Country Blues => Weenie Campbell Main Forum => Topic started by: blueshome on April 21, 2004, 02:02:02 PM

Title: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: blueshome on April 21, 2004, 02:02:02 PM
I,ve got It Won't be Long on the old OJL LP. If noone has a cd I'll try a transfer and post an mp3. I think a lot of his stuff is quite unusual in the way he uses(?) harmony. In his regular arrangements of songs like Slow Mama Slow he doesn't seem to use a V chord at all and uses a trademark hammer/pull to imply the IV on many occassions.
Title: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: Johnm on April 21, 2004, 07:03:00 PM
Hi Phil,
I agree with you--Sam Collins' sense of harmony was definitely unusual, and it shows up even more on his non-slide numbers, like "My Road Is Rough And Rocky" or "Midnight Special".? We talked about this at the old Weenie site, but it appears that what he did sometimes was assume that whatever note he was singing in the melody was the root of the chord in the accompaniment, so that if he's singing "Midnight Special" in C, and he's singing an E note, he backs it with an E chord.? It can result in some weird effects.? Leadbelly and other players did it too, and a recent example is Alvin Hart's version of "Dancing With Tears In My Eyes", which I guess he got from Leadbelly.
All best,
Title: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: frankie on June 02, 2004, 09:09:09 AM
it appears that what he did sometimes was assume that whatever note he was singing in the melody was the root of the chord in the accompaniment, so that if he's singing "Midnight Special" in C, and he's singing an E note, he backs it with an E chord.? It can result in some weird effects.

Slightly off-topic for this thread, but I just noticed this same harmonization in two different tunes by Andrew & Jim Baxter.  The first, K.C. Railroad Blues is in C - at the top of the instrumental verse, the fiddle really leans into an E note and the guitar simultaneously plays an E chord.  In Bamalong Blues (key of G) the same thing happens - the fiddle leans on an E note that the guitar backs with an E chord.

In both cases, it's only over the space of half a measure or so, but man - makes you feel like you're walking on the floor of the Joker's hideout in one of the old Batman serials!
Title: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: Johnm on September 10, 2004, 09:28:48 PM
Hi all,
This post relates only peripherally to Sam Collins--it really has more to do with Andrew and Jim Baxter, whom Frank cites a couple of posts back pertaining to the weird harmonization on "KC Railroad Blues" and "Bamalong Blues".? I was reminded of this by Mot Mot's description of Riley Puckett's playing as "distinctive".? A good friend of mine here in Seattle, Stu Herrick, who operates the Folkstore, commented on Jim Baxter's guitar back-up that he sounded like "Riley Puckett on Ecstasy".? Thinking about it, I realized that both Riley and Jim Baxter were Georgia guys, and they really do sound like they heard each other--maybe knew each other.? Interesting!
All best,
Title: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: MotMot on September 11, 2004, 07:17:44 AM
Stu Herrick, who operates the Folkstore, commented on Jim Baxter's guitar back-up that he sounded like "Riley Puckett on Ecstasy". Thinking about it, I realized that both Riley and Jim Baxter were Georgia guys, and they really do sound like they heard each other--maybe knew each other.

That's a great line, and a great insight!  It'll sure inform my listening and thinking (and, with luck, maybe my playing).  Thanks for passing it along.

We know that Andrew Baxter played with the Georgia Yellowhammers (on "G Rag").  I wonder if there are any specific or known links between the Yellowhammers and Riley and Gid Tanner and the Skilletlicker gang . . .

That's the kind of possible connection -- like John Hurt and the Miss. Possum Hunters both doing "First Shot Missed Him/Last Shot Got Him" -- that just tantalizes my musical imagination.

Title: Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: Johnm on February 21, 2005, 12:03:26 PM
Hi all,
I've been thinking a lot about this topic, and in particular Sam Collins's version of "Midnight Special Blues".? It has been alluded to a couple of times without any real sort of analysis of what Sam was doing in his harmonization of the song, so I thought I would give it a shot, since it is such a strong example of hearing chord changes differently.
If you think of how "Midnight Special" is normally done, it would go something like this, with lyrics, melody notes and bar structure/chord progression listed in descending order.? Eighth notes are joined by dashes and the feel is a boom-chang, cut-time two beats per measure.? The down-beat of the form is on the first syllable of "Special".

Let the Mid-night? Spe-cial,? shine her light on? me,?? ? let the Midnight
? E--E?? ?E?? ? ?D?? ? ? C? ?A? ? ? ??C----D?? C ?? A? ?G? ? ?? G--A? ?C? ? C
|?? ? ?C?? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?|? F? ? ? ? ?|? F ?? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? |? C?? |? ? ? C? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?|

Spe-cial? shine her? everloving? light on me
 E? ? ??D? ? ?C---D?? ?E-D-C-A? ? ? C---D ?C
| G-three beats? ? ? ? |? ? ? ? ? ?G? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?? |C

Sam Collins's version is played out of C position, standard tuning, at very close to concert pitch.? If you compare what he sang and played, you wind up with the following harmony and phrasing:

Let the?Midnight Spe--cial?? Shine?her light?on me?? ? ? ?Let the Midnight
? E--E?? ? E? ? D? ? ?C? ? ??F? ? ?E----C? ?? E?? ? C?? A-G? ? ? ?G--A? ??C? ? C?
| C-2 and1/2 beats? ? ? ?|?F?? ?|? ? ? ?? F? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?? |? ?G? ?? | G? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? |

