How To Play Great Fingerpicking Guitar--Even If You're All Thumbs!

Chapter 10

JORMA MADNESS--or, The Legacy of Reverend Gary Davis

Any trouble with the tablature below? Go To Chapter 3

Some Thoughts on the GREAT Reverend Gary Davis
Reverend Gary Davis was a giant influence on New York kids who were the better blues guitar players in the 1960s. If you could "cut it," you learned his difficult but knockout guitar pieces.

He was also a great adventure for us rebellious adolescents--oh, Excuse Me, I mean us "sensitive, alienated youths of the 1960s, fighting for a better world," etc. It must have driven our middle class parents mucho wacko to watch us running off first to Harlem, and then to a funky part of Queens to study with this blind black master musician--Rev. Davis.

My dad in particular kept hinting that I should already be thinking ahead about graduate school.

Who needed grad school? Rev. Davis was not only the greatest gospel guitarist and singer, a terrific technician on the guitar, and deeply religious--but also a good teacher. He really inspired us to learn (by ear) all sorts of odd, bluesy syncopated pieces.

Maybe it was because he played 'em so great, and we could actually watch him working on them. He'd start out by playing a piece. Then he'd simplify it if we couldn't get it right. In effect, he was contantly "analyzing" the different chord challenges in it as he taught it, and offering alternatives on the fly. Whew.


Hear The Music

One Davis-influenced piece that filtered down through the New York blues guitarists was Saturday Night Shuffle, which my teacher Dave Van Ronk taught me.

This piece may have started the New York rounds as an instrumental from an early Merle Travis album. But by the time it was shown to me it had lots of Rev. Davis trademark licks, useful for "ragtime in C." Let's look at a few of these standard licks--licks you'll use over and over again in different pieces.

Measure 1
Part 1 Measure 1
Start with a C chord--and a strong left pinky!

Beat 1: On-beat play bass note on 5th string. Then streeetch left pinky to 2nd string fourth fret for Off-beat.
Beat 2: Release pinky, play 4th & 1st strings together. Add 2nd string on Off-beat.
Beat 3: Pinky on 1st string 3rd fret, play this with bass on 6th string (move your left ring to it). Off-beat--open 1st string.
Beat 4: Just Bass

Measure 2
Part 1 Measure 2

Beat 1: Bass on 6th. Off-beat: pinky plays 2nd string third fret, the PULLS OFF.
Beat 2: The pull-off ends with alternate bass. Off-beat: 3rd string.
Beat 3: pinky back on 2nd string third fret, but NO pull-off this time. Just play it, and then on the off-beat play the string w/o pinky.
Beat 4: Bass

Measure 3 repeats measure 1 (thank goodness), then we have two very quick chords:
Measure 4:
Pt. One Measure 4
Beat 1: Play a D9: folk D9 chord
Use your Thumb or Index for the Bass here

Beat 2: Move whatever's on the 6th string up to the second fret for this note.
Davis used Left Thumb for bass of beats 1 & 2.
Beat 3: Ordinary G chord here.
Beat 4: Notice the note on 5th string.

This is the bulk of the hard parts of this piece.

Measures 5 and 6 repeat measures 1 & 2 exactly.

Then there's a nifty treble run:
Measure 7
Pt 1 measure 7 Run
This is played fingerstyle, but Rev. Davis picked it as if he was pseudo-flatpicking:

Finally, you may have to reverse the "Right Thumb/Right Index" order here and there to make it work. For example, Beat 2 of this measure.

Beat 1: Bass note. On Off-beat jump to 2nd string fourth fret with left ring, and slide it to fifth fret. This starts the run.
Beat 2: 1st string third fret with index. Off-beat: play 2nd string fourth fret, middle finger
. Beat 3: Open 1st string. Off beat: 2nd string first fret.
Beat 4: Second fret, then open on 3rd string.

Part II is really a lot easier.
None of the syncopated challenges of Part I, but the same chord structure. Note the "New D7" in Measure 4. That'a normal C7 moved up two frets, to the third through fifth frets.
There's a treble run in Measure 7 of Part II as well:> Beat 1: Slide up to eighth fret with left ring.
Beat 2: 1st string 3rd fret, then 2nd string fourth fret on Off-beat.
Beat 3: Open 1st string, then 2nd string first fret on off-beat.
Beat 4: Second fret to open on 3rd string.

Part III has a neat syncopation for its first two measures, but only one pull-off.

However, in Measure 3 we get all new chords:

A diminished 7th:
It's on the fourth and fifth frets, first four strings.
A diminished 7th
"Roll" your Right hand fingers to play in this order, first Right Thumb, then I, M, R

Then jump right to a new B7

I'll call it the "Odd B7": Odd B7 It's on the second and fourth frets. Index on the first string, middle on the forth string fourth fret. Left Ring on Second string, Fourth fret.
New B7 in tab

Next chord is the "odd C7" is the "odd B7" moved up one fret higher.

SNS Part 3 Measure 3

Measures 7 & 8 end the bridge with more left pinky work:
SNS Part 3 Measures 7 & 8 G7 riff
The pinky moves around on the Off-beats in Measure 7:
Beat 1: On off-beat, move it to the 3rd string third fret.
Beat 2: On off-beat, again play the 3rd string third fret.
Beat 3: On off-beat, play 2nd string third fret.
Beat 4: On off-beat, play 2nd string, but now open.

