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During his visit, Fahey succeeded in greatly impressing me by picking out an old blues by Little Hat Jones, and demonstrating Charley Patton's masterpiece, 'Down the Dirt Road', which I subsequently set about copying. In my 19-year-old neophyte's eyes, any guitarist who could approximate a vintage blues accompaniment was a virtuoso; only six or seven players in the entire country applied themselves to such pieces - Stephen Calt on the state of blues guitar in the early 1960s, from A Fahey Memoir (unpublished)

Author Topic: Tunings Used for Country Blues Guitar in Which One String Has Been Changed  (Read 439 times)

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Online Johnm

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Hi all,
We have the various "Adventures in" threads focused on pieces played in various tunings like Vestapol, Spanish, and Cross-note, but we also have such threads on two tunings in which only one string has been changed from standard tuning:  Dropped-D, DADGBE and EAEGBE tuning.  Over the past few years I've noticed that one occasionally encounters other tunings in which only one string has been changed from the norm; such tunings are much more rare, and I thought it might be interesting to give some examples here and see if folks have discovered any others not shown here.

First off, we have Precious Bryant, playing "Georgie Buck" in FADGBE in C position.  Raising the sixth string to F makes it so that she doesn't have to do a thumb wrap when the song goes to the IV chord, since she has the low root there on the open sixth string.  Uncle bud of this site first remarked upon her using this tuning.  Present-day player Del Ray has used this tuning too, but to play in F.  Here is Precious Bryant:



Next we have Smoky Babe, with "If I Had Listened to What My Mama Say", from his Arhoolie album, "Way Back In The Country".  Smoky Babe played this song and one other from the same album's program, "I'm Going Away", out of E position in EADF#BE tuning.  The tuning enables hammers on the third string to both the minor third and the major third, and makes possible a variety of sounds that are far removed from the normal E position in standard tuning sound.  Here is "If I Had Listened To What My Mama Say":



Alec Seward was fond of using EADGCE thing to play in C, in an otherwise standard tuning.  You can hear him living on that open second string, C, and its unusual tone sounding through his I and IV chords.  Here, from his album "Creeper's Blues", he is joined by Larry Johnson on harmonica for "Evil Woman Blues":



I just recently purchased the Testament CD, "It Must Have Been The Devil", which featured the Bentonia, Mississippi guitarist, Jack Owens, joined by the harmonica player Bud Spires.  Jack Owens is known primarily for being one of the Bentonia players noted for playing in cross-note tuning, but included in the CD's program is a track not on the original LP release, "I Love My Baby", on which I was pleasantly surprised to hear Jack Owens playing in a version of Spanish tuning in which one string's pitch had been altered from the normal Spanish tuning, so that if you were going to Jack's tuning from Spanish tuning in Open G, you would tune to the following pitches:  CGDGBD.  So it is that Jack Owens tuned his sixth string down a whole step, making a low root for his IV chord available.  In terms of sound, boy, was it worth it!  He sounds like a million bucks.  This is the Spanish tuning equivalent of using Dropped-D tuning to play in A.  Here is "I Love My Baby", with apologies to non-U.S. weenies who may not be able to view the video:



INTRO

Oh Lord, love my baby, tell the world I do
Sometime I b'lieve my, Lord, baby love me too
Sometime I b'lieve my, Lord, be my baby loves me too

Lord, I'm gwine, I'm goin', baby, tell the world I'm gwine, Lord,
I'm gwine, I'm gwine, and I'll tell the world I'm gwine
Sometime I b'lieve my, sometime I b'lieve my, baby (guitar finishes line)

Lord, I love my baby, tell the world I do
Sometime I b'lieve my, baby love me, baby love me
Sometime I b'lieve my, Lord, b'lieve she loves me too

(Guitar begins verse)
Oh, stop your, pretty baby, stop your low-down ways
You don't quit your, pretty baby, stop your, stop your low (guitar finishes line)

(Guitar begins verse)
Lord, you don't quit your foolish, baby, stop your low-down ways
Lord, you don't stop your foolish, baby, stop your (guitar finishes verse)

(Guitar begins verse)
Lord, you don't stop your foolish, baby, Lord, quit your low-down (guitar finishes verse)

GUITAR SOLO

(Spoken:  I done forgot 'em.) 

