The song of the week is 'Little Willie' in the key of A.
Ralph Stanley - key of B
John Reischman & The Jaybirds (vocal: Trisha Gagnon) - key of C - here -
The melody sheets attached here are based upon how Ralph Stanley sang the song on an earlier recording by the Stanley Brothers. On this recording, which was available on youtube for a brief while in the recent past, but is not currently available there, Ralph sang it in the key of A (a whole step lower than B), and this is the recording that I learned to sing the song from. (I have it only on an old grainy cassette tape.)
The chord progression for Little Willie is:
1 1 b7 b7
1 5 1 1
1 1 b7 b7
1 5 1 1
The b7 Chord
The b7 (flat-seven) chord is always one whole step (= two half steps) lower than the 1 chord.
If you know the 7 letter circular musical alphabet, and know that there is a note between every natural note except between B and C and between E and F, and know what is meant by a whole step (or by two half steps) and what is meant by flat (b) and sharp (#) and natural, then you have all the information you need to know in order to very quickly calculate what the b7 chord is for every key (albeit perhaps not the all the information you need in order to ensure that you are always naming it correctly: e.g., G# - incorrectly named - in place of Ab - correctly named - for the key of Bb, even though G# and Ab are one and the same note/chord).
Although we only use 8 of the 12 Major keys at our jam, here is the b7 chord for all 12 Major keys:
G: b7 = F
Ab: b7 = Gb
A: b7 = G
Bb: b7 = Ab
B: b7 = A
C: b7 = Bb
C#: b7 = B (or Db: b7 = Cb)
D: b7 = C
Eb: b7 = Db
E: b7 = D
F: b7 = Eb
F#: b7 = E (or Gb: b7 = Fb)
Banjo and guitar players who regularly make use of a capo should at the very least memorize the letter name of the b7 chord for the keys of G, C, and D.
Guitar players whose guitars are set up to be capable of the level of volume needed in order to stand a chance of cutting through at a large Bluegrass jam
(medium or heavy gauge strings and high action) will find it helpful to remember that the b7 chord in the key of C is Bb, so that when they know that the song about to be played at the jam has a b7 chord in it, and is going to be played in the key of C, or D, or E, or F, they can choose a option that will not require them to play a Bb chord-shape: for this chord-shape is physically difficult to form and to make sound right on a guitar with high action and medium to heavy gauge strings.
4 vs. b7
When I am playing guitar, my F shape chords look so similar to my C shape chords that, in order to distinguish them from each other, you may find it easier to rely on your ear to hear the difference between when I am playing a b7 chord instead of a 4 chord for the keys of G, A, Bb, B, and C, than to rely on what you (may think you) are seeing on my guitar.
The b7 chord sounds distinctively different than the 4 chord (even if not as different as what the b7 sounds like relative to the 1 and the 5). To help familiarize yourself with the specific sound of the b7 chord, you may find it helpful to listen on youtube (or on any records, tapes, CDs, etc.) in your collection, songs that feature this chord in one or more of their parts back to back with songs that have only the 1,4 and 5 chords in them.
You may also find it helpful to play through the progression for Little Willie back to back with the progression for Nine Pound Hammer, for the only difference between the two progressions is that Nine Pound Hammer uses the 4 chord in the spots where Little Willie uses the b7 chord.
Besides 'Little Willie', songs that have been played at our jams that use the b7 chord include: Old Joe Clark (B-Part only, and has no 4 chord in either of its parts), Red Haired Boy (in both parts; both parts also have the 4 chord), Salt Creek (in both parts; the A-Part also has the 4 chord) Over The Waterfall (second to last measure of the A-Part; the last measure of the A-Part uses the 4 chord), Little Maggie (has no 4 chord), and Love Please Come Home (the b7 is followed by the 4).
Relation to 'Little Maggie'
Lyrical content aside, Little Willie is essentially a slower-tempo Little Maggie. (Little Maggie is a popular Bluegrass jam standard.) So, we can use it at the jam to work towards one of the goals appropriate for the present state of our jam, namely: to be able to play faster as a group. Each time that 'Little Willie' is played at the jam, we can kick it off a bit faster, until we get to the point where the speed is no longer appropriate for Little Willie. At that point, we can switch to playing 'Little Maggie', and then keep on trying to gradually push Little Maggie faster and faster each time it gets played at the jam
Little Willie shares either the same, or a very similar, chord progression with Little Maggie, depending on which version of Little Maggie one has in mind. The two melodies are close enough to each other that any melody-based break that one plays for Little Maggie would not be out of place to play as a break for Little Willie. Though, one might consider altering the first measure (together with any pickups leading into it) of one's Little Maggie break when using it for Little Willie (and perhaps also one's 9th measure), especially for one's intro break, in order for it to be clear which song your break is intended for. (The first long-held melody note in the first and third lines of the verses of Little Willie is a perfect 5th higher than the corresponding melody note in Little Maggie.)
For the sake of comparison and contrast with 'Little Willie', take a listen to the following:
Little Maggie: Ralph Stanley:
and yet faster:
Little Maggie: Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder
Instrumentals written by Earl Scruggs
'Shuckin' The Corn' is one of about ten or so instrumentals written by Earl Scruggs that I regard as essential listening for all Bluegrass players:
Flint Hill Special
Foggy Mountain Special
Randy Lynn Rag
Foggy Mountain Breakdown
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