Spe-cial?shine her?everlovin'?light on me
? E? ? D? ?? C----D? E-E-E-E? ??D?? ?D? C
| G-three beats? ? ??|? ? ??G? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? |? C

On one verse and one chorus, Sam sing and harmonizes the first vocal phrase as:

 E-E? E?? ? D?? ? ?C? ? ? A
| C-2 and 1/2 beats? |? A

At first glance, the Sam Collins version may not apppear all that different from the song as it is usually done.? Sam does have interesting changes, though.
?*? Rather than harmonizing the first singing of the word "Special" with one chord, He harmonizes the C melody note under the syllable "Spe" with a C chord, and harmonizes the F or A melody note under "cial" with whatever chord shares the same root as the melody note that is being sung.? This does an odd thing to the harmony, especially when he plays an A chord, but it does an even odder thing to the time and flow of the phrase.
?* The next phrase, "shine her light on me" ends on a G note. In different verses and choruses Sam harmonizes it with a G or C chord.? In the two instances where the previous phrase was harmonized with an A chord, he ends this phrase with a G chord.? The effect of the A chord resolving to the G chord in this context is kind of a shocker.
?* Sam generally plays the melody of the concluding phrase, "Special, shine her everlovin' light on me, in the bass, on the fourth string right under his singing.
?* What Sam does on his solos is even wilder, and tougher to follow, especially rhythmically.

I suppose you could listen to this and respond that Sam Collins simply didn't understand harmony--I have seen record notes where such suggestions have been made.? I think the truth is a bit more complex, that harmony can be as much a function of how a player hears as it is a matter of compositional intent, or the "one right way" to play a song.? If you understand and learn to hear these more individualized approaches to harmonization, you can insert them in contexts where you think they fit or come up with your own approaches to selecting chord changes.
All best,
Title: Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: Johnm on February 26, 2006, 02:07:04 PM
Hi all,
I've been listening to Scott Dunbar a lot since picking up the "From Lake Mary" CD, and included on that recording is his unusual take on "Easy Rider".  Melodically, Scott Dunbar's version is pretty close to Sam McGee's, but Dunbar takes it in a different direction harmonically, and also in terms of phrasing.
Sam McGee did "Easy Rider" as an 8-bar chorus blues, with the following progression:

   |    A    |    A    |    D    |    D    |
   |    G    |    G    |    C    |    C    |

The progression works out as a ragtimey VI-II-V-I one, and Sam uses the last bar of the form to walk down from his I chord, C, so that he lands an the VI chord, A, for the downbeat of the next pass through the form.  The verses change over the first four bars of the form, and the refrain, "I'm an easy rider, don't deny my name", is sung over the fifth and sixth bars, landing in the seventh.
Scott Dunbar sings the melody pretty much the same as Sam did, and uses some of the same verses, but harmonizes and phrases it so:

   |    D    |    D    |    D    |    D    |

   |    G    |    G    |    C+2 beats |    D/A+2 beats|
Scott Dunbar uses the two added-on beats in the seventh measure to walk down from his C note in the bass, C-B, to the A note that begins the final measure of the form.  He sings with the descending bassline, too, going "dee-dee-dee" right along with it.  He uses the final bar to groove and sort of catch his breath before the next verse.
The way the melody coincides with Dunbar's harmonization is interesting, for it differs from the way Sam Collins and other musicians we have looked at chose chords to accompany their melodies.  It works like so:
   A---------------------------------------------   F#--------------------------------D--------- 
   Goin' uptown, want me to bring you back?  Just anything you think your baby like, an
   |           D                     |        D            |            D                        |     D         |

   G-----------A-------G   E    C                C    B     A
   Easy rider, don't deny my name         dee-dee--dee
   |     G       |         G        |           C+two beats|           D/A+two beats|

In Sam Collins' non-slide tunes, he would often harmonize a melody choosing a chord with whatever note was in the melody as it's root.  This could yield some odd results, like harmonizing an E note in the melody of "Midnight Special", played in C, with an E chord.  In Scott Dunbar's case, though, at the beginning of the form he has an A note in the melody that most players of the song would harmonize with an A chord, but chooses instead to harmonize it with the chord for which A is the fifth rather than the root, D.  It's not exactly a jarring change, but hearing it makes me feel that in ragtimey progressions in particular, a harmonization that diverges from the standard circle-of-fifths progression has a good chance of being more memorable and distinctive than the expected solution.  Scott Dunbar played something the way he heard it and wound up with his own personal take on a well-known song and progression.  Hear it and you won't forget it!
All best,
Title: Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: Johnm on June 23, 2006, 11:21:43 PM
Hi all,
It often seems like the really interesting and unusual harmonic treatments come from the rougher, more "country" of the Country Blues players, but I heard one recently from one of the real sophisticates of the Blues, Papa Charlie Jackson.  It occurs in his song, "Gay Cattin'", which can be found on "Papa Charlie Jackson, vol. 2", Document DOCD-5088.  The plot of the song deals with Papa Charlie going on a spending spree and winding up flat broke, at which point he decides to go home, since he has no money with which to shoot craps.  In any event, the song is an 8-bar blues played in D, standard tuning, a little low, with the following progression played behind the verses:

   |    D    |    C    |    E7/B    |    Gm/Bflat    |

   | D/A    | E7/A7 |      D      |        D          |

When Papa Charlie solos, after playing the verse progression, he follows it with a variant, altering the first four bars:

   |    D    |    F#   |    G       |       Bflat/F     |

   |    D    | E7/A7  |     D      |          D         |

The first four bars of the verse accompaniment is a commonplace bass line in the Blues.  If you describe the line's movement in terms of the scale degrees it lands on, you would do it so:


Josh White was particularly fond of this bass line, and used it quite often in his religious numbers in Vastapol, as well as "Good Gal".  Josh's harmonization of the line, though, was always:


If you express the chords Josh played without taking the bass line into consideration, you would say he just played:


This progression is commonly found not only in Blues but throughout Pop music of the past 150 years.

Papa Charlie preserves the bass line in "Gay Cattin'", but gives it a much more quirky set of chord changes.  As soon he moves from the D chord to the C chord, he is entering modal territory, the mixolydian mode in particular.  The E7 chord with the B in the bass really comes out of left field, though, and departs abruptly from the modal context Papa Charlie set up with the first two chords.  Only with the G minor with Bflat in the bass does Papa Charlie return to the progression as it is most often played.  Papa Charlie's chord choices are not driven or suggested by the melody.  It is impossible to say now whether Papa Charlie was aiming for Josh White's harmonization and missed it, or whether he was using a commonly-encountered bass line and purposefully putting his own spin on it.  Whatever the case, the combination of the harmonization Papa Charlie used and the well-known bassline has the effect of being simultaneously alien-sounding and oddly familiar.  It's like the bass line is wearing a disguise.  Weird.

All best,
Title: Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: Johnm on July 26, 2006, 06:13:57 PM
Hi all,
I've been listening recently to Leadbelly's Library of Congress recording of "C.C.Rider", and it is a stellar example of a slide player taking the harmony along for the ride with the melody.  Leadbelly plays the song in Spanish tuning, and from the sound of it, may be playing slide in the lap position.  Has anyone seen film footage of him playing slide?  The pitch of the key that he plays it in is, surprisingly, Aflat.  I would have figured it to be much lower than that.

In any event, the melody is so, relative to the lyrics (transposed to the key of G for more familiarity):

   B  A  G   D     B    A     G     D      F     E  D C    G    E     D     C    G      D
   C. C. Ri-der, See what you done done, C. C. Ri-der, See what you done done,
   E   A G   C     E     A      G   E      D      B     G     A     G
   C. C. Ri-der, See what you done done, Hey, hey, hey, hey

Leadbelly gets all the melody notes for the first statement of the title line on his first string.  Spanish tuning voices the fifth of the chord on the first string, so against the B note he is playing an E chord at the ninth fret, against the A melody note, a D chord at the seventh fret, against the tonic G note, a C chord at the fifth fret, and against the F note that concludes the first phrase, a Bflat chord at the third fret.  The very active harmony that the slide brings to this phrase is in stark contrast to the G chord resolving to a G7 that most non-slide players would choose to accompany it. 
Leadbelly finds most of the melody notes for the second title phrase at the fifth fret, effectively harmonizing the phrase with a IV chord resolving back to I, as would non-slide players.  At the conclusion of the vocal phrase, though, he does play a little chromatic descending line, G-F#-F natural, effectively moving the I chord to a I7, G7.  The third title phrase pretty much reiterates the instrumental accompaniment of the second title phrase, though the sung melody is different.  For the "Hey, hey, hey, hey", though, Leadbelly goes back to giving the harmony a ride, with the melody notes B, G, A, and G being accompanied, respectively, by the chords, E, C, D, and C.  Leadbelly must have had a sense of how peculiar it sounded to end the melody on a tonic note, G, harmonized with a IV chord, C, because rather than lingering on the barred C chord to conclude the form, he gives it up almost instantly and returns to an open G chord where he vamps until it is time for the next verse.

This is an exceptionally beautiful version of this song, and Leadbelly's time is so powerful.  He accelerates steadily throughout, not in fits and starts, but in a linear fashion.  His treatment of the song really makes it sound special.  It can be found on "Leadbelly--Gwine Dig A Hole To Put The Devil In", Rounder CD 1045.

