Lonesome Road Blues
The song of the week is 'Lonesome Road Blues' (a.k.a. 'I'm Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad) in the key of G.
Based upon my experience as a bluegrass jammer, I am inclined to rank this song right near the top of the list of songs that are bound to work well at almost any traditional bluegrass jam simply because they lend themselves remarkably well to being played in a jam setting. Lonesome Road Blues is one of the very few songs that I think of as being first and foremost a 'jam song'. There are only two other songs on the lists that we use for the jam that I would without hesitation place in this exact same category together with 'Lonesome Road Blues'. These two songs are: 'Mama Don't Allow' and 'Nine Pound Hammer'.
Lonesome Road Blues is one of those small handful of songs that at a typical bluegrass jam it would not be out of the ordinary for it to be played either with or without singing: I have no idea which way I have played it more often at bluegrass jams. In this respect, it differs from other songs that may be played either way at a jam. For instance, Wildwood Flower is so often played at bluegrass jams as an instrumental, that it can strike one as being somewhat of a novelty to hear someone sing it at a bluegrass jam. Nearly all of the fiddle tunes we play at the jam have lyrics, but it is rare at a bluegrass jam for these to be sung.
Lonesome Road Blues is also one of those songs that may be sung either with or without a chorus. Other songs on the lists we use at the jam that are also like this include: Down The Road, Handsome Molly, Little Birdie, The Crawdad Song, This Little Light Of Mine, and Wabash Cannonball. When sung without a chorus, the set of lyrics that make up the chorus in the versions of Lonesome Road Blues that use a chorus will usually be sung as one of the verses in the song - usually as the first or as the last verse, or as both. The way that Robert sang This Little Light Of Mine (no chorus) at last night's jam is a good case in point illustrating how what is the chorus in some versions of a song can function instead as the first and last verse in other versions of the same song.
For most of the songs that may be sung either with or without a chorus, I tend to choose to sing them without a chorus when I lead them at a jam. The reason why I do this is simply to minimize the amount of time I spend singing between the breaks. As a bluegrass jammer who rarely ever sang at jams until I started leading the beginner bluegrass jam in Boise for the Idaho Bluegrass Association 4 years ago, I relate to the many, many bluegrass jammers who don't sing, and would rather not have to wait four minutes into the song before they get a turn to play a break, and who enjoy having the opportunity to play more than one break in the same song without this resulting in the song being played for an unusually long time.
Here is one of the first sung bluegrass versions of 'Lonesome Road Blues' I remember hearing. It is a live recording of the Stanley Brothers, and it is played at quite a fast tempo:
The Stanley Brothers - key of G
Here is what is probably the most well-known instrumental bluegrass version of Lonesome Road Blues, played as a banjo-feature tune on the Flatt and Scruggs' album 'Foggy Mountain Banjo', and at a slower tempo than the Stanley Brothers' live version:
Flatt and Scruggs - key of G
Here is a sung version by Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music
Bill Monroe - key of C
Finally, another sung version in a live performance, by a young Japanese band. Since there are breaks in this version played on four different instruments - banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and guitar, and they are all really good, I was happy to come across this version on youtube.
Bluegrass Police - key of G
The chord progression used for these versions of 'Lonesome Road Blues' is the same one that I use when leading the song:
(Prog. W4 on the Basic Chord Progressions handout)
...though, I have heard it played at some jams with the last line played as 1511 (Prog. V4 on the Basic Chord Progressions handout), and/or with the third line played as 4416m.
Notice the Bb note in measure 2 of lines 2, 3, and 4 on the melody sheets attached here. Relative to the key of G, the Bb note is the b3 (flatted third scale degree). Together with the b7 (for the key of G, an F note), making good use of this note will often add a 'bluesy' characteristic to your playing.
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