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Contrary to what a lot of people think, the blues is not depressing music - Paul Geremia, Frets interview

Author Topic: Adventures in DGDGBE tuning  (Read 5492 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Adventures in DGDGBE tuning
« on: November 05, 2013, 04:52:12 PM »
Hi all,
We have previous threads devoted to Spanish tuning, Vestapol tuning, Cross-note tuning, Dropped-D tuning and EAEGBE tuning, as well as F position in standard tuning, but we've never had a thread devoted to DGDGBE tuning, sometimes referred to as G6 tuning, or in Sam Chatmon's usage, "G tuning".  It seems appropriate to have a thread devoted to the tuning when you consider that it was mined so heavily by Lonnie Johnson and Bo Carter in their recordings, and also received notable use and different approaches from a couple of other players.

One of the unusual things about DGDGBE tuning is that the two players who probably used it the most, Lonnie Johnson and Bo Carter, used it to play in different keys.  Lonnie used it to play in D, and it worked splendidly for him there, with the most notable advantage of the tuning for playing in D being the fact that it gives a player open string low roots for both the I and IV chord.  Bo Carter, on the other hand, used it to play in the key of G, for which it makes available open string low roots for the I and V chords.  Note:  As per Professor Scratchy's following post, Lonnie Johnson sometimes used the tuning to play in G, too.

Whether using DGDGBE tuning to play in G or E, the most significant advantage it gives a player in the left hand is the fact that the first four strings are all at the same pitch as they are in standard tuning, so that any chord shapes that you use in standard tuning on the first four strings transfer over intact to DGDGBE tuning.  Bo Carter probably took more advantage of this facet of the tuning than did Lonnie Johnson; Lonnie's playing seemed more linear, and modern in that sense, and focused to an unusual degree on tone, getting a singing voice out of the guitar, whereas, Bo's approach was much more chord-driven and innovative in that area.  Bo's approach in the tuning, at least in the left hand, was somewhat akin to Rev. Davis's left hand approach--figuring out and utilizing the various inversions of chords up and down the neck.

Another player who worked a lot in DGDGBE tuning, especially in his early years of recording, was Lil' Son Jackson, and his approach was quite different from either Lonnie Johnson's or Bo Carter's.  Lil' Son's way of playing in the tuning was very pared back harmonically, hardly chordal at all, linear in the treble and droning in the bass.  His playing in the tuning had a smeary quality in the treble and a powerful, propulsive bass that complemented and supported his whiny singing beautifully.

Another player in DGDGBE who deserves special mention pretty much on the basis of one performance is Jesse Thomas, whose "My Heart's A Rolling Stone", adopts yet another different approach to the tuning, going for an almost pianistic sound through the use of clever chord voicings that are not at all obvious; many of them were never used by players other than Jesse Thomas (at least on recordings).  Jesse Thomas has the distinction of recording very few tunes in either DGDGBE tuning or Vestapol tuning, but nonetheless having recorded two of the most striking performances in those tunings, "My Heart's A Rolling Stone" in DGDGBE tuning and "Another Friend Like Me" in Vestapol.

Here is a very brief beginning of a list of tunes played out of DGDGBE tuning.  I hope you'll add other tunes to the list.

Bo Carter:  The Law's Gonna Step On You, Who's Been Here, Pretty Baby, Shake 'em On Down, Arrangement for Me Blues;

Jesse Thomas:  My Heart's A Rolling Stone;

Jim Jackson:  Old Dog Blue;

Lil' Son Jackson:  Gambler's Blues, Roberta;

Lonnie Johnson:  To Do This You Gotta Know How, Blues For Murder Only, Blues in G


All best,
Johnm

   
 
« Last Edit: November 06, 2013, 09:13:24 AM by Johnm »

Offline Prof Scratchy

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Re: Adventures in DGDGBE tuning
« Reply #1 on: November 06, 2013, 02:31:46 AM »
Lonnie Johnson did have one stab at playing in G I think, with the eponymous Blues in G?

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Offline Parlor Picker

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Re: Adventures in DGDGBE tuning
« Reply #2 on: November 06, 2013, 03:15:40 AM »
And the very clever Prof. Scratchy gave us a workshop on this tuning at a Euroweenie meeting a few years ago.
"I ain't good looking, teeth don't shine like pearls,
So glad good looks don't take you through this world."
Barbecue Bob

Offline Johnm

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Re: Adventures in DGDGBE tuning
« Reply #3 on: November 06, 2013, 06:15:27 AM »
Good catch, Prof. Scratchy!  I'll add "Blues In G" to the list for Lonnie and emend the text to note that he most often used the tuning to play in D, but on occasion used it to play in G as well.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Johnm

