Brownie McGhee

Sonnie Terry and Brownie McGhee – So Much Trouble
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sonny terry brownie mcghee album coverThere’s a great recording of an old radio show from the 40s in  which broadcaster Studs Terkel talks to guests Big Bill Broonzy, and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee. Of course, Broonzy shows his off the-cuff total mastery of the guitar in mostly any style, but Brownie’s technique is also unique, and I like the guy’s humility.When asked about his guitar style McGhee commented that he only knows one song and adapts it to everything they play and sing together! Ken and I, as the Acoustic Blues Travelers, would often play Brownie McGhee blues songs, because the audiences love them, and also because of the obvious fascination for Ken with Terry’s blues harmonica style – an accomplished master at work (both Sonny and Ken!) Unfortunately, my musical history didn’t include any of this material and one night (at a performance) he asked me if I would play ‘So Much Trouble’ during the interval.

Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry – Acoustic Travelers Version

I’d never heard the song, so Ken sang a verse, we pitched it in E and the song you hear in the video above was the result. I created a simple picking pattern for the song that sounds more complex than it really is, simply because the thumb and the finger share one of the bass strings used in the alternating bass formation, which hops from the 6th string to the 4th while on the E chord, and flips to the 5th and the 4th for the A chord.

I tried to make it more interesting by weaving a shuffle in there from time to time, and also using devices like stop time to give it some variation. I hope you enjoy it, and when you realize that it’s a piece of cake, you’ll be singing along in real acoustic blues guitar style, à la Brownie McGhee tabs.

It strikes me that that this is key to playing old style acoustic blues guitar in the old fingerpicking styles – to learn thoroughly the original blues fingerstyle guitar patterns, and then adapt them to your own needs. This is easy to say, of course, and there are a couple of traps to avoid along the path. First of all, in out haste to play this stuff we tend to want to simplify, because it’s tough to master those original finger movement of the classic blues men of old. So the first thing is to make sure we simplify (if at all) in such a way that we don’t lose the flavor of the original music.

Brownie McGhee Blues intepreted by Jim Bruce

 

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Secondly, on the other side of the coin, don’t over complicate things. You can lose a lot of that important feeling and subtlety by trying to ‘pretty it up’, for example, by using two or more fingers when the original guitar player made do with one. This is hugely important – so many master guitarists just used their forefinger to play blues guitar, and the syncopation is just all wrong if more than one finger is used for picking (unless you’re very, very careful!)A technique I have always used to help my playing is visualization, that is to used the power of the mind to influence my playing.

How do this work? Before I go to sleep at night, I simply put myself in the place of the blues man, imagining and seeing my hands on the guitar, and hearing the exact music that I want to play. I make it very vivid and larger than life, like a technicolor video with surround sound. I see my fingers sliding over the fret-board easily and effortlessly, while my picking finger hit the strings with great accuracy and timing. Try this for 10 minutes every evening and you will be amazed!

 

Curated Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee article:

Brownie McGhee, 80, Early Piedmont Bluesman

By JON PARELES

FEB. 19, 1996

Brownie McGhee, the blues guitarist and singer who brought fingerpicking Piedmont blues to an international audience, died on Friday at Summit Hospital in Oakland, Calif., where he lived. He was 80.

The cause was stomach cancer, said a daughter, Vilhelmina.

In a long-running partnership with the harmonica player Sonny Terry, who died in 1986, Mr. McGhee preserved and popularized the blues style of the Piedmont area of the Carolinas. Piedmont blues meshes bouncy guitar picking and strumming with rhythmic, hooting harmonica; Mr. McGhee’s intricate parts combined bass lines, chords and countermelodies while he sang with earthy conviction.

He and Terry were major figures in the folk revival of the late 1950’s and early 60’s, performing everywhere from protest rallies to Broadway. And while Mr. McGhee was best known for Piedmont blues, he also worked in styles from gospel to rhythm-and-blues.

