The Boy Was Kissing the Girl (Gary Davis)

I first heard this on a unique instrumental album, The Guitar and Banjo of Reverend Gary Davis, which was also my source for “Cincinnati Flow Rag” and various other guitar showpieces. As explained in earlier posts, I shied away from most of Davis’s material because I was not interested in performing gospel songs, and for quite a while this was my favorite of his LPs — an opinion I later revised because he was such a spectacular singer, but by then I had practically memorized the first side of this album.

Davis recorded this piece on other albums as “Twelve Sticks” — he announces it that way on his Newport Folk Festival LP — but it was listed on The Guitar & Banjo as “The Boy Was Kissing the Girl (And Playing the Guitar at the Same Time)” and obviously after learning it with that title I couldn’t settle for “Twelve Sticks.”

I started playing a half-assed version of this when I was still far from adept at Davis’s style, and I never really went back and got it right, but when I followed my wife Sandrine to Pittsburgh for a winter, I was fortunate enough to become a regular guest of Ernie Hawkins, the man who really knows how to play Davis’s pieces. One of the first things I asked Ernie was how Davis played the lick I was faking as a three-finger roll, since the Reverend only picked with his thumb and index finger. Ernie was kind enough to show me, and this was my practice piece to get it sort of right.

Ernie also showed me the chordal descent Davis uses on this and “Samson and Delilah,” which is a perfect example of the Reverend’s astonishing economy of motion: the chords are G7-C-G-D7-G, using four different chord shapes, but if you watch his hands they barely seem to shift. The  G that goes down to the D7 is particularly cute, and that sequence shows up regularly in this piece:




For both chords the bass string is held down with your left thumb. As for the other shapes, the C and final G chords are played with the standard thumb-wrap F shape, and the opening G7 uses the classic Davis C7 shape, also favored by Dave Van Ronk and Jim Kweskin (and me), with the thumb wrapping two bass strings. (Now that I think of it, that D7 chord should also have the thumb wrapping two strings to get the root note in the bass.)

As for kissing the girl, Davis had a bass riff he would play using only his left hand, and sometimes requested a female volunteer from the audience to help him demonstrate how he could, in fact, kiss and play at the same time. I have not attempted to duplicate this feat.

Future Blues (Willie Brown/Son House)

This is one of the defining Delta blues guitar pieces, apparently originated by Charlie Patton, though I got it from Willie Brown and Son House. Brown’s version is the one that was titled “Future Blues,” and I first came across it in Stefan Grossman’s Delta Blues Guitar instruction book. That was the first book of tablature I owned, handed down from my half-brother Dave, and I never managed to learn anything from it. Some of his later books were very helpful, but I’m convinced that this kind of Delta blues doesn’t translate to the printed page — it’s all about the rhythm and feel, and knowing what notes someone is hitting doesn’t help much. Another thing that didn’t help was that at that point I hadn’t heard Willie Brown’s version, or House’s, or any of the various songs Patton sang with a similar arrangement, or Tommy Johnson’s “Maggie Campbell…”

That problem was rectified when I was living in New York and spending all my money at Dayton’s used record store on Broadway (a story told in an earlier post). One LP I found was called The Blues Tradition, and I bought it just for the two Willie Brown tracks — the only two he recorded as a lead singer and player — both of which were in the Grossman book. They were great, and I learned his “M&O Blues,” but I didn’t even attempt to learn this one. I was 16 years old, studying with Dave Van Ronk, and this style of guitar was too different from anything I knew how to play.

Honestly, the hard Delta style Patton pioneered was always something I admired more than enjoyed. It’s incredible music, but I was more comfortable with Mississippi John Hurt or Willie McTell. So that was that for the next twenty-five years… until I wrote a book called Escaping the Delta, focused on Robert Johnson. Since I was writing about Johnson, I needed to understand his musical world, which meant immersing myself in his music and the work of his local mentor, Son House — not just listening to their records, but playing their pieces to get a physical sense of what they were doing.

I still didn’t add much of that music to my performing repertoire — one of the lessons I took away was that most of Johnson’s guitar pieces were full of empty spaces to be filled with his supple, soulful voice, and I didn’t have that voice, much less House’s awesome shout. But I started playing Johnson’s version of “Walking Blues,” and then I fell in love with the way House did this one.

