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Author Topic: The George Mitchell Collection--Tunings/Positions  (Read 14763 times)

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Online Johnm

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The George Mitchell Collection--Tunings/Positions
« on: October 14, 2008, 03:54:00 PM »
Hi all,
The George Mitchell Collection on Fat Possum has been generating so much interest, and deservedly so, that I thought it might be interesting to go through the 7-disc set listing the tunings/positions employed by the various musicians in the course of playing their tunes.  Because there is so much content in these recordings and so many potential areas of discussion, I thought it might be better to work through the discs one at at time, allowing for discussion along the way, rather than offering a master list for all seven discs right off the bat.
I will list the musicians and their songs in the order they appear on the CD, along with the tuning(s) they played their songs in and the pitch at which the renditions were recorded.  I'll use a + sign to indicate a rendition slightly sharp of concert pitch and a minus sign, -, to indicate a rendition slightly flat of concert pitch.  Here goes:

Cecil Barfield:                     tuning/position                   pitch
Lucy Mae Blues                 G, standard tuning                  A-
I Woke Up Crying              G, standard tuning                  G#
Love Blues                        E, standard tuning                  D
I Told You Not to Do That     G, standard tuning                 A

Buddy Moss:
In the Evening                    E, standard tuning                 D+
Hey Lawdy Mama                E, standard tuning                C#+
Thousand Woman Blues        A, standard tuning                G
Blue Shadow Falling             E, standard tuning                C#+
Cold Rainy Day                   E, standard tuning                 C#+
Amy                                  A, standard tuning                F#+

Leon Pinson:                       
Motherless Child                  Vestapol, slide                     C#-
Somebody is Calling My Name  Vestapol, slide                  C#-
What God Can Do                 G, standard tuning                E
He'll Understand and Say       Vestapol, slide                     Eflat+
Well Done

Houston Stackhouse:
Big Road Blues                      Dropped-D tuning                C#+
Cool Water Blues                   E, standard tuning               Eflat+
Big Fat Mama Blues                A, standard tuning              Aflat+
Take A Little Walk With Me       E, standard tuning              Eflat+

Big Joe Williams:
Everyone Got A Woman            Spanish                            Bflat
What She Need with A Rooster   Spanish                            Bflat
Sink or Swim                          Spanish                            Bflat
Prison Bound                           Spanish                            Bflat

John Lee Ziegler:
Who's Gonna Be Your Man         Vestapol, slide                    G+
If I Lose, Let Me Lose                Vestapol                            G+

Othar Turner:
Black Woman                           Vestapol                           C#+
Bumble Bee                             Vestapol                           C#+

Some notes:
   *  Cecil Barfield certainly merits all the discussion his music has been generating lately.  His "Lucy Mae Blues" was a terrific choice to open the entire set.  The weird, trancey picking pattern ostinato he accompanies himself with is arresting enough, but when he comes in singing with his strangled headtone, he's got you.  His bass alternation is one I've never run into before.  Over his I chord, G, he alternates third fret sixth to third fret fourth, than third fret sixth to a quick hammer at second fret fourth string.  Over his IV chord, the alternation is even more eccentric:  third fret fifth string to third fret fourth string, than open fifth string to third fret fourth string--a bass alternation of C-F-A-F over a C chord, in which the only chord tone in the bass is the opening C!  He sounds about as much like himself and absolutely nobody else working in the same style as it is possible to do in a vernacular style that had already been around for decades when he was recorded.  Judging by the very small sample of his music offered here, he had a special predeliction for G position in standard tuning, but the one song he does in E position, standard tuning (tuned a whole step low), "Love Blues", is brutally low-down, as tough as anything that ever came out of the Mississippi delta or hill country.  So much for generalizing about sound based on where a player lived. 
   * Buddy Moss sounds absolutely magisterial here, singing and playing with utter authority.  His playing has a tremendous sheen and finish.  It's worth remembering, too, how young he was when these recordings were made in 1963:  49-years-old, born in 1914, really the prime of life for a musician.  He favors E position in standard tuning and tunes significantly low for all of his tunes.  The "Amy" he is shown playing here is Blind Boy Fuller's "Mamie", of course.
   * Leon Pinson comes across beautifully here with great singing and playing.  His first two numbers appear to be played with a slide and the guitar in the conventional position.  His final number, "He'll Understand and Say Well Done" sounds as though it is played lap style, and with its extreme vibrato and vocally-inflected phrasing sounds a lot like the work of present-day players working in the Sacred Steel tradition, like Darick Campbell and Aubrey Ghent.  Pinson's version of "What God Can Do", more commonly known as "How Great Thou Art", employs extreme low tuning in standard tuning and conventional fretting, a sound likewise employed by Rev. Pearly Brown.
   * Are there other instances of electric bands as faithfully rendering earlier acoustic styles as Houston Stackhouse's band played the music of Tommy Johnson?  There must be other such cases, but I can't think of any right now.
   * Big Joe Williams' numbers come from a live performance in which he appeared to be in an unusually pensive mood.  He works with extremes in his dynamics, moving from barely audible singing to roaring.  When he does a cover like "Prison Bound", it is so much his own.  His way of playing in Spanish ventured into a lot of territory that he had all to himself.
   * John Lee Ziegler's two tunes, for which he is joined by an expert spoon player, are the high points of the disc for me.  They are just beautiful, he must have had one of the prettiest voices ever in the country blues, up there in Sam Collins' or Lemon's league.  There is something special about a tuning or position occurring at a great distance in pitch from where it is normally heard, too.  Ziegler is playing in Vestapol at G, considerably higher than that tuning is normally heard, and the sound just draws you in.
   * Prior to hearing the Othar Turner cuts here, I never knew he played guitar at all, knowing him primarily for his fife playing.  He is substantially the roughest player here, and cuts the narrowest swath in terms of the amount of variety in his playing.

