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Author Topic: Adventures in Cross Note  (Read 10377 times)

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Offline uncle bud

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Adventures in Cross Note
« on: October 31, 2004, 05:20:04 PM »
Hi All,

I was listening to Little Hat Jones tonight, having been led to that by the mention of Willie Reed and Dreaming Blues last week, which I intend on picking up again to work on. I was listening to the Yazoo disc (out of print I think) Don't Leave Me Here, featuring Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas blues, including Willie Reed and Little Hat, and this led me to revisit Little Hat's complete works on the Story of Blues CD Texas Blues Guitar 1929-35. Little Hat is just brilliant and it had been a long time since I'd listened to him. Will have to revisit my minidisc of Ari's Litte Hat class. But this in turn led me to listen more carefully for the first time to the rest of the disc which is made up of JT Funny Papa Smith tunes. I really enjoyed this, having not paid much attention to Smith in the past. While there's only 10 tunes from him on this disc, there's some really fun stuff.

Anyways I got hooked on Wiskeyhead Blues and decided I would figure it out. A very fun tune. It seemed at first to be in E, but I quickly decided he was using an open tuning, and then decided it wasn't open E but cross-note or open E minor tuning. 99% sure about this but welcome disagreement if you can prove it ;). It took a few spins of the tune to decide on cross-note, largely because it is a very major sounding tune. While I have hardly any experience in this tuning aside from some Skip James stuff, and JohnM covered Teddy Darby's Lawdy Lawdy Blues this year at PT, I'm definitely more used to the minor and modal sound of this tuning. But trying to figure it out in standard E quickly led me elsewhere. Too hard to play there; much simpler (not that I've got it down) in cross note. Not sure of the absolute pitch, I was capoing at the 3rd fret, but may have been tuned low as I often am down a half step - didn't check.

Anyway, I figured I'd start another sister thread to the Adventures in Spanish and Adventures in Vestapol threads. What are some cross-note tuned songs you play or are aware of? Skip James is the first one I think of in this tuning, obviously, some Henry Townsend, and Bukka White. What else?

Really enjoyed the Funny Papa stuff, BTW. I haven't heard much else from him but am inclined to order the Documents. Any Funny Papa fans who can say hell yes go for it?


« Last Edit: October 31, 2004, 05:22:56 PM by uncle bud »

Offline Slack

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Re: Adventures in Cross Note
« Reply #1 on: October 31, 2004, 06:41:43 PM »
Hey UB, I'm a big JT Smith fan - so go for it!   :D  I don;t have the Document CD but I have two others (the ones on the Juke).  It is unclear from your message which (Little Hat or Funny Papa) Whiskeyhead Blues you are listening to?    I'll have to go back and listen - for some reason I cannot feature these guys using cross note tunings... but whut do I know.

Ari's Little Hat lessons are great - he reveals stuff that you would be hard pressed to hear from the recordings (at else for my ear)  - ah, so many tunes to work on and so little time..

cheers,

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Adventures in Cross Note
« Reply #2 on: October 31, 2004, 08:29:21 PM »
Hey UB, I'm a big JT Smith fan - so go for it!??:D? I don;t have the Document CD but I have two others (the ones on the Juke).? It is unclear from your message which (Little Hat or Funny Papa) Whiskeyhead Blues you are listening to??

Sorry, the Little Hat business was just a tangent. Starting with a tangent obviously makes for confusion. :) I meant JT Smith. Thanks for the recommendation.

Quote
? I'll have to go back and listen - for some reason I cannot feature these guys using cross note tunings... but whut do I know.

Little Hat played in standard tuning on all his tunes as far as I remember. Smith's Wiskeyhead Blues just doesn't work in standard IMO. Just trying to figure out the intro was enough to make me think, this is too hard in these positions, he's gotta be doing something else. At first I thought Vestapol but then that hammer-on on the G-string led me to cross note. I'm just starting to figure out the tune, but I'm pretty certain about the tuning.

Quote
Ari's Little Hat lessons are great - he reveals stuff that you would be hard pressed to hear from the recordings (at else for my ear)? - ah, so many tunes to work on and so little time..


Indeed. I'm making some measure of progress on a lot of the stuff I'm working on these days, though!