House called this “The Jinx,” and he played it slower than Brown, at least when he was recording. So I mixed his version and Brown’s, and it turned out to be a conceptual breakthrough for me: Like a lot of white revival players, I always felt more comfortable with my blues guitar playing than my blues singing, and as a result I tended to work out the guitar part, then try to sing over it as best I could. That was particularly tricky on pieces like this, because of the way the rhythmic accents switch between the on- and off-beats — but listening to House, it struck me that his guitar was following his singing. So rather than trying to perfect the guitar accents , I tried to concentrate on my singing and let the guitar follow… and to sing it like I was involved with the lyric rather than trying to sound like House or Brown… and suddenly everything felt right.

Maybe a little too right — when I listen back, my version strikes me as overenthusiastic in spots — but what the hell… it’s a lot of fun.

The lyric is a mix of Brown’s verses and some from other House songs, including his terrific rejection of theological certainty:

There ain’t no heaven, ain’t no burning hell
Where I’m going when I die, can’t nobody tell…

(Incidentally, this is a different Willie Brown from the one who recorded “Ragged and Dirty,” though they are sometimes confused with each other — including, oddly, by Alan Lomax, who recorded both of them.)

Candy Man (John Hurt)

This may well be the first song I ever heard from Mississippi John Hurt, because it was his first track on the Blues at Newport LP from 1963. That was one of the defining albums for me, the first place I heard Dave Van Ronk, John Hammond, John Lee Hooker… I think I’d already heard Rev. Gary Davis, and I’m sure I’d heard Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry, but their tracks on that LP are still the ones I recall most clearly.

I can’t imagine how many times I must have listened to that disc, and many previous posts in this project came from this source: Van Ronk’s “That Will Never Happen No More” and “Gambler’s Blues“; McGhee and Terry’s version of “Key to the Highway“; Hammond’s “No Money Down,” Davis’s “Samson and Delilah“; and now, Hurt’s “Candy Man.”

The reason this one is showing up so late is that it took me so long to figure out how to play it. Hurt’s simpler arrangements were the bedrock of fingerstyle guitar, so I was playing “See, See Rider,” “Stagolee,” “Richlands Woman,” “Let the Mermaids Flirt with Me,” and probably a half dozen other Hurt songs by my mid-teens, but I only learned “Candy Man” a decade or two later, and didn’t get it right until I began teaching at blues camps and had to figure out the weird E7 chord.

In hindsight it’s a good thing I didn’t learn this at age ten or twelve, because it was inappropriate enough to be a little kid singing murder ballads, and I really didn’t need to be singing about having “a stick of candy nine inches long…”

Hurt had the reputation of being a sweet, gentle, almost saintly character, and a lot of people have suggested it was strange that he would sing something like this. Of course, it wasn’t the only erotic song in his repertoire: a rock group got it’s name from his “Lovin’ Spoonful,” and in my post on his version of “Salty Dog” I suggest he probably had some verses for that song that he did not choose to record. That was normal for southern secular singers — Rev. Gary Davis also had a  “Candy Man” song — and probably for any rural culture, since encouraging public sex is how people with farm animals get more farm animals, even if the farmers themselves reproduce more privately.

More recently I was struck by another aspect of this song, which is the suggestion of homoeroticism. The lyric is initially addressed to the ladies, but when he warns that if you stand too close to the candy man he’ll “ease a stick of candy into your hand” hints at broader possibilities, as does the suggestion that if you try his candy, “good friend of mine,” you’ll find yourself wanting it in the future.

In any case it’s a terrific guitar arrangement, and among the many things I love about John Hurt is his choice to sing this when he found himself performing for the first time in front of a bunch of callow white kids at Newport.

Comin’ In on a Wing and a Prayer (Joseph Spence)

This is my favorite Joseph Spence piece to play — which is not the same as my favorite to hear. I love Spence’s singing, whether on his own or with his in-laws, the Pinder family, and if I had to take one Spence recording to the proverbial desert island it would more likely be a Bahamian anthem like “Out on the Rolling Sea.” But for playing… this is absolutely it.

For a while I thought this was an anomaly in Spence’s repertoire, because all the other selections on his Folkways album were gospel songs, but when I mentioned that to Dave Van Ronk, he said, “I assume he thought it was a gospel song.” Which, of course, is right — especially since it became a hit in 1943, during the American Federation of Musicians recording strike, so the most popular recording was an a cappella choral arrangement by the Song Spinners, plus versions by the Golden Gate Quartet and the Four Vagabonds.