Walter Brown McGhee was born in 1915 in Knoxville, Tenn., and learned guitar from his father. He performed in churches, carnivals, medicine shows, minstrel troupes and the Golden Voices Gospel Quartet and as a traveling bluesman.

He was strongly influenced by Blind Boy Fuller, and made his way to Fuller’s home in Durham, N.C. There he met Terry, who was working on the streets with Fuller, and J. B. Long, the talent scout who had discovered Fuller. Long arranged Mr. McGhee’s first recording session, a remake of a Fuller song, in 1940; a year later, when Fuller died, Mr. McGhee recorded “The Death of Blind Boy Fuller,” using Fuller’s guitar, and was credited as Blind Boy Fuller No. 2.

Mr. McGhee played his first engagement with Terry in 1942, a civil rights benefit organized by Paul Robeson. After a year apart, they met again in New York in 1944 and made their first recording together. They became a part of the left-wing New York folk scene of the 1940’s, living in the communal house of the Almanac Singers and working as a trio with Woody Guthrie. They also shared a house with Leadbelly for a few years. They recorded, individually and as a duo, for the Library of Congress and for commercial labels. Mr. McGhee sometimes used the name Spider Sam, Big Tom Collins or Blind Boy Williams.

When Terry joined the cast of “Finian’s Rainbow” in 1947, Mr. McGhee formed a six-piece band, Brownie McGhee and His Mighty Rockers. In 1948, he started a blues school in Harlem. He also worked as a studio musician, backing up Big Maybelle, Champion Jack Dupree and his brother, Stick McGhee, whom he backed on the 1949 hit song “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-dee-o-dee.”

sonny terry & brownie mcgheeMr. McGhee and Terry worked together sporadically in the early 1950’s, and in 1955 they began a three-year Broadway engagement in Tennessee Williams’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” They began a steady recording career as a duo with a 1957 session for Fantasy Records that yielded two albums of blues and one of spirituals. Embraced by the folk audience, the duo became a steady draw on the college and coffeehouse circuit.

They returned to Broadway in Langston Hughes’s “Simply Heaven,” but spent most of their time steadily touring the folk circuit in the United States and Europe.

The duo broke up in the late 1970’s, and Mr. McGhee went on to perform with various bands. He appeared on television in an episode of “Family Ties” and in the film “Angel Heart.” He wrote and performed the soundtrack for “Buck and the Preacher.” He recently started the Blues Is Truth Foundation in Oakland, which plans to give scholarships to young musicians.

Mr. McGhee made his last album, “Brownie’s Blues,” last March with the Elmer Lee Thomas Blues Revue, his proteges. It was released in Australia.

In addition to his daughter Vilhelmina, of Oakland, Mr. McGhee is survived by two other daughters, Frances Milligan of South Carolina and Vedia Zella McGhee of Hayward, Calif., and three sons, Joseph Milligan of Oakland; George Walter McGhee of San Francisco, and Colin Che Gunia, who lives in Canada. He is also survived by 16 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren.

Article Source: http://www.nytimes.com/1996/02/19/arts/brownie-mcghee-80-early-piedmont-bluesman.html

 

brownie mcghee and sonny terry

 

Livin with the Blues TAB

 

Although almost always associated in people’s minds with Sonny – we always think of ‘Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee Albums‘ for example – Brownie also had  a considerable output under his own steam.

Brownie McGhee Discography (Source: http://www.honkingduck.com/discography/artist/brownie_mcghee)

