The song of the week is 'Foggy Mountain Top' in the key of G.
The chord progression for 'Foggy Mountain Top' is one of the most common progressions in bluegrass:
(Prog. V6 on the Basic Chord Progressions handout. In the key of G: 1=G, 4=C, 5=D.)
Other bluegrass standards that use this same progression include:
Live And Let Live
I'll Never Shed Another Tear
All The Good Times Are Past And Gone
On And On
Light At The River
Little Cabin Home On The Hill - verse prog. only
Before I Met You - verse prog. only
Cabin In Caroline - verse prog. only
Gonna Settle Down - verse prog. only
Little Girl Of Mine In Tennessee - verse prog. only
Little Old Log Cabin In The Lane - verse prog. only
Hallelujah, I'm Ready To Go - verse prog. only
Lovesick And Sorrow - verse prog. only
Greenville Trestle - verse prog. only
Keep On The Sunny Side - chorus prog. only
For people who are much less familiar with bluegrass than with other genres of music, some good points of reference for this progression might include:
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
Jesse James - verse prog. only
Cotton Fields - verse prog. only
My Old Kentucky Home (some versions) - verse prog. only
Note: With the exceptions of 'Hallelujah, I'm Ready To Go' and 'My Old Kentucky Home', all the songs listed here in which only the verses of the song use the V6 progression, the progression for the chorus is prog. X6 on the basic chord progressions handout:
Progressions V6 and X6 tend to show up together with each other in the same song much more frequently than any other pair of progressions on the basic progressions handout.
Compare the progression for 'Foggy Mountain Top' (V6) with the progression for another one of the songs on the top 20 list, 'Bury Me Beneath The Willow':
Notice how similar these two progressions are. They differ from each other only in 2 of their measures, namely the last measure of line 1 and last measure of line 3.
Part of the practical value of observing how certain commonly recurring progressions are similar and different from each other is that by taking note of this, one can help oneself to avoid certain common mistakes.
In my many years of jamming experience, I have noticed that a lot of people tend to be more familiar with prog. V7 than with prog. V6. At large jams, whenever a song that uses prog. V6, I have found that it is typical to find at least one person playing prog. V7 for at least the first round or two through the progression. I count this as being one of the top half dozen or so errors involving wrong chord changes that occur at jams. Yet, the opposite case - namely, someone playing prog. V6 during a song that uses prog. V7 - rarely ever occurs at jams.
Another way to put this is that when the first three measures are 114, there is a much greater tendency to assume that the fourth measure will stay on the 4 instead of going back to the 1.
This assumption should be avoided, because songs with the 'Foggy Mountain Top' (V6) progression are very common in bluegrass, even if not quite as common as songs with the 'I Still Write Your Name In The Sand' (V7) progression.
Here is a live version of Foggy Mountain Top to listen to, played in the key of G:
Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, Ricky Skaggs ('The Three Pickers'):
Notice Doc's choice of pickup notes to lead into the first complete measure of his intro break on guitar: G, B, C, which ascend to a D note. This is the same series of notes that the melody of 'When The Saints Go Marching In' begins with, and is much more effective for starting a break than if one were to use the D half-note as a pickup that is written on the attached 'Foggy Mountain Top' melody sheets. This is a good case in point illustrating how it is often not desirable to slavishly follow the sung melody when playing a melody-based break. An alternative choice of pickup notes to use to ascend into the D note that the first complete measure begins with is: B, C, C#, and this is the choice of notes that you will often hear played on banjo and fiddle on good bluegrass records as pickups to lead into a melody line that starts with a D note on a G chord.
