That’s No Way to Get Along (Robert Wilkins/Rolling Stones)

This is a perfect example of the benefits and drawbacks of tablature, and also of how different the world was in those distant days before the internet. I had Stefan Grossman’s Country Blues Guitar book by the time I wacountry blues guitar books twelve or so, and although I always had trouble making sense of his quirky tablature, I learned how to play one of my favorite songs from it, John Hurt’s version of “Stagolee,” as well as Furry Lewis’s version of the same ballad. I also learned this song by Robert Wilkins — except, in those days we didn’t have the internet and I had no way of hearing Wilkins’s recording.

Wilkins recorded this in 1929, and it was reissued in the early 1960s on an Origin Jazz Library anthology, The Mississippi Blues 1927-1940, but I didn’t have that record and am not sure how I would have found it — it had been a major source for the previous generation of blues revivalists, but like the Harry Smith anthology of American folk music it had been largely forgotten by the time I came along. So I had Grossman’s tablature and his transcription of the lyrics, but didn’t know how the damn thing was supposed to sound. However…

What I did have, by maybe age thirteen or so, was the Rolling Stones’ BeggarBeggarsBanquetLPs Banquet LP, on which they played Wilkins’s Christian rewrite of his old blues song — by the 1960s Wilkins had become a minister and no longer sang blues, but in 1964 he recorded an album called Memphis Gospel Singer that included “Prodigal Son,” a retelling of the Bible story set to the guitar arrangement of “That’s No Way to Get Along.” I’m not sure how I made the connection, but I did, and I was always looking for ways to make my archaic tastes seem hipper and liked the idea of having at least a sort of Rolling Stones song in my repertoire, and in any case that was the only source I had. So with the Rolling Stones in my ears, I sat down with Grossman’s book and learned this song…

Except that when I finally got to hear the 1929 Wilkins recording, it’s much quirkier and moreRobert_Wilkins interesting than the way the Rolling Stones did “Prodigal Son,” not to mention the jury-rigged creation I extrapolated. If I were going to do it regularly, I’d go back and listen to Wilkins, but in the meanwhile here it is the way I’ve been doing it since the 1970s, a mix of Wilkins as filtered through the Stones and Grossman, with lyrics vaguely remembered from both sources.

As to the vagueness of my memory regarding the lyrics: I very rarely played in “open” tunings, and never really felt comfortable in them, but this was one of my introductions to the concept, and I eventually turned it into an instrumental, which I played for many years whenever someone requested something by John Fahey or Leo Kottke — I was not a fan of either of them, but wanted to be able to handle the requests, so I worked this up into a fast, noodling meditation in open D, which I titled “The Resurrection of the Great Sea Snail.”  If I really wanted to provide a sense of what I used to play, I could probably work that baby up again, but trust me, the world can live without it.