Anna Mae – SAVOY (USA) – 1177B – 1955-10-03; Composer: Brownie Mcghee; matrix: SBM6758; ~3 min
Auto Mechanic Blues – SAVOY (USA) – 5538 – matrix: S3428; ~3 min
Back Door Stranger – CONQUEROR (1928 – 1941) – 9766 – 1940-08-07; matrix: WC3238=A; ~3 min
Back Door Stranger – OKEH (CBS) (1940-1957) – 06007 – 1940-08-07; matrix: WC3238=A; ~3 min
Back Home Blues – COLUMBIA (USA): Discs – 30031 – 1941-10-23; matrix: 31593=1; xref: CO37464; ~3 min
Back Home Blues – COLUMBIA (USA): Discs – 37464 – 1941-10-23; matrix: 31593=1; xref: 30031; ~3 min
Back Home Blues – OKEH (CBS) (1940-1957) – 06579 – 1941-10-23; matrix: 31593=1; ~3 min
Bad Nerves – SAVOY (USA) – 872 – 1948-10-13; matrix: S23000; ~3 min
Barbeque Any Old Time – OKEH (CBS) (1940-1957) – 06472 – 1941-10-22; matrix: 31572; ~3 min
Be Good To Me – CONQUEROR (1928 – 1941) – 9765 – 1940-08-07; matrix: WC3245=A; ~3 min
Be Good To Me – OKEH (CBS) (1940-1957) – 06056 – 1940-08-07; matrix: WC3245=A; ~3 min
Be My Friend – SAVOY (USA) – 1564 – 1958-09-22; matrix: 70333; ~3 min
Born For Bad Luck – OKEH (CBS) (1940-1957) – 06056 – 1940-08-06; matrix: WC3225; ~3 min
Bottom Blues – SAVOY (USA) – 844 – matrix: SBM5100; ~3 min
Brownie’s New Worried Life Blues – SAVOY (USA) – 747 – 1948-12-20; matrix: S23014; ~3 min
C. C Baby – SAVOY (USA) – 747 – 1950-05-08; matrix: S36145; ~3 min
Confused – SAVOY (USA) – 5557 – matrix: S23016; ~3 min
Country Boy Boogie – SAVOY (USA) – 5538 – matrix: S3431; ~3 min
Daisy – RED ROBIN (1950s, USA) – 111 – 1952-11-01; matrix: 3017; ~3 min
Dealing With The Devil – CONQUEROR (1928 – 1941) – 9937 – 1941-05-22; matrix: C3787; ~3 min
Dealing With The Devil – OKEH (CBS) (1940-1957) – 06329 – 1941-05-22; matrix: C3787; ~3 min
Death Of Blind Boy Fuller – CONQUEROR (1928 – 1941) – 9938 – 1941-05-22; matrix: C3784=1; ~3 min
Death Of Blind Boy Fuller – OKEH (CBS) (1940-1957) – 06265 – 1941-05-22; matrix: C3784=1; ~3 min
Dollar Bill – SAVOY (USA) – 5541 – matrix: S3430; ~3 min
Don’t Dog Your Woman – RED ROBIN (1950s, USA) – 111 – 1952-11-01; matrix: 3016; ~3 min
Done What My Lord Said – OKEH (CBS) (1940-1957) – 06399 – 1941-05-23; matrix: C3795=1; ~3 min
Double Trouble – CONQUEROR (1928 – 1941) – 9939 – 1941-05-22; matrix: C3788=1; ~3 min
Double Trouble – OKEH (CBS) (1940-1957) – 06419 – 1941-05-22; matrix: C3788=1; ~3 min
Dreaming And Crying – SAVOY (USA) – 704 – 1948-08-01; matrix: S35166; ~3 min
Dupree Blues – SAVOY (USA) – 835 – matrix: SBM5517; ~3 min
Easy Ridin Buggy – SAVOY (USA) – 5534 – 1944-12-12; matrix: S5762; ~3 min
First And Fifteenth Stuff – SAVOY (USA) – 5548 – matrix: S3436; ~3 min
Four O’clock In The Morning – SAVOY (USA) – 899 – 1948-10-13; matrix: S23003; ~3 min
