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Robert Pete Williams--Playing Positions and Tunings

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Hi all,
I have long wanted to study Robert Pete Williams' music more deeply than I have in the past, and to that end, thought I would post the playing positions/tunings of the songs he recorded that are currently available on Arhoolie Records.  Many or most of these recordings were originally issued on Dr. Harry Oster's Folk Lyric Records.  I will post notes about the recordings later.  Where the keys at which renditions sound are slightly flat of pitch, a minus sign (-) will indicate that; multiple minus signs indicate intensified flatness.  Where the keys at which renditions sound are sharp of pitch, a plus sign (+) will indicate that, and multiple plus signs indicate intensified sharpness.

Angola Prisoners' Blues--Arhoolie CD 419
Song TitlePlaying position/tuningKeyPrisoner's Talking BluesD position, standard tuningEb--Some Got Six MonthsD position, dropped-D tuningDI'm Lonesome BluesA position, standard tuningA-
These three songs were probably many people's first exposure to Robert Pete Williams' music.  What was different or distinctive about his music?  In conversation with Frank Basile about Robert Pete, Frank pointed out that Robert Pete was unusual among blues players in the number of minor blues he played, and as soon as Frank said it, I realized it was so.  It is a commonplace among blues players to accompany a sung minor third with the major third played in the accompanying chord.  Robert Pete most often did not do that; if he was singing minor thirds, he accompanied them with minor thirds in the guitar accompaniment.  Taken in combination with the fact that Robert Pete most often did not work out of chordal positions in his guitar accompaniments, you arrive at the very dark sound that characterized much of his material.  For the three songs from "Angola Prisoners' Blues", Robert Pete plays no major thirds in his I chords.  For the two songs played out of D position, (one in standard tuning and one in dropped-D) he plays a dominant seventh chord for his IV chord, which suggests the Dorian Mode.  "I'm Lonesome Blues" is the earliest version recorded of Robert Pete's funky sound.  When playing with that rhythmic feel, whether working out of A or D positions in standard tuning, he would alternate his bass between the I note and minor III note, both played on the same string in the bass.

Angola Prison Spirituals--Arhoolie CD 9036
Song TitlePlaying position/tuningKeyI'm On My Way (Andy Mosely, vocal)G position, standard tuningEbChurch On Fire With the Word of GodD position, DGDGBE tuningC-Dyin' SoulSpanish tuningFSo Much Is Happenin' In the NewsE position, standard tuningEb-I'm Goin' Back With Him When He ComesE position, standard tuningFWhen I Lay My Burden DownSpanish tuningF#-Dig My Grave With A Silver Spade (Tom Dotson, vocal)Spanish tuningF#Little School Song (Tom Dotson vocal)Spanish tuningF+
   * In many ways, Robert Pete Williams' playing on "Angola Prison Spirituals" is farther from the mainstream than his playing on "Angola Prisoners' Blues".  His accompaniment on "I'm On My Way" is unique.  The song has a perfectly clear major melody.  Robert Pete accompanies the song out of G position in standard tuning (though tuned quite low), and alternates his bass from the open sixth string, suggesting the relative minor, and intermittently hits the third fret of the sixth string (the key center of the song) in the bass.  The effect is pretty disorienting for the listener. 
   * "Church On Fire With The Word Of God" has Robert Pete accompanying himself out of DGDGBE tuning (in terms of the relative intervals--he's actually tuned considerably lower), and playing in the key center of his open sixth string.  In this respect his approach to the tuning is more like that of Lonnie Johnson, who characteristically used the open sixth string as his key center when playing that tuning, than it is like Bo Carter's or Lil' Son Jackson's playing in the tuning, for both of them used the open fifth string as their key center.  He free-hands the entire piece in his left hand (no chordal positions), and the piece has a unique, floating sort of sound that seems to be a hallmark of Robert Pete's sound and approach.
   * Robert Pete utilized Spanish tuning for his accompaniment to the two songs sung by the wonderful bass singer, Tom Dotson.  For "Dig My Grave With A Silver Spade", Robert Pete adopts an approach much like that utilized by Lonnie Johnson to accompany Texas Alexander on "Levee Camp Moan", choosing to treat the guitar as a wordless voice answering Tom Dotson's singing of the melody with responding melodic phrases.
   * For "Dyin' Soul", Robert Pete switches back and forth from a thumb lead to frailed melodic phrases in the treble, played in Spanish tuning.  "So Much Is Happenin' In The News" utilizes a similar right hand approach as "Dyin' Soul", though played out of E position in standard tuning.  The song sounds especially improvisatory, and is really wild.  Robert Pete similarly backs "I'm Goin' Back With Him When He Comes" out of E position in standard tuning, but utilizes a more conventional treatment of time, and an accompaniment that closely tracks his singing of the song's melody.  "When I Lay My Burden Down", accompanied in Spanish tuning makes a beautiful use of bends in its phrasing of the melody.   

