Focus on Songs of the Week of 2017
Excellent jam last night!
For the two remaining intermediate jams I lead before taking a break for the Summer, there will be no songs of the week. The focus of these two jams will be on playing the songs on the 'Songs of the Week for the first half of 2017' list, and the songs on the 'B-List songs of 2016' list, to help expand and solidify our gradually increasing commonly shared repertoire of songs. I believe that zeroing in on the songs on these lists will help to advance the level at which the jam operates. When I resume leading the jam at the beginning of September, a new phase of the Intermediate Jam will begin.
The lists are included in the attachments. Ignore 'the hits of 2016' list that is on the same page as the 'B-List songs of 2016' list.
For the jams on June 1st and June 8th, regulars, and any others who are aware of this message before coming to the jam, are asked to call only songs from the 'Songs of the Week for the first half of 2017' and 'B-List songs of 2016' lists: which brings us to a total of 36 songs to choose from.
Song of the week write ups for all of the 'Songs of the Week in alphabetical order are here: www.idahobluegrassassociation.org/all-of-jasons-songs.html
Keep in mind, though, that, depending on who leads the singing on a song, the song may or may not be played at the jam in the same key (or keys) that it was played in during its song of the week cycle.
Almost all the songs on the two lists are included in the youtube playlist on the left. Any songs that are not included in that playlist should be easy enough to find on youtube.
Little Cabin Home On The Hill
The song of the week is 'Little Cabin Home On The Hill', which was requested by a regular at the jam for a song to recycle as the song of the week. The song of the week write up for 'Little Cabin Home On The Hill' is on the IBA website at:
Jason asked me to let the non-banjo players who might come to the evening Weiser banjo camp jams on Thursday Friday and Saturday that jams start around 7:30 pm on Thursday and Friday and around 9:00pm on Saturday.
If you are going to join us for dinners (pulled pork and Idaho baked potato bars) on Friday and Saturday night, the cost is $10 and we need to know if you are partaking.
Also, please invite folks who might be interested to attend the Saturday evening banjo instructors concert. This always is a highlight of our banjo camps.
See ya at Weiser!
The song of the week is 'John Henry' in the key of D.
'John Henry' is a traditional American folk song/ballad that has been played as a bluegrass song, either with or without lyrics, by a wide range of top-notch bluegrass artists. When arranged as a bluegrass instrumental, it is most commonly played as a banjo-feature tune. The three most common keys that bluegrass instrumental versions of John Henry are played in are G, C, and D, and those just happen to be the three keys that are the most convenient for the banjo to play in when a capo is not being used.
John Henry has no chorus, only verses. If one were to try to collect all the versions of the lyrics for John Henry together that one can find in books, on records, and on the internet, it would not take long before one had way too many verses to sing for a single performance of the song. Most Bluegrass versions of the song that I have heard use at most 5 or 6 of the many different verses that the song has accumulated over the years, though I have tended to include recorded versions of the song here that use more verses than this in order to give more examples of verses used for John Henry. For playing the song at a jam in which sufficient time needs to be given for everyone to get their breaks in, 5 or 6 verses is more than enough to sing, and is, of course, more manageable for memorization purposes.
For your own arrangement of the song, I suggest choosing 5 or 6 verses that you like best and string them together in an order that makes sense to you. You may find some of the verses easier to commit to memory than others, and you may also find that putting the verses in one order instead of another makes them easier to memorize.
Here is a variety of bluegrass versions of John Henry to take a listen to, some with vocals, others without vocals:
Flatt & Scruggs - key of D instrumental (banjo breaks are based on the melody an octave higher than as written on the attached banjo tab melody sheet)
Doc & Merle Watson - key of D
Tony Furtado - key of G instrumental (This is my all time favorite banjo-feature instrumental version of John Henry.)
Bill Monroe - key of G (very sharp, almost G#)
Hylo Brown (with Earl Scruggs on banjo) - key of B (sung in two different octaves!)
Bluegrass Youth All Stars - key of A
The Bluegrass Album Band - key of G instrumental
The Foggy Hogtown Boys - key of E (Unlike the previous versions, this one has 6m chords in it)
Form & Progression
The form for the verses (and breaks based on the verses) is 5 lines (instead of the much more common 4 lines) consisting of 4 measures each, making a total of 20 measures.
The chord progression I use for John Henry is the most common one (and is the progression that has always been used for the song up to this point at the jam):
Notice that this progression is closely related to V1 on the basic chord progressions chart (i.e., the progression used to play Canaan's Land, Gathering Flowers From The Hillside, and Fireball Mail). In relating the two progressions to each other, one might think of the progression for John Henry as being V1 with an extra 1111 line added between lines 3 and 4 of V1.
Alternative progressions for John Henry include:
In versions that use the first of these three alternative progressions, the melody for line 2 necessarily differs from the version of the melody given in the attached melody sheets.
When the second or third of these progressions are used, the melody in the second part of line 3 need not differ all that much from the version of the melody given in the attachments.
The version of the melody given in the attachments would be entirely major pentatonic (major scale notes 1,2,3,5, and 6: do-re-mi-sol-la) were it not for the b7 note in measure 2 of line 2 (a C natural note in the key of D; a Bb note in the key of C). Because of the exact spot where this note occurs in the melody, one should avoid playing the typical descending 2 note run C#, B (key of D) or B, A (key of C) in backup for leading from the 1 chord to the 5 chord. If one desires to play a two-note descending run here, just copy the melody at that point: C, B (key of D), or Bb, A (key of C), which just so happen to be the very two notes that one would typically play for the last two notes of the three notes that make up a typical chromatic three-note descending run leading from the 1 chord down to the 5 chord.
The melody of John Henry has the same range as the melody for Liza Jane, Buffalo Gals: the lowest and the highest notes in the melody are both the root note of the key (e.g., D notes when in the key of D, or C notes when in the key of C) and almost the same range as the melodies for Wreck Of The Old '97 and Y'all Come. These are all melodies that I feel most comfortable singing in the key of D.
You might notice that almost all of the songs that I sing at the jam in the key of G also have D notes as their lowest and highest (or second to highest) notes. In these cases, the range of the melody is such that the root note of the key is right in the middle of the range of the melody, rather than at the very bottom or top of the range of the melody. This is a much more typical range for Bluegrass songs; hence, there are many more songs that I sing in G than in D.
Sometimes I will purposely overshoot the melody of John Henry on the last half of measure 1 of line 3 by reaching for either an F natural or a F# note (when singing in the key of D), and when this is done, and I manage to reach the F#, then the melody has the same range as that for Wildwood Flower.
Banjo: D Tuning
When John Henry is played in the key of D, Scruggs-style banjo players commonly tune their banjo to an open D chord for playing it (F#DF#AD or ADF#AD). D tuning is used on the first two recordings provided here. Notice how much more frequently one can use open strings for grabbing the melody for John Henry in D when tuned this way (see the attached banjo tab melody sheet) than what one could if one were tuned to the bluegrass banjo default tuning (G tuning).
Guitar: C capo 2 = D
Due to both the range of the melody and the specific notes that the melody most frequently lingers on, I find that John Henry in the key of C (no capo) lends itself to a wider range of types of bluegrass guitar breaks than what the key of D (no capo) does. For this reason, I have given a key of C guitar tab melody sheet (capo 2 for D), rather than a key of D guitar tab melody sheet.
Jason's Intermediate Jam Blog 2017 - 2018
started as Beginner Jam in Jan 2015
Songs regularly called at Bluegrass Jams and links from Jason's "Song of the Week" emails. (from Renee)
in alphabetical order