For those of you who don't yet have this set, you need to get it.  It costs $45.00 for seven discs, and the music compares favorably with the best recorded blues of any era.  Think about it--it's easy to spend that much money on a very disappointing meal.  This stuff will sustain you for a long time.

All best,

« Last Edit: December 29, 2008, 04:57:00 PM by Johnm »

Online Johnm

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Re: The George Mitchell Collection--Tunings/Positions
« Reply #1 on: October 16, 2008, 04:34:59 PM »
Hi all,
Here are the musicians, songs, tunings/positions and keys for the second disc in the George Mitchell Collection.  Once again, + and - signs will be used to indicated sharpness and flatness, respectively, to the keys shown in the chart.

Lonzie Thomas                         Tuning/Position                     Key
Rabbit On A Log                         Vestapol                             D+
Raise a Ruckus Tonight                Vestapol                            D+
My Three Women                        Spanish                             F#
Red Cross Store                          Vestapol                            D+

Sleepy John Estes
Rats in the Kitchen                     A, standard tuning                 B+
Special Agent                            A, standard tuning                 B+
Trying To See                            G, standard tuning                A+
Mail Man Blues                           G, standard tuning                A+

Teddy Williams                         
Down Home Blues                       Dropped-D tuning                  E
Catfish Blues                              E, standard tuning                 D+
Black Mattie                               E, standard tuning                  F-
Sun Don't Shine                          A, standard tuning                 Bflat+

Green Paschal
Trouble Brought Me Down             Vestapol, slide                     D-
My Lord                                     Vestapol, slide                     D-
Mother Is Dead                           Vestapol, slide                     C#+
Lay My Burden Down                    Vestapol, slide                    C#+
Your Close Friend                         Vestapol, slide                    C#+
I'm Going to Leave it in the            Vestapol, slide                    C#+
Hands of the Lord

William "Do Boy" Diamond
Hard Time Blues                            Vestapol                            B+
Just Want to Talk With You               A                                     F-

Dewey Corley & Walter Miller
Just I Dream I got on my Mind          A, standard tuning              A
Memphis is a Wonderful City            A, standard tuning               Bflat
Down to Arkansas                          A, standard tuning               Bflat

Bud Grant
Rock Me Mama                             E, standard tuning                F+
Freight Train Blues                        A, standard tuning                G#
So Sweet                                     A, standard tuning                G+
Bud Grant's Grunt                          E, standard tuning                F+

   * Lonzie Thomas, like Cecil Barfield and John Lee Ziegler, is worth the price of admission all by himself.  He really was terrific.  His "Rabbit on the Log" employs the same melody as John Hurt's "Payday", Henry Thomas' "Shanty Blues", and the Mississippi Sheiks' "Bootlegger Blues".  For it and "Raise a Ruckus Tonight", he employs a backwards alternating thumb lead that bears a coincidental similarity to the right hand approach that Roscoe Holcomb used when finger-picking in his personalized Spanish tuning.  Lonzie Thomas's time is much more loose-limbed and funky than Roscoe's, and not nearly so quick, though.  All of Lonzie Thomas's performances communicate a droll sense of humor; none more than "My Three Women", a sensational one-chord number in Spanish that employs an irregularly recurring greasy bend on his unwound third string.  He really reefs on it and it sounds great.  Lonzie Thomas compares favorably with any of the rediscovered country Blues musicians of the '60s--'80s.
   * Sleepy John Estes is in great voice here.  It's a little surprising not to hear him play in C position standard tuning at all, since it was much his favorite playing position on his early recordings.
   * Teddy Williams sounds really good and has a lot of variety in his playing.  I'm hard pressed to think of many Mississippi players who worked in dropped-D, other than Tommy Johnson, Walter Vinson, Bo Carter and Sam Chatmon.  Teddy Williams liked to sing sharp and drive his voice very hard.
   * Green Paschal's slide religious numbers in Vestapol sound strong.  He doesn't do any left-hand damping to stifle harmonics and it all sounds fine.  "Your Close Friend" is an especially strong number.  He's a really nice singer, too.
   * The liner notes describe William "Do Boy" Diamond as not much of a guitarist, but if you can sing like Diamond could, just a little bit of guitar is all that's needed, and he more than fills the bill.  He's a sensational singer with interesting and unusual lyrics and especially sounds good on guitar on "Hard Time Blues", where he is tuned quite low.
   *  Walter Miller was a nice player in A, standard tuning.  Dewey Corley, on one-string bass, kazoo and vocals, must have been quite a character.  He has the distinction, on "Memphis is a Wonderful City", of doing the very worst kazoo playing I have ever heard, and that includes little kids.
   * Bud Grant was a Georgia player.  His "Freight Train Blues" is Blind Boy Fuller's "Lost Lover Blues", a candidate for the most-frequently covered tune  in this set.  He plays "So Sweet" out of A, standard tuning and it works really well there.

