Monthly Archives: May 2010

Relax Your Mind Corrections

The management of this publication admits that errors were made. In the earlier entry on “Relax Your Mind” by Leadbelly the author said that it was about road rage. On subsequent examination it turned out to be about paying attention to your driving.

The management also wishes to apologize for only doing the music notation in the key of C#, which is painful to read because it has seven sharps. It also wishes to apologize for using the convention from guitar notation of using ledger lines below the staff for the lowest notes, because a guitar tuned down a minor third is ridculously low and nobody can read that shit. On subsequent examination the management decided to show the tune in C and move it to an octave which sits where it belongs in the stave. Which looks like this:

guitar riff for Relax Your Mind

the black giant of white spirituals

J. JacksonJesus Rose from The Colored Sacred Harp

This slim, oblong book contains as much community effort, as much eccentricity, and as much rich material as any of the shape‑note hymn compilations it is designed to resemble. It has a layered and recursive form, in which various streams separate and converge: a biography, a personal memoir of the folk revival, a critical survey of scholarly literature on African American Sacred Harp singing, a generous selection of evocative photographs spanning the twentieth century, and a CD that ranks among the most valuable and carefully compiled collections of historical Sacred Harp recordings ever assembled. John Bealle’s introduction plays the role of the traditional “rudiments of music” section of a shape‑note hymnal, providing a concise and sensitive history of Sacred Harp singing, its diverse adherents, and its intersections with the folk revival. Joe Dan Boyd’s prologue prepares the reader to engage the main body of the book (which dates from 1969) as a document of “the eager, innocent spirit by which so many people engaged traditional culture at that time” (p. 24). Boyd’s self‑awareness pervades the book and makes it a more complex work than most other celebratory folklore biographies.

In many respects, judge Jackson (1883‑1958) was much like other leading figures in the southern communities that sang from The Sacred Harp in the early twentieth century. He was born poor and rural, did agricultural work all his life, gained a patchwork music education from a variety of singing‑school teachers and friends, taught his own large family to sing, became a prosperous and charismatic cultural leader in his own community, and eventually compiled a shape-note tunebook that included some of his own compositions.

Here’s the shape note for singing along:

Jesus Rose

Relax Your Mind transcription

Update 3 days later: see Corrections for a version of the notation which ordinary mortals can read.

I put some time this morning into figuring out the guitar riffs on a
tune called “Relax Your Mind” by Leadbelly, aka Huddie Ledbetter. It
took some sweat so I figured I’d share the result for other people
to use.

Here’s an MP3 of the riff: MP3 of the riff.

This is how to play the part:

Relax Your Mind transcription

Notice that the part is in the very unusual key of C#. I think
Leadbelly tuned the guitar down a minor third, so that the E string
was C#, the A string was
F#, etc. Since I don’t tune like that I modified the lowest note in
the piece from low C# to C# an octave above that, on the 4th fret of
the A string. If you feel like tuning down, the note I changed is the first
one in bar 4.

The chords for the song are the same throughout: C#, C#7, F#, C#, C#, G#7,
C#. It’s an eight-bar pattern rather a 12-bar pattern like bar bands
usually do.

If you want to tweak the sheet music and have Sibelius (the
software I use for notation), here is the source Sibelius file: Sibelius
source file

If you use a digital instrument instead of the analog kind, here’s a MIDI
version of my transcription: MIDI
version of my transcription

A cool thing about this song is that it’s about road rage, even
though it was written way back in the 1930s. He’s saying that when
you’re getting pissed off about driving you need to take a deep
breath. Given that he was a full bore murderer, I think he knew about
road rage.

His musical ideas here are strongly influenced by ragtime and early
jazz. He leans on chromatic runs that are close cousins of boogie
woogie. The phrasing is so intricate that in one cadence he touches
almost every pitch in an octave without doing more than three
adjacent semitones.

I probably muffed a couple notes in my transcription, so please
share any corrections you come up with.

I found the original recording on MOG and on YouTube.