Fred Sokolow is best known as the author of a library of instructional books and DVDs for guitar, banjo, Dobro, mandolin, lap steel and ukulele. There are currently over a hundred of his books or DVDs in print, sold all over the world.
Fred has long been a well-known West Coast multi-string performer and recording artist, particularly on the acoustic music scene. The diverse musical genres covered in his books and DVDs, along with several bluegrass, jazz and rock CDs he has released, demonstrate his mastery of many musical styles. Whether he's playing Delta bottleneck blues, bluegrass or old-time banjo, 30s swing guitar or screaming rock solos, he does it with authenticity and passion.
Born in Los Angeles September 14, 1945, by the early 1960s Fred was well known in the California bluegrass scene, playing with Jody Stecher, Brantley Kearns, Sandy Rothman and Eric Thompson. Relocating to Berkeley, he toured and recorded with a hippie rock band throughout most of the 60s, the Bay Area-based Notes From the Underground (Vanguard Records).
In the early 70s Fred performed with R&B, rock, country and bluegrass bands. By 1975 Fred had played with bluegrass luminaries like John Herald, Frank Wakefield and Jerry Garcia, had opened for the Dead, the Doors, B.B. King, Country Joe and the Fish and countless other acts.Back to Singles Catalog Listing
Meredith Wilson wrote "'Til There Was You" for the 1957 musical, "The Music Man," and it was so tuneful that it became a pop hit before the musical was staged. Many people know it because of the 1963 Beatles' version, which had a bossa nova rhythm. In this key-of-G arrangement the guitar plays arpeggios ( i.e. playing the individual notes of a chord, ascending or descending) and strums). The intro (G, G#dim, Am7, D7), which occurs several times in the tune, is a standard jazz and pop turnaround.
This cheerful, hummable tune first appeared on Simon & Garfunkel's classic, 1966 "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme" album. New York City's Queensboro Bridge, which connects Queens with NYC, is commonly called the 59th Street Bridge, because its Manhattan end is between 59th and 60th Streets (it was prominently featured in Woody Allen's movie, Manhattan) - but the bridge only is mentioned in the song's title, not its lyrics. However, an urban legend claims that the NYPD used to burn confiscated marijuana under the bridge, and some folks would stand on the bridge to catch the fumes, thus feeling groovy. In this key-of-G arrangement, the thumb alternates bass notes, Travis style, in the backup and soloing sections. During the solos you have to jump up to a high G chord at the 7th fret, momentarily (to reach a high melody note), and there's an up-the-neck (7th fret) Cmaj7 chord in the solo for the verse. This section also has a double-note figure on a G chord that breaks up the fingerpicking pattern, briefly.
Fred Astaire, good friend of the Gershwins, sang "A Foggy Day" in the 1937 film "A Damsel In Distress," which also featured "Nice Work If You Can Get It." Like all Gershwin tunes, it has a beautiful introductory verse (included in this key-of-Eb arrangement). The chorus has a standard 32 bar structure (a 16-bar statement, then repeat the first 8 bars of that phrase and end with a different 8 bars) - except Gershwin adds an extra two bars to the final 8-bar section - something he did in a number of tunes. Notice the 4-note phrase in the chorus (a fog-gy day) that is repeated several times over different chords. The unusual feature in the chord progression is the "flat III" chord (Gb7) which happens twice and is like an instrumental hook.
"After You've Gone" was already a 9 year old Tin Pan Alley commercial hit - hardly a blues - when Bessie recorded it with a 5-piece band in 1927. But listen to earlier recordings of the tune (like Marion Harris's 1918 hit version) to fully appreciate how Bessie reworked it, introductory verse and all, to her own bluesy styling. It remains a much-recorded and performed jazz standard, covered by contemporary artists like Rufus Wainwright and Fiona Apple. In this fingerstyle arrangement in E, the guitar strums through the verse/intro, and fingerpicks in the Travis, alternating thumb/bass style during the main part of the tune. There are several up the neck, jazzy chords (13ths, 9ths, etc.), so become familiar with these shapes before reading the tab and learning the arrangement.
Clara Smith and several other blues singers had a hit with this song in the 1920s. Like many blues hits of the era, it has Tin Pan Alley-style chord changes. All the chords in this key-of-G version are in the first position (in the first few frets) except D7, which is sometimes played at the 3rd, 4th and 5th frets: it's like a first position C7 moved up two frets. The thumb alternates bass notes, Travis style, throughout the tune, except for the part near the end that features a boogie bass line "When my baby used to love me." During the vocal, there are some bass runs connecting one chord to another. And watch out for that funny E9 chord!
Andy Razaf, frequent lyricist for Fats Waller, says that it took Fats 45 minutes to compose his most popular tune, "Ain't Misbehavin.' Written in 1929 for a Harlem show, it has been a hit for numerous artists, including Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Leon Redbone and (in 1986) Hank Williams Jr.,who took his version to #1 on the country charts. Too bad Fats sold it, along with several other songs, for $500! In the AABA form, the song has an unusual bridge, chord-wise. It's well worth it to view Fats' rendition (from the 1943 movie "Stormy Weather") on YouTube. This arrangement in G includes the rarely heard introductory verse, with its quirky chord progression that has a few key changes! Notice how often the common turnaround (G, G#dim, Am, D7) occurs in the chorus.
From the 1980 "Go To Heaven" album, "Alabama Getaway" is one of many Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia collaborations. In this key-of-E arrangement, the thumb picks out a monotone bass (playing the root of each chord on all four downbeats) during the vocal/verse, with the fingers picking a counterpoint blues lick on the 2nd and 3rd strings. The backup during the vocal chorus is a typical Chuck Berry-style boogie-woogie bass lick. The instrumental solo starts with the "train whistle" lick, a device used by many blues guitarists in key-of-E blues tunes. It continues the monotone thumb/bass, and there's an up-the-neck B chord at the 7th fret, as well as a "power chord" rock figure (the G lick at the end of the solo).
"All Of You" was the big hit from Cole Porter's last Broadway show, 1955's "Silk Stockings," which was based on the Garbo film "Ninotchka," in which a lovely but severe Russian communist operative is wooed by a capitalistic theatrical agent in Paris. The Broadway musical became a film two years later, and Fred Astaire was the agent who sang "All Of You" to Ninotchka (hence the lines "There's a beg romantic deal I want to wangle" and "Love at least a small percent of me, do.") The song has become a popular jazz standard. The chorus has a standard 32-bar form (a 16 bar statement, then you begin to repeat the first 8 bars and finish with 8 bars that are different.) As you can see from this key-of-C arrangement, in this tune you only repeat the first 6 bars in the second half.
"American Tune" was featured on Paul Simon's second solo album, "There Goes Rhymin' Simon" (1973). Simon said that parts of the tune were based on a chorale from Bach's "St. Matthew Passion." The lyrics are a melancholy meditation on life's disappointments and the troubled American dream, and the Bach chorale's lyrics are pretty grim as well. Still, the song has been recorded by many artists and has been played in several movies and TV shows. Considering "American Tune"s' classical origins, it's not surprising that this key-of-G fingerpicking version has a classical guitar approach. The accompaniment and the solos consist of arpeggios (i.e. playing the individual notes of a chord, ascending or descending) and 2-note harmonies plucked with the thumb and one finger.
Cole Porter wrote "At Long Last Love" for the 1938 musical "You Never Know." The previous year, Porter was in a life-changing horseback riding accident that crushed his legs, and he claimed that while he was lying on the ground waiting for help, he got out a paper and pencil to work on the lyrics to "At Long Last Love." It's a 32-bar tune that begins with a 16-bar statement - then the first 4 bars of that statement are repeated, and the next 12 bars are a different melody and set of chord changes. It's worth noting that the last 8 bars are a standard ending to hundreds of songs from this era - in numbers it looks like this: 4, 4m, 3m, 6, 2, 5, 1. There are several jazzy chord substitutions in this key-of-Bb arrangement, in that 8-bar ending and elsewhere. For instance, in the accompaniment to the vocal, the Gb9 in the 8th bar is a passing chord, leading to F9; it's a flat five substitute for Cm7. The Ab13 in bar 24 is the same type of substitution (a flat fifth above Dm7b5. Similarly B7 in bar 15 is a flat five sub for the F7 that would normally go between Cm7 and Bb.
Written in 1945 with French lyrics, "Autumn Leaves" became popular in the US a few years later when Johnny Mercer wrote English lyrics and Jo Stafford recorded it. There have been countless cover versions over the years, and a 1955 recording by Roger Williams became the first piano instrumental to top the pop charts. The chords of "Autumn Leaves" ascend by fourths: Am-Dm-G7-C-F, then Bm-E7-Am. In this key-of-Am arrangement the accompaniment to the vocal consists mostly of strums, with some chordal notes sprinkled in to fill out the rhythm. As is usually the case with chord/melody solos, the melody is played on the treble strings, mostly the top 3 (G, B and E strings). Both the backup and the solo are played in the first 5 frets, using first position chords.