All best,
« Last Edit: October 27, 2023, 05:21:06 PM by Johnm »

Online Johnm

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Re: The George Mitchell Collection--Tunings/Positions
« Reply #2 on: October 20, 2008, 10:53:16 PM »
Hi all,
Here are the tunings/positions for the performances on disc 3 of the George Mitchell Collection.

Bud White                                   Tuning/Position                          Pitch
Go Ahead On                                E, standard tuning                      F+
You've Been Gone So Long              E, standard tuning                      F+
White Horses                                Cross-note                                Eflat+

George Henry Bussey
When I'm Sober I'm Drunk Blues      G, standard tuning                      F#-
Mean Mistreater                            E, standard tuning                      Eflat-
Blues Around My Bed                     E, standard tuning                       C#
Looking For My Woman                  A, standard tuning                       E+

Jim Bunkley
Old Red #2                                   Vestapol, slide                           D+
Jack of Diamonds                           Spanish                                    F+
Them Greasy Greens                      A, standard tuning                      G+
Rocking Chair                                E, standard tuning                      Eflat+

Tom Turner
Old Breakdown                              E, standard tuning                       C#+
Drop Down Mama # 1                     Spanish                                     G#+

James Turner
Search Me Lord (w/Jessie Mae Hemphill)  a capella                              Aflat+
My Mother Died and Left Me               a capella                                 E
Consolation                                     a capella                                 E+
Home Going                                    a capella                                 G-

Abe McNeil
Better Than Myself                           G, standard tuning                     Aflat+
Steady Rollin' Man                            G, standard tuning                     Aflat+
Drink, Drink, Drink (hambone and       E, cross harp
clapping w/Robert Diggs, harmonica
and vocal)

Joe Callicott
Country Blues                                   C, standard tuning                    B+
River Blues                                       E, standard tuning                    Eflat-

Johnny Woods (w/ Fred McDowell)
3 O'Clock in the Morning                      Vestapol, slide                         F-
I's Be Troubled                                   Vestapol, slide                        F-

   * Bud White's first two numbers are fine, but nothing out of the ordinary.  "White Horses" will make you sit up and pay attention, though, for it is sensational.  Identification of the tuning is unusually difficult, for White never plays an open third string from the beginning to the end of the song.  Cross-note at last seems the obvious choice for he inflects a bend of the IV note on the third string, and were he in Vestapol, he would be doing that at the first fret, next to the nut, which is unlikely.  What a great performance this one is.
   * George Henry Bussey is an uncle of Precious Bryant, nee Bussey.  Based only on the sample of his work included in the set, he played most often in a style very derivative of Blind Boy Fuller.  He was an unusually diffident singer, and sounds very shy about his singing.  His two strongest numbers are those where he is tuned the farthest from concert pitch, most particularly "Looking for My Woman", where he is tuned a full fourth low, giving the guitar a very eerie timbre.  One trend that is playing out in the course of this set is the non-importance of tuning to concert pitch for the players here.  Players are almost never tuned to concert pitch, and are often as much as a minor third or more high or low of concert pitch.  There is no reason to believe that players of an earlier era working in the same style placed any greater an emphasis on tuning to concert pitch.  It's more important to suit your vocal range than to conform to an externally imposed standard of whatever type.
   * Jim Bunkley sounds like he would have been fun to see in person.  His unusual non-slide version of "Jack of Diamonds" is made all the more unusual by being played squarely in the Lydian mode, with a #IV note and major VII note in the scale adhered to throughout the course of the rendition.  Rev. John Wilkins' final number at his Saturday afternoon concert set at Port Townsend this year was in the Lydian mode, too.
   * Tom Turner's two pieces are terrific.  His "Old Breakdown" sounds like it comes from the same family as Robert Wilkins' "Rolling Stone" instrumentally, and from "Catfish", vocally and melodically.  His thumb-popped bass notes on "Drop Down Mama #1" have the very sound that Son House got in his post-rediscovery playing, when popping bass notes in Spanish tuning.
   * James Shorter's a capella religious numbers are wonderful, really one of the high points of the entire collection.  "My Mother Died and Left Me" and "Consolation" could not be improved upon, even in one's imagination.  It is such beautiful and controlled singing.  Jessie Mae Hemphill, who joined Shorter for "Search Me Lord" and a little bit of "Home Going" sounds like a child, very sweet.
   * Abe McNeil sounds good in G position in standard tuning, sort of like he started with Tommy McClennan's licks in that position and kept going.  Robert Diggs' singing and playing on "Drink, Drink, Drink" are excellent.
   * Joe Callicott sounds wonderful, as always, on his two numbers.  He was another beautiful singer.
   * Johnny Woods and Fred McDowell play so well together on all of their material from this period it's as though they shared one mind and had the same impulses simultaneously, translated to work on each one's instrument.  Harmonica/guitar duos can't get much better than this.
All best,
« Last Edit: October 21, 2008, 03:10:41 PM by Johnm »

