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At my age, the hard part is getting to the gig. The playing is easy - 102-year-old Fred Staton, still getting paid gigs playing tenor sax

Author Topic: What are Top 10 (20?) Songs Every Country Blues Picker Should Know?  (Read 5483 times)

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Offline Bluesygirl

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Since I am a newbie and am practicing some MJH tunes like mad with an eye toward PT this summer, it occurred to me to ask what handful of songs you consider an essential part of your bag o' country blues?

Offline waxwing

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Re: What are Top 10 (20?) Songs Every Country Blues Picker Should Know?
« Reply #1 on: February 06, 2005, 12:59:46 PM »
Hey Bg,
I tend to shy away from the word "should".<G> There really are no must play songs. As a beginner only learning songs that are in the lesson/tab formats you are somewhat limited (altho', for what it's worth, yes, there is a lot of tab out there) and you will find that whatever you learn first, when you come to a gathering such as PT, lots of others will know the songs you've learned. Really the best approach to take is to go after those tunes which excite you the most, but which don't seem too far beyond your reach. For me, once I had worked thru a couple of SG's beginner videos, I went after specific artists, with an eye toward different styles. I guess I got the bug of wanting to play the original arrangements to really learn the licks the early players used.  I started with guys like Blind Boy Fuller, Lightnin' Hopkins, John Hurt, but I tended to only learn one or two songs from each. After hooking up with Weenie Campbell and a private lesson from JohnM (after my 2nd year at PT) I really endeavored to learn to transcribe for myself. First, I tried to figure out the outros that never seem to be included with the tab. I think Tommy Johnson's tag on Canned Heat Blues was the first thing I worked out. Then I would listen to songs I had learned from tab and find discrepencies that I could correct, you know, maybe the 2nd verse was different from the tabbed 1st verse and so on. Then I transcribed a Blind Boy Fuller tune, Walkin' My Troubles Away, because I was familiar with his style from having learned a few tunes from Ari's video. I was able to check my transcription against tab in one of SG's books and, heck, mine was more complete.  The thing is, once you start transcribing yourself, you are free to learn whatever thrills your ear. And that's a strong motivator, at least for me. Really, here at Weenie Campbell, the focus is more on learning the obscure gems of country blues. It's more fun to bring a song to camp that no one else knows and teach it to anyone interested in exchange for something they know, than it is to play the same arrangement as three other guitars, see what I mean. Well, that's fun, too. Of course there are the "classics" and you'll pick those up along the way. Many of them are in SG's "repertoire" lessons. To really get into them, tho', you have to listen to the originals and figure out all the parts that are missing from "the tab". Learn the ones that motivate you to want to do that, and you'll be fine. You'll develop your own list of "classics". I guess I think more along the lines of wanting to learn a song by a particular artist, to learn about his style, than learning specific songs, altho' once I get into a song I try to bring it to performance level. Wish I knew somethin' by Blind Lemon or Charlie Patton or Arthur Pettis (Good Boy Blues kills me). I figure I'll get to them when the time is right. To wrap up I'll point you to John M's online lessons. Obscure but wonderful tunes that will add to anyone's repertoire, but. at PT you'll find a lot of the Weenies know many of them, so you'll have the best of both worlds, and you'll be developing your ear without tab at the same time. Good luck with whatever you choose to work on next.
All for now.
John C.
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

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Offline Buzz

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Re: What are Top 10 (20?) Songs Every Country Blues Picker Should Know?
« Reply #2 on: February 06, 2005, 02:05:48 PM »
There are classic tunes that may be on a dozen lists compiled by a dozen different discographic scions--damn know-it-alls!--but these may not make the hair on the back of your neck rise when you hear them. In a few years one may then do that. IMHO, listen to a lot of early players and singers, play and sing along, and see which tunes really "hook you" . That's what I do. When I hear a tune, played by Son House, or played and analysed by John Miller, or by a Weenie at Blues Camp, if it gives me goosebumps, if it does something for me, then it kind of "own's me" and  I won't be able to get it out of my mind for a while: I listen, sing and play it until I own it as much as it own's me, in a manner of speaking. That's what happened when I heard Son House's Depot Blues (Ain't Gonna Cry No Mo'") that Andrew played on the mp3 a while back, or when I played John Millers first LP on a cd, some of those tunes were just too cool, I just had to get them in my blood and bones, they had to be a part of me for me to move on to anything else.