Be that as it may, it was one of Spence’s favorites, which he extended with marvelous variations — not just improvisations on the standard A and B sections, but a two-chord interlude he added occasionally as a break. I always considered it his instrumental masterpiece, and only tackled it after working out a bunch of other pieces, some of which I’ve already posted (“Brownskin Girl,” “Happy Meeting in Glory,” “Glory of Love,” and “Sloop John B“) — and those posts also include my general recollections and thoughts about Spence, a front-runner for my all-time guitar hero.

The song itself was a World War II hit, with a dozen sheet music covers testifying to all the famous bands and singers who featured it, from Tommy Dorsey to Eddie Cantor, to Joe Venuti and the unrelated Benay Venuta. I’m pretty sure I first heard the words (which are pretty lousy) from Ry Cooder, who presumably was inspired by Spence, and other than that just enjoyed the guitar version… until I was preparing this post and heard the Four Vagabonds’ version, which I’m going to my grave claiming was where Spence got it, just because:

Happy Meeting in Glory (Joseph Spence)

This is Joseph Spence’s best-known guitar piece, and by the time I recorded my CD it had become a regular in my sets. At the time I thought I was pretty close to his sound, and I played a couple of my versions of his arrangements to Ernie Hawkins, and Ernie was kind enough to call Stefan Grossman and suggest that I would be a good person to do an instructional video on how to play Spence’s style. Stefan knew of me as a writer but had never heard me play, but he trusted Ernie and signed me up. So then I had to figure out how Spence actually played… and immediately realized I had most of it wrong.

That was frightening, but also exciting, because it forced me to engage with Spence’s recordings in a different way. Over the next few months I listened to them more closely than I’d ever listened to anything.  In the past I had worked out reasonable versions of several of his pieces — this one, “Glory of Love,” and a much simplified “Brownskin Girl” — but I’d approached them one by one, as individual arrangements, rather than immersing myself in the way he thought and moved.

Now, I realized I needed to approach his music the way I would learn a language — not by memorizing sentences, but by learning how it fitted together as a whole system. Spence played everything in the same tuning and key (key of D, with the lowest string tuned down to D), using essentially the same chord shapes and techniques —  the instrumental equivalent of a vocabulary and grammar. Techniques from one piece appeared in other pieces, and sometimes a voicing would be more obvious in a new piece, so as I learned more of his pieces I kept discovering things I’d misunderstood in other pieces… and although I never lost my accent, I eventually reached a basic level of fluency.

I also hunted up a couple of people who had watched Spence and played with him. Jody Stecher  had recorded Spence and studied him closely, and was kind enough to let me come over to his place and play what I had, then correct some of my mistakes. But the real expert is Guy Droussart, who visited Spence for extended periods over many years.

I first tried to persuade Guy to do the video himself, since he was the obvious person, but he refused because he doesn’t like instructional videos. Guy thinks it is important to approach Spence directly and immerse oneself in his music and his world – not only the guitar style, but the Bahamian gospel vocal tradition, and also to develop the physical strength Spence had from a life as a stonemason, and the rhythm of the fishing boats. So he said no, and also declined to help me… but when I played my versions of some Spence pieces for him, he was horrified and pointed out particularly egregious errors, then told me how I should be fingering particular passages… and I listened and asked questions until he began feeling like he was getting too involved with the video project. So we’d end our conversation and I’d spend a few months assimilating his corrections, send him a tape of my current versions, and he’d still be horrified and would correct me some more… and it never got to a point where he was happy, but my playing certainly improved and I am infinitely grateful.

Eventually I felt comfortable enough with Spence’s language to make the video and this was one of the songs I taught. The way I play it now is a mix of choruses Spence played on his first recordings, made by Sam Charters for Folkways Records, with some more impromptu choruses using the same basic grammar and vocabulary.

On the Folkways LP this song was titled “Happy Meeting in Glory,” and I still tend to think of it that way, but its legal title is “That Great Reunion Day.” It was published in 1940 and composed by a gospel songwriter named Adger M. Pace. An online biography says he was born in South Carolina in 1882 and became the first president of the National Singing Convention, a teacher at the Vaughan School of Music in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, and the bass singer for the Vaughan Radio Quartet on WOAN, one of the first radio stations in the South.

Black Horse Blues (Lemon Jefferson)

I always appreciated Blind Lemon Jefferson’s records, but didn’t attempt to learn his guitar style until shortly before recording my CD, Street Corner Cowboys — and then went through a crash course and ended up recording two of his songs, playing a bunch of others, and eventually teaching his style at a couple of blues camps.