Offline daddystovepipe

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Re: The George Mitchell Collection--Tunings/Positions
« Reply #3 on: October 26, 2008, 03:56:14 PM »
Thanks John, quite an effort.
I'll be listening to these cd's with a different ear now; hope you'll find the time to do the others as well.

Online Johnm

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Re: The George Mitchell Collection--Tunings/Positions
« Reply #4 on: October 27, 2008, 05:43:17 PM »
Hi all,
Thanks for the good words, Carl.  I've been busy, but am ready now to post the tunings/positions for Disc four of the George Mitchell Collection.  Here goes:

Robert Diggs                      Tuning/Position                    Key
Someday Baby                     Harmonica                     E, cross harp
Racehorse Charleston            Harmonica                     E, cross harp
Done Lost My Health             Harmonica                      E, cross harp
Drive Your Car                   Harmonica/guitar               E, cross harp
                                       E, standard tuning
Cliff Scott
Woke Up This Morning          Spanish, slide                   Bflat
Long Wavy Hair                   Vestapol, slide                  E
Please Come Home               A, standard                      G#-
Pole Pattin'                          G, standard                      G#-

Jimmy Lee Harris                 
I Wanna Ramble                    Vestapol                          E
Sitting Here Looking               Vestapol                          E-
1000 Miles Away

R. L. Burnside
Just Like a Bird Without           E, standard                      C+
a Feather
Skinny Woman                       Spanish                           G+
Goin' Down South                    E, standard                      C#
Poor Black Mattie                    Spanish                           F#

Robert Johnson         
Hold My Body Down                 Vestapol, slide                 D-
Trying to Make It Home            Vestapol, slide                 D
Precious Lord                          Vestapol, slide                 D
He'll Make a Way                     Vestapol                         D

Robert Longstreet
Sugar Mama                            Harmonica                     E, cross harp
Black Gal                                Harmonica                     E, cross harp
Sloppy Drunk                           Harmonica                    E, cross harp
Decoration Day                        Harmonica                    E, cross harp

Fred McDowell w/Johnny Woods
Shake 'Em On Down                 Vestapol, slide                E-, cross harp
Mama Says I'm Crazy               Vestapol, slide                E-, cross harp

   * Robert Diggs was a beautiful harmonica player and singer, with a big, open, relaxed sound on the harp and a much lighter singing voice.  His every move on the harmonica bespeaks a very high level of musicianship.  He belongs right up there with people like Noah Lewis, Sonny Terry, Alfred Lewis. . . you name it.  If I was a harp player, I would be studying his playing.
   * Cliff Scott was evidently a younger player, in his 30s when George Mitchell recorded him.  If he's still alive, he could be as young as 70 or in his mid-70s, possibly a candidate for Port Townsend.  His "Woke Up This Morning" is essentially the same song as Robert Johnson's "Walking Blues".  "Please Come Home" is Blind Boy Fuller's "Lost Lover Blues".  "Pole Pattin'" is very old sounding, somewhat akin to a piece like Henry Thomas's "Old Country Stomp".  My favorite of Scott's numbers is "Long Wavy Hair".
   * Jimmy Lee Harris's two numbers are tricky to identify with regard to tuning/position.  "I Wanna Ramble" has a vaguely Latin feel, kind of mamboish, with the "Spanish tinge" Jelly Roll Morton mentioned.  Jimmy Lee apparently mastered a technique while in prison, of doing a vocal impression of a blues harp, thus inspiring his fellow inmates to dub him "Harp Boy".  When he comes in doing the impression, you really do a double take.  Jimmy Lee's second number, "Sitting Here Looking, 1000 Miles Away" brings to mind Ornette Coleman's observation that he realized at a certain point that it was possible to play "sharp in tune and flat in tune".  In Jimmy Lee's case, it is "sharp in tune", for every time he comes to the normally flatted seven note in the blues scale, he splits the difference between it and the major seventh note, and since he is singing right on top of his playing and does the very same pitch inflection on the guitar that he does with his voice, there can be no question as to his intent, especially since to get the pitch where he wants it requires a bend (his guitar is in tune).
   * The R.L. Burnside recordings included here are Burnside's debut recordings and they are spectacular.  "Just Like a Bird Without a Feather", tuned quite low, opens with extreme bends and absolute authority, both instrumentally and vocally; it ends with a fade, and it makes you wonder how long Burnside actually played the song.  On "Skinny Woman", Burnside indulges in some guitar top rhythm-keeping, a la Bukka White on "Aberdeen Mississippi", and I have never heard the technique used to better effect.  "Goin' Down South" is very trancey, and once again, tuned quite low.  "Poor Black Mattie" employs a great time lick and is taken at a much quicker tempo than is Robert Belfour's version.  Burnside's singing and playing throughout these four tunes could not be improved upon.  Whew, George Mitchell must have been so excited when he first heard him and realized what he could do.
   * The four Robert Johnson numbers, for which he is joined by three of his daughters on vocals, are spectacular.  Johnson was a very strong player in Vestapol, with great time, and a strong singer, with a serious-sounding deep voice.  When his daughters first come in singing back-up on "Hold My Body Down", the effect is hair-raising.  It is yet another reminder of the power that religious music can have.
   * Robert Longstreet was a strong solo harmonica player with a hyper-dramatic vocal delivery, somewhat along the lines of Junior Wells, but with a deeper voice.  He sounds like he should be fronting a Chicago blues band.
   * The Fred McDowell/Johnny Woods duo has been discussed previously in this thread.  Their two tunes on this disc are among their most exciting.
All best,
« Last Edit: October 27, 2008, 05:47:04 PM by Johnm »


