Monday, November 10, 2014

"Spanish Flang Dang"

Some music for your Monday, played by someone who will be familiar to at least some of you.

Yes, resurrecting something from deep in the recesses of this blog’s past, it’s yours truly playing guitar on video. A lot has changed since I used to do that.

This recording is Elizabeth Cotton’s version of “Spanish Flang Dang”, AKA “Spanish Fandango”. The original version was in 3/4 time (waltz time) like Cotton’s rendering, but the tune was often played in 4/4 time by any number of notable guitarists, including Mississippi John Hurt & Mance Lipscomb. The tune was originally copyrighted in 1869 by Henry Worrall, a British born guitar instructor who’d immigrated to the United States; on the same day, Worrall copyrighted the piece “Sebastapol”, a composition in the open D tuning, & that also became a staple among guitar players. Just as “Spanish Fandango” often became “Spanish Flang Dang”, “Sepastapol” became “Vestapol”.

In any case, open G tuning was, & still is, sometimes referred to as “Spanish” tuning in honor of this tune, just as open D tuning is sometimes called “Vestapol”. Open G tuning, for the non-guitar players out there, simply means that the guitar is tuned so that the unfretted strings produce a G major chord—as heard at the very beginning of the piece. A guitar’s standard tuning is E-A-D-G-B-E, while open G is D-G-D-G-B-D. As you can see, three strings remain the same, which is why this is often considered the “easiest” open tuning for a guitar player brought up on standard tuning to adopt. It also is very close to the standard tuning of a 5-string banjo (at least these days), which is g-D-G-B-D (the small case G indicates that the drone string is tuned high, an octave above the open G string). As a result, it is often possible to adopt banjo tunes to the guitar open G tuning & vice-versa. “Spanish Flang Dang” is one that works quite well that way, though of course you lose the bass notes.

Open G or Spanish tuning was quite common in Delta blues; it was used by such notable blues artists as Charlie Patton (“Pea Vine Blues”, “Bird’s Nest Bound”, “High Water Everywhere”); Willie Brown (“Future Blues”, one of the Ur-Delta songs that inspired lots of imitations, especially by Patton); Robert Johnson (“Cross Road Blues”, “Terraplane Blues”, “Walking Blues”); Son House (“My Black  Mama”, “Death Letter Blues”, “Jinx Blues”); Muddy Waters (“I Be Troubled”, etc. etc.) Of course sometimes these musicians would crank the tuning up to Ab, A or even Bb, but the intervals between the strings stayed the same.

Hope you enjoy my humble efforts.

Image links to its source.

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