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We used to go to different people's houses, you know. In those days I mean they could hear music and - if somebody could play an instrument, man, they would get up at night, from one o'clock; and they'd fix food and they'd have drinks and they'd stay up till five, six o'clock in the morning and give you money. It wasn't a dance but a serenade; we'd go from house to house. In those days there wasn't too much things like juke boxes, high fidelity sound, wasn't nothing like that then; and whenever somebody could play and could play well, he was considered as somebody; he could go anywhere and he had it made, you know? - Baby Doo Caston, on playing music in Natchez in the 1920s, interview with Jeff Todd Titon

Author Topic: Melody Taking the Bass for a Ride  (Read 1633 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Melody Taking the Bass for a Ride
« on: April 17, 2014, 01:35:07 PM »
Hi all,
One way of phrasing melodies up the neck in Country Blues guitar that achieved a pretty wide currency is to take a chord position at the base of the neck, most often G or C with the third fret of the first string fretted with the little finger in the left hand, and to move the chord position up the neck intact, finding the desired melody notes on the first string.  Some songs in which this technique was utilized include:
   * "Police Sergeant Blues", "Long Train Blues" and "Alabama Blues" by Robert Wilkins, moving the C shape;
   * "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad" by Libba Cotten, moving the C shape;
   * "Casey Jones" and "You've Got to Walk That Lonesome Valley" and "Do Lord, Remember Me" by John Hurt, moving the G shape, and "Short'nin' Bread" and "Spider, Spider", moving the C shape.

In moving the G shape up the neck to phrase melody, the sixth string will double the melody in the bass, since the first and sixth strings are both tuned to E.  In moving the C shape up the neck to get melody notes, the first string will be voicing the fifth of the chord being "brought along for the ride", since in a C shape at the base of the neck, the root of the shape, C, is voiced on the fifth string, and the fifth of the shape, G, is voiced on the first string.

What can really complicate the sound one gets from using this technique is maintaining an alternating bass while moving the shape up and down the neck intact.  In such an instance, even moving a C shape up two frets to get an A note in the melody on the first string can result in an F# note on the fourth string, since that's what the C shape gives you on the fourth string when you move it up two frets.  The F#, a #IV note in the C scale, has a slightly wonky sound in the context of a C song.

Working on John Hurt's "Spider, Spider" recently made apparent just how odd things can get in the bass when an active melody achieved by moving a chord position up and down the neck intact is accompanied by an alternating bass which is willy-nilly following the position around.  The last line of "Spider, Spider" has the following melody:

   Bb A G CC A G E C

If you bear in mind that each of the melody notes (with the exception of the last two, which are played out of the C position at the base of the neck) is the V of the chord that accompanies it, since the C shape is being moved to get the melody notes, you wind up with the following chords backing the melody notes, with the melody note above and the chord below:

   Bb  A  G  CC  A  G  E  C
   Eb  D  C  F     D C  C  C

If you then take into account the fact that John Hurt alternated his bass between his fifth and sixth strings through this passage, you end up with the following bass notes accompanying the melody notes (melody above, bass below):

   Bb  A   G  CC   A   G  E  C
   Eb  F# C  A F  F# C  E   C

The melody is pretty straight-forward, pretty much outlining a C7 chord, or C13 with the inclusion of the A note.  The bass, though, is highly eccentric:  if you have any doubts, just play the bass line by itself and try to hear it as living in the key of C before its resolution.  The notes as played can be found:
   Eb--sixth fret of fifth string
   F#--fourth fret of fourth string
   C--third fret of fifth string
   A--seventh fret of fourth string
   F--eight fret of fifth string
   F#--fourth fret of fourth string
   C--third fret of fifth string
   E--second fret of fourth string

So maybe this can be seen as an instance in which the simplest solution for playing the melody up the neck has un-forseen consequences when matched up with a picking style that uses an alternating bass.  None of the other songs cited above has anything like this degree of complication, though "Shortnin' Bread" has some of the same sort of sound.
All best,
Johnm   


         
« Last Edit: April 17, 2014, 01:38:59 PM by Johnm »

Offline RobBob

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Re: Melody Taking the Bass for a Ride
« Reply #1 on: April 17, 2014, 06:21:14 PM »
I've messed with this some but you got me thinking more about it.  Thanks for the fuel!