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Re: The George Mitchell Collection--Tunings/Positions
« Reply #5 on: October 30, 2008, 12:38:41 PM »
Thanks for taking the time to put all of this together.  It's very helpful :)

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Re: The George Mitchell Collection--Tunings/Positions
« Reply #6 on: October 30, 2008, 08:14:23 PM »
Hi all,
Welcome to Weenie Campbell, joew, and I'm glad you're finding this thread helpful.  Here are the tunings/positions and keys for the various performances on disc five of the George Mitchell Collection:

Performer(s), Songs                     Tuning/Position                  Key
John Henry Barbee
That Ain't It                                 E, standard tuning               E-
Gonna Lose Your Mind                   E, standard tuning               E-

Albert Macon & Robert Thomas
Flat Foot Boogie                           E, standard tuning              Eflat
Mama Can I Lay It Down               E, standard tuning               Eflat+
How Can You Do It                       A, standard tuning              Aflat+

Jessie Clarence Gorman
John Henry                                 Vestapol, slide                   D-
Goin' Up to the Country #1            Vestapol                           E
Goin' Up to the Country #2            Vestapol                           E

Will Shade
Dirty Dozens                               E, standard tuning              E-
Won't You Send Me John               C, standard tuning               B+
Wine Headed Man                        E, standard tuning              E-
K. C. Blues (w/Charlie Burse)         Harmonica, cross harp        G-
                                                and tenor guitar

Georgia Fife and Drum Band
Every Time I Come Around                                                   Aflat+
J. W.'s Special                                                                 Bflat/Dflat
Old Hen Cackle                                                                    A
Buck Dance

Como Fife and Drum Band
Hey Freddie                                                                         E
Late in the Evening                                                               E
Punky Tony                                                                          E
Shimmy She Wa                                                                   F#+

Maxwell Street Jimmy
You Got to Reap What You Sow      E, standard tuning                E-
Everything's Gonna Be Alright        E, standard tuning                Eflat+

Precious Bryant
That's the Way the Good Thing Go  E, standard tuning                F#
Georgia Buck                              C, standard tuning               Bflat
When the Saints Go Marching In     E, standard tuning               C#+

Rosa Lee Hill
Pork & Beans                              EAEGBE                        C#
Count the Days I'm Gone              Cross-note                         Bflat+
Roll & Tumble                             Cross-note                         C#+
Bullying Well                               Cross-note                        E

   * John Henry Barbee generates the kind of rhythmic momentum and big sound on his two numbers here that would normally require an entire band to achieve.  He was a strong singer who sounded mature.  "Gonna Lose Your Mind" especially has some terrific lyrics.
   * Albert Macon and Robert Thomas played pretty much right on top of each other, both working out of E position in standard tuning.  They create quite a din, and I can see them being in demand for dances or parties.
   * Jessie Clarence Gorman was a relatively younger man at the time he was recorded (born in 1928), and was kind of a shy singer.  His 16-bar blues, "Goin' Up to the Country, parts 1 and 2 is a really nice piece in Vestapol that would be worth figuring out.
   *  Will Shade sounds like a consummate pro, even after you find that he had fallen on hard times during the period in which these recordings were made.  His version of "Dirty Dozens" is indeed dirty, the dirtiest version I've heard on record, and he delivers it with great relish.  "Won't You Send Me John" bears a resemblance to "I Got Rhythm"--same bridge and similar A parts, in which it substitutes I-I7-IV-IVminor for I-VI-II-V.  The recording of "K. C. Blues" with Will Shade switching to harmonica and being joined by Charlie Burse showcases Shade's still-very-fine harmonica playing, and is the most clearly audible recording I've ever heard of Burse on tenor guitar.  He sounds really good, and it makes you realize how valuable he must have been as an ensemble rhythm player.
   * The Georgia Fife and Drum Band was the first such band, I believe, to be found outside of northern Mississippi.  Their "Every Time I Come Around" you might know as "You've Gotta Stop Kicking My Dog Around".  It was difficult for me to figure out what key "J.W.'s Special" and "Old Hen Cackle" were in, and I'm not at all sure I have it right.  The fife in the band is microtonally tuned (or played) and is not easily oriented as even being in a pentatonic scale, for instance.
   *  The Como Fife and Drum Band is much easier to hear for me.  Their song, "Punky Tony" is the song Little Walter recorded as "My Babe".
   * Maxwell Street Jimmy sang with a very smooth, rapid tremolo, and excelled at rapidly trilled hammers on the guitar.
   * Precious Bryant was the youngest musician to be included on the set.  She sounds very much as she does today, which is very fine, with a sassy sort of vocal delivery.  She is really a nice guitarist.
   * Rosa Lee Hill, Sid Hemphill's daughter, is one of the major finds of the entire set for me.  She was a sensational guitarist and very strong singer.  She normally (at least on these cuts) tuned significantly low and on "Count The Days I'm Gone", she's tuned almost a diminished fifth low, playing in cross-note at Bflat--that is LOW!  The slackness of the strings on the various low-tuned songs allowed for extravagant bends, which she delivers with beautiful consistency and sustain.  It is superb blue guitar-playing.  I'd rank her with any of the great playing woman blues singers of the past--Geeshie Wiley, Elvie Thomas, Memphis Minnie, you name it, as well as any of the men players from her part of the world.  She sounds as good as any of them to me.
All best,
« Last Edit: May 14, 2022, 06:42:13 PM by Johnm »

