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Jack's house was sittin' in a old cemetary... He used to tell me, 'Boy, sometimes when I be out here, I have them jokers cuttin' up out there in them graveyards.' 'What you be doin' Jack?' 'Boy, playin' that guitar and havin' a durn good time out there' - Jack Owens, remembered by Jimmy Holmes, Living Blues #137

Author Topic: Country Blues Guitarists Who Habitually Used A Capo  (Read 1528 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Country Blues Guitarists Who Habitually Used A Capo
« on: July 25, 2017, 01:26:32 PM »
Hi all,
There is an idea, sometimes put forward, that Country Blues players did not at all, or only very rarely used capos when playing.  The recorded evidence flies in the face of this idea, however.  A fair number of Country Blues guitarists recorded pitched so high relative to the playing positions that they were working out of that simply "tuning high" could not plausibly have put them at the pitch at which their renditions sounded.  I thought it might be interesting to identify players, who based on the recorded evidence, either used capos in all of their playing, or at least a great deal of it.  Here are a couple to get the ball rolling:
   * Clifford Gibson--Clifford Gibson often, when recording in Spanish tuning, sounded as high as D or even E flat.  Even assuming he recorded in Spanish at A rather than G, sounding in those keys would have required him to capo at the fifth or sixth fret, respectively.  Similarly, for the pieces in which he used the EAEGBE tuning, he often sounded in G or higher keys.  I believe he used a capo for virtually all of his recordings.
   * Henry Thomas--Henry Thomas often played in D position in standard tuning to sound in G, G# or A, and similarly used C position in standard tuning to sound in F, F# or G.  Unless he used a small guitar like a requinto, tuned very high, he almost definitely used a capo on all of his recordings with the possible exception of "Shanty Blues" and "Texas Easy Street".
   * Charley Jordan--For Charley Jordan's solo recordings that he played out of E position in standard tuning (everything but "Raiding Squad" and "Spoonful"), he is most often pitched around B flat or B.  Did he tune his guitar that high?  No, he used a capo.

Can you think of other players who habitually used a capo?

All best,
Johnm 

Offline Thomas8

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Re: Country Blues Guitarists Who Habitually Used A Capo
« Reply #1 on: July 25, 2017, 02:03:34 PM »
Ole Scrapper?

Offline Johnm

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Re: Country Blues Guitarists Who Habitually Used A Capo
« Reply #2 on: July 25, 2017, 02:07:43 PM »
Good one, Thomas.  You certainly are right, and perhaps especially on his recordings with Leroy Carr.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Thomas8

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Re: Country Blues Guitarists Who Habitually Used A Capo
« Reply #3 on: July 25, 2017, 02:25:32 PM »
I'm tempted to say Blind Boy Fuller as well, for most of his recordings are played in fairly high keys or maybe that's just the pitch of the recordings?

Offline Johnm

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Re: Country Blues Guitarists Who Habitually Used A Capo
« Reply #4 on: July 25, 2017, 02:54:48 PM »
No, you're right about Fuller, too, Thomas.  Good on you!
All best,
Johnm

Offline harry

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Re: Country Blues Guitarists Who Habitually Used A Capo
« Reply #5 on: July 25, 2017, 03:12:21 PM »
Robert Johnson used a capo in alot of his songs I think. He' s even photographed with a capo.

Offline harry

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Re: Country Blues Guitarists Who Habitually Used A Capo
« Reply #6 on: July 25, 2017, 04:05:37 PM »
You're here to learn to play the whole guitar, not half the guitar. Take that capo off. Throw it away - Larry Johnson, Port Townsend 98

This one is floating in the quote drive. I love my capo, brilliant device. I'm not sure if Larry was being serious.

Offline banjochris

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Re: Country Blues Guitarists Who Habitually Used A Capo
« Reply #7 on: July 25, 2017, 05:05:23 PM »
Peg Leg Howell seemed to use one a lot. Big Joe Williams seems to always have one on at the second fret in later years. (And sometimes much higher in earlier years!)