Bessie Smith was inspired to write this 12-bar blues in 1927, when her concert in a little town was flooded out and they had to relocate to higher ground. The song has since then been associated with the great 1927 flood in Mississippi. Though she usually recorded with a band, Bessie sang this one with just the piano accompaniment of the great James P. Johnson, the father of the stride piano style. The song has since been covered by such greats as Lonnie Johnson, Leadbelly, Count Basie, Jimmy Witherspoon, Dinah Washington, Bob Dylan, B.B. King, Big Bill Broonzy and many others, but it doesn't get any better than Bessie's vocal with James P.'s piano! This fingerpicking arrangement in the key of G is mostly Travis-style, with an alternating thumb-bass. It's just three first position chords. There's a classic, boogie woogie figure on the bass strings toward the end of the tune.
Released by Sun Records in 1957, "Big River" is one of Cash's most-covered songs by artists ranging from Bob Dylan and Hank Williams Jr. to the Grateful
Dead, who played it in 396 performances. It's one of Cash's most poetic lyrics, artfully weaving colorful names of U.S. cities into his story. This
key-of-E arrangement includes an intro lick on the bass strings similar to the one Luther Perkins (Cash's lead guitarist) played. The thumb plays a
rock-steady, alternating bass throughout the tune, and all the chords are in the first few frets. Note the boogie bass pattern that comes in occasionally,
and the bluesy hammer-on to the 3rd string, when the E chord is being played.
Bull Moose Jackson, a popular R&B singer of the 40s and 50s, often performed this song, but radio programmers wouldn't play it - it was too risqu̩ for the time (he also recorded "I Want a Bowlegged Woman.") That didn't stop Aerosmith from including it in their 1975 smash hit abum, "Toys In the Attic." This arrangement is in the key of E, though it starts on the A7 chord. The vocal verse features a thumb-driven boogie-bass line, and there's a monotone thumb-bass throughout the rest of the tune, during the vocal and instrumental. It's all played in first position (in the first few frets) except for a high B7 chord (at the 7th fret) and an ending E9 chord. Notice the classic, key-of-E turnaround at the end of each chorus.
Using the old spiritual tune, "No More Auction Block For Me" as a starting point, Dylan penned one of his most famous protest songs in 1962, and it was
released the following year on his 2nd album, "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan." Peter, Paul and Mary's cover of the tune, in 1963, was a huge hit - #2
on the charts - and Stevie Wonder had a top ten hit with it a few years later. Hundreds of artists recorded it, and it established Dylan as a world
famous songwriter and a voice of the anti-war and civil rights movements.
This fingerpicked, key-of-D version is in drop-D tuning (the same as standard tuning except the 6th string is tuned down to a low D). The intro is an instrumental
version of the last 8 bars of the chorus. The thumb alternates bass notes throughout, a few partial, three finger, up-the-neck chords are used during
the instrumental solo. Note the altered G chord which works well in this tuning.
Berlin wrote "Blue Skies" in 1926 as a Christmas gift to his newborn daughter. That year Belle Baker was rehearsing to star in a Broadway musical called "Betsy," with a Rodgers and Hart score. Unhappy with her solo number, she asked her friend Berlin if he had a suitable show stopper, and "Blue Skies" was added to the show. It garnered 24 encores on opening night, and it was an almost immediate hit, charting six times in 1927, including a #1 recording by Ben Selvin and His Orchestra and #2 for George Olsen and His Music. The tune got an even wider audience when it was sung by Al Jolson in the first full length movie with sound, "The Jazz Singer," and the current list of vocalists and instrumentalists who have covered it is endless. The tune has a standard AABA a form, and the A part begins with a series of minor chords that contains a descending melodic line: in this key-of-Dm (or, key of F, as the song ends on the relative major) version, it's Dm, Dm,maj7, Dm7, G7... a chord progression known to later generations as the "Stairway To Heaven" chord sequence.
The title song of Simon and Garfunkel's fifth album, "Bridge Over Troubled Water" became their biggest hit in several countries. It's one of the best-selling singles of all time and one of the most performed songs of the century; when both Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin cover your song, you know you've got something substantial. Partly inspired by a gospel tune, it has a gospel feel, musically and lyrically. This fingerstyle version in G is driven by arpeggios (i.e. playing the individual notes of a chord, ascending or descending) which occur in a few loose patterns; a look at the tablature reveals a fairly consistent pattern during the verse and a different pattern during the chorus. There are several moveable jazz chords in the arrangement that enhance the emotional/gospel feel of the tune.
Fred Astaire introduced "Cheek to Cheek" in the 1935 movie "Top Hat," and that same year the tune was a #1 hit for Astaire and a top 10 hit for four other
singers. It's all about dancing, and Berlin said that Astaire, the ultimate dancer, was "a real inspiration for a writer." The format (AABBCA) is unusual,
as there are three sections: A16-bar statement played twice (AA), an 8-bar section played twice (BB), another 8-bar section played once (C) and a repeat
of A, played once - 72 bars in all. As you can see from this key-of-G arrangement, the first section is like a repeated turnaround (G, G#dim, Am7,
D9) plus some typical circle-of-fifths-type chord changes. In the third section Berlin changes the key from G major to G minor, something he did in
From Garcia's first solo album, "Deal" is one of many card game/gambling songs in the Dead lexicon. Words are by Robert Hunter, lyrics by Jerry, as is
so often the case. There's a loose connection to the old-time standard "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down," which also has ragtimey chord changes. In this
key-of-C fingerstyle arrangement the thumb strums chords on the downbeats (4 beats per bar) with occasional up-picking by the fingers, on high strings,
to fill out the rhythm. The solo features some up-the-neck, moveable chord shapes and a monotone thumb-bass: instead of alternating bass notes, the
thumb thumps away on the root bass note of each chord while the index and middle fingers pick out melody notes.
In 1948, Woody Guthrie heard that a plane deporting migrant farm workers had crashed, killing everyone on board, and he wrote a heart-rending poem about the event, as a memorial. Ten years later, when Guthrie was too ill to perform, a schoolteacher added a beautiful melody and the song became a part of Pete Seeger's repertoire. It's in 3/4 time, so in this key-of-C arrangement, during the solo the thumb plays three ascending notes on each downbeat, starting with the root bass note, while the fingers pick the melody on the treble strings. There are two accompaniment patterns during the singing: most of the time, the thumb picks a bass note on the first beat, followed by two down-strokes on the high strings. But occasionally a fingerpicking pattern is interspersed; look at bars 5 and 9 during the back-up to the verse.
"Dire Wolf" is on the 1970 "Working Man's Dead" album that included "Casey Jones" and "Uncle John's Band." Influenced by Crosby, Stills & Nash's vocals
and emulating the Bakersfield country sound, the Dead turned away from rambling instrumental jams and focused on songs with tight arrangements and
pretty vocal harmonies. They followed it, later that year, with the "American Beauty" album, continuing the trend. Robert Hunter says his lyric for
"Dire Wolf" was inspired by the movie version of "Hound of the Baskervilles," which he and Garcia watched one night on TV. Fennario, mentioned in the
song, is also referred to in various old Scottish folk songs, including "Pretty Peggy-O." This fingerpicking arrangement in G has some moveable chords
and a Travis-style alternating thumb-bass throughout the tune.
"Do Re Mi" was one of Woody Guthrie's first songs that reached a wide audience. In the late 1930s he had a radio show operating in Los Angeles that was heard across the country, and he was just beginning to air his own tunes. Lots of Okies in the West were experiencing what the song described. In 1940 Victor's Camden Records paid him $300 to record "Do Re Mi" and several other tunes - it was the first time he recorded his own material. This key-of-C fingerpicking version of the song has the Travis-style alternating thumb/bass, with a few bass runs thrown in to connect one chord to another. The backup and solo all take place in the first 3 frets...except for one note!
Released in 1963 on "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" (his second album), "Don't Think Twice,It's All Right" borrows a few lines and some music from fellow
Greenwich Village folkie Paul Clayton's "Who's Gonna Buy You Ribbons When I'm Gone," which in turn borrowed from an old folk song: "Who's Gonna Buy
Your Chickens When I'm Gone." This is what's called "the folk process!" The song struck a nerve, and every acoustic guitar picker was playing and singing
it in 1963. The song has been covered by countless artists (Wikipedia lists around 80) in several languages. This arrangement, in the key of C, slightly
simplifies Dylan's fingerpicking arrangement, though he capoed up four frets to record the song. The thumb plays Travis-style alternating bass throughout,
and the D9 chord gives the song a special flavor, along with the repeated 3rd string hammer-ons. Dylan didn't play that 5th fret Am chord during the
solo, as he was playing melody on the mouth harp, not the guitar!
