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Negros must stop the deluge of filth, which makers of records are marketing among them. The music of the 'Blues' is one thing, but whether good or bad, it is indefensible to put to it all the stench which ingenuity can drag out the under-world and camouflage with words of double meaning. Don't buy them! Don't go to people's houses who do buy them! Don't permit your race newspaper to bear that name and at the same time advertise flagrant immorality set to music. Do anything, do everything, filthy records must go. - Roy Wilkins, (attrib.) editorial in the December 31 1926 edition of the Kansas City Call, probably written by the man who ironically went on to head up the NAACP

Author Topic: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes  (Read 9366 times)

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Offline Doc White

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Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
« Reply #15 on: June 04, 2008, 12:57:21 AM »
Hey Johnm,
Like you I'm trying to work out why that chord works in that song and all I'm doing is offering an opinion about the underlying harmony. This is an unusual chord in this key. Thinking about alternative names gets me closer to an explanation than just accepting it's an Ab and that's that. Might not work for you...that's cool. Chord names aside I think probably the answer is quite simple if you subscribe to the theory that any chord can be substituted for any other provided they have at least one note in common. (there is a caveat on this and it is "Let your ears be the guide"). The Ab works so well because of the C in the bass. It doesn't work so well if the Ab is in the bass. Re RGD and rootless chords, I agree almost all of his chords have roots in them but he quite often avoids putting the root note in the bass. His famous 6 note dom7th has the 5th in the bass which gives it it's particular sound. The C7 would be 332313 low to high. There are also instances of him having a non-chord tone in the bass as well.
Whether anyone wants to think about the construction of the tune or not it is still an amazing piece of music. Moves me every time I hear it.

Chris

Online Johnm

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Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
« Reply #16 on: May 13, 2010, 02:41:48 PM »
Hi all,
This isn't exactly an instance of an unusual harmonization, rather an instance of making an interesting choice as to what notes to hit in the bass behind the I chord.  On Cannon's Jug Stompers' recording of "Walk Right In", the discographical information on the re-issue I have shows Hosea Woods as the guitarist.  Woods made an interesting choice in the bass notes he chose to back the song.  He played the song out of C position in standard tuning, and the song, for the most part, holds the I chord.
Woods is employing a boom-chang back-up style for the song, with bass notes struck on beats one and two and chords strummed on the up-beats.  More often than not, when he plays in C he alternates his bass notes from the C at the third fret of the fifth string to the open fifth string, A. At the least, it gives the VI note of the scale, A, a very strong emphasis, and depending on how you hear it, you might feel as though he is rocking back and forth between C major and A minor. It's an utterly distinctive sound, and I don't know that I've ever heard a boom-chang bass in C major done that way. Certainly, if you were interested in playing "Walk Right In" and getting some of the sound and flavor of the original recording, it would be an important element to preserve. This music is full of surprises.
All best,
Johnm   
« Last Edit: October 23, 2013, 03:14:15 PM by Johnm »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
« Reply #17 on: October 27, 2010, 01:31:24 PM »
I hadn't noticed that about Walk Right In before, though had noted there was a certain sound that was atypical. Another way of looking at that C to A bass alternation might be as a walk up to the C chord with note(s) missing. So one might more typically hear a walk up in eighth notes that goes A B C (or even G A B C), but Woods just does the A to C boom chang.