Offline Johnm

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Re: Melody Taking the Bass for a Ride
« Reply #2 on: April 18, 2014, 10:04:53 AM »
You're welcome, Bob!
All best,
Johnm

Offline Zoharbareket

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Re: Melody Taking the Bass for a Ride
« Reply #3 on: May 01, 2014, 01:33:02 AM »
interesting stuff here!

Say Johnm, are you working - or planning to work - on a book that will bring all the valuable playing tips and pointers you have provided over the years on WC and otherwise?

I know I would buy it!
It will be a nice addition to the nine or ten your video lessons I have already have!

Z

Offline Johnm

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Re: Melody Taking the Bass for a Ride
« Reply #4 on: May 02, 2014, 07:03:45 AM »
Hi Zohar,
I have not been working on a book of the sort that you describe, though I consider doing so from time to time.  If you enjoy this kind of stuff, you might go to the tag index and click on "theory/analysis".  You'll find many threads that get into various structural aspects of the music.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Zoharbareket

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Re: Melody Taking the Bass for a Ride
« Reply #5 on: May 02, 2014, 08:13:36 AM »
Hi Johnm,

I really hope you'll get around to it one day.  Anyway,  thank very much for letting me know about the tags,  I never new about them.  This will really help me to look for things on these pages. GREAT!

Be well,

Zohar

Offline Bald Melon Jefferson

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Re: Melody Taking the Bass for a Ride
« Reply #6 on: May 02, 2014, 08:50:06 AM »
Always interesting thoughtful posts John. Last night I was working my way through the melody in the first couple bars of John Jackson's Going Down in Georgia on a Horn by moving the G shape up the neck....which I would bet is not how he did it but from my dim memory in the absence of any audio or visual reference, it worked for me the rest of the song fell in place from there....  and it was fun.
Cheers, Gary
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Offline Johnm

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Re: Melody Taking the Bass for a Ride
« Reply #7 on: May 02, 2014, 10:17:40 AM »
Hi Gary,
It is how John Jackson did it, so good for you in matching the sound with the way to achieve it, working by memory!
All best,
Johnm

Offline Bald Melon Jefferson

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Re: Melody Taking the Bass for a Ride
« Reply #8 on: May 02, 2014, 12:20:16 PM »
Nice!! Thanks John. I can't seem to wrap my brain around tab and I feel that I am a slowwww learner anyways so I just mess around,discover things and sometimes it's a song. I like that process. To paraphrase someone somewhere, "I love to learn, I just hate to be taught".

Despite all that....I'll see you in Port Townsend.
Gary
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Offline Johnm

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Re: Melody Taking the Bass for a Ride
« Reply #9 on: May 28, 2014, 12:07:34 PM »
Hi all,
Here is a really neat example of a musician using the melody to take the bass for a ride:  Wesley Long's "They Go Wild Over Me".  I know nothing about Long, but first heard this cut on the old Yazoo compilation, "Mr. Charlie's Blues".  Pretty cool!



All best,
Johnm

Offline Johnm

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Re: Melody Taking the Bass for a Ride
« Reply #10 on: June 21, 2015, 09:43:07 AM »
Hi all,
I just was reminded of another song for which John Hurt utilized this approach to playing the melody:  his version of "Redwing" from the Library of Congress sessions.  He plays only the bridge or chorus of the song.  He plays the song out of C position in standard tuning, and the melody of the bridge begins with a descending scale passage--C-B-A-A-A-C-B-A-G-E.  He is phrasing the melody out of a C shape with his little finger on the first string, and moving the entire C shape every time the melody note changes, so that with the melody shown below in the upper line, the corresponding chord for each melody note is shown in the lower line:

   C-B-A-A-A-C-B-A-G-E
   F-E-D-D-D-F-E-D-C-C

It is only when he gets to the last two melody notes in the line that he can get two consecutive different melody notes out of the same shape, in this case C.  In the C shape, when you voice the third fret of the first string with your little finger, you are playing the fifth of the chord, so that for the entire melodic passage, John Hurt ends up phrasing the melody in parallel fifths with the note he is playing the bass.  If you contrast that harmonization with how the song would be harmonized by a Country guitarist playing boom-chang back-up, the Country guitarist would back it as follows:

    C-B-|A-A-A-C-B-A|G      E      |
    C    |      F           |      C        |

You can see how the melody taking the bass for a ride ends up giving the player a much more active chordal background than would holding chords and getting the melody notes that go with them.  The other thing you end up with by letting the melody take the bass for a ride is a lot of notes from outside of the scale the song is in in the alternating bass.  Rev. Gary Davis, in particular, avoided this sort of situation by knowing and using different inversions of his first position chords as he moved up the neck, so he didn't have to resort to the "one shape fits all" sort of sound that the melody taking the bass for a ride can end up giving a player.
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: June 21, 2015, 09:56:17 AM by Johnm »

Offline Rivers

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Re: Melody Taking the Bass for a Ride
« Reply #11 on: June 22, 2015, 07:51:23 PM »
Others in this category would be the second go round of John Hurt's Louis Collins, and a thing that Frank Stokes does on a couple of different tunes in C, same melody, song titles escape me at present.

[later] I remembered the Stokes' tunes, Stomp That Thing and It Won't Be Long, different tempo but very similar melody/chordal approach.
« Last Edit: June 22, 2015, 08:35:32 PM by Rivers »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Melody Taking the Bass for a Ride
« Reply #12 on: September 19, 2016, 06:49:19 AM »
Hi all,
I was recently reminded that Blind Blake used this technique in a completely different way than any of the musicians discussed earlier in this thread, on "Walking Across The Country".  In that song, he uses a diminished seventh chord on the first four strings to phrase his melody, which he plays on the first string.  Moving the shape intact up and down the neck to find the melody notes gives the melody a slightly exotic or "wrong", if you prefer that term, sound.  And it sounds harder to do than it is.  Lonnie Johnson occasionally phrased melody by moving diminished seventh chord shapes on the first four strings, too.
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: September 19, 2016, 06:50:33 AM by Johnm »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Melody Taking the Bass for a Ride
« Reply #13 on: April 28, 2018, 11:15:13 AM »
Hi all,
I was engaged to transcribe Arthur Pettis' song, "That Won't Do" for a lesson recently and discovered that Pettis used this technique in his final solo on that song.  Listen to the beginning of Pettis' final solo, at 2:13--2:17.  Here is the track:



Arthur Pettis is using the same moveable partial C shape up the neck as Charlie Patton used for his IV chord in "Down The Dirt Road Blues".  Pettis starts his solo at 7-5-6-8 (relative to capo placement) on the first four strings, going from the fourth string to the first, holds that position for the first bar of the solo, resolves it down two frets for the first half of the second bar and down one fret more for the second half of the second bar.  He then resolves it down two more frets and fills out the position in the bass, nestling into a C (I) chord.  The whole song is such a stellar performance, and it is kind of surprising that he introduced this new wrinkle so close to the end of the song.  Arthur Pettis definitely seems a guitarist well worth some serious study.
All best,
Johnm 

Offline Johnm

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Re: Melody Taking the Bass for a Ride
« Reply #14 on: February 15, 2019, 06:27:41 AM »
Hi all,
Here is Libba Cotten doing here version of "Home, Sweet Home", from Volume 3 of her Folkways recordings.  It perfectly illustrates the idea of the melody taking the bass for the ride, especially in the bridge of the song.



All best,
Johnm

 


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