Introduced by James Stewart in the 1936 film "Born To Dance," "Easy To Love" was an instant hit, charting for three artists that same year. (Probably the best version, Billie Holiday's 1936 offering, was not as commercially successful but has endured!) "I've Got You Under My Skin," from the same movie, was also a smash hit that has been rendered by countless vocalists and jazz instrumentalists. "Easy To Love" is a 32 bar tune with the standard format: a 16 bar statement is played, you repeat the first half of it (only 6 bars in this tune) and end with a new melody and chord progression, different from the first ending. This key-of-F arrangement includes a few jazzy substitutions: in the vocal accompaniment, the Gb7 in bar 4 is a b5 substitute for C7; likewise the Ab7 in bar 16 of the instrumental solo.
Buddy Holly recorded "Everyday" in 1957, at Norman Petty's Clovis New Mexico studio where so many Buddy Holly classic tunes were waxed. Norman or his wife
Vi (depending on who you believe) played the celesta, sort of a toy piano, giving the recording a distinctive, gentle sound. Drummer Jerry Allison
slapped his knees for percussion - no drum set was played. The song has been covered many times; James Taylor's 1985 version reached #3 on the charts.
Like Buddy's "Words Of Love," the chords go 1-4-5 over and over, until you reach the bridge, which goes up by fourths: in this key-of A version, that's
D, G, C, F, and the drop down a fret to E sets up the A chord that begins the A section of this AABA tune. In this fingerpicking arrangement, the thumb
plays alternating bass notes, Travis style, throughout.
Though the 1964 Frank Sinatra/Count Basie recording of "Fly Me To the Moon" may be the most popular version, the tune had already been a hit for ten years prior, covered by a hundred other singers! Today the list is much longer, and Buzz Aldrin saw to it that it was the first music played on the moon, during his Apollo 11 mission. It has a typical 32-bar form: there's a 16 bar statement, then you start to repeat those 16 bars but the last several bars are different (in this case, the last 6 bars). This key-of-G arrangement stays in the first few frets except for two chords in the instrumental solo: an Am9 at the 5th fret and a Dm6 at the 6th fret.
Sun Records released "Folsom Prison Blues" in 1955 and it went to #5 on the country charts. It was Cash's re-working of "Crescent City Blues," recorded a few years earlier by Beverly Maher. In 1968, Cash's album recorded "Live in Folsom Prison" topped the country and pop charts. The tune is in the 12-bar blues form, though it's stretched out to 24 bars. The thumb plays an alternating bass throughout this key-of-E arrangement, and the chords are all in the first few frets during the vocal. The solo is a fingerpicking version of what Cash's lead guitarist, Luther Perkins played, and it takes you up the neck to a three-finger E chord at the 7th fret. Notice the banjo-type roll with a descending bass line during the B7 (toward the end of the solo), and the bluesy ending figure, a simulation of Luther Perkins' ending lick.
This track from 1970's American Beauty album is probably the most-covered Dead song, in concert and on recordings. As in many of their tunes, words are by Robert Hunter and music by Jerry Garcia, this time aided by John Dawson of New Riders of the Purple Sage, who contributed the title line (Hunter's original line was "I set out running but I take my time, it looks like water but it tastes like wine.") This fingerpicking arrangement in G retains the descending line Jerry played on the bass guitar strings during the vocal. That line is in the instrumental solo, too, along with the melody, which makes for some interesting partial chord shapes. Other than that phrase and the D chord up at the 5th and 7th frets, it's all first-position chords, and the thumb keeps alternating bass notes, Travis style, throughout.
Sax player/bandleader Don Redman composed the bluesy "Gee Baby" in 1929, with lyrics by Andy Razaf of "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Honeysuckle Rose" fame. He made it a hit that year, but it didn't generate many cover versions until the Nat Cole Trio recorded it in 1944. Now it's a well-known standard. This key-of-C version has an AABA structure that starts on the VI chord (A7). If you look at the lead sheet that omits some of the jazzy chord substitutions of the instrumental version, you'll see circle-of-fifths movement: E7, (Bb9b5, a substitution for E7), A7, D9, G7, C. There's a lot of strumming in this one! As with all chord/melody arrangements, familiarize yourself with the chords, as written on the lead sheet, before attempting the instrumental arrangement.
Today most people associate “Georgia On My Mind” with Ray Charles (though Willie Nelson had a huge hit with it), but Hoagy Carmichael (music) and Stuart Gorrell (lyrics) wrote it in 1930. It’s hard to tell if the song is about the state or the girl, but Hoagy said he wrote it on the suggestion of band leader Frankie Trumbauer that he write a song about the state of Georgia. There were many hit recordings of “Georgia” in the ‘30s, and it was usually played at a brighter tempo than Ray Charles’ ballad version. It has an AABA form: an 8-bar phrase is repeated (AA) followed by and 8-bar bridge (B) and another repeat of the A phrase. In this Eb version of the tune, you’ll find many circle-of-fifths chord sequences in which you move up by fourths, as in D9, Gm7, C9, Fm7, Bb13, Eb. The bridge seems to ramble a bit, but the chords are nearly all in the Eb chord family: Eb, Ab, Bb and the relative minors Cm, Fm and Gm. The coda is a tip of the hat to Ray Charles’ ending. The introductory verse, rarely heard, is a bonus! A practice suggestion: become familiar with the backup arrangement first, before attempting to learn the chord-melody solo. Play the backup chords several times and the solo will come easier, as it’s mostly based on the same chord shapes.
Today most people associate "Georgia On My Mind" with Ray Charles (though Willie Nelson also had a huge hit with it), but Hoagy Carmichael (music) and
Stuart Gorrell (lyrics) wrote it in 1930. It's hard to tell if the song is about the state or the girl, but Hoagy said he wrote it on the suggestion
of band leader Frankie Trumbauer that he write a song about the state of Georgia. There were many hit recordings of "Georgia" in the 1930s, and it
was usually played at a brighter tempo than Ray Charles's ballad version.
In this Eb version of the tune, you'll find many circle-of-fifths chord sequences in which you move up by fourths, as in D9, Gm7, C9, Fm7, Bb13, Eb. The
bridge seems to ramble a bit, but the chords are nearly all in the Eb chord family: Eb, Ab, Bb and the relative minors Cm, Fm and Gm. The coda is a
tip of the hat to Ray Charles's ending. A practice suggestion: become familiar with the backup arrangement first, before attempting to learn the chord-melody
solo. Play the backup chords several times and the solo will come easier, as it's mostly based on the same chord shapes.
Released by Sun Records in 1957 as the flip side to "Home of the Blues," (Cash's "Heartbreak Hotel,") this country tune tells a poignant tale; it's typical
of Cash's sympathy for the underdog. This key-of-G fingerpicking arrangement stays in the first few frets, using easy C, G and A7 chords, and a D7
with a 6th string/F# in the bass. You can fret the 6th string with your thumb to make that chord happen, or use your middle finger. The thumb alternates
bass notes, Travis-style, throughout the tune, adding a few connecting bass runs. The intro is an instrumental version of the last 4 bars of the chorus,
and the solo is the whole chorus.
"Guess Things Happen That Way," released by Sun Records in 1958, was Cash's fourth #1 country hit and it also went to #11 on the pop charts. The piano and doo-wop backup vocals gave the song more of a pop feel than most of Cash's releases. There's a steady, alternating thumb-bass throughout this fingerpicking version, except when the thumb plays that hook figure on the bass strings, during the intro and at the end of the verses. All the chords are in the first few frets except for the D-shaped F chord at the 5th fret, during the solo.
"Hard Travelin'" is one of many song Woody Guthrie wrote to celebrate the workingman. He did spend some of his early years traveling around the country taking on all kinds of jobs. The solo to this key-of-E version of the song is typical Travis-style fingerpicking, with the thumb playing alternating bass notes on all four downbeats of each bar while the fingers pick out the melody on treble strings. During the verse, the alternating thumb keeps going, but the fingers combine with the thumb in two repetitive patterns, as seen in bars 1 and 3 of the "Back-up Verse" section.
"Hearts and Bones" is the title song of Paul Simon's 1983 solo album. The song seems to be a poignant look at his breakup with Carrie Fisher, with whom he had an on-and-off relationship for 6 years. (Her father was Jewish, hence "one and one half wandering Jews.") In this key-of-C version, the opening, double-note instrumental lick echoes throughout the tune, but most of the accompaniment and soloing is in the Travis style, with an alternating thumb/bass. The chord progression is complicated (like the love affair in question), with several sections and many jazzy chord changes.
Following his 1932 comeback hit, "Say It Isn't So," Irving Berlin scored again, the same year, with "How Deep Is the Ocean," in which every line but one is a question. The song was a hit four times over in 1932, and instrumental versions in the 1940s by Benny Goodman and Coleman Hawkins established it as a jazz standard. Like "Blue Skies," it starts in a minor key (Am in this arrangement) but winds up in the relative major key (C). The song has a 32 bar form, in which a 16 bar phrase is stated, the first 8 bars of it are repeated, and the last 8 bars are a new statement. As with many of Berlin's classic tunes, the chord changes are not standard, and they take some ingenious twists and turns, creating a melancholy, wistful mood.
