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Author Topic: Country Blues Guitarists Who Habitually Used A Capo  (Read 1242 times)

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Online 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?

Online 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?

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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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Offline alyoung

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Re: Country Blues Guitarists Who Habitually Used A Capo
« Reply #15 on: July 26, 2017, 06:47:08 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


I tried it once, just for the hell of it, and it works surprising well (as long, I guess, as your fretboard isn't too curved; I used a Stella).

Offline waxwing

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Re: Country Blues Guitarists Who Habitually Used A Capo
« Reply #16 on: July 26, 2017, 06:47:38 AM »
William Brown. IIRC he was Standard capoed up 7 for Ragged and Dirty and maybe 2 or 3 for Mississippi Blues.

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Online Johnm

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Re: Country Blues Guitarists Who Habitually Used A Capo
« Reply #17 on: July 26, 2017, 10:11:41 AM »
Hi all,
A couple of other players who used capos a lot:
   * Arthur Crudup--his original recording of "Mean Old Frisco" was played in cross-note, and sounds in B flat.  That puts him with a capo at the sixth fret, assuming he was in cross-note at E.  Cross-note at D is implausible, because it would require a capo at the eighth fret, and much of the song's fretting happens at the seventh to the ninth fret relative to capo placement.  Most of Arthur Crudup's early recordings operate at close to that same pitch, to suit his high, bright singing voice.
   * Dan Pickett--a lot of his songs are in Vestapol or E position, standard tuning with a capo placed in the neighborhood of the fourth to sixth fret.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Rivers

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Re: Country Blues Guitarists Who Habitually Used A Capo
« Reply #18 on: July 26, 2017, 06:41:51 PM »
These are later players, I hope they're not too out of scope for the intent of this thread.

I saw John Cephas using a capo many times in performance with Phil. For fans of deep trivia it was blue Kyser last time I saw him play.

Brownie McGhee was no capophobe either, Google his name and bring up images, you can see shots of him capoed at 1 and 4, maybe more.

Same goes for Josh White Sr's later work. I don't know about his early playing though where there are few pics available and I have never tried to figure it out.

Yah Lindy, I was also in the room when Larry said that, to Dewey I seem to recall, and concur with your account. It might have been pure theater though; after all he was showing us Rev Gary Davis songs at the time!

Here's Brownie clamped at 4:



« Last Edit: July 26, 2017, 07:12:05 PM by Rivers »

Offline Rivers

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Re: Country Blues Guitarists Who Habitually Used A Capo
« Reply #19 on: July 26, 2017, 07:28:34 PM »
As a side note, WRT to Charlie Patton, Alvin Youngblood Hart has, or had anyway, a theory that Patton used a 'false nut capo' on Boll Weevil Blues and proceeded to demo it on a Stella lap style. As I recall the false nut capo consisted of a nut made of tool steel, with a slot somehow milled or ground in the base of it that allowed him to slip it under the strings, directly over the fret at which he wanted to capo. Behind the false-capoed fret he had a 'real', elasticated capo to put downforce on the strings onto the false nut.

Sounded like Patton to me.

[later: thinking about it the false nut was actually a bone nut blank with a drill-steel blank glued into the top edge of the bone. The groove that slid over the fret was milled into the base of the bone nut]
« Last Edit: July 26, 2017, 07:53:06 PM by Rivers »

Offline DerZauberer

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Re: Country Blues Guitarists Who Habitually Used A Capo
« Reply #20 on: July 28, 2017, 02:32:40 AM »
To the point of "you should learn to play in any key and anywhere on the fingerboard" ... theoretically that's correct. However... as we all know, there are certain licks/phrases/chord shapes that "need" a certain fingering. You need the open strings, resonance, etc.

Example 1: A classic Lightnin' Hopkins style blues, let's say in the A position - if you want to play that in B, you would just capo it up two frets, because again, you want to use the same open bass string sounds and treble runs. Theoretically, you could of course transpose the song into the B position, but you would lose a lot of the original. Here, the guitar to me is fundamentally different from e.g. the piano.