In Measure 8:

Beat 1: Start with normal G, but on off-beat move your Left Index to the second fret of the 1st string. Remember to take your pinky off the same string!
Beat 2: On off-beat, finger a normal G7 for the 1st string note.

After playing the Bridge, repeat Part I again.

The musical structure (or "form") of Saturday Night Shuffle is:


This is a very important structure! Many jazz-based songs follow this "form."

The first, second, and last verse have almost identical chords (and chord sequences). In between the second and the last verse is a Bridge of different musical material and chord sequence.

Musicians often refer to this structure as:

" A A B A"

because the verses ("A") are similar in chord patterns, while the bridge ("B") is a contrast.

Notice that in Saturday Night Shuffle, Verse I and II have the same chord patterns at the same relative measures--even though the notes are different. (Whaaa?). Or, we could say that the same chords sound at the same time in the two verses.

For example, Measure 4 of each verse has the "D7 to G" chord sequence. It's expressed differently in the two verses, but it's the same chord sequence. Again, Measure 7 in each verse has a "run in C."

In this piece, Verse III just repeats Verse I. In other "AABA" songs, verse III may have a new melody--but it'll still be nearly musically identical to the other verses' chord patterns.

Saturday Night Shuffle Part 1 Saturday Night Shuffle Pt 2 Saturday Night Shuffle Pt 3

Sat Nite Shuffle Part 1 measures 1 to 5

Saturday Nite Shuffle Pt 1 measures 6 to 8


Saturday Bite Shuffle Pt. Two

SNS Part 3 first 4 measures
SNS Part 3 Measures 5 through 7
SNSPt3 last measure
To Part I


Hear The Tune

"So what does all this have to do with Jorma Kaukonen?" you're probably asking by now....

Jorma is perhaps the most famous Rev. Davis influenced guitarist. His version of Keep On Truckin', a standard pop tune in a 1930s style, has a lot of Davis-style licks in it. It's a good vehicle for starting to learn this bluesy type of ragtime guitar. Let's look at it.

Just before Measure 1 comes an intro lick using "harmonized sixths." Use the Left Ring and Pinky (although you can substitute Left Middle and Ring):
Opening riff for Trucking

One-and Two Three Four is how you'd count the beats here.

Measure 2 is somewhat schizoid:
Start with a C chord. On Beat 3 it immediately "mutates."
At this point you've replaced Left Ring with Middle on the 5th string, second fret.

This also leaves the 4th string open.


Measure 3 is full A
Measure 3 Trucking Full A

Measure 4 starts with a C7 moved up two frets (to become a D7)--Third to Fifth frets.
On Beat 3, shift to a normal G7.
Measure 4 Trucking

Measure 5 again uses the "sliding sixths" in the intro measure of the piece:

Trucking Measure 5
Beat 2: Again, Left Ring (on 4th string) and Pinky (on 2nd string), both on the same fret. Slide them up to the fifth fret while plucking the 4th and 2nd strings simultaneously.
Off-beat: play open 1st string.
Beat 3: Back to the Ring and Pinky--now play those sixths on the third, then the fourth frets.
Beat 4: Just two notes, as if you were on a Chord again.

Practice this measure by itself a few times, to get it smooth.

Measure 5 has the same "C to Schizoid C" chord change as Measure 1. The picking is different--maybe a little easier.

Measure 7 has the Full A--same as some of our earlier pieces. However, Jorma flicks his left wrist into a fancy "sixteenth note pull-off":

(Full A)
Trucking Measure 7 full A with pulloff

Beat 2: While playing the alternate bass, pull off the Left pinky from 1st string fifth fret to the Left middle on the third fret.
Off-beat: play 2nd string (Left pinky on it, fifth fret).

Measure 8 has the new D7 (C7 up two frets) again, but this time for nearly the whole measure. Use the same alternate bass approach we use for the C chord.
At the very end of the measure, release the chord to put your Left Index on the 5th string first fret.
This sets you up for the approach to the next measure's "adventures in G7".

Measure 9: This gets a bit wacky. The G7 chord here actually starts with a 5th string bass. But the bassline calms down by Beat 2 and returns to a normal G/G7 bass:

Measure 9:
Trucking Measure 9

Fortunately, measure 9 through 11 are blissfully predictable. In fact, Measures 9-12 is an oft-used chord sequence for a Bridge:

C ---------- C7 ---------- F ---------- ***

where the *** usually contains an Fmi or D9 chord for added tension. However, in this piece Jorman uses an Ab7 chord as an interesting substitute. Don't worry--it's just our "Full A" one fret lower, with a four string barre on the first fret:

diagram A flat 7th
Measure 13: Ab7
Trucking Measure 13 Ab7

Measures 14-16 are the last verse, and repeat the tricks we've just covered above.

Keep On Truckin' is another good example of an "A A B A" or Verse-Verse-Bridge-Verse musical form. Use the link above if you want to polish up the feel of it.

Or better yet, go see Jorma live and shout for it!


ZK On Trucking measures 1 thru 8
Keeo On Trucking measures 9 through 12
Trucking  measures 13 to 17

This chapter © 2015 by Andrew D. Polon. All rights reserved.

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