Composed by Spencer Williams, who also wrote the music for "Basin Street Blues," "Everybody Loves My Baby," "I've Found A New Baby" and many other standards, it was already a hit when Bessie Smith recorded it in 1926. Countless artists have recorded it since, notably Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Bing Crosby, Merle Haggard, Rosemary Clooney and Bob Wills. Louis Prima had a huge hit with the song in 1956, and his arrangement was successfully copied in 1985 by David Lee Roth. More of a Tin Pan Alley song than a blues, it has the obligatory, introductory verse that singer usually omit. This key-of-E version is mostly Travis style fingerpicking, with an alternating thumb-bass, but those descending 9th formations are strummed instead of picked. There are lots of moveable, jazzy chord shapes in this arrangement, so get familiar with them before tackling the tune.
This simple, plaintive tune, consisting of a 4-bar chord progression repeated over and over, has been described as both a prison song and a spiritual.
It was first released by the Band in their influential 1968 debut album, "Music From Big Pink," and dozens of artists and bands have recorded it, including
Dylan (the composer!), who included a new version on a 1971 greatest hits album. This fingerpicking version in C employs a three-finger pattern, evident
in the first bar, that evokes the song's slow, rock-ballad feel. There's one up the neck chord (The F at the 5th fret); otherwise the solo and backup
consist of first-position C, Dm, Em, F and G chords.
Cash and his cousin Roy Cash wrote "I Still Miss Someone" in 1958, and the artists who have covered it are many and diverse, including Emmylou Harris, Flatt & Scruggs, Stevie Nicks, Martina McBride, Jimmy Buffett, Joan Baez and Nanci Griffith. Cash recorded a duet of the song with Bob Dylan, but it remains unreleased. This straightforward, Travis-style fingerpicking version in G includes a D7-with-F#-in-the-bass. The thumb alternates bass runs throughout, and there are a few bass runs thrown in as well.
By 1956 Johnny Cash had already had several hits, but that year's release of "I Walk the Line" on Sun Records went to #1 on the country charts and established him as a major star. One unusual feature of the record was the multiple key changes, which you'll find in this arrangement as well; Cash changed keys with every verse. There's Travis-style alternating thumb/bass throughout the tune, which is all played in first position (in the first few frets), and there are several chord-connecting bass runs thrown in.
"I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm" was written for the 1937 musical film "On The Avenue." Dick Powell sang it, at one point joined by a parade of beautiful gals wearing mink coats of different shapes, colors and sizes. As you can see from this version in C, it's an AABA song, only the A part is 16 bars instead of the usual 8. In the instrumental solo, there's a good example of how to make use of the fact that a diminished chord can move up or down 3 frets.
"In the Wee Small Hours" is the title track of Sinatra's classic 1955 LP which consists of beautiful slow ballads, mostly very melancholy. It is said to have been inspired by Sinatra's breakup with Ava Gardner. This very moody number, introduced in Sinatra's album, has subsequently been recorded by dozens of vocalists. The intro to this key-of-A arrangement mimics Nelson Riddle's intro to the Sinatra version. The series of A chords (A, A6, A+, A), repeated several times, is a memorable hook that sets this song apart.
Paul Anka and Buddy Holly toured together in 1957 and had discussed collaborating. In 1958, during the New York session with strings that produced "Raining
In My Heart" and "True Love Ways," Anka brought his composition, "It Doesn't Matter Anymore," to Buddy at the last minute (the day of the session).
Dick Jacobs threw together a pizzicato string arrangement and they recorded what would be Buddy's last record release. It was recorded live in the
studio with a full orchestra, in one take. In fact all four songs were recorded that day in three hours. "It Doesn't Matter Anymore" charted posthumously
at #13 in 1959 in the US and reached #1 in the UK. This fingerpicking version in C has a steady, Travis-style alternating thumb/bass. The solo consists
of first-position, easy chords.
Written in 1924 by Isham Jones ("I'll See You In My Dreams," "There Is No Greater Love," "We're In the Army Now" and many more), lyrics by Gus Kahn ("Carolina In the Morning," "Toot Toot Tootsie," "I'll See You In My Dreams," "Makin Whoopee," "Dream a Little Dream Of Me,") "It Had To Be You" is one of the most popular and most covered tunes of the "great American songbook." It has been sung and danced to in numerous film, including "It Had To be You," "Casablanca," "Annie Hall" and "When Harry Met Sally," for which it was a recurring theme. The seldom-heard intro/verse is included in this key-of-D arrangement. The chorus has a typical 32-bar form: there's a 16 bar statement, then you start to repeat those 16 bars but the last several bars are different (in this case, the last 8 bars).
In 1958 Buddy Holly recorded four songs with a contingent from the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. It was perhaps the first rock session that included
a string orchestra, and Buddy considered "It's Raining In My Heart," recorded that day, his best record... even though he didn't write the tune. The
composers were the husband/wife team Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, who also wrote "Rocky Top," "All I Have To Do Is Dream," "Bye Bye Love," "Love Hurts"
and many more hits. "It's Raining In My Heart" is an AABA song (an 8-bar section that's repeated, then an 8 bar bridge, ending with another repeat
of the first section) with pop changes, notably the opening chords (in this key-of-D arrangement) in which one note ascends (A, Bb, B, C), altering
the D chord. The thumb plays alternating bass notes, Travis style, throughout the tune.
When Buddy Holly recorded "It's So Easy," at Norman Petty's Clovis, New Mexico studio in 1958, he had session guitarist Tommy Allsup, a fellow Texan, play
lead guitar. It was Allsup's first time playing with Buddy, and he wound up traveling as a "Cricket" for a while. Listen to Allsup's solo - it's brilliant.
The song didn't chart until Linda Ronstadt recorded it in 1977, when it went to #5. This fingerpicking version, in E, has a Travis-style alternating
thumb/bass, except for the boogie-bass line in the chorus.
The grim yet funny "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" was on Dylan's second electric album, 1965's Highway 61 Revisited. Notable blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield provided the appropriately Latin guitar licks. This fingerpicking, key-of-E version features an alternating thumb/bass with a straight-eighths, rock feel, and three easy chords: E, A and B7. The introductory figure, which is repeated at the end of the tune, is played with moveable, F-formation chords, and there are still more up-the-neck chords in the instrumental solo.
Bessie Smith was the empress of the blues in the 1920s, and many of her hits, including "Kitchen Man," had very jazzy chord changes. This one was written by Andy Razaf, who wrote lyrics to several of Fats Waller's biggest hits. The guitar plays alternating bass throughout most of this key-of-C arrangement, sometimes reverting to a monotone bass (droning away on one bass note). During the song's introductory verse, the guitar is sketchy, playing just enough to indicate chords, but there's steadier, fuller picking in the chorus. Notice the AABA form of the chorus: There's an 8-bar section (A) which is repeated, though the lyrics change, and an 8-bar bridge (B), followed by another A section. If you like this tune, there's a whole DVD of guitar versions of Bessie Smith hits!
Recorded in one take for the 1969 "Nashville Skyline" album, "Lay Lady Lay" is more "pop" than most Dylan songs, and it has an appealing descending chord progression that sticks in your head. It was the second album Dylan recorded in Nashville, preceded by 1967's "John Wesley Harding." The fingerpicking in this key-of-G version of "Lay Lady Lay" suits the song's unusual rhythm. It features a typical alternating thumb-bass, and the G pull-off fill, a suspended lick, echoes a similar fill that is strummed on the original recording. There are a few up-the-neck chords in the instrumental solo (a partial D chord and a G6, both at the 5th fret), and some moveable chords ascend the fretboard at the end of the tune.
Hoagy Carmichael co-wrote "Lazy River" in 1930 with Sidney Arodin, but it didn't become a hit until 15 years later! By then he was an American icon, having
written some of the most popular songs of all time, including "Stardust," "Georgia On My Mind" and "Heart and Soul." Hoagy also hosted several radio
shows and acted in 14 movies, always playing piano and sometimes singing - he plays a bit of "Lazy River" in the classic film The Best Years Of Our
Lives. Notice that the song keeps going around the circle of fifths in the key of C, as you keep repeating a chord sequence that starts at A7 and goes
up by fourths: A7, D7 G7, C. A practice suggestion: become familiar with the backup arrangement first, before attempting to learn the chord-melody
solo. Play the backup chords several times and the solo will come easier, as it's mostly based on the same chord shapes.
