Country Blues > Country Blues Licks and Lessons

Opening to Mississippi John Hurt's Richland Women Blues


Mark Miller:
I've been idly wondering about the opening lick to Richland Women Blues for a long time.  John, in your DVD lesson, you teach it the way Hurt played it in a recording in which he gets that E flat note on the second string by dropping out the bass.  While it is cool that Hurt plays around with the bass more than he's often given credit for, and I'm learning a lot from your books and DVDs about this, I also sometimes hear Hurt play that lick while still keeping the bass going--for instance, in the Vanguard recordings.  I think I've figured out a way to play it and I want to run it by you and the rest of the gang here. 

I tried to figure out what notes are part of the riff and how to play them while keeping an alternating bass, and have ended up with something like a modified partial E7 chord moved up a half step (if that makes any sense)--modified because the index and second finger are moved over a string each (to the fourth and fifth strings respectively) while the pinky picks up the fourth fret of the second string (that E flat note).  The thumb alternates between the 5th and 4th strings on the downbeats, while the index and middle finger of the picking hand play the 2nd and 1st strings on the offbeats.  There's time to move from that to the F chord because the note on the and of beat 4 is the open high E.  At the end of the form, you can use the turnaround bass run to get back into that second-position chord for the opening riff again.

I hope that explanation makes sense.  I'm no expert in figuring this stuff out.

Mark Miller:
Just went back and listened to the Vanguard recording.  What I came up with is not what he's playing there by any means.  He does play some bass notes, but not regularly.  I came up with what I did by sitting down with the guitar and trying to approach the general idea of getting those melody notes with a bass included.  Oh well, there's no one way to play this stuff...

Hi Mark,
You can maintain a "regular" C alternation, from the third fret of the fifth string to the second fret of the fourth string, while playing that phrase with the Eb if you lift your index finger, which normally holds down the first fret of the second string in the C chord.  By lifting the index finger, you allow for more lateral movement in the rest of the hand, which makes the slide with the little finger to the fourth fret of the second string possible, and allows you to continue fretting that while you go back and forth between the open first string and the fourth fret of the second string.  Give it a try.
All best,

Mark Miller:
Thanks John! 


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