Country Negro Jam Session--Arhoolie CD 372
Song TitlePlaying position/tuningKeyMississippi Heavy Water Blues (Guitar Welch, guitar)Spanish tuningF#-
Robert Pete Williams, Vol. 1-I'm As Blue as a Man Can Be--Arhoolie CD394
Song TitlePlaying position/tuningKeyPardon Denied AgainE position, standard tuningD+This Wild Old Life (12-string guitar)D position, standard tuningC#-Just Tippin' InD position, standard tuningC#LouiseB position, standard tuningGChurch On Fire (Take 2)D position, DGDGBE tuningD+Texas BluesA position, standard tuningG+I'm Blue As A Man Can Be (12-string guitar)E position, standard tuningDUp and Down BluesE position, standard tuningD+So Much Is Happenin' In This Wicked WorldE position, standard tuningD+Come Here BabyA position, standard tuningGLevee Camp BluesE position, standard tuningC#Two WingsC position, Spanish tuningB-Angola Special (12-string guitar)E position, standard tuningD+Motherless Children Have A Hard timeE position, standard tuningEb-Please Lord, Help Me On My WaySpanish tuningF#-
Robert Pete Williams, Vol. 2-When A Man Takes The Blues--Arhoolie CD 395
Song TitlePlaying position/tuningKeyWhen A Man Takes The BluesA minor position, standard tuningG#-I Had TroubleE position, standard tuningEbAll Night LongE position, standard tuningEbDyin' SoulSpanish tuningGI Got the Blues So BadSpanish tuningESinner Don't You KnowSpanish tuningF-Hot Springs BluesD position, dropped-D tuningC#--This Train Is Heaven BoundE position, standard tuningD+Santa Fe BluesD position, standard tuningD+Blues In MeA position, standard tuningG++Death Comes Creepin' In Your RoomE position, standard tuningD+Wife And Farm BluesA position, standard tuningG++I Want To Die EasySpanish tuningG#
Robert Pete Williams-Poor Bob's Blues--Arhoolie CD 511
Song TitlePlaying position/tuningKeyDisc A
My Mind Wandering AroundA capellaCane Cut ManE position, standard tuningC#My Daddy Was A Hoodoo ManE position, standard tuningEbNo More Sweet PotatoesSpanish, w/slideG--Poor Bob's BluesA position, standard tuningA++Cows Love MusicD position, standard tuningC#Can't Yo-Yo No MoreE position, standard tuningC#-Shake, Shake BabyE position, standard tuningE+Lord, I Done You WrongSpanish tuningBb-Been Mistreated So LongA position, standard tuningF#Disc B
Things All Wrong With MeSpanish tuning, w/slideG-Matchbox BluesD position, dropped-D tuningD+Sad News From KoreaE position, standard tuningEbWhat A Shape I'm InE position, standard tuningE+Poor Boy, Long Way From HomeSpanish tuning, w/slideFOut All Night LongE position, standard tuningC#+Crying Won't Make Me StayD position, standard tuningD-All Out And DownSpanish tuningFTom and Old MasterA position, standard tuningG#
All Best,

Hi all,
Fortunately for those of us who are fans of Robert Pete Williams, he was recorded quite a lot in the years he was before the public.  Here we'll look at the playing positions and tunings he used for songs that he recorded for several labels other than Arhoolie.  One again, the key column shows the pitch at which the renditions sound, with a plus sign (+) indicating sharpness of pitch and a minus sign (-) indicating flatness of pitch, and more than one of either such signs indicating intensified sharpness or flatness.  The post will be edited later to add music notes.