All best,
Title: Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: Johnm on February 23, 2008, 05:46:45 PM
Hi all,
I was listening yesterday to the new Document CD, "Reverend Gary Davis-Manchester Free Trade Hall, 1964", DOCD-32-20-14, a really sensational inc-concert performance, and near the end of the program the Rev. plays his hymn, "Children of Zion", which he says was the first tune he learned from his grandmother. 
"Children of Zion" is a spooky, moody sort of song, with a chord change near the end that is really odd.  The song is played in A minor, in standard tuning, which is the relative minor of C major and shares the same key signature, with no sharps or flats in its scale.  At the conclusion of each verse, Rev. Davis sings a final "A-men", with the melody going from C down to A on those two syllables.  Rev. Davis backs the syllable "A", under the C melody note, with an A flat major chord, voiced with its third, C, in the bass doubling the melody note, a la:  X-3-1-1-1-X, then resolving to a conventional A minor chord to back the A melody note on the syllable, "men". 
The sound of that A flat chord in that phrase ending is profoundly unsettling, almost medieval sounding.  Why does it sound so odd?  Part of the reason is that an A flat major chord is not diatonic in the key of A minor, i.e., it employs notes not in the A minor scale, specifically A flat and E flat.  In a harmonic sense, you could almost express the relationship of an A flat major chord to the key of A minor as "You can't get there from here."
A far more commonplace choice for the syllable "A" in "Amen" would have been E7#5, which would have gotten the C melody note there while employing a by-the-book V-I resolution in the A harmonic minor scale:  A-B-C-D-E-F-G#-A.  An E7#5 could be fingered so, easily enough:  0-X-0-1-1-X, or even 0-3-0-1-1-X.  If you compare the second voicing of the E7#5 with Rev. Davis's voicing of the A flat/C on the interior four strings, you can see it differs by one half-step on one string:  In E7#5, the fourth string is an open D note, in A flat/C, the fourth string is a first fret E flat note.  One note changed one half-step, but what a difference in sound!
A little skullwork showed that it is not as far from A minor to an A flat major chord as I had thought.  A minor shares its key signature with C major, and neither scale has an A flat major chord.  If we change C major to C minor, though, it shares its scale with its (C's) relative major, E flat major, and all of a sudden, you do have a diatonic A flat major chord (the IV chord in E flat major, or the flat VI chord in C minor).  This switching of the parent major scale of A minor, C major, to C minor, I think partially accounts for the odd sort of inside out quality of that A flat major chord in "Children of Zion".  I don't know that I have every heard this particular change anywhere else in the genre, but if I had to guess where to look elsewhere for it, I would think Walter Davis or Robert Pete Williams.  It is an eerie sound.
All best,
Title: Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: Johnm on May 21, 2008, 11:17:58 PM
Hi all,
In listening to the recently released JSP set, "Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell, Vol. 1", I was struck by the song, "There Ain't Nobody Got It like She Got It", for there seemed to be simultaneously something familiar and something alien about the song.  The song is played in D flat, evidently a favorite singing key for Leroy, and the form works so:  each pass through the form begins with an 8-bar break that is followed by a 16-bar chorus, the third four-bar phrase of which has different lyrics with each pass through the form.  The first time through the form works like so, with lyrics indicating the phrasing

   8-bar break:
     I got a baby,     she's some gal.    She's my sweet mama and     she's some pal.
   |     D flat 7    |      D flat m6     |             D flat 7                 |    D flat m6        |
     All of the boys are very  jealous of me.   The reason why is very plain to see, because
   |        D flat7                |  D flat m6       |      D flat 7               |       D flat 7            |
there ain't nobody  got it like she got it,   I'm telling   you.      For
       |  D flat       |          D flat           |   A flat7    |    D flat      |
   she has got it like  nobody has got it   And that is    true
   |     D flat           |   D flat              |  A flat 7     |   A flat 7   |
    She buzzes around just like a   bumblebee    And takes my sugar a-way from me, there
   |     D flat 7                         |  D flat m6   |   D flat 7                  |     D flat m6         |
    ain't nobody    got it like she's got it   she's my got-it-all   gal
   |      D flat     |          D flat             |      A flat 7          |   D flat      |