Then, you will learn the chords and the tab if you want, and play along, you will listen to and write out the words, you will sing, and you will acquire a number of new "old" tunes every year. And by the time you get to camp next time, there will be a few  more in your trick bag that others showed you, and a few that you learned on your own.   :)

And by the end of another 10 years, you'll know just as little about the whole field of Old Time Country Blues
as I do  ::), since  at this stage, though I can play a few tunes, every day I learn the name and a tune by some other fabulous pre-war artist whom I had never heard of :-[. And there are some I have heard of, whose material I don't have or know, and so I can't play for the life of me. I want to play up the neck like RGD, fingerpick like MJH, slide like Steve James. Hell, I just take the lessons, play and sing, and plug away at it, and I get a fraction better each year.

And...it's so damn much fun!  8) The music is so rich and full of life and feeling. I am crazy about it, and about any time I spend playing it.

So, have a good time, and play what app4eals to you. IMHO. ;D

Miller (aka "Buzz" and cyotegulch) 

Do good, be nice, eat well, smile, treat the ladies well, and ignore all news reports--which  can't be believed anyway,

Buzz

Offline Bluesygirl

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Re: What are Top 10 (20?) Songs Every Country Blues Picker Should Know?
« Reply #3 on: February 06, 2005, 02:49:42 PM »
Thanks for your thoughts guys.  Well right now MJH is just such an artist whose work speaks to me on many levels.  So that is why I have decided to focus on learning some of his tunes.  Just so that I don't get boxed in my Stefan Grossman's tab/arrangements, I have ordered John Miller's DVDs to learn from as well.  I would love to have the time to spend to transcribe some MJH tunes (or others) by ear but dissertation work, writing, conference presentations, etc. keep me from being able to devote any time to these activities.  I am not into singing so this is not an area in which I plan to spend any concerted effort.  Therefore, my goal at this point is to learn a handful of songs that I can play at least adequately. I just mainly wondered what people thought were some CB tunes MOST people know how to play.  I think RGD is too advanced for me yet so I will stick with MJH for now, maybe some Libba Cotten later on too. Bg

Offline uncle bud

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Re: What are Top 10 (20?) Songs Every Country Blues Picker Should Know?
« Reply #4 on: February 06, 2005, 03:20:49 PM »
Miller and Waxy make some excellent points. I tried to think up some sort of list but couldn't really. It depends on what you're into. The best I could come up with were a few things like Make Me a Pallet On Your Floor, Louis Collins, M&O Blues. I guess some Robert Johnson. And maybe Pony Blues, although surprisingly few people play it, at least amateurs like us.

Offline Bluesygirl

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Re: What are Top 10 (20?) Songs Every Country Blues Picker Should Know?
« Reply #5 on: February 06, 2005, 05:03:20 PM »
Yeah I'm working on "Pallet" now.  But it'll take years before I can play it as fast as I hear on recordings.  I'm mostly concentrating on how to do the hammer-ons and pull-offs cleanly and as consistently as possible.  I hope to start "Louis Collins" soon. Bg

Offline uncle bud

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Re: What are Top 10 (20?) Songs Every Country Blues Picker Should Know?
« Reply #6 on: February 06, 2005, 05:09:53 PM »
I'd add that if you're not into figuring stuff yet - and the earlier you start the easier it will be in the end - Grossman's library of instructional material should serve you well and will cover a lot of material that could fall into a top 20 concept.

The other point I'd make is that this is primarily vocal music, and that working exclusively from instructional material can make it seem like it isn't. There are some who play it mostly as instrumental music like Etta Baker or Hacksaw Harney or some Gary Davis, but it's still really vocal music overall and when you get that going it's quite a feeling, even if you're not Bessie Smith or Blind Lemon.

Pallet is a good one to try singing on.

Offline Johnm

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Re: What are Top 10 (20?) Songs Every Country Blues Picker Should Know?
« Reply #7 on: February 06, 2005, 08:02:22 PM »
Hi Bluesy Girl,
Since you are really into John Hurt now, and just recently purchased two instructional DVDs of his songs, maybe a good approach would be to target a selection of his tunes in different positions/tunings.  In standard tuning, you could go for--
   * In G standard, "Spike Driver's Blues"
   * In E standard, "Avalon" or "Sliding Delta"
   * In A standard, "Monday Morning Blues"
   * In D standard, "C. C. Rider"
   * In C standard, "My Creole Belle"
In Open G (Spanish) tuning, you could go for "Frankie", and in Open D (Vastapol), you could go for "Payday".
Having worked through a selection of tunes in different positions will help prepare you to learn tunes by other artists in the same positions later.  By focusing on one artist for the time being, you may miss out on the breadth that you would get by working on tunes by a number of different musicians, but that may be more than made up for by the depth of feel and understanding you get by focusing on one musician's playing for a while.  Best of luck.
All best,
Johnm

Offline outfidel

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Re: What are Top 10 (20?) Songs Every Country Blues Picker Should Know?
« Reply #8 on: February 07, 2005, 08:03:52 AM »
I think it was Dave Van Ronk who called "Freight Train" the "national anthem for fingerpickers". So I would put that on your list.