Jefferson was the defining “down home blues” artist — quite literally, since as far as I can tell that phrase was first used in print to advertise his records. That was in 1926, when the blues record business was still dominated by women like Bessie Smith and Ida Cox. The only significant male artist was Lonnie Johnson, who had a smooth urban style like the blues queens — but a Dallas record store employee wrote to Paramount Records saying there was a street singer there who was very popular and suggesting they take a chance on him.

That was Jefferson, and I’m guessing the Paramount folks were dubious when they heard him. His guitar playing was quirky and idiosyncratic, with an odd, jerky rhythm, and his voice was a full-throated street corner shout. To everyone’s surprise, his records instantly took off, selling spectacularly to black consumers throughout the South and Midwest, and soon scouts were combing the South for other quirky street corner guitarists. The result was one of the richest periods of American recording, preserving the music of Blind Blake, Blind Willie McTell, Mississippi John Hurt, Jim Jackson, William Moore and myriad others… a world of astonishingly varied and creative musicians reaching from the Southwest to the Atlantic Coast. None of them equaled Jefferson’s sales figures, but they redefined blues as a rural style with guitar as its main instrument — an image that would fade on the African American market a few years later with the arrival of Leroy Carr, but remains central to folk-blues and blues-rock.

Getting back to my own experience… I learned a bunch of Jefferson’s pieces and it was a thrilling and liberating project. His guitar work was brilliant and opened up new possibilities in several keys, exercising my fingers and my mind, and I loved playing his stuff.

Nonetheless, over the next few years most of his songs drifted out of my repertoire. They were fun and interesting to play, but somehow never felt natural to me, and most of his arrangements were developed to fit his singing, which I couldn’t begin to match. So I went back to listening and admiring his work, and just kept a couple of his pieces in my repertoire: “Bad Luck Blues,” which I’ve used in this series as the accompaniment to “Keep It Clean,” and “Black Horse.”

“Black Horse Blues” was one of Jefferson’s first recordings and is unusual because the guitar part stands alone. Usually he played licks that followed or answered his voice, but for this one he created a quirky but thoroughly developed instrumental composition, full enough to serve both as accompaniment and an instrumental break . That meant I could learn it, then come up with a different way to sing the song rather than trying to imitate his vocals. It struck me that Jefferson was from Texas, and one of the things about his guitar playing, compared to players from further east, is that he sometimes relaxes into a kind of cowboy strumming — so I went with that, and sing in a cowboy-blues style, closer to someone like Woody Guthrie, who came from Oklahoma and grew up on Jefferson’s records.

The lyric is also interesting as an example of an American singer borrowing and reshaping an English ballad verse for blues performance. I noticed this when I was writing a chapter on blues poetry for my pocket guide for Oxford: The Blues: A Very Short Introduction. In the ballad of Gypsy Davey–which I first heard on one of Woody’s records–a woman runs off with a troupe of Gypsies and her husband follows her and tries to convince her to come home. Being a lord, he has servants, and when he finds his wife is gone he cries:

Go saddle me my old grey horse, the black one’s not so speedy.
I’ll ride all day and I’ll ride all night, until I find my lady.

Jefferson reworked those lines for his title verse:

Go get my black horse, saddle up my grey mare
I’m going after my good gal, she’s in the world somewhere.

Mr Mudd and Mr Gold (Townes Van Zandt)

Another from Townes Van Zandt, though I don’t play his chords. I don’t remember why I changed them, or even if I was aware I had, and when I recently listened to his version I thought his were more interesting… But I’ve been playing it this way for a quarter century and it feels right to me.

As with all the Townes songs I do, I learned this off his Live at the Old Quarter double album from 1973 — it’s the pure, stripped down experience, and reminds me of what he was like live: dry, difficult, and magical. I’ve already written about my experiences of Townes over the years and my problems performing his songs in my post for “Waiting Round to Die.” The short version is I always loved his concerts and his writing, but most of the songs were so dark I couldn’t do them convincingly.

The exceptions were “Pancho and Lefty” — partly because I tended to do it as a duet with my pal Monte and partly because it’s pretty much foolproof — and this one.

To me, this is less a song than a modern saloon recitation in the tradition of classics like “The Face on the Barroom Floor,” T. Texas Tyler’s “Deck of Cards,” and Chuck Berry’s “Downbound Train.” It’s only marginally weirder, and similarly moralistic, and in its way it may be the most traditional thing Townes ever wrote.

