Joe Kirby Blues

This song was recorded in 1967, released under Takoma, in Unknown

Listen to recording


Exploring this Fahey song

Here's a guide for playing "Joe Kirby Blues" by John Fahey.

It's a more "through-composed" song, with its fair share of speedbumps — such as the alternating bass being played on the A & G strings, D & G strings, or even just the A string, as examples; it's like playing Twister for your fingers.

But by taking things chunk-by-chunk (or "cell" by "cell") it's digestible.

Who was Joe Kirby?

Before diving, why not have more context. Who exactly was "Joe Kirby"?

Here's a hint... Charley Patton recorded a song called Joe Kirby (1930 / Grafton, WI), singing this verse,

Some people say now baby / them Joe Kirby blues ain't bad
Well it must not've been them / Joe Kirby blues I had

Probably, Joe Kirby was a "character" from Patton's pre-war period, but it still doesn't unveil who he was..

More than 3 decades later, Son House helps to color in the lines in this 1965 interview stating,

(Joe Kirby) was a white fellow (who) owned a plantation on up above... where I lived on (highway) 61 right off on Claxton (probably Clayton - - - ed.), Mississippi. Me Charley (Patton) and Willie (Brown) and all that was our old stomping ground. That's where we used to drink so much of that corn whiskey made in coffee pots and everything. That's where I got Louise at, Louise Johnson. She lived over at that place, and that's why she got to go with me and Charley then to Grafton Wisc. to make a record playing piano... (That is) where we played all the time.

Going about the song

Being more through-composed, and less doodly, Joe Kirby seems more about hitting the right notes, versus dreaming up new variations.

Here's how the guide's laid out,

  • Step 1: bird's-eye view of the entire song
  • Step 2: break-down of different parts of the song


Bird's eye view of the entire song

This is a transcription of Fahey's playing on Joe Kirby blues, showing the chords, notes, and rhythms played.

The structure of Joe Kirby Blues is:

  1. Intro - chordal introduction
  2. A section
  3. A section
  4. B section
  5. A section
  6. B section
  7. A section w/ outro

Next, it's time to disassemble the machine, having a closer look at the parts.

Section A / Part 1 of 4

The opening Asus

The Amin chord is the "home" or "root" of Joe Kirby Blues.

These are fingerpicking exercises to become more comfortable with the Amin position that Fahey uses. There are 3 styles - mode 1, 2, 3.

Mode 1 - On the Beat

Mode 2 - Off the Beat

Mode 3 - Pickups

The scale: Asus

Momentarily, while this chord is rung out, this is one scale option that works over-top; it's the 'Dorian' scale in Am.

(Dorian notes that work over the opening Asus chord)

As a legend, here is the "priority" of notes as colored in the^ diagram(s)... the higher up on the list, the more suggestive the note is of the chord:

  1. Black - root tones
  2. Red - chord tones
  3. Blue - scale tones
  4. White - chromatic tones

There's some confirmation that the 'Dorian' scale is a viable option - since all of Fahey's notes are within the scale.

(Notes used in the Asus cell fitting into the fretboard diagram)
Section A / Part 2 of 4

the IV chord D7

Next, Fahey moves the riff into the D7/IV chord (within the Amin/I tonic).

To help the fingers become more comfortable (after all it's an rarer 'place' to play D7), here are the mode exercises.

Mode 1 - On the Beat

Mode 2 - Off the Beat

Mode 3 - Pickups

Note: the 5th fret/3rd string is used as a melody & bass note

The scale: D7

If you were to 'solo' over-top of Joe Kirby Blues, when the chord changes to D7, these are the new notes that could work; this is the D7 'Mixolydian' scale.

(Notes for the D7 chord up to the 7th fret)

Just like the Asus cell, the notes in the D7 cell fit right into the fretboard diagram

(D7 cell notes fitting within the mixolydian scale)
Section A / Part 3 of 4

the F6 chord

The F6/bVI6 is the next chord, which leads into the turnaround E7/V7 chord.

It's fretted in the 'traditional' style, with the thumb of the fretting-hand wrapped around to reach the 1st-fret of the low-E string.

As always, here are mode exercises for F6 to cycle something close to what Fahey does.

Mode 1 - On the Beat

Mode 2 - Off the Beat

Mode 3 - Pickups

The scale: F6

For context, this is the F 'Major Scale'. If you were playing single-note solos through Joe Kirby, when the chord changes to F6, these are notes that would fit well.

(The F major scale, which works underneath the F6 chord)

The major scale captures the chord-change well -- the melody notes are housed-within it, acting as a good indicator

(F6 shape fitting within the F major scale)
Section A / Part 4 of 4

the E7 chord

Finally, to end the A-section, Fahey plays 'typical' E7 open-position shapes, including a few double-stops.

The 'mode' exercises aren't as critical here, but still for context, here are some applicable notes during the chord-change.

Since E7 is the V7, leading back into Amin/I, these scale notes are best used if the phrase ends onto the A 'Dorian' (or another type of minor) scale / chord-change.

(Notes for the E7 chord up to the 7th fret)
Section B / Part 1 of 3

the grandfather clock Amin

Then, there's the B-section of the song; it has its share of finger-busters, but these miniature 'cells' are meant to help! This is a repeatable snippet of how Fahey begins the Amin.

Like before, the Amin 'Dorian' scale 'explains' what notes sound good over-top. And sure enough, the notes Fahey plays lie within the Dorian scale.

(The "grandfather clock" Amin pattern fitting within the A dorian scale)
Section B / Part 2 of 2

Amin to A9

This chord change happens in the blink-of-an-eye, but it's tricky enough that it's worth special mention.

Momentarily, Fahey jumps into this (we'll call is..) an A9 chord. It's tricky to play the chord-change but taken slow enough anything is possible!

Searching for a scale, it's still the Amin Dorian that works underneath

(Dorian scale in the key of A, which fits this Amin9 chord)
Section B / Part 3 of 3

the Falling IV chord - D5, Dmaj, Dmin, Dsus

The B-section has its own I-IV chord change, now moving onto this series of D-chords.

It has a directional pattern, where it descends down the B-string

Here's a look at the fretboard diagram, as another way to visualize B-string notes,

(Descending 2nd string notes for the sequence of D chords in the song's B section)

Some final thoughts

Joe Kirby Blues is a pensive piece that challenges the fingers in a nice way.

Fahey uses well-edified chord progression choices, such as the I-IV, bVI-V7-Imin.

It's a nice solo-song to know in Amin.

Posted by blah148

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