"Let's Do It" was the standout hit in the 1928 Broadway show, "Paris." It's the first of what Porter called his "list songs," in this instance listing all the creatures that "do it." "At Long Last Love" is another list song, listing alternatives ("is it the good turtle soup, or merely the mock?") Despite, or because of, its openly sexual lyrics, "Let's Do It" is one of Porter's most popular songs. This key-of-G arrangement includes the intro/verse, which is composed almost entirely of cirle-of-fifths 6-2-5-1s or 3-6-2-5-1s. The Chorus has a standard AABA form, and notice all the "turnarounds": G, G#dim, Am D7. The extended ending resembles Billie Holiday's 1941 recording of the tune.
Popular Texas R&B singer/pianist Amos Milburn had several hits in the late 1940s and early 50s, including "Down The Road a Piece," "One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer" and "Chicken Shack Boogie," which earned his band the moniker "The Aladdin Chickenshackers." This smooth Christmas offering (the record begins with the sound of jingling bells) was typical of his urban, crooning style, but he also is known as one of the early jump blues musicians who presaged rock and roll. ";Let's Make Christmas Merry, Baby" is a good example of a mellow 12-bar blues with jazzy chord substitutions added. The arrangement features many typical key-of-E blues licks, like the opening up-the-neck figure and the E7 fill at the 3rd and 4th fret. The thumb plays a monotone bass through most of the tune, and notice the quote from "Jingle Bells" at the beginning of the solo (Milburn did it on the piano.)
Buddy Holly recorded "Lonesome Tears" in 1958, at Norman Petty's studio in Clovis New Mexico, during the same session that produced "It's So Easy." Studio guitarist Tommy Allsup played brilliant lead guitar on both tunes, and "Lonesome Tears" was released as a B side to "It's So Easy." The pop tune includes a more complicated chord progression than most of Buddy's songs. This key of E version requires a few moveable and up-the-neck chords, so check out the chord grids in your paperwork before tackling the tune. It's mostly fingerpicked in the Travis style with an alternating thumb-bass.
In 1957 Buddy Holly and the Crickets recorded several tunes at Tinker Air Force Base In Oklahoma City, and "Maybe Baby" was the standout tune from that session. Mrs. Holly (Buddy's mom) had the initial idea for the tune and wrote part of it, and Buddy and the Crickets finished it. The rocker with a drumbeat inspired by Little Richard's "Lucille" went to #17 on the US pop charts, and it was a top ten hit on the R&B charts and in Canada and the UK, where Buddy was soon to tour. Future rockers (then teenaged) Keith Richards, Paul McCartney, Elton John and other Brits saw Buddy live in England, or saw and heard his English TV and radio broadcasts, and have all testified how much they were inspired by Buddy's performances. This key-of-C version of "Maybe Baby" includes some strumming but is mostly fingerpicked in the Travis style, with an alternating thumb-bass... but with a straight-eighths feel rather than a country shuffle.
Paul Simon included this tune in his first solo album, which came out in 1972. Don't try too hard to decipher the exact plot, as Simon called the song "a bit of inscrutable doggerel." That didn't stop the song from working its way into several movies and TV shows! Most of this key-of D arrangement is fingerpicked in the Travis style, with the thumb alternating bass notes throughout the tune - except for the strumming sections in the intro and at the end of the chorus. The fingerpicking pattern in the first bar of the verse is maintained through most of the tune. It all takes place in the first few frets except for one partial, three-finger G chord up at the 10th fret, during the instrumental version of the verse.
Benny Goodman had his first #1 hit with "Moonglow" in 1934, and many jazz legends have recorded it, notably Billie Holiday, Django Reinhardt, Lionel Hampton and Errol Garner. It was featured in the 1955 hit movie "Picnic," and has had at least 500 recorded covers. Notice, in this key-of-C arrangement, that the A section of the AABA tune has a 6-note phrase that is repeated three times. Many pop songs of the 20s, 30s and 40s have such a brief repeated phrase (think of "All of Me" (three notes), "As Time Goes By" (six notes) and "Autumn Leaves" (four notes). The last two bars of the A section are also a strong "hook" that makes this tune memorable.
Released as a single off Paul Simon's first solo album ("Paul Simon," 1972), "Mother and Child Reunion" went to #4 on the US pop charts. Like many of Simon's songs, this one is wide open to interpretation. He got the title from the name of a dish on a menu in a Chinese Restaurant. Recorded in Jamaica with Jimmy Cliff's band, the song has a Reggae flavor. This key of C arrangement employs a galloping fingerpicking style; the first few bars have what Pete Seeger used to call a "bum-ditty" rhythm, and this carries throughout the backup of the chorus. During the verse, the accompaniment has a "boom-chick" style: the thumb alternates bass notes, while the index finger brushes up on a chord after each bass note. The solo (an instrumental version of the chorus) is different: the thumb plays monotone bass notes while the fingers play melody on the treble strings, but with no strictly repeated pattern.
Often listed as one of Dylan's greatest songs, "Mr. Tambourine Man" was released in 1965 on "Bringing It All Back Home," Dylan's first electric album - an album that raised the bar for pop music, combining rock with surreal and psychedelic poetry. The Byrds jangly rock cover of the song, in the same year, became the first #1 charting Dylan song, and it is often said to have ushered in the folk rock genre that influenced pop music for at least a decade. This fingerpicking version in G has the rhythmic feel of Dylan's recording. The simple, three-chord song is played with easy G, C and D chords with a typical alternating thumb/bass.
Simon and Garfunkel were already working on a song about Mrs. Somebody-or-other (any 3-syllable name would do) when they were asked to provide tunes for the 1967 film "The Graduate." "Mrs. Robinson," named after Anne Bancroft's character in the movie, became their second #1 pop hit and a two-Grammy winner. Frank Sinatra covered it! In this Travis-style, fingerpicking version, the thumb plays alternating bass notes throughout, except for the first few bars of the Intro. The opening solo is an instrumental version of the verse, which is in the key of A or C, depending on how you look at it! The solo that follows the vocal is an instrumental version of the chorus, in the key of C. There are a few three-finger rolls (not alternating-thumb) that imitate the instrumental riffs on the original recording.
The 1964 "Another Side of Bob Dylan" album marked the end of Dylan as a "protest singer." The album included only one political song ("Chimes of Freedom," and even that was impressionistic and not, as Dylan said, "a fingerpointing song." In "My Back Pages," Dylan pointedly rejects his image as "voice of the movement," and apologizes for preaching and assuming he knew everything. From this point on his songs are personal, often ambiguous and filled with psychedelic imagery. Dylan strummed "My Back Pages" in 3/4 time, but this fingerpicked version in G resembles the Byrds rock-style cover of the song, right from the two opening bars. The alternating thumb/bass pattern has a straight time feel, and all the chords are first-position except for a D9 at the 3rd, 4th and 5th frets.
Just after World War II, Woody Guthrie lived with his wife and children in Coney Island, and he wrote a series of children's songs. This one beautifully articulates his belief in the connectedness of all working people. In this key-of-A version, the solo is typical Travis-style fingerpicking, with the thumb playing alternating bass notes on all four downbeats of each bar while the fingers pick melody on the high strings. During the accompaniment to the vocal, there are two patterns: During the verse, the thumb plays the 1st and 3rd beats of each bar, alternating between two bass notes, while the fingers fill out the rhythm as seen in the first two bars of the verse. During the chorus, there's a more typical fingerpicking pattern (look at bars 3 and 4 of the chorus) with occasional bass runs thrown in.
Bo Carter's real name was Armenter Chatmon, as he was a member of the Chatmon family who formed the Mississippi Sheiks and gave us many blues standards.
Famous for his bawdy songs "(Let Me Roll Your Lemon," "Pin In Your Cushion," "Banana In Your Fruit Basket"), Carter recorded over a hundred songs in
the 1930s as a solo musician. This arrangement of "My Pencil Won't Write No More" is a lesson in key-of-A blues, a key that offers the important open-string
E, A and D bass notes. These bass notes allow you to play up-the-neck 3- or 4-string chords and still keep a monotone bass going (sometimes the thumb
reverts to alternating bass as well). The song is 12-bars, but it's not in the usual 12-bar format, and it includes the odd F chord change and a series
of circle-of-fifths changes common to raggy blues: F#, B7, E7, A.
In 1937, when the Gershwins contributed nine songs to the Astaire film, "A Damsel In Distress," "Nice work if you can get it" was a popular expression in England - and the film was set in England; it also included "A Foggy Day," destined to become another Gershwin classic. In "Nice Work," lyricist Ira Gershwin stole his own line from "I Got Rhythm" "Who could ask for anything more." The song features circle-of-fifths movement at the beginning of the chorus (moving up by fourths: A7, D9, G7, C9, F, Bb). This arrangement, in F, includes the often omitted intro/verse which, typically, is more complicated than the chorus, chord-wise. The chorus has an AABA structure with, as in many Gershwin compositions, two extra bars at the end of the final A part.