Has anyone encountered any other one-string variations of tunings commonly in use for playing Country Blues?  If you have, I hope you'll post them in this thread.
All best,
Johnm

 
« Last Edit: October 26, 2019, 08:31:41 AM by Johnm »

Online Johnm

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Hi all,
I was transcribing Ranie Burnette's "Hungry Spell" yesterday and discovered it was in the same tuning that Smoky Babe used for "If I Had Listened To what My Mama Say", EADF#BE, so it turns out Smoky Babe is not the only player to have recorded a tune using that tuning.
All best,
Johnm

Online Johnm

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Hi all,
Thinking about it, I realized that there are at least two other versions of Spanish tuning in which only one string has been changed--the sixth string, in both instances.  Here is Herman E. Johnson playing "She Had Been Drinking", which is muy funky, out of Spanish, but with the sixth string tuned to a G note a full octave lower than the fifth string, so GGDGBD.  Here is the cut:



Roscoe Holcomb also did a customized version of Spanish tuning in which he tuned the sixth string to a G note, but in his case, it was tuned in unison with the open fifth string, GGDGBD.  Here he uses the tuning to play "Pretty Fair Miss All In A Garden":



All best,
Johnm

Offline Pan

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Thank you again for a very interesting thread, Johnm.

In a live situation, changing the tuning of only one string can become a valuable tool, I think.

Cheers,

Pan
« Last Edit: October 16, 2019, 12:24:09 PM by Pan »

Offline Stuart

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It doesn't really qualify as the kind of Country Blues this thread is focused on, but 60 years ago, in 1959, John Fahey recorded "Desperate Man Blues" ("John Hardy") in G-G-D-G-B-D.

Given how the use of alternate tunings in the solo guitar genre has greatly expanded over the years, it might seem a mere historical curiosity. But I thought I'd mention it, both because of the date of the recording and because of John Fahey's involvement with older recordings, Country Blues and the people who made the music.

Offline banjochris

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Stuart Roscoe Holcomb also used that tuning a lot for his guitar pieces, many of which were basically two-finger banjo pieces moved over to guitar. Given the year, I would guess Fahey arrived at it independently, although it's only one string off of "high-bass" lap steel/Dobro tuning.

Offline Stuart

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Hi Chris:

Thanks for the info. IIRC, Fahey was involved with Bluegrass and Country before Country Blues, so it's possible he became familiar with low unison tuning from another source or sources before using it for "Desperate Man Blues." I really don't know. People are inventive and creative, so I'm sure there was a lot of music played in "non-standard" (whatever that means) open tunings that unfortunately was not recorded.

Non-standardly Yours  ;)
« Last Edit: October 16, 2019, 02:25:27 PM by Stuart »

Online Johnm

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Hi all,
I just remembered some great aural detective work that uncle bud did to identify the tuning that Tommy Johnson used to play "Morning Prayer Blues" and "Boogaloosa Woman" as EGDGBE, with both songs (given the tuning) somewhat surprisingly played in C.  If you go to https://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=1210.msg54952#msg54952 , you'll find uncle bud's initial post announcing the discovery of the tuning, followed by posts from a variety of weenies contributing to the discussion and eventually corroborating the tuning pretty conclusively.  It was fun to re-read the posts after a very long time.  EDITED TO ADD:  It occurred to me that the cited discussion will make more sense if you can listen to the tunes in question.  Here is "Morning Prayer Blues":



And here is "Boogaloosa Woman":




All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: October 17, 2019, 05:50:02 AM by Johnm »

Offline Prof Scratchy

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Wonderful thread with lots of new information for me. Whatever happened to uncle bud? I miss his posts!


Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk

Online Johnm

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I certainly agree with you about missing uncle bud's posts, Prof.  He did the yeoman's work on a mammoth undertaking here, too--the transcription of all of Blind Lemon's lyrics.

Online Johnm

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Re: Tunings Used for Country Blues Guitar in Which One String Has Been Changed
« Reply #10 on: October 17, 2019, 02:39:26 PM »
Hi all,
I thought of another "one string different" tuning:  the variation of Vestapol that Blind Blake used to play "Sweet Jivin' Mama", EADF#AD, using it to play in A (but pitched at C).  If you tune to the tuning at D and then capo to the third fret, you'll be sounding in C, as Blake did on the record.  I'd always been a bit dubious of this identification, but just working with the tuning now and playing along with the record, it really works, especially in the phrases in the IV chord.  There is a run there that Vestapol makes possible to play with almost every pitch on a different string so that they can all keep sustaining, like a harp.  You can play the piece out of A in standard tuning, similarly capoed to the third fret if you wish it to sound where Blake played it, but when you get to the IV chord it is not plausible to play the run with five consecutive notes on different strings as it is in the Vestapol variant tuning.  Here is the piece, and I can't imagine how Blake ever came up with this approach:



All best,
Johnm

Offline Gmaj7

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Re: Tunings Used for Country Blues Guitar in Which One String Has Been Changed
« Reply #11 on: October 22, 2019, 11:46:25 PM »
This is a fascinating thread. I remember a busker playing classical guitar once told me they used the EADF#BE tuning extensively though I was not able to ask why.

John Fahey was mentioned earlier with his G unison tuning for Desperate Man Blues.

Another tuning he used was vestapol but with the 6th string tuned to C#. DADF#AC#

He only used it once, for Uncloudy Day, and as far as I remember it may only be used in the intro, after which he tunes back up to open D.

Offline banjochris

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Re: Tunings Used for Country Blues Guitar in Which One String Has Been Changed
« Reply #12 on: October 23, 2019, 10:14:28 AM »
And one other slight Vestapol modification is Rev. Gary Davis' DADF#AB for his one recorded slide piece, "Whistlin' Blues."

Online Johnm

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Re: Tunings Used for Country Blues Guitar in Which One String Has Been Changed
« Reply #13 on: October 23, 2019, 11:42:25 AM »
Thanks for the mention of "Whistlin' Blues, Chris.  Here is the song for those who've not heard it before.



All best,
Johnm

Online Johnm

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Re: Tunings Used for Country Blues Guitar in Which One String Has Been Changed
« Reply #14 on: October 25, 2019, 12:18:53 PM »
Hi all,
I have remembered another tuning used for Country Blues in which one string has been changed.  It was first brought to my attention by Frank Basile, who noted that on his song "Dear Old Mother", the Alabama musician Lonzie Thomas played in what was essentially cross-note tuning, but with the third string tuned down a half-step, so that if you were playing in cross-note in D and wanted to switch to Lonzie's tuning you would end up with DADEAD.  This tuning allows you to get the sound that Smoky Babe had on "If I Had Listened To What My Mama Say", essentially playing in an E position, but with the first fret hammer on the third string giving you a minor third rather than a major third.  I will attempt to attach Lonzie's performance of "Dear Old Mother" to this message, since it is not up on youtube.  At the very end of the rendition, he arpeggiates his open strings, going from the sixth string to the first string and you can hear how the open third string is tuned to a II note.  Incidentally, you can hear other cuts by Lonzie on the George Mitchell Collection on Fat Possum--to my taste, Lonzie was one of George Mitchell's greatest discoveries.  I was unable to get the file to a size where it would attach, so you'll have to buy the tune from Fat Possum if you want to hear it.
All best,
Johnm