Speaking of Little Hat (there I go again), too bad Dirty Red isn't around. Was reading some of his old posts from the weenie email list and enjoyed his insights.
« Last Edit: April 18, 2005, 10:35:40 AM by Johnm »

Offline GhostRider

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Re: Adventures in Cross Note
« Reply #3 on: October 31, 2004, 10:26:32 PM »
Howdy UB:

Funny Papa Smith, you bet! I think he's fantastic! I've been a fan for years and purchased the Document complete at PT.

To my mind the the best lyrics writer in CB. A terrific singer. A great, inventive player in may keys (E,A,D,C, and now Open Em ;). By the way Wiskeyhead Blues is in an absolute key of E on my copy

The other two tunes he recorded at the same session as Wiskeyhead Blues, (March 1931)
Forty-Five Blues and County Jail Blues are a great two part story, both in C but the latter using the Careless Love melody. The intro to Forty-Five Blues sounds very BL Jefferson-like to me.

Lots of great listening and lots of great guitar parts to learn. Stuff no one else plays.

Get that Document!

Where in the world I prowl,
Alex
« Last Edit: October 31, 2004, 10:29:35 PM by pyrochlore »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Adventures in Cross Note
« Reply #4 on: November 01, 2004, 01:06:45 AM »
Hi all,
An exciting thread to catch in progress.  As with many of the Country Blues players, I have not heard all of JT Smith's titles, and have missed "Whiskeyhead Blues" thus far.  I will try to track it down and hear it.  I agree with Alex, JT was a hell of a lyricist, and his bag of tricks in A standard was really huge.  Best news--"I'm making some measure of progress on a lot of the stuff I'm working on these days, though!".  Go, Andrew!
All best,
Johnm

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Adventures in Cross Note
« Reply #5 on: November 01, 2004, 06:52:02 AM »
I'll post an mp3 later so people can hear Wiskeyhead Blues and observe what I'm saying about the tuning (or tell me I'm nuts).


Offline uncle bud

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Re: Adventures in Cross Note
« Reply #6 on: November 01, 2004, 02:52:45 PM »
Here's the mp3 of Wiskeyhead. Listen and see what you think.

[attachment deleted by admin]

Offline Johnm

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Re: Adventures in Cross Note
« Reply #7 on: November 01, 2004, 07:13:10 PM »
Hi Andrew,
After down-loading and listening to the mp3 of "Wiskeyhead", I would say your identification of the tune as being in cross-note seems right on to me for a number of reasons.
   * Everything that happens on the top three strings, including the the hammer to the first fret of the third string would seem to indicate E, standard tuning, but since the top three strings are the same in E standard and cross-note, it kind of throws the identification to the bass aural clues for determination of the tuning/position.
   * He never once hits a low root on his IV chord, which, were he in E standard, would be the easiest and most natural thing to do when going to the IV chord, because it would be the open fifth string.  Instead he plays the rocking motif moving from the V note up to the VI note and back.  In cross-note the V and VI notes are readily available at the open fifth string, and second fret of the fifth string.  They are a cinch to play.  In E standard they live at the second and fourth fret of the fifth string, and would require fingering every time they were played, as would the I octave note, at the second fret of the fourth string.
   * Towards the end of the tune, he plays a descending chromatic line Josh White loved to use in Vestapol, from VI to flat VI to V.  The harmony implied is IV major with a third in the bass, IV minor with a flat third in the bass, and I with its fifth in the bass.  The line lives in the same place in cross-note that it does in Vestapol, too.  Second fret, fifth string, first fret, fifth string, open fifth string.
Good find on this tune, it's really distinctive sounding, and I think you nailed the identification.  I look forward to hearing you play it.
All best,
Johnm 

Offline Slack

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Re: Adventures in Cross Note
« Reply #8 on: November 01, 2004, 07:49:44 PM »
Very interesting tune UB!  I'd never heard it before (not on the two CD's I have of JT Smith) - so now I'll have to get the document also.  :P

Good work on the tuning! - just listening to it, I'd have bet on E standard, it does have a minor sound to it, now that you point it out.  And the double stops for a brief period, have that Skip Jame-ish sound.  I did try the tune in E major, determined to prove you wrong, but alas. ;) .. you learn something every day.  I wonder if he does any other tunes in e minor tuning?

Also nice to have your sleuthing confirmed by Johnm, eh? -- looking forward to hearing you play it too.