Online Johnm

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Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
« Reply #18 on: March 09, 2011, 11:57:30 PM »
Hi all,
A while ago, Bruce Nemerov posted a link to a fascinating interview with Kirk McGee, of the McGee Brothers, and in the course of the discussion in that thread, the version that the McGee Brothers recorded of "Salty Dog Blues" came up.  I remembered the version as being very unusual, but probably hadn't heard it in fifteen years or so.  
I recently purchased the Sam McGee CD on Document, DOCD-8036, and "Salty Dog Blues" is included in its program.  It is indeed a very unusual version of that song, particularly if, as the liner notes indicate, the McGee's version was based on Papa Charlie Jackson's recording of "Salty Dog Blues".  I thought it might be interesting to compare Papa Charlie's version with the McGee Brothers version.
Papa Charlie did the song as a raggy 16-bar blues, with two chordally identical 8-bar phrases, in the key of G.  In the diagram below, I've placed the melody notes over the measures in which they are sung.  Each measure has two beats, in a cut time feel.
    E E G#E G#G#E   E E G E  G G E      E E D              E   E E D     D D D#
   |    E7    |    E7    |    A7    |    A7    |    D7    |    D7    |    G    |    G    |
    E     E     E E E D  C# C# A             D D D     BABDBA  G
   |    E7    |    E7    |    A7    |    A7    |    D7    |    D7    |    G    |    G     |
One thing that is interesting and distinctive about the melody is the way it hangs around E, the VI note in the key of G major.  This emphasis on the VI note must have sounded very Jazzy at the time that Papa Charlie and the McGees recorded the song.  (Another song that strongly emphasizes the VI note in its melody is "Mack The Knife"--The VI note falls on, "Oh, the SHARK BITES, with its TEETH, DEAR, and he SHOWS THEM pearly WHITE, etc.")  In the melody as sung by Papa Charlie, he sings the following notes not in the G major scale:  G#, D# and C#.  The G# is the major third of the E7 (VI7) chord and the C# is the major third of the A7 (II7) chord.  The D# is a passing tone used to create a chromatic line from D up to E.
Sam and Kirk McGee did their version of "Salty Dog Blues" in C major.  Here is their phrasing, chord progression and melody, once again indicated over the measures in which it is sung. Note that the fourth measure of A minor is three beats long.  All other measures are two beats long.
    A A C A    C C A      A A C A   C C A  A A G         G A G# GG F#G
   |    Am    |    Am    |    Am    |     Am    |    G    |    G    |     G    |
    A         A A A A G    F F D       F F D       G G G   EDEGED C
   |    A7     |    A7     |    Dm    |    Dm     |   G     |    G    |     C     |    C     |
The McGees differ from Papa Charlie's progression to this extent:  Instead of starting with a VI7 chord (A7 in the key of C major), they start with a vi minor chord, which they continue to hold over the third and fourth bars, where Papa Charlie played a II7 chord.  They hold the V chord for three bars at the end of the first phrase and skip the resolution to the I chord altogether.  In the second phrase, they differ only in playing a ii minor chord in the third and fourth bars rather than the II7 chord played by Papa Charlie.  

The changes in the melody as sung by Kirk McGee are more telling.  By starting the progression on a vi minor chord and using a ii minor chord in the second phrase, he eliminates two of the chromatic notes in the melody, the major third of the VI7 chord (C#)  and the major third of the II7 chord (F#).  The only remaining chromatic notes in the melody as sung by Kirk McGee are all neighboring tones which don't serve chordal functions.

What is the difference in terms of the change in sound and feel wrought by the the McGees' different approach to playing "Salty Dog Blues"?  
   * By eliminating the chromaticism in the melody that the VI7 and II7 chords dictated, the McGees end up with a melody that is considerably less raggy sounding, but that is simultaneously considerably more modal and eerie sounding, for apart from the passing tones mentioned earlier, their entire melody sits squarely in the C major scale.  It's interesting that a melody that is almost completely in the major scale could end up sounding so exotic.
   * The McGees' more asymmetrical phrasing feels a lot more eccentric and surprising than the perfectly symmetrical progression employed by Papa Charlie, which sounds like it came right out of Tin Pan Alley.  And the McGees' progression has the capacity to stay surprising--the A7 that starts the second phrase is kind of a shocker.  I guess it goes to show that they didn't mind playing chords that contained chromatic notes, as long as the chromatic notes they contained didn't appear in the melody.

