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

Chapter 14

MAN OF CONSTANT SORROW--1960s Folk Arranging

Any trouble with the tablature below? Go To Chapter 3

Hear The Song

In the early 1960s New York City was a fierce and furious mecca for young fingerpicking guitar wizards.

Performing virtuosos such as Dick Rosmini, Dave Van Ronk, and Danny Kalb were kept busy teaching hordes of bright young budding guitarists. Eric Schoenberg and Dave Laibman were active guitar arrangers and teachers. On radio station WBAI, Billy Faire would host a live picking session every Saturday night--"The Midnight Special"--with various folk performers and good guitar players.

A few of the real legends of American Blues Guitar were also in New York. Reverend Gary Davis was an established teacher and player. Lightnin' Sam Hopkins stayed around for a summer and performed in Washington Square Park every Sunday. Mississippi John Hurt would often pick at the just-relocated Folklore Center on Sixth Avenue (just below the Waverly moviehouse).

Many New York instrumentalists who were prominent on other instruments--such as banjoists Winnie Winston, Roger Sprung, and Faire--were also excellent guitarists. I remember in particular one concert in late 1963 where Winnie Winston played a devastating rendition of Merle Travis' Walking The Strings for a City College audience who had been screaming for banjo!

Fingerpicking in the Travis style was loved and respected. Such popular hits as Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" and Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant" were born from this rich fingerpicking tradition and "scene." Many students in the city's high schools absorbed this early '60s folk scene. When I entered Bronx High School of Science in 1962, I discovered to my joy that I had immediate friends--probably because I already played a wicked Freight Train.

Other "Scienceites," however, were better pickers: Albie Gorn played a country-based fingerpicking arrangement of Kurt Weill's "September Song," and I remember Ricky Brand (later of Left Bank fame--remember "Walk Away Renee"?) struggling with the St. Louis Tickle in the lunch room. But Ronnie Herman was our local guitar king, with his exciting Rev. Davis fluency and personal arrangements of older tunes such "Five Foot Two," "Somebody Stole My Gal," Gershwin's "I Got Plenty Of Nuthin'"--and his own "Oily Rag."

One of Ronnie's most accessible arrangements was the '60s evergreen MAN OF CONSTANT SORROW. His arrangement is not TOO tough! I've picked it over the years, and love its simplicity plus delicacy. Ronnie has since moved to Vermont, to become an even better jazz guitarist (and now acoustic bassist). As this arrangement shows, he preserved the essence of the tune, while arranging a rich guitar solo.

As in the other pieces in this book, the BASS LINES of the chords control the flow of melody.

The C Chord has a three note bass line: 5th string to 4th string to 6th string to 4th string.
All other chords except the C chord have a two note alternating bass.

The first few measures are straight forward:

The "F6" in measure two is the F with Thumb bass, plus pinky on the 2nd string third fret:


MEASURE 1:                  MEASURE 2:                        MEASURE 3:

Man M 1 to 4

Measure 2:

Measure 3:
Note that in this measure you're almost making a C chord in the middle of the measure of G.

Measure 4

Measure 4

MEASURE 5:                MEASURE 6:               MEASURE 7:

Man Measures 5-7

Measure 5: Some neat movement here UP the neck!