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Re: Adventures in DGDGBE tuning
« Reply #4 on: November 06, 2013, 09:11:50 AM »
Hi all,
I think Jim Jackson's "Old Dog Blue" was probably played out of DGDGBE tuning, though it is difficult to say with certainty.  During the course of the rendition, Jim Jackson never hits anything lower in pitch than the open fourth string.  He is certainly playing out of G, and the thumb lead technique he employs, which sounds to be derived from banjo playing, would suggest an open tuning of some sort.  At the very end of the song, I can hear the low I note pitch of the open fifth string ringing sympathetically, but nothing lower in pitch than that.  So he was not playing out of G position in standard tuning at least.  And the fact that he holds down the high G note on the first string through-out, while fretting the second fret of the fourth and third strings makes Spanish tuning implausible, because it would put that high G note at the fifth fret of the first string; in DGDGBE tuning, the same pitch would live at the third fret.  I will add "Old Dog Blue" to the DGDGBE list.
All best,
Johnm 

Offline Johnm

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Re: Adventures in DGDGBE tuning
« Reply #5 on: November 16, 2014, 03:25:21 PM »
Hi all,
Having been working with Lil' Son Jackson's music a lot of late, I thought I'd list all of his solo recordings in which he played out of DGDGBE tuning.  These include his Gold Star recordings, his solo titles for Imperial and his recordings for Arhoolie.  Here are the titles for which he worked out of DGDGBE:
   * Gambler's Blues
   * Roberta Blues
   * Cairo Blues
   * Bad Whiskey, Bad Women
   * Travelin' Alone
   * Movin' to the Country
   * Confession
   * Santa Fe Blues
   * Johnnie Mae
   * Ticket Agent
   * Turn Your Lamp Down Low

I would have guessed he had many more titles than this in DGDGBE, but perhaps that is a tribute to how strong his sound was in that tuning and how indelibly it has printed itself on the hearing of most of the people who have listened to any of these songs.
All best,
Johnm

« Last Edit: November 16, 2014, 10:20:33 PM by Johnm »

Offline ScottN

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Re: Adventures in DGDGBE tuning
« Reply #6 on: November 16, 2014, 09:28:52 PM »
Hi John - I think Roberta got left off the list of Lil' Son in DGDGBE.
Thanks - Scott

Offline Johnm

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Re: Adventures in DGDGBE tuning
« Reply #7 on: November 16, 2014, 10:19:44 PM »
Good catch, Scott, you're absolutely right.  I had it written down and then didn't enter it.  I'll add it to the list.  Thanks!
All best,
Johnm

Offline Johnm

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Re: Adventures in DGDGBE tuning
« Reply #8 on: July 28, 2016, 10:29:42 PM »
Hi all,
I have a new artist to add to the list of those who recorded in DGDGBE tuning:  Robert Pete Williams.  The two songs he recorded in that tuning, "Church On Fire With The Word of God" and "Two Wings", are religious numbers, and not surprisingly, he sounded nothing like the other players who recorded in that tuning.  He tuned low for the songs (quite low for "Two Wings"), and like Lonnie Johnson (except for Lonnie's "G Blues") he chose to use the tuning to play in the key of the open sixth string, rather than in the key of the open fifth string, as did Bo Carter, Jesse Thomas and Lil' Son Jackson.  If you haven't heard the Robert Pete Williams songs you might wish to seek them out; they really have an eerie sound.
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: July 29, 2016, 05:22:39 AM by Johnm »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Adventures in DGDGBE tuning
« Reply #9 on: August 06, 2017, 09:09:43 AM »
Hi all,
Here is another "Adventures in . . ." thread moved to Licks and Lessons.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Paulandannie

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Re: Adventures in DGDGBE tuning
« Reply #10 on: March 04, 2023, 10:50:18 AM »
I just stumbled on this tuning trying to pick out Memphis Minnie’s parts on You Stole My Cake. Paul Rishell and I have always played this in open G, but listening more carefully to Joe McCoy’s parts it seems he’s in G6 tuning based on the V chord voicing. Now it occurs to me that Minnie could be in this tuning as well. Any thoughts? P. and are big fans of this site! -Annie

Offline Blues Vintage

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Re: Adventures in DGDGBE tuning
« Reply #11 on: March 04, 2023, 03:36:36 PM »
Can't help you with this but I'm sure someone at this site can.
I just wanted to say I love the records you put out and it's great to have more blues celebrities at the forum. Welcome!

Offline Johnm

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Re: Adventures in DGDGBE tuning
« Reply #12 on: March 05, 2023, 06:52:09 AM »
Hi Annie,
I hope you and Paul are doing fine. It sounds like Memphis Minnie is playing in Spanish, as you had it, and Joe is playing out of A position in standard tuning, but tuned a whole step low.
All best,
Johnm

 


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