The melody and lyric of this song seemed to have so much more spark than the harmony, which in the chorus in particular, just seemed to lay there.  I didn't have to listen too long before I realized that the chorus of "There Ain't Nobody Got It Like she Got It", at least in its melody and phrasing, begs for the raggy progression used for a host of Blues songs like "Pigmeat is what I Crave", "What Is That Tastes Like Gravy", and "Ain't No Use In You Tryin' To Tell On Me".  Plug that progression into this song and you end up with this progression, which suits the lyric and melody considerably better than the progression employed by Leroy and Scrapper.
   |      D flat       |    D flat     B flat 7  |   E flat 7  A flat 7  |     D flat       |
   |      D flat       |    D flat     B flat 7  |        E flat 7         |     A flat 7     |
   |      D flat       |            D flat 7       |        A flat           |   A dim 7      |
   |      D flat       |    D flat     B flat 7   |  E flat 7  A flat 7   |     D flat       |
It's hard to believe that Leroy Carr was unfamiliar with this archetypal raggy circle-of-fifths progression, but his uncharacteristically stodgy harmonization of "There Ain't Nobody Got It Like She Got It" makes you wonder if that may have been the case.  The fact that there is another song included in the set, "Baby, You Done Put That thing On Me", that is in the same key, with the same melody and harmonization, makes one think that Leroy just may not have been hip to this progression.  It's kind of surprising, because Leroy was normally so musical and nifty, if not flashy.  It's an odd one.
All best,
Title: Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: Doc White on May 25, 2008, 11:36:30 PM
Children of Zion - What a remarkable tune. There are a couple of other ways of thinking about that Ab chord. It is also an Fm7 with C in the bass or - if you want to go closer to the Am tonal centre - a Dm7b5b9 (no root note) whichever way you cut it is a classic example of RGD's ability to take our breath away.
Title: Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: Mr.OMuck on May 26, 2008, 07:53:50 PM
Learning that song from him had a different quality than other songs he taught me. He seemed to enter a different zone on that song and just kept playing it over and over and over. It seemed to come from a very deep place.
He told me it was a slave song and was around five hundred years old. Foolishly I didn't have the presence of mind to ask him why he thought that.
Title: Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: Doc White on May 27, 2008, 12:36:03 AM
Hi Mr O'Muck,
If I had the good fortune to learn directly from Rev Gary Davis I would count myself as one of the luckiest men alive. What a privilege!
Title: Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: Johnm on May 29, 2008, 08:35:51 AM
Hi Chris,
Re analysis of the A flat chord in "Children of Zion", why create complications in the naming of the chord?  It's analogous to a proof in math, the simplest explanation that satisfies the facts in hand is almost invariably correct.  The notes Rev. Davis plays are an A flat chord in first inversion.  The voicings you suggest, Fm 7 and Dm7flat 5 flat 9 are both rootless.  Rev. Davis works with a fairly consistent chordal vocabulary in his religious material, and he does not make a habit of omitting roots in his chordal voicings.  Similarly, there is nothing remotely like a rootless (and thirdless) m7 flat 5 flat 9 in his entire body of work.  In analysis of rootless chords, if insertion of the root ends up being an aural deal-breaker, as it most certainly does with a D m7 flat 5 flat 9 in this context, than the rootless analysis doesn't work either.  We're talking "Children of Zion" here, not Johnny Mandel's "The Shadow of Your Smile".
All best,
Title: Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: Doc White on June 04, 2008, 12:57:21 AM
Hey Johnm,
Like you I'm trying to work out why that chord works in that song and all I'm doing is offering an opinion about the underlying harmony. This is an unusual chord in this key. Thinking about alternative names gets me closer to an explanation than just accepting it's an Ab and that's that. Might not work for you...that's cool. Chord names aside I think probably the answer is quite simple if you subscribe to the theory that any chord can be substituted for any other provided they have at least one note in common. (there is a caveat on this and it is "Let your ears be the guide"). The Ab works so well because of the C in the bass. It doesn't work so well if the Ab is in the bass. Re RGD and rootless chords, I agree almost all of his chords have roots in them but he quite often avoids putting the root note in the bass. His famous 6 note dom7th has the 5th in the bass which gives it it's particular sound. The C7 would be 332313 low to high. There are also instances of him having a non-chord tone in the bass as well.
Whether anyone wants to think about the construction of the tune or not it is still an amazing piece of music. Moves me every time I hear it.

Title: Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: Johnm on May 13, 2010, 02:41:48 PM
Hi all,
This isn't exactly an instance of an unusual harmonization, rather an instance of making an interesting choice as to what notes to hit in the bass behind the I chord.  On Cannon's Jug Stompers' recording of "Walk Right In", the discographical information on the re-issue I have shows Hosea Woods as the guitarist.  Woods made an interesting choice in the bass notes he chose to back the song.  He played the song out of C position in standard tuning, and the song, for the most part, holds the I chord.
Woods is employing a boom-chang back-up style for the song, with bass notes struck on beats one and two and chords strummed on the up-beats.  More often than not, when he plays in C he alternates his bass notes from the C at the third fret of the fifth string to the open fifth string, A. At the least, it gives the VI note of the scale, A, a very strong emphasis, and depending on how you hear it, you might feel as though he is rocking back and forth between C major and A minor. It's an utterly distinctive sound, and I don't know that I've ever heard a boom-chang bass in C major done that way. Certainly, if you were interested in playing "Walk Right In" and getting some of the sound and flavor of the original recording, it would be an important element to preserve. This music is full of surprises.
All best,
Title: Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: uncle bud on October 27, 2010, 01:31:24 PM
I hadn't noticed that about Walk Right In before, though had noted there was a certain sound that was atypical. Another way of looking at that C to A bass alternation might be as a walk up to the C chord with note(s) missing. So one might more typically hear a walk up in eighth notes that goes A B C (or even G A B C), but Woods just does the A to C boom chang.
Title: Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: Johnm on March 09, 2011, 11:57:30 PM
Hi all,
A while ago, Bruce Nemerov posted a link to a fascinating interview with Kirk McGee, of the McGee Brothers, and in the course of the discussion in that thread, the version that the McGee Brothers recorded of "Salty Dog Blues" came up.  I remembered the version as being very unusual, but probably hadn't heard it in fifteen years or so.  
I recently purchased the Sam McGee CD on Document, DOCD-8036, and "Salty Dog Blues" is included in its program.  It is indeed a very unusual version of that song, particularly if, as the liner notes indicate, the McGee's version was based on Papa Charlie Jackson's recording of "Salty Dog Blues".  I thought it might be interesting to compare Papa Charlie's version with the McGee Brothers version.
Papa Charlie did the song as a raggy 16-bar blues, with two chordally identical 8-bar phrases, in the key of G.  In the diagram below, I've placed the melody notes over the measures in which they are sung.  Each measure has two beats, in a cut time feel.
    E E G#E G#G#E   E E G E  G G E      E E D              E   E E D     D D D#
   |    E7    |    E7    |    A7    |    A7    |    D7    |    D7    |    G    |    G    |
    E     E     E E E D  C# C# A             D D D     BABDBA  G
   |    E7    |    E7    |    A7    |    A7    |    D7    |    D7    |    G    |    G     |
One thing that is interesting and distinctive about the melody is the way it hangs around E, the VI note in the key of G major.  This emphasis on the VI note must have sounded very Jazzy at the time that Papa Charlie and the McGees recorded the song.  (Another song that strongly emphasizes the VI note in its melody is "Mack The Knife"--The VI note falls on, "Oh, the SHARK BITES, with its TEETH, DEAR, and he SHOWS THEM pearly WHITE, etc.")  In the melody as sung by Papa Charlie, he sings the following notes not in the G major scale:  G#, D# and C#.  The G# is the major third of the E7 (VI7) chord and the C# is the major third of the A7 (II7) chord.  The D# is a passing tone used to create a chromatic line from D up to E.
Sam and Kirk McGee did their version of "Salty Dog Blues" in C major.  Here is their phrasing, chord progression and melody, once again indicated over the measures in which it is sung. Note that the fourth measure of A minor is three beats long.  All other measures are two beats long.
    A A C A    C C A      A A C A   C C A  A A G         G A G# GG F#G
   |    Am    |    Am    |    Am    |     Am    |    G    |    G    |     G    |
    A         A A A A G    F F D       F F D       G G G   EDEGED C
   |    A7     |    A7     |    Dm    |    Dm     |   G     |    G    |     C     |    C     |
The McGees differ from Papa Charlie's progression to this extent:  Instead of starting with a VI7 chord (A7 in the key of C major), they start with a vi minor chord, which they continue to hold over the third and fourth bars, where Papa Charlie played a II7 chord.  They hold the V chord for three bars at the end of the first phrase and skip the resolution to the I chord altogether.  In the second phrase, they differ only in playing a ii minor chord in the third and fourth bars rather than the II7 chord played by Papa Charlie.  