If there is any lesson to be drawn from the McGee Brothers version of "Salty Dog Blues" in the larger sense, perhaps it is that the most interesting things sometimes happen when musicians or other artists diverge significantly from their models, rather than making an effort to reproduce the thing they are copying exactly. This is not an uncommon occurrence in this music--think of Isiaiah Nettles' "So Cold In China" or Willie Lofton's "Dark Road Blues"--as copies of Lemon Jefferson and Tommy Johnson, these renditions are failures, but who cares? They're so darned exciting it doesn't make a bit of difference.
All best,
Johnm

 



  

 
« Last Edit: March 10, 2011, 07:16:02 AM by Johnm »

Offline Baltimore Bob

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Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
« Reply #19 on: March 10, 2011, 01:35:59 PM »
Another song that leans on the VI note in the melody is "Time Is On My Side" as done by the Stones (at least if I'm doing it right -- never a safe bet haha). I had done it for years before I started fooling with the melody on guitar and I was surprised to see the VI note getting all that emphasis at the start of the melody.

Back to earlier discussion, this may be a statement of the obvious to regulars here, but when I started learning blues songs with a strong roots feel by people like Howlin' Wolf and John Lee Hooker, I was baffled briefly when they seemed to imply the IV chord at times without actually playing it (or maybe I was just conditioned to hear it at that point). Sometimes you can play the IV over the recording and not have it clash, but when you listen without playing, you realize they don't actually make the chord change.
 

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Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
« Reply #20 on: March 11, 2011, 08:32:37 AM »
You're right about the IV chord being elided sometimes, Bob, and there's also a fair amount of V chord avoidance out there, too.  Apropos of which, you might want to take a look at the thread on "Great One-Chord Songs" at http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?amp;Itemid=128&topic=7261.0.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Lyle Lofgren

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Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
« Reply #21 on: March 11, 2011, 10:50:47 AM »
On 3/9/11, Johnm wrote, "Bruce Nemerov posted a link to a fascinating interview with Kirk McGee." I can't find anything on it by searching. Could you please give me a link to it? Thanks.

Lyle

Offline dj

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Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
« Reply #22 on: March 11, 2011, 11:19:08 AM »
Lyle, to find the original thread, click on the Tags button at the top of the forum page, then click on the Kirk McGee tab.  Unfortunately, the video containing the interview is now locked as "private".

Offline Lyle Lofgren

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Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
« Reply #23 on: March 11, 2011, 11:48:41 AM »
Thanks, anyway, dj, for telling me how to find something in the future.

Lyle

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Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
« Reply #24 on: October 23, 2013, 01:56:06 PM »
Hi all,
I've had occasion recently to work on the Leadbelly song, "If It Wasn't For Dicky", from his Library of Congress recordings.  The song has a beautiful melody, and it was taken later by the Weavers for their re-make of it, "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine", which was also recorded by the '50s Pop singer Jimmy Rodgers.  I have read that the melody of the song came from an old Irish song, but don't know the basis of this statement--whether it references a particular un-named song, or just came from somebody saying, "Wow, that sounds Irish."

In any event, Leadbelly's rendition of the song is unforgettable, and his harmonization has a really mysterious quality.  He plays the song in standard tuning, and on the recording I was working from is tuned about a major third low, so that playing with a key center of A, relative to his tuning, he sounds in F.  Leadbelly plays the song out of an A position and the melody, which he plays with a thumb lead, spans the octave from the second fret of the fourth string to the open sixth string.  The notes that comprise the melody, descending from that second fret of the fourth string, are (assuming he was sounding in A) E-D-C-B-A-G-F#-E.  These are the notes that comprise a G major scale, but with a key center of A, the melody would fall squarely in the Dorian or II mode, which is created by running a major scale from II to II.  So in this instance, Leadbelly's melody is in the Dorian mode, spanning from the low V note at the open sixth string to the V note an octave higher, at the second fret of the fourth string.

The harmonic fly in the ointment is that every time Leadbelly plays a I chord, he plays it as an A7.  The A7 chord includes a C# note, which is not in the Dorian mode at A.  In the Dorian mode at A, were you to construct a 7 chord off of A you would end up with an A minor 7 chord.  The only place in the major scale you have a diatonic dominant 7 chord is off of V, so if you say that A7 is a V7 chord, what key would it be the V7 of?  D major.  And since A is the key center, the harmonization of the A as an A7 chord suggests the Mixolydian, or V mode, created by running the notes of a D scale from V to V.