Free Again-Robert Pete Williams, Original Blues Classics Bluesville OBCCD-553-2
Song TitlePlaying position/tuningKeyFree AgainD position, standard tuningBAlmost Dead BluesA position, standard tuningAb-Rolling StoneSpanish, with a slideETwo WingsDGDGBEBb+A Thousand Miles From NowhereE position, standard tuningDThumbing A RideA minor, A position, standard tuningG++I've Grown So UglyD position, standard tuningEb+Death BluesD position, standard tuningEb-Hobo Worried BluesE position, standard tuningEb-Hay Cutting SongE position, standard tuningF-
Robert Pete Williams-Louisiana Blues, Takoma CDTAK1011
Song TitlePlaying position/tuningKeySomebody Help Poor MeE position, standard tuningF+Freight Train BluesE position, standard tuningEb+It's Hard To TellA position, standard tuningAI'm Going Down SlowE position, standard tuningF+Motherless Children Have A Hard TimeE position, standard tuningEb+UglyD position, standard tuningDb+So Long BoogieA position, standard tuningBbThis Is A Mean Old World To MeB position, standard tuningB++High As I Want To BeD position, Dropped-D tuningC++It's A Long Old RoadE position, standard tuningEb--
The Sonet Blues Story-Robert Pete Williams, Sonet 0602498692554
Song TitlePlaying position/tuningKeyWoman You Ain't No GoodA minor, A position, standard tuningACome Here, Sit Down On My KneeVestapol, with a slideEbAngola Penitentiary BluesVestapol, with a slideRbLate Night BoogieE position, standard tuningEGoin' Out Have Myself A BallA position, standard tuningAPoor Girl On The MountainD position, standard tuningDGraveyard BluesVestapol, with a slideEb+You're My All Day Steady And My Midnight DreamA position, standard tuningAKeep Your Bad Dog Off MeA position, standard tuningA
Robert Pete Williams-Long Ol' Way From Home, The Chicago Sessions, Fuel 2000 Records 302 061 391 2
Song TitlePlaying position/tuningKeyIt's So Cold In ChicagoA position, standard tuningBbBye, Bye BabyE minor, E position, standard tuningE-Greyhound Bus BluesG position, standard tuningG-LouiseB minor, B position, standard tuningB--Freight Train BluesE minor, E position, standard tuningE-Lord, I'm Going Back Home SoonA minor, A position, standard tuningBbKazoo BluesD position, Dropped-D tuningD--Jesse JamesA minor, A position, standard tuningAFeel Like Blowing My HornG position, standard tuningGMotherless ChildE position, standard tuningEUgly Man BluesD position, standard tuningDLonesome BluesA position, standard tuningAI Just Can't Stand It No MoreA position, standard tuningAMy Mother Prayed In The World One DayC position, standard tuningCPoor Boy Long Ol' Way From HomeSpanish, with a slideG#-
Robert Pete Williams, Fat Possum 80349-2 (originally on Ahura Mazda)
Song TitlePlaying position/tuningKeyFarm BluesA minor, A position, standard tuningA-Goodbye Slim HarpoSpanish, with a slideG+Rub Me Until My Love Comes DownE position, standard tuningEFreight Train BluesE position, standard tuningEGot Me Way Down HereSpanish, with a slideGMatchbox BluesD position, standard tuningD-Railroad BluesE minor, E position, standard tuningETombstone BluesA minor, A position, standard tuningA-Sweep My FloorE minor, E position, standard tuningEYou Used To Be A Sweet Cover Shaker, But You Ain't No MoreSpanish, with a slideG+Vietnam BluesA minor, A position, standard tuningA-
All best,

Awesome. I haven't worked my way around to RPW yet, but he's got one of the most idiosyncratic guitar styles of anybody. A lot to explore. Thanks for your efforts.

Thanks for the good words, Boybooe.  I appreciate it.
All best,

Blues Vintage:

--- Quote from: Johnm on July 28, 2016, 10:19:26 PM ---Goin' Out Have Myself A BallS poaision, standard tuningA

--- End quote ---

Probably A position?


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