Offline lindy

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Re: Country Blues Guitarists Who Habitually Used A Capo
« Reply #8 on: July 25, 2017, 06:47:34 PM »
I remember a class discussion at PT many years ago when you were teaching Charley Patton's Green River Blues, John. There seemed to be some disagreement among CB players in general about whether he used a capo or if he cranked up his tuning to the point where he must have consistently busted strings.

Gazing at the list of his tunings on Weeniepedia, it looks like there's a lot of E position tunes pitched at F# (like Green River), which could go either way, and a lot of Spanish tuning songs pitched at Bb, which I believe suggests a capo.

I'm all ears for the opinions of Patton fanatics here.

Lindy

Edited to add:

Whoops, I went back to Weeniepedia and noticed that I forgot to look at this note at the top of the "Charley Patton Guitar Keys and Positions" page, which looks like it was written by Uncle Bud:

NOTE: It's generally held that Patton wasn't using a capo but tuned up one, two or several steps. With some of these songs, one can see how he might have gone through several guitars doing this. You might want to use a capo instead. For standard tuning songs, I tuned to standard pitch then used a capo. For "Spoonful," I tuned the guitar to Vestapol at E. For the tunes in Spanish, I tuned to open G and capoed to A, Bb, B, as needed, though you could easily get away with open A, depending on your guitar. I'd recommend tuning it back down when you're done though. For the slide tunes, it's also worth noting he's likely playing lap-style for most of them. I have not included the Henry Sims songs, but they were all played out of E position, pitched at F#.
« Last Edit: July 25, 2017, 06:58:34 PM by lindy »

Offline lindy

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Re: Country Blues Guitarists Who Habitually Used A Capo
« Reply #9 on: July 25, 2017, 06:54:23 PM »
You're here to learn to play the whole guitar, not half the guitar. Take that capo off. Throw it away - Larry Johnson, Port Townsend 98

This one is floating in the quote drive. I love my capo, brilliant device. I'm not sure if Larry was being serious.

I took all of his classes that year, Harry, and I can tell you that he was serious. He said what he said in his big, booming "I mean business and don't you mess with me" voice. At other times during the week he would use that same voice, and then give a sweet smile and say, "I'm just joshing," but not when he caught one of the students using a capo.

Lindy

Offline oddenda

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Re: Country Blues Guitarists Who Habitually Used A Capo
« Reply #10 on: July 25, 2017, 07:02:26 PM »
Baby Tate used a "capodise" numerous times.

pbl

Offline Lignite

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Re: Country Blues Guitarists Who Habitually Used A Capo
« Reply #11 on: July 25, 2017, 08:34:18 PM »
Blind Boy Fuller

Offline Parlor Picker

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Re: Country Blues Guitarists Who Habitually Used A Capo
« Reply #12 on: July 26, 2017, 02:39:54 AM »
This puts me in mind of photographs of Sleepy John Estes with a makeshift capo, namely a pencil and a rubber band. This is one by Georges Adins on Stefan Wirz's site: https://www.wirz.de/music/estes/grafik/estes44.jpg

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Offline Pan

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Re: Country Blues Guitarists Who Habitually Used A Capo
« Reply #13 on: July 26, 2017, 05:57:18 AM »
Hi all

Willie Walker used a capo, to sound about at F, playing out of C-position, on their duet "South Carolina Rag" with Sam Brooks (who played out of F in standard tuning, I believe).

Another example of high use of capo is Tommy Bradley's version of "Nobody's Business If I Do", also played out of C-position.

I'm not sure how habitual their use of capo is though, given that we only have two songs by Walker, we might never know.

Cheers,

Pan

Offline Prof Scratchy

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Re: Country Blues Guitarists Who Habitually Used A Capo
« Reply #14 on: July 26, 2017, 06:44:54 AM »
Similarly Frank Stokes playing along with Dane Sane?


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