Monday, November 22, 2010

"Country Blues"

A happy Monday morning to you from wintery Idaho.  It’s another morning for the Monday Morning Blues around here, & this morning’s selection is one of the eeriest & spookiest songs I know: “Country Blues” by (or at least closely associated with) Dock Boggs.

For those of you who don’t know, Dock Boggs was a coal miner who also happened to be an extraodrinary banjo player.  In fact, he was successful enough with his music in the late 1920s to record a number of sides for Brunswick Records.  Unfortunately, the Great Depression hit the recording industry hard, & musicians in southern rural areas weren’t recorded as much in the 1930s as in the previous decade.  Unable to make a living with his banjo, Boggs pawned the instrument.

However, when Harry Smith issued his landmark compilation, The Anthology of American Folk Music, two of Boggs’ songs were included: “Country Blues” & “Sugar Baby.”  Both are extremely dark songs played in different modal tunings that Boggs favored for such old-time fare.  As was the case with several of the musicians featured on the Anthology, Boggs was sought out, “discovered,” & found himself in a whole new musical career from the early 60s until his death in 1971.  Mike Seeger was particularly instrumental in getting Boggs his new start.

It must be said that “Country Blues” is a real banjo song—not only did Boggs play it this way, but Doc Watson also did a wonderful cover version in a somewhat different banjo-playing style.  Also, to my mind a guitar can't capture the modal feel the way a banjo can.  That being the case, why am I playing it here on a resonator guitar?

First, I’m not familiar with the odd tuning that Boggs used when recording this song (f#CGAD), but the instrument clearly has to be in some form of modal tuning.  The modal tuning I’m most familiar with on the banjo is the so-called “Sawmill tuning,” & I simply couldn’t come up with anything using that tuning, or even using the common G-major tuning while playing in D minor (technically, more like a D suspended chord), that seemed to work.  Also, fact is: I’m a better guitar player than a banjo player.

So this is played on my Regal resonator guitar tuned to double drop D—in other words, both the highest & the lowest strings are D, rather than E as in standard tuning.  I recorded the song both in D & then in Eb by using a capo on the first fret.  I actually liked the D version better, but there seems to be a glitch in the recording itself, so I’m sharing the Eb take with you today.

Hope you enjoy it.

9 comments:

  1. Definitely an interesting tune, John. I love modal stuff!

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  2. Hi Roy: Glad you liked it--hope you are doing well!

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  3. Superb!

    The idea of musicians hawking their beloved instruments during hard economic times makes me so sad. :-(

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  4. Hi Raquelle: So glad you liked it! Selling instruments in hard times: happens to us all--I sold a guitar a couple of days ago. But I have some to spare!

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  5. Hey, I will always want to hear the Resonator.
    but, as my brother is a banjo player, I will ask him to play it this weekend at his annual Bluegrass party in Los Gatos Calif,
    keep the tunes comin', John.
    Di

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  6. Give me corn-whisky when I'm dry. Yeah, good people!
    It may be datrk but it lightened up my Monday.

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  7. Hi Willow, Dianne & Peter: Sorry to be so late in responding. This has been a crazy week & getting crazier!

    Willow: Thanks!

    Dianne: I'm going to keep experimenting with this on the banjo--thanks for your support!

    Peter: So glad you enjoyed it!

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  8. This is awesome! I love this song. I have been trying like mad to figure out a good way to play it on guitar, but it just isn't my strong suit transcribing stuff like this. If you would be kind enough to post your tab for this song, I would be much obliged!

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