The changes in the melody as sung by Kirk McGee are more telling.  By starting the progression on a vi minor chord and using a ii minor chord in the second phrase, he eliminates two of the chromatic notes in the melody, the major third of the VI7 chord (C#)  and the major third of the II7 chord (F#).  The only remaining chromatic notes in the melody as sung by Kirk McGee are all neighboring tones which don't serve chordal functions.

What is the difference in terms of the change in sound and feel wrought by the the McGees' different approach to playing "Salty Dog Blues"?  
   * By eliminating the chromaticism in the melody that the VI7 and II7 chords dictated, the McGees end up with a melody that is considerably less raggy sounding, but that is simultaneously considerably more modal and eerie sounding, for apart from the passing tones mentioned earlier, their entire melody sits squarely in the C major scale.  It's interesting that a melody that is almost completely in the major scale could end up sounding so exotic.
   * The McGees' more asymmetrical phrasing feels a lot more eccentric and surprising than the perfectly symmetrical progression employed by Papa Charlie, which sounds like it came right out of Tin Pan Alley.  And the McGees' progression has the capacity to stay surprising--the A7 that starts the second phrase is kind of a shocker.  I guess it goes to show that they didn't mind playing chords that contained chromatic notes, as long as the chromatic notes they contained didn't appear in the melody.

If there is any lesson to be drawn from the McGee Brothers version of "Salty Dog Blues" in the larger sense, perhaps it is that the most interesting things sometimes happen when musicians or other artists diverge significantly from their models, rather than making an effort to reproduce the thing they are copying exactly. This is not an uncommon occurrence in this music--think of Isiaiah Nettles' "So Cold In China" or Willie Lofton's "Dark Road Blues"--as copies of Lemon Jefferson and Tommy Johnson, these renditions are failures, but who cares? They're so darned exciting it doesn't make a bit of difference.
All best,



Title: Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: Baltimore Bob on March 10, 2011, 01:35:59 PM
Another song that leans on the VI note in the melody is "Time Is On My Side" as done by the Stones (at least if I'm doing it right -- never a safe bet haha). I had done it for years before I started fooling with the melody on guitar and I was surprised to see the VI note getting all that emphasis at the start of the melody.

Back to earlier discussion, this may be a statement of the obvious to regulars here, but when I started learning blues songs with a strong roots feel by people like Howlin' Wolf and John Lee Hooker, I was baffled briefly when they seemed to imply the IV chord at times without actually playing it (or maybe I was just conditioned to hear it at that point). Sometimes you can play the IV over the recording and not have it clash, but when you listen without playing, you realize they don't actually make the chord change.
Title: Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: Johnm on March 11, 2011, 08:32:37 AM
You're right about the IV chord being elided sometimes, Bob, and there's also a fair amount of V chord avoidance out there, too.  Apropos of which, you might want to take a look at the thread on "Great One-Chord Songs" at http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?amp;Itemid=128&topic=7261.0.
All best,
Title: Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: Lyle Lofgren on March 11, 2011, 10:50:47 AM
On 3/9/11, Johnm wrote, "Bruce Nemerov posted a link to a fascinating interview with Kirk McGee." I can't find anything on it by searching. Could you please give me a link to it? Thanks.

Title: Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: dj on March 11, 2011, 11:19:08 AM
Lyle, to find the original thread, click on the Tags button at the top of the forum page, then click on the Kirk McGee tab.  Unfortunately, the video containing the interview is now locked as "private".
Title: Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: Lyle Lofgren on March 11, 2011, 11:48:41 AM
Thanks, anyway, dj, for telling me how to find something in the future.