Other than that, I don’t have much to say about it except that Townes was a terrific wordsmith and I love the way the lyric flows. And the way the card game anchors the fantasy. And the moral.

Old Blue

I heard this song all my life, but only started playing it when I recorded my CD, Street Corner Cowboys, in 2000. One of my sure-fire songs at that point was Dave Van Ronk’s arrangement of “Green Rocky Road,” but it seemed silly to record that since everyone knew Dave’s version… and then it struck me that I could do his version of “Old Blue” with pretty much the same arrangement. So I took a crack at it,  liked it, and recorded it with Matt Leavenworth on mandolin and Paul Geremia on harmonica. I pretty much stuck with Dave’s lyrics, but when I tried to sing it like he did, with a sort of long moan on both lines of the chorus, it felt draggy, so I shortened the final line, and was thrilled when Paul said he’d never much liked the song, but that way it worked.

“Old Dog Blue” was first recorded in 1928 by the singer and guitarist Jim Jackson. Since he was recording in the blues era and had a huge hit with his first record, “Kansas City Blues,” Jackson is often called  a blues singer, but he was a versatile all-around performer who had traveled with minstrel and medicine shows all over the South, then settled in Memphis working the clubs on Beale Street, and even held down a residency at the eminently fashionable Peabody Hotel. Checking back over his repertoire, I’m struck by how many songs I picked up from people who may well have got them from his records: the flip side of “Old Blue” was “He’s In the Jailhouse Now,” and he also cut versions of “Traveling Man” and “Hesitation Blues,” as well as such unique masterpieces as “I’m Gonna Start Me a Graveyard of My Own,” “I Heard the Voice of a Pork Chop,” and “Bye, Bye, Policeman.”

Samuel Charters, the blues scholar who roomed with Dave on MacDougal Street in the late 1950s, devoted several pages to Jackson in his groundbreaking The Country Blues and singled out this song for comment, saying that it was mentioned by Abbe Niles in The Bookman literary magazine: “…between articles on e.e. cummings and Virginia Woolf, there was a note about ‘Old Dog Blue… a wholly fascinating story of a hound who treed his possums anywhere he found them, from a holler stump to Noah’s Ark.'”

I figured Jackson was probably Dave’s source, though in the liner notes to his LP he said he couldn’t recall where he learned it and suggested the source might have been Guy Carawan. Back then I had no way to check and I’d forgotten about that note until today, when I went online to see if Carawan ever did it… and, by gum, he did. It’s a lovely performance, on a duet album with Peggy Seeger, and he sings a lot of the verses Dave sang, so apparently Dave’s memory was right. And, as it happens, he shortens that last line I was feeling so proud of shortening. So no credit to me, and I’m sorry Paul never heard Guy’s version.

Barnyard Dance (Howard Armstrong)

My proudest musical memory is the five years I played guitar for Howard Armstrong. I’d heard Howard’s old records as Louie Bluie and his later ones with Martin, Bogan, and Armstrong; I’d seen Terry Zwigoff’s film about him; and I’d learned some of Carl Martin‘s songs… but I ended up working with him by pure happenstance. Bruce “Utah” Phillips happened to be staying at my place in Cambridge sometime around 1988, and the “Masters of the Folk Violin” tour was touching down somewhere in the area, with Howard, Michael Doucet, a teenage Alison Krauss, and two or three other players.

Joe Wilson, the tour organizer, invited Bruce to the show and dinner with the crew, I went along, and Bruce wanted to sit next to Howard. So we went over and introduced ourselves, and the lady with Howard got great big eyes and said, “Elijah Wald?! Ruth and George’s son!? I know you!”

She was Barbara Ward, who had worked for many years at the Harvard Biological Laboratories and been married to a young biologist who was a student of my father’s. She also had been involved with my parents in the defense committee for the father of Jhugh Price, a student at my high school who was shot in an ugly racial incident in North Cambridge, where he and his father stood up to a gang of white toughs in front of their house, Jhugh was killed, and his father was charged with the killing… (Yes, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Don’t tell black Bostonians how liberal that area is.)

A few months later I ran into Howard and Barbara in Boston Common and they mentioned he was looking for a local guitarist and bass player. I suggested myself and Washtub Robbie Phillips, and Howard was skeptical about using a one-string bass… but we went over to Barbara’s and he and Robbie hit it off immediately, both musically and socially.