Go On Blues – DISC (mid 40s, USA) – 6059A – matrix: 790; ~3 min
Gone , Baby , Gone – SAVOY (USA) – 844 – matrix: SBM5103; ~3 min
Good Roller Blues – SAVOY (USA) – 714 – 1947-12-19; matrix: S3507; ~3 min
Good Thing Gone – SAVOY (USA) – 5561 – matrix: S3439; ~3 min
Got To Find My Little Woman – OKEH (CBS) (1940-1957) – 06524 – 1941-05-23; matrix: C3785; ~3 min
Hard Bed Blues – SAVOY (USA) – 5550 – matrix: S35115; ~3 min
I Know My Baby – SAVOY (USA) – 714 – 1947-12-19; matrix: S3509; ~3 min
I Want To See Jesus – OKEH (CBS) (1940-1957) – 06399 – 1941-05-23; matrix: C3794=1; ~3 min
I Was Fooled – SAVOY (USA) – 5557 – matrix: S23015; ~3 min
I’d Love To Love You – SAVOY (USA) – 1177A – 1955-10-03; Composer: Brownie Mcghee; matrix: SBM6755 S2; ~3 min
I’m A Black Woman’s Man – OKEH (CBS) (1940-1957) – 06524 – 1941-05-22; matrix: C3786; ~3 min
I’m Callin’ Daisy – CONQUEROR (1928 – 1941) – 9766 – 1940-08-06; matrix: C3226=A; ~3 min
I’m Callin’ Daisy – OKEH (CBS) (1940-1957) – 06007 – 1940-08-06; matrix: WC3226=A; xref: CQ9766; ~3 min
I’m Talking About It – SAVOY (USA) – 5541 – matrix: S3429; ~3 min
It Must Be Love – COLUMBIA (USA): Discs – 30031 – 1941-10-23; matrix: 31595=1; xref: CO37464; ~3 min
It Must Be Love – COLUMBIA (USA): Discs – 37464 – 1941-10-23; matrix: 31595=1; xref: 30031; ~3 min
It Must Be Love – OKEH (CBS) (1940-1957) – 06579 – 1941-10-23; matrix: 31595=1; xref: Co37464; ~3 min
Key To My Door – CONQUEROR (1928 – 1941) – 9938 – 1941-05-22; matrix: C3790=1; ~3 min
Key To My Door – OKEH (CBS) (1940-1957) – 06437 – 1941-05-22; Composer: Brownie Mcghee; matrix: C3790; xref: CQ9938; ~3 min
Knockabout Blues – SAVOY (USA) – 5533 – 1944-12-12; matrix: S5761; ~3 min
Let Me Tell You About My Baby – OKEH (CBS) (1940-1957) – 05812 – 1940-08-07; matrix: WC3235; xref: CQ9564; ~3 min
Let Me Tell You’bout My Baby – CONQUEROR (1928 – 1941) – 9564 – 1940-08-07; matrix: WC3235; ~3 min
Living With The Blues – SAVOY (USA) – 1564 – 1958-09-22; matrix: 70332; ~3 min
Mabelle – SAVOY (USA) – 5548 – matrix: S3457; ~3 min
Married Women Blues – SAVOY (USA) – 5551 – matrix: S35110; ~3 min
Me And My Dog Blues – COLUMBIA (USA): Discs – 30152 – 1940-08-06; matrix: WC3224; ~3 min
Me And My Dog Blues – CONQUEROR (1928 – 1941) – 9765 – 1940-08-06; matrix: C3224=A; ~3 min
Me And My Dog Blues – OKEH (CBS) (1940-1957) – 05933 – 1940-08-06; matrix: WC3224=A; xref: CQ9765; ~3 min
Million Lonesome Women – CONQUEROR (1928 – 1941) – 9939 – 1941-05-22; matrix: C3791=1; ~3 min
Million Lonesome Women – OKEH (CBS) (1940-1957) – 06329 – 1941-05-22; matrix: C3791; xref: CQ9939; ~3 min
Money – Spending Woman – CONQUEROR (1928 – 1941) – 9937 – 1941-05-22; matrix: C3783; ~3 min