Title: Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: Johnm on October 23, 2013, 01:56:06 PM
Hi all,
I've had occasion recently to work on the Leadbelly song, "If It Wasn't For Dicky", from his Library of Congress recordings.  The song has a beautiful melody, and it was taken later by the Weavers for their re-make of it, "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine", which was also recorded by the '50s Pop singer Jimmy Rodgers.  I have read that the melody of the song came from an old Irish song, but don't know the basis of this statement--whether it references a particular un-named song, or just came from somebody saying, "Wow, that sounds Irish."

In any event, Leadbelly's rendition of the song is unforgettable, and his harmonization has a really mysterious quality.  He plays the song in standard tuning, and on the recording I was working from is tuned about a major third low, so that playing with a key center of A, relative to his tuning, he sounds in F.  Leadbelly plays the song out of an A position and the melody, which he plays with a thumb lead, spans the octave from the second fret of the fourth string to the open sixth string.  The notes that comprise the melody, descending from that second fret of the fourth string, are (assuming he was sounding in A) E-D-C-B-A-G-F#-E.  These are the notes that comprise a G major scale, but with a key center of A, the melody would fall squarely in the Dorian or II mode, which is created by running a major scale from II to II.  So in this instance, Leadbelly's melody is in the Dorian mode, spanning from the low V note at the open sixth string to the V note an octave higher, at the second fret of the fourth string.

The harmonic fly in the ointment is that every time Leadbelly plays a I chord, he plays it as an A7.  The A7 chord includes a C# note, which is not in the Dorian mode at A.  In the Dorian mode at A, were you to construct a 7 chord off of A you would end up with an A minor 7 chord.  The only place in the major scale you have a diatonic dominant 7 chord is off of V, so if you say that A7 is a V7 chord, what key would it be the V7 of?  D major.  And since A is the key center, the harmonization of the A as an A7 chord suggests the Mixolydian, or V mode, created by running the notes of a D scale from V to V.

What Leadbelly ended up with, then, is a Dorian melody which he chose to harmonize at his I chord, and at his I chord only, in the Mixolydian mode.  All of the other chords Leadbelly plays in the course of his rendition, D, C and G are all diatonic and occur naturally in the A Dorian mode which provides the melodic underpinning of the song's melody.

One of the nice things about understanding the sound and how it was achieved is that, if you wish, you could use the same sort of sound in one of your own arrangements or compositions, or possibly utilize it another song that has a melody in the Dorian mode. 

All best,
Title: Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: Rivers on October 23, 2013, 09:44:21 PM
I think people with a farming background, no matter how tenuous, really appreciate Leadbelly's song about the demise of a favorite cow, and other just hinted-at human dramas. If you don't have the rural background the melody will still get you. The Weavers' cover was awful by comparison, obscuring the original intent with a major soppy rewrite of the lyrics.
Title: Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: Mr.OMuck on October 24, 2013, 07:04:27 AM
Rivers , the reason Kisses Sweeter Than Wine was a big hit had little to do with male response to the lyrics. I witnessed this first hand with my mother and her friends for whom that was a favorite song. ;)
Title: Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: dj on October 24, 2013, 07:53:04 AM
The Weavers' cover was awful by comparison

It's the orchestration.  Check out the version they did live at Carnegie Hall.  Just guitar and banjo accompaniment, and the smile in their voices makes the lyrics go down more easily than on the hit version. 
Title: Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: Willie Poor Boy on October 24, 2013, 03:07:19 PM
I was looking into this song's origins and there is an interesting anecdote at the conclusion to this obituary for Henrietta Yurchenco:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/14/arts/14yurchenco.html (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/14/arts/14yurchenco.html)

Legend has it that Mr. Seeger and the Almanac Singers, an earlier name for the Weavers, wrote the song ?Kisses Sweeter Than Wine? in Ms. Yurchenco?s relatively quiet bathroom during a noisy party in her apartment. Mr. Seeger said that was not quite true, though he recalled her famous parties.

Mr. Seeger explained that Leadbelly, the great folk and blues artist, was in Ms. Yurchenco?s bathroom with the singer Sam Kennedy, who perched on the obvious as he sang ?Drimmin Down,? a lament about a dead cow. (Leadbelly later livened up the beat and used the tune for his own cow song, ?If It Wasn?t for Dicky.?)

Mr. Seeger liked the melody and added lyrics about wine.
[end quote]

I hoped to track down a copy of Sam Kennedy singing his version since every other rendition of Drimmen Down sounds pretty remote from Lead Belly's melody.  The lyrics for the traditional version of the Irish song bear sufficient resemblance to what we have from Lead Belly to trust that Sam Kennedy was singing a variant of this aisling topos where Ireland itself is given physical form but the music is hardly alike at all.  I hope to find a way of posting what sheet music I have for this song for reference sake once I learn how to do that on this site but in the meantime I can report that having contacted the Library of Congress to see if there was any extant recording in their collection of Sam Kennedy singing this song, they had nothing matching in their archives.

Given the circle of people who frequented Henrietta Yurchenco's parties it is pretty surprising that no one recorded Lead Belly's living source material but that connection between the traditional version and Lead Belly's may be lost forever.