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Re: The George Mitchell Collection--Tunings/Positions
« Reply #7 on: November 01, 2008, 11:35:11 AM »
Hi all,
Here are the tunings/positions and keys for the performances on disc six of the George Mitchell Collection:

Performer/Songs                            Tuning/Position                          Key
Furry Lewis
Good Morning Judge                        Vestapol, slide                           C#+
Furry Lewis' Careless Love               Vestapol, slide                            C

Jimmy Lee Williams
What Make Grandpa Love Grandma So   Vestapol, slide                        Eflat-
Have You Ever Seen Peaches               Vestapol, slide                        C#

J. W. Warren
Hoboing Into Hollywood                     Dropped D tuning                      C#-
Sundown Blues                                A, standard tuning                     G#-
Rabbit On A Log                               Vestapol                                  B-
You're Gonna Miss Me                        Vestapol                                 F#-

Eddie Harris
House on the Hill                              E, standard tuning                     E
I Have to Love Somebody                  E, standard tuning                     E

James Davis
Old Country Rock #1                         E, standard tuning                     G
Instrumental #1                               E, standard tuning                     G
Who Stole the Lock off the Henhouse Door?  E, standard tuning              G
Instrumental #4                               E, standard tuning                      G

Robert Nighthawk
Canned Heat                                    G, standard tuning                     G
Nighthawk Boogie                             E, standard tuning                    Eflat+
Down by the Woodshed                      G, standard tuning                     G-

Jessie Mae Hemphill
Home Going                                      a capella                                  F#
I Want to be Ready                             a capella                                  B-

   * Furry Lewis is in fine form here, very expansive.  "Furry Lewis' Careless Love" is "See that My Grave Is Kept Clean"
   * Jimmy Lee Williams is terrific.  Like the Furry Lewis cuts and the J. W. Warren cuts that follow, the cuts of Jimmy Lee that are offered here are available on a Fat Possum commercially released disc that is devoted wholly to his music, called "Hoot Your Belly", that is reviewed in the Music Reviews section of the board.
   * J. W. Warren likewise sounds excellent.  "Sundown Blues" is a Blind Boy Fuller cover.  I like "Rabbit On A Log" the best of his tunes; on it, he pretty much plays banjo on the guitar.  "You're Gonna Miss Me" is a tough identification, and I don't recall it from J. W.'s CD.  I wonder if it is being released for the first time here?
   * Eddie Harris was the brother of Jimmy Lee Harris, who was featured earlier in the collection.
   * James Davis sounds wonderful, with a beautiful, screamy tone on his electric guitar, and an ensemble that consists, apart from him, of two rocking drummers.  They play great dance music, and their last number has a very funky Cajun/Zydeco feel and sound.
   * Robert Nighthawk--whew, what a player!  He was the most boppish of the blues players who ended up playing amplified in Chicago that I have heard, and "Down By The Woodshed", in particular, is hot, hot, hot.
   * Jessie Mae Hemphill is joined by an unnamed male singer on "Home Going" and they shadow each other's phrasing so well.  Both of her numbers are beautifully sung, but it would have been nice to include something that featured her playing.

All best,
« Last Edit: December 29, 2008, 04:55:48 PM by Johnm »

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Re: The George Mitchell Collection--Tunings/Positions
« Reply #8 on: November 03, 2008, 04:18:37 PM »
Hi all,
Here are the tunings/positions and keys for the performances on disc seven of the George Mitchell Collection.  There is something peculiar about the inclusion of this disc in the set.  Neither the performers nor the performances on this disc are acknowledged in any way in the booklet that accompanies the set or the program listing on the back of the box that encloses the discs.  It's almost as though this disc was added to the set as an afterthought after the notes and packaging had been typeset.  Whatever the case may have been, the lack of information makes it impossible to fill in any biographical information on the performers included on this disc.