Money Spending Woman – OKEH (CBS) (1940-1957) – 06419 – 1941-05-22; matrix: C3783=1; xref: CQ9937; ~3 min
My Barkin’ Bulldog Blues – CONQUEROR (1928 – 1941) – 9564 – 1940-08-07; matrix: C3234; ~3 min
My Barkin’ Bulldog Blues – OKEH (CBS) (1940-1957) – 05812 – 1940-08-07; matrix: WC3234; xref: CQ9564; ~3 min
My Consolation – SAVOY (USA) – 778 – 1950-05-08; matrix: S36143; ~3 min
My Fault – SAVOY (USA) – 1185 – 1955-10-03; matrix: SBM6757; ~3 min
My Fault – SAVOY (USA) – 5551 – matrix: S35113=1; ~3 min
New Baseball Boogie – SAVOY (USA) – 5561 – 1949-03-22; matrix: S36120; ~3 min
Not Guilty Blues – CONQUEROR (1928 – 1941) – 9566 – 1940-08-07; matrix: WC3246=A; ~3 min
Not Guilty Blues – OKEH (CBS) (1940-1957) – 05881 – 1940-08-07; matrix: WC3246=A; xref: CQ9566; ~3 min
Pickin’ My Tomatoes – COLUMBIA (USA): Discs – 30152 – 1940-08-06; matrix: WC3223; ~3 min
Pickin’ My Tomatoes – CONQUEROR (1928 – 1941) – 9563 – 1940-08-06; matrix: C3223=A; ~3 min
Pickin’ My Tomatoes – OKEH (CBS) (1940-1957) – 05785 – 1940-08-07; matrix: WC3223=A; xref: CQ9563; ~3 min
Poison Women Blues – OKEH (CBS) (1940-1957) – 05881 – 1940-08-07; matrix: WC3236=A; xref: CQ9566; ~3 min
Poor Boy Blues – SAVOY (USA) – 5565 – matrix: S3459; ~3 min
Prison Woman Blues – CONQUEROR (1928 – 1941) – 9566 – 1940-08-07; matrix: WC3236=A; ~3 min
Robbie Dobby Boogie – SAVOY (USA) – 5550 – matrix: S35112=2; ~3 min
Running Away From Love – SAVOY (USA) – 5559 – matrix: S3438; ~3 min
So Much Trouble – SAVOY (USA) – 835 – matrix: SBM5519; ~3 min
Step It Up And Go #2 – CONQUEROR (1928 – 1941) – 9940 – 1941-05-22; matrix: C3782=1; ~3 min
Step It Up And Go No. 2 – COLUMBIA (USA): Discs – 30027 – 1941-05-22; matrix: WC3782=1; xref: CO37460; ~3 min
Step It Up And Go No. 2 – COLUMBIA (USA): Discs – 37460 – 1941-05-22; matrix: C3782=1; xref: 30027; ~3 min
Sweet Baby Blues – SAVOY (USA) – 899 – 1948-10-13; matrix: S23001; ~3 min
Swing Soldier Swing – OKEH (CBS) (1940-1957) – 06472 – 1941-10-23; matrix: 31596=1; ~3 min
Tell Me Baby – SAVOY (USA) – 872 – matrix: SBM5101; ~3 min
That’s The Stuff – SAVOY (USA) – 5533 – 1944-12-12; matrix: S5760; ~3 min
The Way I Feel – DISC (mid 40s, USA) – 6059B – ~3 min
Three Woman Blues – SAVOY (USA) – 5565 – matrix: S3437; ~3 min
True Blues – SAVOY (USA) – 778 – 1950-05-08; matrix: S36142; ~3 min
Try Me One More Time – CONQUEROR (1928 – 1941) – 9940 – 1941-05-22; matrix: C3793=1; control: (Chicago); ~3 min
Try Me One More Time – OKEH (CBS) (1940-1957) – 06265 – 1941-05-22; matrix: C3793=1; xref: CQ9940; ~3 min
When It’s Love Time – SAVOY (USA) – 1185 – 1955-10-03; matrix: SBM6754; ~3 min

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