Title: Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: Johnm on October 24, 2013, 03:18:29 PM
Thanks very much for that information, Willie Poor Boy.  It is great to know that "If It Wasn't For Dicky" did actually have some kind of Irish provenance and the notion of that provenance wasn't just a supposition based on the sound of the melody.  I have to say, too, what a quick study Leadbelly must have been to have put together his version of "It Wasn't For Dicky" on the basis of a melody he heard at a party. 
All best,
Title: Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: Rivers on October 24, 2013, 08:12:14 PM
Fascinating, I plain assumed the Weavers lifted it from Lead, who lifted it from an Irish song, but if I'm reading it right apparently not.

Here's the link to the lyric discussion of If It Wasn't For Dicky: http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=4318.msg72663#msg72663 (http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=4318.msg72663#msg72663)
Title: Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: Mr.OMuck on October 24, 2013, 10:00:40 PM
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almanac_Singers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almanac_Singers)

The Almanacs Preceded the Weavers who were Ronnie Gilbert, Fred Hellerman, Lee Hayes and Pete Seeger. The Almanacs had a revolving roster which at times included Woody Guthrie, Millard Lampell, Sis Cunningham, Fred Hellerman, Pete Seeger Josh White, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, and Alan Lomax.

 That was from memory, this is from Wikipdeia..

[/size]Performers who sang with the group at various times included [/color][/size]Sis Cunningham (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sis_Cunningham)[/color][/size], [/color][/size](John) Peter Hawes (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=(John)_Peter_Hawes&action=edit&redlink=1)[/color][/size] and his brother [/color][/size]Baldwin "Butch" Hawes (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Baldwin_%22Butch%22_Hawes&action=edit&redlink=1)[/color][/size], [/color][/size]Bess Lomax Hawes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bess_Lomax_Hawes)[/color][/size] (wife of Butch and sister of[/color][/size]Alan Lomax (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Lomax)[/color][/size]), [/color][/size]Cisco Houston (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cisco_Houston)[/color][/size], [/color][/size]Arthur Stern (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Arthur_Stern&action=edit&redlink=1)[/color][/size], [/color][/size]Josh White (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josh_White)[/color][/size], [/color][/size]Jackie (Gibson) Alper (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jackie_(Gibson)_Alper&action=edit&redlink=1)[/color][/size], [/color][/size]Burl Ives (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burl_Ives)[/color][/size], [/color][/size](Hiram) Jaime Lowden (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=(Hiram)_Jaime_Lowden&action=edit&redlink=1)[/color][/size] and [/color][/size]Sam Gary (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Gary)[/color][/size] And Will Geer.[/color]

[/size]There is one Almanac compilation CD out [/color][/size]there which is terrific if you can find it.[/color]
Title: Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: Mr.OMuck on October 24, 2013, 10:03:41 PM
My Folklore source says:

[size=78%]that's horsebleep about being lost, several Irish singers know the complete song. true the direct connection is gone, but sam kennedy may have been recorded in england by peter kennedy (?) but that's just my guess. i would love to hear sam after hearing the rainbow quest story as told by pete and memorizing that story. the real surprise is how little she recorded leadbelly-at least she preserved at least 2 radio programs with him and woody."[/size][/color]
Title: Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: Willie Poor Boy on October 28, 2013, 05:42:43 PM
I wasn't suggesting it was lost, attached here is a copy of some sheet music as it is played today (it is taken from a book of airs for the penny whistle by Tomas O'Canainn--I hope this falls under the definition of fair use, otherwise I'll take it down).  I was suggesting the melody that is in use among contemporaries doesn't resemble what Lead Belly played.

It would be interesting although maybe impossible to codify Lead Belly's instincts in hearing and recasting music in his own image and then working backwards in those cases where the source is missing.

At any rate, I was fortunate to learn this song from John last week (the lessons on his website are uniformly excellent) and after I read his post above thought it might be fun as a partial exercise in reconstruction to play the song through with Lead Belly's A7 and then again with the A minor 7 in the same place.  Well, it would be too much to say that it is an attempt at reconstructing anything but it is interesting to hear the differences.  Don't worry, I'm working on the flaws in my playing.

Title: Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: Johnm on October 28, 2013, 05:56:09 PM
Thanks for posting the music to to "Drimin Donn", Brad.  It is indeed very different from Leadbelly's take on the melody.  And it's interesting contrasting the A7 hybrid Dorian melody/Mixolydian harmony as Leadbelly did it with the diatonic Dorian Am7 version.  You've also provided me with the answer on how to post standard notation on the site--scan it and save it as a .pdf.  That's something I've been wanting to do for some time but didn't know how best to do.
All best,
Title: Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
Post by: Johnm on September 07, 2016, 02:38:54 PM
Hi all,
One of the oddest harmonizations that anyone in the style came up with was Leadbelly's version of Joe Burke and Al Dubin's "Dancing With Tears In My Ears".  Just to get a Pop rendition of his era as a sort of reference point, here is Ruth Etting's version of the song from 1930:


Here is Leadbelly's version of the song, from his "Last Sessions".  He omits the verse, and does only the chorus:


Hearing Leadbelly's version after the Ruth Etting version, I'm always left with a sort of "You can't get there from here." feeling.

All best,

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