A good number of songs that are now in the standard bluegrass repertoire were recorded by the Carter Family in the 20's, 30's, and early 40's before Bluegrass music, in the generally accepted sense of the term, came into being, and their recordings of these songs directly influenced the first and second generation bluegrass artists who brought these songs into Bluegrass. (Both Flatt & Scruggs and Ralph Stanley, for instance, have recorded entire albums consisting of nothing but Carter Family songs, and there are many, many more of these songs scattered here and there on their other albums.) The 'pre-Bluegrass' music of the Carter Family bears a similar relation to Bluegrass as what the music of Woodie Guthrie has to the 'Pop-Folk' music genre of the 60s. So, for historical reasons, and because I believe that familiarity with the music of the Carter Family is an important part of a well-rounded Bluegrass education, here is a link to the old Carter Family recording of 'Foggy Mountain Top':
Notice that (as I pointed out last night at the jam) Sara Carter (who is singing lead on the record) sings the song from the perspective of a man. As far as I can gather, the influence of modern pop music (from the 70s onward especially) is to a great degree responsible for the tendency that a lot of people now have to change the lyrics to songs sung in the first person to make them correspond to the gender of the person singing the song: one contemporary bluegrass commentator/teacher that I have a lot of respect for - Chris Jones (of the band 'Chris Jones and the Night Drivers') - refers to this as 'the dreaded gender-switch', and regards it as being entirely unnecessary, and in many cases, awkward, to do this. In my years of listening to good bluegrass records, especially ones recorded by first and second generation bluegrass artists from the late 40s through to the 60s, I am inclined to think that this view of the matter was likely shared to one extent or another by the pioneers of Bluegrass: they rarely ever change lyrics to make them suit their gender, even in cases in which a simple and non-awkward substitution of female pronouns in place of male pronouns (e.g., in 'Bury Me Beneath The Willow') is all that would be needed to do this. Some songs make more sense when sung in the person of a woman (regardless of what the gender of the singer happens to be), while others make more sense when sung in the person of a man (once again, the gender of the person singing the song is not relevant in this context). And, they didn't avoid singing songs in which recourse to 'the dreaded gender-switch' would not work for the song. (E.g., Ralph Stanley's 'Little Willie' which is sung in the person of a woman for its first three verses.) An unfortunate consequence of the more recent trend in music is that it leads some people to avoid singing certain songs that, if they were not influenced so much by this trend, they might otherwise sing because they like the songs. If Bluegrass is still a somewhat foreign genre of music to you, but you are more familiar with the 'Pop-Folk' genre of several decades ago, then, if it helps you to put this issue in context more easily, you might think of Joan Baez singing the opening line of 'The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down' in the person of a man: "Virgil Cane is my name..."
The other Carter Family songs, besides 'Foggy Mountain Top', that are on the top 20 and additional 30 lists are:
Bury Me Beneath The Willow (the very first song that the Carters recorded)
Gathering Flowers From The Hillside
Will The Circle Be Unbroken (there were earlier recorded versions, but they did not have much influence, if any, on how this song is played as a Bluegrass song compared to the Carter Family's version)
Gold Watch And Chain
Worried Man Blues
Additional Carter Family songs I recommend taking a listen to include:
The Storms Are On The Ocean
Little Darling Pal Of Mine (the direct source of the melody for the popular folk song 'This Land Is Your Land': the main reason why 'This Land Is Your Land' is on the current additional 30 list instead of 'Little Darling Pal Of Mine' is because in the initial stages of a new beginner bluegrass jam, it is often the case that many of the participants in the jam are new to the bluegrass genre, so I think it is a good idea to have some songs on the lists that adapt well to being played in a Bluegrass style, but which are songs that are well-known outside of Bluegrass circles. As a beginner bluegrass jam progresses, songs like these, which also include 'She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain', 'Red River Valley', 'Goodnight Irene', and 'When The Saints Go Marching In', naturally tend to give way to songs that are less well-known outside Bluegrass circles.)
Keep On The Sunny Side
God Gave Noah The Rainbow Sign
I'm Thinking Tonight Of My Blue Eyes
Lulu Walls (a.k.a. Lula Walls)
Diamonds In The Rough
The Homestead On The Farm (better known in Bluegrass circles from Mac Wiseman's versions of the song under the title of 'I Wonder How The Old Folks Are At Home')
Wabash Cannonball (the great old-school Country artist Roy Acuff later had a hit record with this song)
A Distant Land To Roam
Jimmy Brown The Newsboy (associated more with Flatt & Scruggs and/or Mac Wiseman in Bluegrass circles)
On The Rock Where Moses Stood (a.k.a. Cryin' Holy. Both Bill Monroe and J.D. Crowe and the New South recorded excellent versions of this song)
I Can't Feel At Home (a.k.a. 'This World Is Not My Home', recorded by numerous big name Bluegrass artists, as well as non-Bluegrass artists representative of several different musical genres)
Give Me Roses While I Live
I Never Will Marry
The East Virginia Blues
Darling Little Joe
You're Gonna Be Sorry You Let Me Down
Jason's Beginner Jam Blog 2017 - 2018
Songs regularly called at the Beginner Bluegrass Jam and links from Jason's "Song of the Week" emails. (from Renee)
in alphabetical order