In 1932, performing for the first time without his sister, Fred Astaire introduced this classic tune in the broadway show "Gay Divorce," later reprising it in the 1934 movie "The Gay Divorcee." The public took to "Night And Day" right away; Irving Berlin told Porter he thought it was the best song of the year and Cole's best effort. It was a #1 hit for Astaire and many singers have charted with it since then; ASCAP rates it one of the top money-earners of all time. Probably Porter's most popular tune, it is the title of a bio-pic made about him in 1946, starring Cary Grant. (The 2004 biopic, "De-Lovely," starring Kevin Kline is more realistic.) The intro/verse of "Night and Day," included in this key-of-C arrangement, is often mentioned because of its unusual droning note which keeps repeating while the chords are changing. The chorus has an unusual form for a pop song: A, A, B, C, in which A is a 16-bar phrase and B and C are 8 bars each. C is actually the second half of A.
Written in 1923 by Jimmy Cox, "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" was made famous when Bessie Smith's recorded it with a 5-piece band in 1929, ��� just before the stock market crash. One of the songs most associated with her, it has also been a hit for musicians of many decades in many genres: blues, jazz, rock, folk and soul music. We'e talking Count Basie, Eric Clapton, Leadbelly, the Chad Mitchell Trio, Sam Cooke, Spencer Davis Group, Nina Simone, Sidney Bechet, Otis Redding, Janis Joplin, Louis Jordan and Eric Von Schmidt and the list goes on. It was very popular during the folk era of the late 1950s, early 1960s. In this key-of-C version, the backup guitar goes back and forth between Travis-style picking, with an alternating thumb-bass, and the arpeggio figures seen in, for example, bars 17-19. During the solo, there is some monotone thumb-bass (thumping away on the root note of each chord) and some alternating bass. Except for the moveable F and D9 chord shapes, it's all played with first position chords.
Written in 1924 for the Broadway musical "Lady Be Good," which featured Fred Astaire and Cliff Edwards (aka Ukulele Ike), this song has become a very popular soloing platform for jazz instrumentalists, as it's easy to adlib over the changes. Consequently, there are countless recorded instrumental versions. This key-of-Eb version includes the introductory verse, which goes back and forth between the relative minor key (Cm) and Eb major, and wanders into the key of C major for four bars! The "trick" ending of the vocal and instrumental arrangements has an interesting series of descending chords (the bass notes go: A, Ab, G, Gb, F, E, Eb) that all have a high Eb note. This is not written into Gershwin's tune, it's just an ad-lib ending.
In the late 1930s, when Woody Guthrie had his own daily radio show, he was sitting on a porch strumming his guitar when a young boy asked him where he was from. His off-hand answer, "I was born in the Oklahoma Hills," sparked this tune, which later became a country music hit for his brother Jack. In this key-of-C fingerpicking arrangement, the thumb plays alternating bass notes, Travis style, while the fingers pick melody on the high strings, or (during the accompaniment) play occasional high notes to fill out the rhythm. The first few bars of the back-up part illustrate this style.
This beautiful romantic ballad, featured in the1938 film "The Goldwyn Follies," is the last song Gershwin composed. Besides its coverage by countless singers, it has been in over a dozen movies, notably Gene Kelly's "An American In Paris." The intro/verse (included in this key-of-C arrangement) was unfinished when Gershwin died, but it was reconstructed by Vernon Duke, with help from Gershwin's friend Oscar Levant, who remembered hearing Gershwin play his initial ideas for the verse. Ira Gershwin's lyrics, written after George died, were a tribute to his brother. And George's music certainly is "here to stay." The chorus is mostly circle-of-fifths movement. As in all chord-melody arrangements, it's helpful to strum through the chords (as presented in the vocal accompaniment) and get familiar with them before tackling the instrumental version of the tune.
"Pastures of Plenty" was the last song Woody Guthrie wrote about the dust bowl and its after-effects. While traveling around the northwest, writing songs about the Grand Coulee Dam project for one of FDR's government-sponsored artist programs, he saw some Okies still living in government camps. Based on the Appalachian tune, "Pretty Polly," the lyrics reveal the depths of Woody's feeling for these folk who had been his neighbors back in Oklahoma. It's one of his often covered songs, with versions by dozens of folk singers. Some people play "Pastures of Plenty" in a minor key, but Woody didn't, and this fingerpicking version is in the key of D major, with plenty of blue notes thrown in. Old-time Appalachian musicians and blues players/singers of the early '30s often played a song's melody while singing it (instead of playing a simplified backup part) and that's what happens in this arrangement. This isn't typical Travis-style fingerpicking: though the thumb plays four downbeats per bar, it's the thumb and not the fingers that pick out the melody.
Buddy Holly's first draft of the song was named after his niece "Cindy Lou," but when they recorded the song in 1957, drummer Jerry Allison convinced Buddy
to use Jerry's girlfriend's name instead. Buddy was the sole guitar player on the track, and rhythm guitarist Nikki Sullivan said "Buddy couldn't switch
from rhythm to lead fast enough (on his Strat) without breaking rhythm... so we stopped and redid it with me pushing the switch on Buddy's guitar."
The song has a unique sound, partly due to Buddy's singing and Allison's paradiddle-driven drum track. It went to #3 on the charts and is in the Grammy
Hall of Fame. Except for the bridge, which includes a sharp 5 chord (Bb in this key-of D arrangement), "Peggy Sue" is a 12-bar blues, doubled up to
24 bars. The Travis-style fingerpicking in this version has the thumb playing a fast, alternating bass pattern throughout most of the tune. If you're
not familiar with Dropped D tuning, notice the new way of playing a G chord.
Woody Guthrie based this song on a letter he received from a fan of his 1937 Los Angeles-based radio show. The listener included a newspaper clipping about a jealous cowboy who had killed a lawyer in Reno, in a fight over his girlfriend. Years later he sometimes performed the piece with Will Geer (who later became famous in TV's Little House On the Prairie) and Geer's wife Herta. The song is in 3/4 time, and during the accompaniment the thumb plays a bass note, followed by two down-strokes on the treble strings...with occasional fingerpicking flourishes thrown in. During the solo, the thumb plays three ascending notes (starting with the root bass note) while the fingers pick the melody.
Woody Guthrie wrote this song in 1939, five years after the outlaw known as Pretty Boy Floyd had been shot and killed by the FBI and local police in Ohio. Floyd was mythologized and regarded as a friend to the poor by many Americans; there were unconfirmed stories that when he robbed banks, he destroyed mortgage documents, and that he gave money to the poor on occasion. He was mentioned positively by Tom Joad’s mother in “The Grapes Of Wrath,” John Steinbeck’s novel about the plight of the dustbowl Okies – a book that was very important to Woody. (His song “Tom Joad” condenses the book into 17 verses.)
In short, to many folks outlaws like Floyd were poor people who preyed on the rich. Woody went overboard making up stories about Floyd, but it makes for a great song! This fingerpicking version, in the key of D, has the typical Travis-style alternating bass notes, played on all four beats of each bar by the thumb, while the fingers fill out the rhythm during accompaniment or play melody during the solo. The accompaniment pattern has variations, but the gist of it is in the first two or three bars of the backup to the verse.
The biggest hit of Cash's career, "Ring Of Fire" was written by his wife June Carter and Merle Kilgore, and was released in 1963 on Columbia Records. The mariachi-style horns (Cash's idea) gave the record a unique flavor, and June added harmony vocals, along with her sisters and mother Maybelle Carter. The thumb plays a constant alternating bass throughout this key-of-A fingerpicking arrangement, and the guitar imitates the horn licks on treble strings. It's played with first-position, easy chords except for the up-the-neck E and D chords in the instrumental chorus. Notice how the alternating bass continues, on open bass strings, during that section.
One of the Dead's most popular songs, "Ripple" first appeared on the 1970 American Beauty album. Often considered their masterpiece, the album also included "Friend Of the Devil," Truckin'" and "Sugar Magnolia," also very memorable Dead tunes. The lyric (one of the Dead's friendliest) was by Robert Hunter, and Garcia wrote the music. The Dead often played "Ripple" to close a first set. The chorus resembles a haiku, and the lyrics quote a few phrases from the 23rd psalm. Allegedly, Hunter wrote the song the same afternoon he wrote "Brokedown Palace" and "To Lay Me Down," while nursing a bottle of retsina. This key-of-G fingerpicking arrangement starts with an instrumental solo which includes a few up-the-neck chord positions (a 3-finger D chord at the 5th fret, and a 4-string G chord, also at the 5th fret). The rest of the tune is played in the first few frets, and the thumb never stops playing alternating bass notes, Travis style.
