTES:
   * Several of the songs listed as duets, notably "Kill It Kid" and The Hop Joint", sound as though they could possibly be solo numbers.  The way that the credits are listed in the album notes (check Bunker Hill's earlier post in this thread for a link to the album notes), it looks as though J.T. Adams was the lead guitarist on these numbers as well as "Kentucky Guitar Blues".  If this was in fact the case, blues researchers missed the opportunity to record J.T. in a solo setting, for these tracks show a really fine player in his own right.
   * "Saturday Blues" worked better as a solo number for Shirley than in this duet setting with J.T.  Shirley phrased long in the eighth bar and liked to go long at the end of the form, and J.T. didn't know the song or how Shirley did it well enough to stay with him.
   * "Mandolin Stomp" is terrific, and makes one wish that more recording had been done of Shirley and Yank playing together.  Mandolin players should seek this track out, for Yank does some great playing and a lot of runs I'd not heard him do elsewhere.

The rest of the album is very strong, too.  Pete Franklin shines on his three numbers, and shows himself to have been a wonderful pianist, sounding almost like Romeo Nelson on "The Fives".  Bertha Lewis's "Spanish Blues" is an exciting instrumental played in . . . Spanish tuning.  Scrapper Blackwell was in top form, too, and does nothing except reinforce the notion of his being perhaps the strongest-playing of the rediscovered Blues players.
"Indianapois Jump" is a very strong set, as Joe and Bunker Hill described it, and well worth seeking out.
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: November 25, 2014, 06:06:25 AM by Johnm »

Offline Dom94

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Re: Shirley Griffith--Tunings, Positions, Keys
« Reply #10 on: November 25, 2012, 10:50:24 AM »

Shirley griffith my baby's gone

I've tried to work on this song , and I've found a key of F
With chords like this: F A# C7

Am I wrong ?
Playin' Blues is Freedom

Offline frankie

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Re: Shirley Griffith--Tunings, Positions, Keys
« Reply #11 on: November 25, 2012, 11:09:09 AM »
Shirley griffith my baby's gone

I've tried to work on this song , and I've found a key of F
With chords like this: F A# C7

Am I wrong ?

Yes and no. I don't have a guitar handy that's reliably tuned to pitch, but if the song sounds like it's in the absolute key of F, then he's playing in D position with a capo at the third fret. This is kind of an homage to Scrapper Blackwell's playing.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Shirley Griffith--Tunings, Positions, Keys
« Reply #12 on: November 25, 2012, 02:12:41 PM »
Hi Dom94,
If you look at the table in the first post of this thread, it shows what position Shirley's songs were played out of, and in the far right column shows the actual pitch (key) at which his renditions sound.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Dom94

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Re: Shirley Griffith--Tunings, Positions, Keys
« Reply #13 on: November 25, 2012, 10:31:39 PM »
thanks ! much appreciated , capo at the third fret make the difference !
Playin' Blues is Freedom

 


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