Example 2: Open tunings! If you're in open G, there's really not much of a point to play for example in A without a capo. Again, it's the open strings you want, their harmonic resonance/rattling, the bass note drone, and that big all-strings-open sound.

However... you'll still find those campfire songbooks where every song is transposed to basically use C, F, G and Am, even if the original was in a completely different key. And you'll find capo tables, telling you how to play in G using your basic open chord shapes. That changes the original song and is therefore "cheating".

Long story short: Many players had (and still have) their signature chord shapes, fingerings, licks, progressions, patterns. You could theoretically emulate these in a different key altogether, but it's just so much easier to us a capo to...
- reduce strain on your voice by moving the song to a more comfortable pitch to sing along with
- reduce strain on your fingers so you can focus on the vocal delivery rather than thinking about transposing
- make it easier for your harp player to play along with you
- you think it sounds better

And to my ear, that's exactly what the guys on many of the old records did (and continue to do).
"The blues is not a plaything like some people think they are." - Son House

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Country Blues Guitarists Who Habitually Used A Capo
« Reply #21 on: July 29, 2017, 11:47:55 AM »
It's safe to say that almost ALL Blues players used a capo at one time or another. The one glaring exception was Gary Davis who viewed them with contempt and felt that "his people (students)" ought to be able to play in any key. Not coincidently he was one of the very few players who actually had the knowledge and skill and vocal range to do this, unlike most of us mere mortals.
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Offline Lastfirstface

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Re: Country Blues Guitarists Who Habitually Used A Capo
« Reply #22 on: July 29, 2017, 12:17:11 PM »
Not Country Blues, but Muddy Waters seemed to be fairly reliant on a capo for a lot of his playing.

In the "no capo" camp: did Lonnie Johnson ever really capo? He seemed to be so capable at working out of jazzy, closed positions that he didn't really need it.

Offline chickenlegs

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Re: Country Blues Guitarists Who Habitually Used A Capo
« Reply #23 on: August 05, 2017, 09:27:10 AM »
I remember one of the guitar method books I had when first leaning to play had ? think it was a brief 1 page chapter titled "capo, boon or bane". It explained that jazz guitarist frown on its use and consider it a crutch, while folk guitarists use it to there advantage to get suitable vocal keys, open string chords, and licks that would be extremely difficult if not impossible without one. I've never hesitated to use one since. I think blues falls mostly in the folk camp. The easier question might be ? Who never used one?

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Re: Country Blues Guitarists Who Habitually Used A Capo
« Reply #24 on: October 11, 2017, 05:12:59 PM »
Hi all,
Robert Petway was pitched such that he almost definitely used a capo on every one of his recordings.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Rivers

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Re: Country Blues Guitarists Who Habitually Used A Capo
« Reply #25 on: October 15, 2017, 05:44:02 AM »
Memphis Minnie is capoed up in Spanish on several recordings, sometimes quite high up the neck. Call The Fire Wagon and Pigmeat On The Line come immediately to mind but there are many.

Offline Guitar Jim

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Re: Country Blues Guitarists Who Habitually Used A Capo
« Reply #26 on: October 18, 2017, 06:13:57 AM »
All guitar players use a capo.

Can ya see that little white thing with 6 grooves in it?  It sits on the neck of the guitar about 1 1/2 inches before the 1st fret? Well, that's a capo (a 'permanent' capo). It does exactly what any other capo does, except it's in a fixed position.

Now don't you dare call me a nut.
« Last Edit: October 18, 2017, 06:20:03 AM by Guitar Jim »

Online Johnm

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Re: Country Blues Guitarists Who Habitually Used A Capo
« Reply #27 on: October 18, 2017, 12:56:25 PM »
The whole point of a capo is that it is moveable.  The nut is not a capo.
« Last Edit: October 18, 2017, 05:07:23 PM by Johnm »

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