Like another Hoagy Carmichael classic, "Skylark," "Rockin' Chair" is a collaboration between Hoagy (music) and the great Johnny Mercer (lyrics). It was
written in 1929, right around the same time Hoagy wrote "Stardust" and "Georgia On My Mind." Mildred Bailey, a very popular singer during the 1930s,
made "Rockin' Chair" her theme song, and in 1929 Louis Armstrong waxed an iconic version of the song as well, sharing the vocals with Hoagy. Looking
over this key-of-D arrangement, you'll find circle of fifths chord movement (moving up by fourths as in Bm7, E9, A7, Dmaj7 or G#m7b5, C#7, F#m) and
some chromatic chord movement (descending by half steps: Am, Ab7b5, Gmaj7, or E7, Ebmaj7 D6/A). The song's form is unusual. It has three 8-bar phrases,
and instead of the usual AABA format, it's ABCA. A practice suggestion: become familiar with the backup arrangement first, before attempting to learn
the chord-melody solo. Play the backup chords several times and the solo will come easier, as it's mostly based on the same chord shapes.
"Say It Isn't So" was introduced by Rudy Valee in 1932. It was a smash hit that helped Berlin recover from losing his shirt in the stock market crash and suffering other personal troubles. Valee, the consummate crooner, said the song helped save his marriage, as "that song... it was all true, and all happening to me." It's a 32-bar tune with two 16-bar sections, the second one repeating the first 6 bars of the first one. Notice the standard turnaround at the end of the first section (G6, G#dim, Am7, D13) and the very often-used chord progression of the last 8 bars. In interval numbers, it’s 4, 4m, 3m, 6, 2, 5, 1. That's a standard ending to hundreds of 32 bar songs.
Starting in 1253, an annual fair for tradespeople was held in Scarborough, a seaside town in Yorkshire. The tradition lasted many centuries, and the ballad named after it goes back at least as far as the 1600s, so numerous versions and variations exist. The version Simon and Garfunkel put on their 1966 "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme" album was influenced by Martin Carthy, who learned it from Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, who learned it from - let's just say it was circulating among folk performers of the 1950s. Dylan's "Girl From the North Country" is loosely based on it. The version that's tabbed out here is in the key of Am, in 3/4 time. The accompaniment consists of arpeggios (i.e. playing the individual notes of a chord, ascending or descending). This continues during the solos, so the melody is surrounded by arpeggiated notes. There is no set pattern, but the first few bars of the arrangement set the tone for this picking style.
Bessie Smith recorded this bad-ass number in 1927 with a piano, cornet and trombone. The ragtimey chord changes are typical of many of her tunes. David Bromberg recorded it in the 1970s. By the way, the "Barlow" referred to in the lyric has been a popular pocket knife since the 1600s. George Washington owned one, and you can still buy one on Amazon.com! In this key-of-C version of the tune, the backup guitar is sketchy and sparse during the introductory verse, and then it settles into a combination of strums and Travis-style (alternating thumb-bass) fingerpicking.
Delta bluesman Bo Carter, a member of the renowned Chatmon family, recorded many bawdy blues tunes in the 1930s, including "Please Warm My Weiner,""Banana in Your Fruit Basket" and "Your Biscuits are Big Enough For Me." The first to record "Corinne, Corinna" he was a sometime-member of his family's band, the Mississippi Sheiks. This tune, in the key of E, has raggy, circle-of-fifths chord changes similar to what I call the "Alice's Restaurant" progression, which includes tunes like "They're Red Hot"" and "Bring It On Down To My House Honey." The thumb alternates bass notes, Travis-style, during most of the tune, and some fancy chords may give your left hand a workout.
Hoagy Carmichael composed "Skylark" around 1940 and the great lyricist/songwriter Johnny Mercer contributed the lyrics, allegedly inspired by his affair
with Judy Garland. Besides the standard circle-of-fifths chord movement (going up by fourths, such as Em7b5, A7, Dm7, Gm7, C9, Fmaj7) there is also
some diatonic chord movement, in which the chords move up the C major scale: C6, Dm7, C/E, Fmaj7. Notice the momentary key change in the bridge, from
C to E. A practice suggestion: become familiar with the backup arrangement first, before attempting to learn the chord-melody solo. Play the backup
chords several times and the solo will come easier, as it's mostly based on the same chord shapes.
Woody Guthrie experienced the story told in "So Long It's Been Good To Know You," or something pretty near, and it was one of the first original songs
he recorded, in 1940. That same year it was played on the radio as a big production number with a symphony orchestra and interposed sound effects and
dramatic dialogue. A tobacco company paid him to revise the tune so they could use it as the theme song of CBS' "Pipe Smoking Time" variety show. Ten
years later he helped the Weavers turn it into a love song, sans dust bowl, for their heavily orchestrated pop recording...and the folk-pop era was
underway. The song is a waltz, and in this key-of-A arrangement, the accompaniment to the verse consists of a thumb-picked bass notes and two brushes
down on the treble strings. During the chorus, the thumb plays three ascending notes, one on each beat, while the fingers play occasional treble notes
to fill out the rhythm. The solo is like the accompaniment, with three thumbpicked bass notes per bar, while the fingers pick melody on the high strings.
George and Ira Gershwin wrote "Someone To Watch Over Me" in 1926 for a Broadway musical called "Oh Kay," and Gertrude Lawrence's heart-rending rendition of the ballad made it an instant hit. It's a favorite for vocalists. In the AABA form, the A section of the chorus features chromatically rising and falling bass lines. In this key-of-A version, it goes down (looking just at the bass notes: D#, D, C#, C, B, Bb) and comes up (Bb, B, C#, D, D#, E). The beautiful introductory verse is included here, and it's like a song in itself.
W. C. Handy is often called "the father of the blues." Though he didn't invent the form, he was inspired by hearing Delta blues musicians to write and publish the first 12-bar blues tune ("Memphis Blues," in 1912) that crossed over and became a pop hit. Two years later he wrote (or re-wrote, from a folk blues he had heard) "St. Louis Blues," which would become one of the most recorded and performed blues tunes of all time. It has three sections, one of which is a 16 bar structure, often played in tango rhythm. This is the middle section, bookended by two 12-bar strains that came to define the 12-bar format. Many would call Bessie Smith's 1925 recording, which includes Louis Armstrong on cornet, the definitive version of the tune. This key-of-D arrangement features a repetitive, monotone thumb/bass backup: the thumb plunks out the root bass note of each chord, four beats to the bar, while the fingers pick melody, during the solo, and provide fills and articulate chord changes during the accompaniment to the vocal. All three sections of the tune are played in the first 5 frets, but the many "extra" chord changes are a lesson in how to ornament and vary a standard 12-bar blues progression.
One of the most popular songs of all times, "Stardust" has been recorded by over 1500 singers and musicians. Hoagy Carmichael composed it in 1927 when he was in college studying law, and Mitchell Parrish added lyrics in 1929. The introductory verse sounds like it was inspired by Hoagy's friend and musical idol, Bix Beiderbeck, warming up on his trumpet. The song's structure is not unusual: there's a 16-bar statement; the first 8 bars are repeated, followed by a different 8-bar concluding statement. But the melody and chords seem to meander in an unusual way. There's no brief "hook" that is the trademark of so many pop songs of the 20s, 30s and 40s. In the backup part to this arrangement in the key of G, you'll find lots of circle-of fifths movement (moving up by fourths, as in Bm to Em to A7 to D to G) and several examples of a popular harmonic device: a series of chords in which stay on one chord but alter it several times by lowering one note (Am, Am,major 7, Am7, D9 or A, Amaj7, A7. A practice suggestion: become familiar with the backup arrangement first, before attempting to learn the chord-melody solo. Play the backup chords several times and the solo will come easier, as it's mostly based on the same chord shapes.
"Sugar Magnolia," written by Robert Hunger and Bob Weir, was included in 1970's "American Beauty" album. Probably inspired by a long-time girlfriend of Weir, the song is a favorite among Deadheads. It's often considered two songs, as the "Sunshine Daydream" coda, with a melody and chord progression that are different from the "Sugar Magnolia" part of the tune, became a platform for extended jamming. Like many Dead tunes, the lyrics are full of tips of the hat to folk songs and other cultural references. This key-of-C arrangement has no repeated fingerpicking pattern. There are several sections to the tune, and at times the picking hand strums, plays arpeggios and, occasionally plays a monotone bass. And it all takes place in the first three frets!<
"Summertime" is the first song Gershwin composed for his ambitious and revolutionary jazz/opera, "Porgy and Bess." It's a lullaby sung by a black mammy to the white baby she's caring for. The opera, set in the south with an all-black cast, was not financially successful when first staged in 1935, but it has become the most performed and beloved American opera - and "Summertime" is its most recorded song - over 25,000 recorded versions by nearly every jazz instrumentalist and countless singers from Billie Holiday to Janis Joplin. Sidney Bechet's 1939 instrumental recording of the tune for Blue Note may be the first time a jazz performer was allowed to stretch out and improvise on a commercial recording (he played five choruses in a row). "Summertime"'s bluesy feel makes it easy for a singer or player to adlib and improvise melodic variations, which is part of the song's appeal. This key-of Am version is all done with easy, first position chords.