What Leadbelly ended up with, then, is a Dorian melody which he chose to harmonize at his I chord, and at his I chord only, in the Mixolydian mode.  All of the other chords Leadbelly plays in the course of his rendition, D, C and G are all diatonic and occur naturally in the A Dorian mode which provides the melodic underpinning of the song's melody.

One of the nice things about understanding the sound and how it was achieved is that, if you wish, you could use the same sort of sound in one of your own arrangements or compositions, or possibly utilize it another song that has a melody in the Dorian mode. 

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: November 01, 2013, 06:44:44 AM by Johnm »

Offline Rivers

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Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
« Reply #25 on: October 23, 2013, 09:44:21 PM »
I think people with a farming background, no matter how tenuous, really appreciate Leadbelly's song about the demise of a favorite cow, and other just hinted-at human dramas. If you don't have the rural background the melody will still get you. The Weavers' cover was awful by comparison, obscuring the original intent with a major soppy rewrite of the lyrics.

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
« Reply #26 on: October 24, 2013, 07:04:27 AM »
Rivers , the reason Kisses Sweeter Than Wine was a big hit had little to do with male response to the lyrics. I witnessed this first hand with my mother and her friends for whom that was a favorite song. ;)
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Offline dj

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Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
« Reply #27 on: October 24, 2013, 07:53:04 AM »
Quote
The Weavers' cover was awful by comparison

It's the orchestration.  Check out the version they did live at Carnegie Hall.  Just guitar and banjo accompaniment, and the smile in their voices makes the lyrics go down more easily than on the hit version. 

Offline Willie Poor Boy

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Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
« Reply #28 on: October 24, 2013, 03:07:19 PM »
I was looking into this song's origins and there is an interesting anecdote at the conclusion to this obituary for Henrietta Yurchenco:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/14/arts/14yurchenco.html

Legend has it that Mr. Seeger and the Almanac Singers, an earlier name for the Weavers, wrote the song ?Kisses Sweeter Than Wine? in Ms. Yurchenco?s relatively quiet bathroom during a noisy party in her apartment. Mr. Seeger said that was not quite true, though he recalled her famous parties.

Mr. Seeger explained that Leadbelly, the great folk and blues artist, was in Ms. Yurchenco?s bathroom with the singer Sam Kennedy, who perched on the obvious as he sang ?Drimmin Down,? a lament about a dead cow. (Leadbelly later livened up the beat and used the tune for his own cow song, ?If It Wasn?t for Dicky.?)

Mr. Seeger liked the melody and added lyrics about wine.
[end quote]

I hoped to track down a copy of Sam Kennedy singing his version since every other rendition of Drimmen Down sounds pretty remote from Lead Belly's melody.  The lyrics for the traditional version of the Irish song bear sufficient resemblance to what we have from Lead Belly to trust that Sam Kennedy was singing a variant of this aisling topos where Ireland itself is given physical form but the music is hardly alike at all.  I hope to find a way of posting what sheet music I have for this song for reference sake once I learn how to do that on this site but in the meantime I can report that having contacted the Library of Congress to see if there was any extant recording in their collection of Sam Kennedy singing this song, they had nothing matching in their archives.

Given the circle of people who frequented Henrietta Yurchenco's parties it is pretty surprising that no one recorded Lead Belly's living source material but that connection between the traditional version and Lead Belly's may be lost forever.

« Last Edit: October 24, 2013, 03:28:58 PM by Willie Poor Boy »

Online Johnm

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Re: Harmony/Hearing Chord Changes
« Reply #29 on: October 24, 2013, 03:18:29 PM »
Thanks very much for that information, Willie Poor Boy.  It is great to know that "If It Wasn't For Dicky" did actually have some kind of Irish provenance and the notion of that provenance wasn't just a supposition based on the sound of the melody.  I have to say, too, what a quick study Leadbelly must have been to have put together his version of "It Wasn't For Dicky" on the basis of a melody he heard at a party. 
All best,
Johnm

 


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