I didn’t know the swing repertoire, but I was willing to take orders — like, when Howard told me to play an augmented chord in the bridge to “Lady Be Good,” I asked him how and he showed me. He was patient, I was eager, and it worked fine. We mostly just backed him on gigs around New England — the money was rarely good enough to take a full group further afield — but we also traveled to the Chicago Blues Festival and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which I’d never have played any other way.

As anyone knows who has seen the two movies about him, Howard was a brilliant, funny, and supremely varied character and a terrific musician. We mostly played pop standards, with the occasional blues, hoedown, or gospel number, his comical reworking of “La Cucaracha,” a self-penned Hawaiian dialect number called “You’ll Never Find Another Kanaka Like Me” (he was in Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked), and his ridiculously fast version of  “John Henry,” always introduced with an admonishment to the band: “Watch out now — cause if you can’t keep up, you sure can’t catch up!”

And, of course, we played “Barnyard Dance,” the title song from the first Martin, Bogan and Armstrong album. As far as I know, this was another of Howard’s compositions, as was the album cover — which prompted me to ask him if he would paint a cover for the CD I recorded near the end of my time with him, which he graciously did.

I am still absorbing lessons I learned from Howard, musical and otherwise — far too many to detail here, but I’ll finish by testifying that I could never have written “Escaping the Delta” without the insights I got from those years with him… which is another way of saying I have no idea what I’d be doing today if that string of coincidences hadn’t brought us together.

Gary Davis Medley

I can’t remember when I first heard Rev. Gary Davis, but he was one of my guitar heroes long before I could even think about playing his music. I loved the power and virtuosity of his playing, the soulful  excitement of his singing, the dynamics, the dynamism… So by my high school years I had assiduously hunted down all the extant LPs — as well as taping a library copy of the out-of-print American Street Songs LP from the 1950s that he shared with Pink Anderson, which still may be my all-time favorite.

Of course, as a Dave Van Ronk fan and eventually Dave’s student, I learned Candyman and Cocaine Blues, but mostly I worshipped Davis from afar. Part of the problem was that his greatest performances were of Evangelical Christian music, and much as I loved them, I had no interest in singing those lyrics. The other problem was that even if I’d wanted to sing them, I couldn’t make the guitar parts sound right. After studying with Dave I worked out a couple of Davis’s ragtime instrumentals, and even began performing Cincinnati Flow Rag, but it was only after I got back from Africa that I took serious crack at the gospel arrangements.

That trip had convinced me that if I wanted to understand how someone played I needed to try to replicate their tool kit — which in Davis’s case meant wearing fingerpicks and trying to play with just thumb and index finger. The fingerpicks were a first hurdle, because they always felt clumsy, but they definitely got me closer to his sound. As for that thumb-and-index style, it took ages to get the hang of it, and I never figured out the roll Davis used in his ragtime showpieces until I met Ernie Hawkins — about whom more in a future post — but it fundamentally reshaped my understanding of early blues guitar.

As far as I can tell, the overwhelming majority of early players used only those two fingers. There were exceptions, including John Hurt, Josh White, and Blind Blake, but they were outliers: from Blind Lemon Jefferson to the Mississippi Delta masters, Gary Davis to Merle Travis, thumb-and-index seems to have been the rule. To some extent, that was just a matter of custom, but it also was a matter of power — those are the two strongest fingers, which mattered in the days before amplification — and an even attack: when you use the index finger for all your treble notes, they all have the same attack. (Charlie Christian got a similar effect by playing only down-strokes with his flatpick.)

So anyway, I went through an extended Gary Davis period and learned a dozen of his gospel arrangements, though the only one I performed regularly was “Samson and Delilah,” which felt like a story rather than a religious exhortation. As for the rest, I sang them as part of the learning process, but mostly just for my own amusement, and that’s still where they fit in my repertoire. I particularly kept playing instrumental versions of these two, “A Little More Faith” and “I Belong to the Band,” because they work nicely as an instrumental medley — but more for fun than performance, and as an exercise. They’re a great way to practice that thumb-and-index style, to work on relaxing and freeing up the thumb to play brushes and accent some of the melody notes — I particularly like the power it gives to the bend in the F chord on the verse of “I Belong to the Band.” As for using fingerpicks, I eventually decided I preferred the feel of bare fingers, but I doubt I could have got here without them.