During the 1956 movie "The Searchers," John Wayne repeatedly muttered "That'll be the day!" That was Buddy Holly's inspiration for writing what would become
his first hit, so bluesy that in 1957 it went to #1 on the pop charts and #2 on the R&B charts... even though the recording Buddy and his group
gave the record company was intended to be a demo, not a finished product. It also went to #1 in the UK, and the first demo recorded by the Beatles
(in 1958, when they were called the Quarrymen) was their cover of "That'll Be the Day." Buddy's playing, especially his guitar solo, was influence
by the blues records he loved by players like Lonnie Johnson and Lightning Hopkins. The intro/hook that begins this key-of-E arrangement is the same
lick Buddy played; he had a capo on the 5th fret of his Stratocaster and played the tune in E position. This fingerpicking arrangement is driven by
Travis-style alternating thumb-bass, except for the triplets on the F#-B7 sections. The instrumental solo mimics the song's melody, unlike Buddy's
solo, which was an ad-lib on a 12-bar blues, even though the vocal part of the song is not a 12-bar blues.
"The Boxer," from Simon & Garfunkel's 1970 "Bridge Over Troubled Water" album, was released as a single and charted in the top ten. It has remained one of Simon and Garfunkel's more well-known tunes, despite the gloomy subject matter, and has been covered by an impressive roster of artists, including Bob Dylan, Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris, Chet Atkins, Joan Baez and Mumford and Sons. This key-of-C arrangement has a Travis-style fingerpicking groove similar to that of the original recorded version. The first few bars establish the alternating thumb-bass pattern that continues throughout the tune. The solo goes up the neck, using moveable chords, to reach some high melody notes.
Deliberately written as an anthem for the civil rights movement, this was the title song of Dylan's third album, released in 1964. Dylan said he wrote it in the style of Irish and Scottish ballads that begin with "Come all Ye!" This and other Dylan protest songs, including many on this album, caused him to be labeled "the voice of his generation," a title he spent decades trying to shed. Lines from this and other of his protest songs have been quoted so often, they have become a part of world culture. Like "Don't Think Twice," from the previous album, the list of covers by other artists is long and varied. Dylan strummed the 3/4 time "Times They Are A-Changing," but this version is fingerpicked, in the key of C. The thumb plays ascending bass notes, on the beat (on a C chord that's 5th string, 4th string, 3rd string). It's all played on easy, first position chords, and there's a nice descending bass line on the G chord just before every chorus ("for the times they are a-changing.")
The 1937 Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musical film, "Shall We Dance," featured five Gershwin brothers tunes, including "They Can't Take That Away From Me." It was the Gershwins' first foray into Hollywood and all the songs (sung by Astaire) became standards. "They Can't Take That Away From Me" was an immediate success, with 1937 hit recordings by Astaire, Ozzie Nelson and his orchestra, Tommy Dorsey and Billie Holiday! The song was reprised in the Astaire-Rogers reunion film of 1949, "The Barklays of Broadway." Like many Gershwin songs, this one has an AABA form, with a two-bar extension of the final A section (the same thing happens in "I Got Rhythm.") This key-of-C arrangement includes the introductory verse which most singers omit, and the solo has an interesting trick ending (starting with the Gbm7b5) not of Gershwin's composition, it's an adlib way to end the tune after playing several choruses. By the way, the verse/intro references and quotes Irving Berlin's "The Song Is Ended (But The Melody Lingers On)."
The general public first heard "Too Much of Nothing" when Peter, Paul and Mary's 1967 cover of the song became a pop hit. Dylan recorded the song with the Band that same year, but his version wasn't heard until the 1975 release of "The Basement Tapes." This fingerpicking, key-of-E arrangement resembles Peter, Paul and Mary's rendition, with it's "New Orleans second-line" feel. It's mostly first-position, bluesy E, A7 and B7 chords, except for one up-the-neck E7 lick and the 1st and 3rd string figure in the chorus. The alternating thumb/bass pattern is slightly altered to create the half time feel.
A rare top ten single from the Dead in 1987, "Touch Of Grey" was on the album of the same year, "In the Dark." An imaginative video (their first) was released to promote the single on MTV. The song (Robert Hunter's lyric and Garcia's music) deals with aging and is a take on the saying "every cloud has a silver lining," changing it ironically to "every silver lining's got a touch of grey." This arrangement in the key of D is mostly based on the Travis, alternating thumb-bass style of fingerpicking, except for the strumming on the bridge, and only has easy, first position chords.
In 1968, "underground cartoonist" Robert Crumb illustrated some of the lines from an old blues song by Blind Boy Fuller and other bluesmen, "Truckin' My Blues Away." His cartoon of the &"truckin'"; character became associated with the Dead, and in 1970 they included this autobiographical song about their misadventures on the road in the "American Beauty" album. It included the now-iconic line "What a long strange trip it's been." With a lyric by Robert Hunter and Garcia, Weir and Lesh adding the music, "Truckin'" includes personal details about band drama, as well as general comments on the times. In this key-of-E arrangement, the verse has a monotone bass which switches (in the chorus) to a boogie bass line. The bridge has chord arpeggios, and in the solo the thumb reverts to steady, monotone bass, while the fingers pick up-the-neck, bluesy melody in a style not unlike Lightning Hopkins.
his Garcia/Robert Hunter collaboration first appeared in concerts in 1969, then on 1970's "Workingman's Dead," an album that was more acoustic than their previous efforts, and that featured more vocal harmonies and tighter arrangements. The lyric to "Uncle John's Band" suggests a possible anthem about the Dead itself, but Robert Hunter acknowledged he was partly thinking of the New Lost City Ramblers, who introduced a generation of urban northerners to old-time music (John Cohen was nicknamed "Uncle John."). A few of NLCR's songs were referenced in "Uncle John's Band" such as "same story the crow told me." This key-of-C arrangement starts with an instrumental hook that was heard on the record, and the verse has a Travis-style, alternating thumb-bass, fingerpicking backup. But it changes, after 8 bars, to a strumming style with occasional arpeggios. The instrumental solo is a mixture of fingerpicking and strumming, with no steady thumb beat, and no particular pattern. Notice the odd bar of _ time in the verse.
Though many people know this tune from the medley with "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" that was sung by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, the Hawaiian uke player, it was written for Louis Armstrong, who first recorded it (and had a major hit) in 1967. If you compare this version to Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's hit, you'll notice how much Israel altered the tune, chords and lyrics. The song has an AABA form: an 8-bar phrase is repeated (AA) followed by and 8-bar bridge (B) and another repeat of the A phrase. This arrangement in C is played on the first few frets with easy chords.
A prolific and influential blues and jazz singer, Alberta Hunter was one of the first African American international stars (she toured Europe in 1917!).
She wrote "Downhearted Blues," Bessie Smith's first recording, at the beginning of the 1920s, and went on to write, perform and record well into her
eighties. This tune, recorded in 1935, is as much jazz as it is blues. It has an introductory verse, followed by a chorus with an AABA format (where
"B" is the bridge). The bridge features the "I Got Rhythm" format used by so many pop songs of the 30s and 40s, and you'll encounter many jazz chords
throughout the tune. There's an alternating thumb/bass during most of the arrangement. I changed some of the lyrics as the song was written from a
black woman's point of view ("I may be brown as a berry, but that's only secondary!")
A #2 hit on the country charts in 1958, "Ways Of a Woman In Love" was sweetened by backup singers and a tinkling piano, augmenting lead guitarist Luther Perkins' trademark "dead-string" rhythm and sparse lead licks. This fingerpicking version in the key of A has a typical intro: the last 4 bars of the chorus. It's all easy, first position chords except for an up-the-neck (5th fret) D chord in the solo. The thumb only interrupts the constant, Travis-style alternating bass notes when there's a bass run to connect two chords.
This beautiful ballad was the only hit song to emerge from the 1942 movie "Something to Shout About," and in the years that followed, several vocalists charted with it, notably Sinatra and Dinah Shore. Like many Cole Porter songs, it has become a favorite of jazz instrumentalists as well. As you can hear from this arrangement in G, the 32-bar tune spends a lot of time in Em, and lends credence to the often repeated notion that Porter, a gentile among a generation of Jewish songwriters like Gershwin and Berlin, wrote the most Jewish melodies of all. Much of the song circles around Em with 2-5-1s and 6-2-5-1s (if you consider Em the 1 chord).
"Young At Heart" was a huge hit for Sinatra in 1953, the same year it was written. It became the title of a movie Sinatra and Doris Day were filming that year, and it has been played in several other movies and recorded by many vocalists. The song has a 32-bar form used in many popular songs: there's a 16-bar statement, then a repeat of the same chord progression - another 16 bars - but the last several bars contain a different set of chords. Also notice the three-note theme that is repeated dozens of times throughout the tune (it's in the first three notes: "Fairy tales...") This type of repetition of a phrase makes a tune stick in your head! This arrangement, in the key of F, has a two-bar intro with an ascending chord progression.