In the song “Stop Breakin’ Down,” by Robert Johnson, he sings “Now, you Saturday night womens — you love to ape and clown. You won’t do nothin’ but tear a good man reputation down.” Since this is Saturday, I was reminded of that lyric. That is a Robert Johnson song that was covered by The Rolling Stones, along with another I can think of off hand: “Love in Vain,” and there is a scene in the film, Performance, where Jagger sings a bit of “Come On in My Kitchen.” Jagger really has an affinity for Robert Johnson, and upon hearing the original versions by Johnson, you hear that Mick is really going for the phrasing and feeling of Robert Johnson all the way. Stealing, you might say. Is he like the Saturday night womens who just ape and clown? But even Robert Johnson took ideas and inspiration from the bluesmen of his day. Even if there were other bluesmen that Robert Johnson borrowed from, he put it all together — combined all the potent and pertinent ingredients together into what we now know as that strange brew we immediately recognize as the blues.
Keith Richards is also going for the heart and essence of the blues as presented by Robert Johnson. Though you can’t spell ‘blues’ without a B, it is a key that is rare in the blues répertoire. With all of Keef’s alternate tunings, he also ends up in rare keys, like B, for “Midnight Rambler,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” and “Tumblin’ Dice.” I am not sure what key “Stop Breakin’ Down” is in, either in Johnson’s or the Stones’ version — I will check on it later — but I know that in the alternate take of “Come On in My Kitchen” Robert Johnson plays it in B.
On Saturdays I practice in the Keys of F & B. F has one flat and B has 5 sharps, making a total of 6 accidentals, but as we all know, due to the inherent nature of Synchronicity, nothing is accidental. Actually, sharps and flats in the key signature are not accidentals, because they are part of the scale, and any other notes that fall beyond the pale would be accidental, but that is incidental, incremental, and to even consider it at this point will only make you mental. The point is that any two key signatures that are a tritone apart will have the sharps and flats add up to six. F and B are a tritone apart. F to B is a sharp four interval, while B to F is a flatted fifth. They are both tritones, and they divide the twelve notes of the chromatic scale in half. Also, they are 6 frets apart from each other: F on an E string on the first fret to B on the seventh fret, for example. F and B share only 2 notes in common: E and Bb, or E and A#, Bb’s enharmonic cousin who dwelleth in the Land O’ Bee.
So I practice the major scales of F and B alternating between F and B as I go up the neck from open position to around the twelfth fret or so: CAGED. For F the CAGED pattern starts with our old pal ED CAG, whereas for B it is a little more mature, because it has AGED, you C. I also throw in a little solfege ear training or singing practice, and I discover that low F is a little too low, and high F is right at the top where my voice is straining. I can hit it but need to work on getting my range up there so it sounds good. My range is only about one and a half octaves, so B works out pretty good until I get up to F#, which is pushing it. This is for my chest tones, but if I sing in a Neil Young falsetto, I think I can go higher, but I haven’t figured out how to seamlessly glide between those two modes of singing. Maybe there is even a gap between the two? I am not a very good singer, but I am working on it. Before, when I wanted to be a lead singer in a rock band, the two main problems were that we never had a good PA so I had to scream to be heard over the din and racket, but also, my ear wasn’t really tuned up so I could hear the pitch I was aiming for. Now, after tuning my guitar a zillion times, I can hear the pitches in my head, but I still need to practice my voice.
Since I have been practicing all twelve scales every week for a while, I know them all pretty well. I am going to add a thing where I also do a chord work out and do the 36251 or better yet 7362514. That would be in
C: B% E-7 A-7 D-7 G7 C^ F^ F: E% A-7 D-7 G-7 C7 F^ Bb^ B: A#% D#-7 G#-7 C#-7 F#7 B^ E^ 7 3 6 2 5 1 4
But enough about my theories and conjectures on F and B. Or, as they say in the parlance of the ‘hood: “F that B.” Now it is time for the blues! Of course, that is the blues in F and B, with the blues scale for F being Ab pentatonic, and for B effing D pentatonic.
As previously mentioned, I found that Robert Johnson recorded two takes of “Come On in My Kitchen.” The first one was released and it sounds like Bb, regardless of how his guitar was tuned. The second one, which was released years later when the complete recordings were finally put out, is in B. I think the 2nd take sounds better, but perhaps it was too mournful, not considered commercial for the times? Anyway, I found that playing in B with standard tuning opens up a few nice possibilities. Like, these voicings:
B: 7 9 9 8 0 7 T 3 4 2 1 B F# B D# B B E7: 0 7 9 7 9 0 1 3 1 4 E E B D G# E E7: 0 7 6 7 0 0 2 1 3 E E G# D B E F#7: X 9 11 9 11 0 1 3 1 4 F# C# E A# E F#7: 2 4 4 3 2 0 T 3 4 2 1 F# C# F# A# C# E
Now, I give my baby, now, the 99 degree
She jumped up and throwed a pistol down on me
Stop breakin’ down, please stop breakin’ down
Stuff I got’ll bust your brains out, baby
Ooh, it’ll make you lose your mind
~ Robert Johnson