To learn how to play "Freight Train", I would HIGHLY recommend John Miller's Elizabeth Cotten lessons.

Oh and if you have children -- or if you're a child yourself -- then check out this excellent book on young Elizabeth Cotten & "Freight Train".? :)
« Last Edit: April 18, 2005, 11:06:20 AM by Johnm »
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Offline Buzz

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Re: What are Top 10 (20?) Songs Every Country Blues Picker Should Know?
« Reply #9 on: February 07, 2005, 04:38:24 PM »
Howdy!

IMHO, these posts are good advice by John and outfidel.
I always go back to MJH tunes, and probably always will. There is a quality to his picking, his timing and his lyrics that is very satisfying to master and play well--it gives me a very centered , comfortable feeling when I turn off the outside world and just sing and play Creole Belle, or Spikedrivers Moan, or his Casey Jones . Michael Roach showed his adaptation of Spikedriver a few years back.

About Stefan Grossman: I found that his tabs are not entirely accurate, and that if I listen many times to the tune I am learning, I will pick up the differences, I then can pick  other Weenies brains at Camp, and fill in the missing parts. Stefan is good to a point, but try some other methods: Johns videos, listening to the music and playing tunes over and over. I now learn better by classes and listening, use tab less.

Andrew is right: this is singing music. Forget what you sound like, just sing. Sing for yourself. Hear yourself sing, and sing along with the tune as you lsten to it from the dvd or tape or cd. Sooner of later you will start singing more, and better. If you are afraid what others will think, don't be. As a teacher once told me in a class: Everyone is too worried about what they will sound like when they get up in front of the others, to pay any attention to you when you sing. Before long, you will find your "voice", and you will accompany yourself fine. IMHO. 8)
Do good, be nice, eat well, smile, treat the ladies well, and ignore all news reports--which  can't be believed anyway,

Buzz

Offline Bluesygirl

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Re: What are Top 10 (20?) Songs Every Country Blues Picker Should Know?
« Reply #10 on: February 07, 2005, 07:23:28 PM »
Thanks John M and everyone for your suggestions. John, I'll keep your suggestion about learning the MJH tunes in different tunings. I already got "Freight Train" down (Mark Hanson version) but plan to get John's Elizabeth Cotten DVD later this year.  Also found out from SG that they plan to convert his VHS lessons on Robert Wilkins and Furry Lewis to DVD at the end of the year/early next year. I'd love to learn some tunes from these two wonderful artists.   Sorry, but I couldn't care less about singing. At this stage in my life I also couldn't care less about whether I sound good or not. I'd like to focus my attention on playing good guitar.    O0  O0

Offline GhostRider

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Re: What are Top 10 (20?) Songs Every Country Blues Picker Should Know?
« Reply #11 on: February 08, 2005, 08:54:46 AM »
Hey Bluesygal:

One type of tune I'd put in this class is the slow blues. MJH is great, but not all that "bluesy" if you know what I mean. Two great slow blues that are not tough to learn are "Early Morning Blues" by Blind Blake (or the similar and slightly easier "Black Dog Blues") and Robert Johnson's "Kind Hearted Woman Blues".

I think that every CB player should have at least one slow evocative blues in their bag. Many MJH tunes a non-expert audience would not recognize as a blues, but no one would miss these two!

Alex

Offline uncle bud

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Re: What are Top 10 (20?) Songs Every Country Blues Picker Should Know?
« Reply #12 on: February 08, 2005, 09:05:08 AM »
Pyro, Early Morning Blues easy for a beginner? I'd have to disagree.  :P  Perhaps as a longer term project. Kind Hearted Woman yes, I can see that.

Offline GhostRider

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Re: What are Top 10 (20?) Songs Every Country Blues Picker Should Know?
« Reply #13 on: February 08, 2005, 10:41:20 AM »
Unkie Bud:

Well, maybe the break of EMB is a bit tough, but the verses aren't that bad, only because he plays the song so slowly. I learned the verses early in my "career".

KWB is actually tougher, not the left hand but the right hand technique. RJ rhythms are quite complicated and his mutted bass brushings are hard to emulate IMHO.

Alex

Offline waxwing

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Re: What are Top 10 (20?) Songs Every Country Blues Picker Should Know?
« Reply #14 on: February 08, 2005, 11:10:06 AM »
And the little break in Kind Hearted Woman is kinda tough. I tried it, early on, and was frustrated by that. Guess it's time I checked it out again.
All for now.
John C.
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

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