Performers/Songs                Tunings/Positions                    Key

Jessie Lee Vortis                   
Miss Maybelle                         Spanish                               F#-
When My Baby Got On Board     Spanish                               F#

George Hollis
Them Greasy Greens #1           Fiddle(?) Guitar, F standard    Eflat
Rock and Roll to Milledgeville     Fiddle (?)                            Eflat

Willie Rockomo
Black Rat Swing                      A position, standard tuning      A
Tease Me Baby #2 (w/Bruce Upshaw) Harmonica            A, cross harp
Someday Baby #1 (Bruce Upshaw)  Harmonica               A, cross harp
Wonder Why My Baby              G position, standard tuning      G
Treat Me so Bad
Rosa Lee (Bruce Upshaw)           Harmonica                   A, cross harp

Buddy Hubbard
I Got A Woman                       Vestapol, slide                Eflat-
So Sweet                               Vestapol                        F#+

Ira "Tiny" Coney
You're Gonna Miss Me               A, standard tuning            F#+
Mamie                                   A, standard tuning            F#+
I'm So Lonesome                     A, standard tuning            F#+

Eddie Hodge
Blood Red River                       Cross-note                    Eflat-
Sitting on Top of the World        Vestapol, slide               D+
Glory Hallelujah                       Vestapol, slide               D+

Pettis Sisters
Jesus is Coming Back to Me       F, standard tuning           F
Bound for Zion                       Eflat, standard tuning        Eflat

Houston & Sara Mae Stovall
You Told Me Baby                   E, standard tuning             E
Sweet as an Apple on a Tree     Harmonica                  E, cross harp
Juke #2                                 Harmonica                  E, cross harp
Woke Up this Morning             E, standard tuning          E
Tell Me You Love Me               A, standard tuning          A

   * Jessie Lee Vortis' two numbers in Spanish are excellent, and are really tantalizing.  It would be interesting to know how many more titles by him were recorded by George Mitchell.  "Miss Maybelle", re-titled as "Hoppin' Frog", has been covered by the Otis Brothers, Pat Conte and Bob Guida.
   * George Hollis was a very rough fiddler.  On his version of "Greasy Greens #1", he is accompanied by a barely audible guitarist.  He sounds like he is cross-tuned for "Rock and Roll to Milledgeville", the title of which I suspect to be a misapprehension of "Rocky Road to Milledgeville".
   * The cuts by Willie Rockomo and Bruce Upshaw are mixed up with regards to the credits.  "Black Rat Swing" is shown as a solo number and it is clearly a guitar/harmonica duet.  I believe Upshaw was the harmonica player in the duo, and he was really superb.  His solo numbers are excellent.
   * Ira "Tiny" Coney was an earnest-sounding fellow who liked to phrase long.
   * Eddie Hodge's "Glory Hallelujah" is more commonly know as "When I Lay My Burden Down"
   * The Pettis Sisters do some very exciting up-tempo Gospel.  Their accompanists sound a bit more uptown than is the norm for this set.
   * I believe that in the Houston & Sara Mae Stovall duo, Sara Mae played the guitar and Houston played the harmonica and sang.  He was a very expert harmonica player and really exciting, especially on "Juke #2".  "You Told Me Baby" is more commonly known as "But That's All Right", I think.  "Tell Me You Love Me" is the Jimmy Reed song, "Honest I Do", and it is sort of a shambles, due to the guitarist accompanying it as though it were a 12-bar blues, which it certainly is not.  It's an odd choice to conclude such a glorious collection of music.
All best,

« Last Edit: November 03, 2008, 07:15:56 PM by Johnm »

Offline CF

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Re: The George Mitchell Collection--Tunings/Positions
« Reply #9 on: November 03, 2008, 05:15:55 PM »
Wow thanks for this John . . . I'm excited to hear this collection. There seems to be more post war country blues than pre war that is unissued or has not made it onto CD. It's good to see something like this available.
Stand By If You Wanna Hear It Again . . .

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Re: The George Mitchell Collection--Tunings/Positions
« Reply #10 on: November 03, 2008, 07:26:31 PM »
Thanks for the good word, Mike.  Really, I can not praise this set highly enough.  It is such strong music from beginning to end.  There is tremendous variety in the set, raggy stuff, hill country material, delta blues, hymns and gospel material, Piedmont blues.  And who knows, if enough of these sets sell, Fat Possum may be encouraged enough to release more of the material on discs like its earlier releases of Furry Lewis, Joe Callicott, R. L. Burnside, Jimmy Lee Williams, J. W. Warren and Fred McDowell with Johnny Woods. 