Cheers,
slack

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Adventures in Cross Note
« Reply #9 on: November 02, 2004, 07:43:56 AM »
Hi John and Slack,

Yes, that IV chord was one of the clinchers for me. The other was the intro: those double stops in the bass and treble are quite awkward in standard, but in cross note they either use an open string or are accomplished by fretting the 5th and 2nd strings at the same fret, moving in parallel, like, as Slack points out, a Skip James riff (the song from which it comes I can't recall at the moment). Much simpler. Those chromatic bass lines later in the tune also remind me a bit of Bo Carter.

I was listening to Ari's Little Hat Jones workshop yesterday and lo and behold he actually digresses for a bit into JT Smith and Wiskeyhead Blues. He plays a bit of it, playing in standard. It sounds great, of course, since Ari's playing it, but it's wrong.  ;D

Alex, you're right, the intro to Forty-Five Blues is very Blind Lemon-like. Also a fun tune, although one of those kill my woman blues in the 32-20 style that I can't see myself playing. It's a bit cartoonish in it's violence, so perhaps...  Blind Lemon's Dynamite Blues is the best cartoon violence song I know of in this vein. (The way I feel now, I could get a keg of dynamite/ Put it all in her window and blow her up late at night.) !!

Definitely going to get the Funny Papa on Document...

Offline Johnm

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Re: Adventures in Cross Note
« Reply #10 on: November 02, 2004, 08:56:16 AM »
Hi Andrew,
I agree with you re the intro; it sounds like "Special Rider", but is moved over so that the slide to the fifth fret happens on the fifth and second strings rather than the fourth and first strings.  I wonder if JT ever ran into Skip James?  Funny that for his cross-note tune, JT ended up sounding like Skip, but Skip playing in Spanish!  Life is weird.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Rivers

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Re: Adventures in Cross Note
« Reply #11 on: November 03, 2004, 10:29:18 AM »
I'll resurrect the notorious "Honey" thread from the old list, that was an epic project...

Offline Johnm

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Re: Adventures in Cross Note
« Reply #12 on: February 09, 2005, 11:24:29 PM »
Hi all,
Reviewing that Bukka White re-issue recently reminded me that he used cross-note tuning quite a lot, for "Aberdeen Mississippi Blues", and many others.  It's hard to tell from listening that he is in cross-note, because he has his index finger living on the first fret of the third string so that it sounds like Vastapol tuning.  On most of Bukka's cross-note tunes he plays no V chord, just I and IV.
All best,
Johnm   

Offline Janmarie

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Re: Adventures in Cross Note
« Reply #13 on: February 10, 2005, 08:50:09 PM »
Hi John -
I'm probably not the only somewhat beginner level player out there reading this thread on cross-note which I find very interesting.  Could you give a layman's explanation of it (and I apologize if I've missed an earlier explanation).  I think I know what's going on -  tuning the strings in such a way that chording is optimized?  Why is it called cross-note?  Is this tuning generally unique to the individual and thus not considered an alternate tuning?
Thanks John.............Jan

Offline Johnm

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Re: Adventures in Cross Note
« Reply #14 on: February 10, 2005, 09:33:31 PM »
Hi Jan,
I think it was Skip James who most notably referred to the tuning as cross-note with the explanation being that in the tuning, "the major crosses the minor" (which I confess I have never understood).  Otherwise, it is alternatively known as Open D minor tuning, DADFAD, or open E minor, EBEGBE.   The intervals of the open strings are the same as an E minor chord in standard tuning in which you fret the fifth and fourth strings at the second fret, I-V-I-flatIII-V-I.
The tuning is most often used to play in the key of the sixth string, D if you are in open D minor, or E if you are in open E minor.  Because the top three strings are the same intervals that they are in standard tuning, you can play any of the phrases you play in E standard on the top 3 strings using the very same fingering.  An advantage of cross-note over standard tuning is that in cross-note you have an octave alternating bass of open strings between the sixth and fourth strings; in E standard you have to fret the fourth string at the second fret to get the octave alternating bass.
The sound of E standard vs. cross-note tuning can be a very subtle distinction--they are quite similar sounding.  One difference is that in E standard you must often have the IV chord (A) with a low root in the bass (the open fifth string).  In cross-note you almost never hear the IV chord with a low root in the bass, because it is inconveniently located at the fifth fret of the sixth string, where it is not very handy.
One other thing about open D minor vs. open E minor:  You get to open D minor by loosening strings, whereas with open E minor you have to raise the fifth and fourth strings, both or which are fairly heavy wound strings, a whole step.  As a result you are more likely to break strings going to open E minor than open D minor. 
All best,
Johnm