It's apparent that the blues made the transition from its Pop Music status of the '30s and returned to (or never departed from) its folk roots for the country folk (including city residents) who make the music on this set.  We owe a real debt of gratitude to George Mitchell for the combination of musical taste, energy, and the human qualities that enabled him to connect with the musicians here and capture such powerful performances on his recordings.  Thanks, George!
All best,

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Re: The George Mitchell Collection--Tunings/Positions
« Reply #11 on: November 12, 2008, 03:20:47 PM »
Hi all,
I realized soon after I started posting the Tunings/Positions/Keys for the George Mitchell Collection that it would be helpful to have the date and location for the various recordings on the set included as well.  Because I would have a hard time editing that information into the tables that are already posted, I will offer that information separately, here.  I should note, too, that all recordings listed as having been done in Chicago were recorded in performance at a club there called the Fickle Pickle.
   Disc 1:
Musician                                       Date/Location of Recording

Cecil Barfield                                 Albany, Georgia, 1976

Buddy Moss                                   Atlanta, Georgia, 1963

Leon Pinson                                   Cleveland, Mississippi, 9/18/67

Houston Stackhouse                        Dundee, Mississippi, 8/28/67

Big Joe Williams                             Chicago, Illinois, 1963

John Lee Ziegler                             Kathleen, Georgia, late 1978

Othar Turner                                  Como, Mississippi, 8/24/67

Disc 2:

Lonzie Thomas                                Lee County, Alabama, early '80s

Sleepy John Estes                            Brownsville, Tennessee, 1962

Teddy Williams                               Canton, Mississippi, 9/16/67

Green Paschal                                 Talbotton, Georgia, 1969

William "Do-Boy" Diamond                Canton, Mississippi, 9/15/67

Dewey Corley & Walter Miller             Memphis, Tennessee, Summer, 1967

Bud Grant                                       Thomaston, Georgia, Spring, 1969

Disc 3:

Bud White                                       Richland, Georgia, 2/2/69

George Henry Bussey                        Waverly Hall, Georgia, 1969

Jim Bunkley                                     Geneva, Georgia, 1969

Tom Turner                                      Columbus, Mississippi, 9/6/67

James Shorter                                  Senatobia, Mississippi, 8/2/67

Abe McNeil                                       Memphis, Tennessee, 1962,
                                               Friar's Point, Mississippi, Summer 1967

Joe Callicott                                      Nesbit, Mississippi, 9/1/67

Johnny Woods                                   Senatobia, Mississippi, 8/26/67

Disc 4:

Robert Diggs                             Friar's Point, Mississippi, Summer 1967

Cliff Scott                                         Draneville, Georgia, 3/24/69

Jimmy Lee Harris                              Phenix City, Alabama, early '80s

R. L. Burnside                                   Coldwater, Mississippi, 8/24/67

Robert Johnson                                  Skene, Mississippi, 7/2/69

Robert Longstreet                         Starkville, Mississippi, Summer 1967

Fred McDowell                                    Senatobia, Mississippi, 8/26/67

Discs five and six to follow.

All best,

« Last Edit: November 12, 2008, 05:38:01 PM by Johnm »

Offline Janmarie

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Re: The George Mitchell Collection--Tunings/Positions
« Reply #12 on: November 12, 2008, 03:58:49 PM »
John, thanks for doing this.  I just received my George Mitchell collection, and what I've listened to is fabulous.  I never would have ordered this if not for this post.

Thank you, thank you .... Jan

Online Johnm

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Re: The George Mitchell Collection--Tunings/Positions
« Reply #13 on: November 12, 2008, 05:18:38 PM »
Well, you're welcome, Jan, and I'm really glad to hear that you picked up the set.  It is terrific, isn't it, and the price is certainly right!  Happy listening, and I hope all is going well back your way.
All best,

Online Johnm

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Re: The George Mitchell Collection--Tunings/Positions
« Reply #14 on: November 12, 2008, 05:31:24 PM »
Hi all,
Here are the dates/locations for the performances on discs five and six of the George Mitchell Collection (no information on the performances on disc seven is included in the set).

Disc five:

Musician                                    Date/Location of Recording

John Henry Barbee                      Chicago, Illinois, 1963

Albert Macon & Robert Thomas      Society Hill, Alabama, early '80s

Jessie Clarence Gorman               Thomaston, Georgia, Spring, 1969

Will Shade                                 Memphis, Tennessee, 1962

Georgia Fife and Drum Band         Waverly Hall, Georgia, 1969

Como Fife and Drum                    Como, Mississippi, Summer 1967

Maxwell Street Jimmy                  Chicago, Illinois, 1963

Precious Bryant                           Waverly Hall, Georgia, 1969

Rosa Lee Hill                               Como, Mississippi, 8/23/67

Disc six:

Furry Lewis                                 Memphis, Tennessee, 1962

Jimmy Lee Williams                      Porlan, Georgia, 1977

J. W. Warren                               Ariton, Alabama, 1981 & 1982

Eddie Harris                                Phenix City, Alabama, early '80s

James Davis                                Henderson, Georgia, late '70s

Robert Nighthawk                         Dundee, Mississippi, 8/28/67

Jessie Mae Hemphill                      Dundee, Mississippi, August, 1967

All best,


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