This song from C.W. Stoneking‘s last album is maybe one of the strongest songs he’s ever written. Strangely, he tried to write the perfect Hawaiian sunset crooning tune before, and almost succeeded with ‘Jungle Lullaby’ in 2008.
Anyway, here are the mystery chords of ‘On A Desert Isle’: all natural minor chords are replaced by diminished chords. In the intro this is very apparent as he actually plays C – Em – F – Em-Ebm-Dm – G7 – C.
In the first line C – Edim – F Fdim – C both diminshed chords function as (and can be replaced with simple minor chords Em an Fm). The first (Em) is absolutely natural, and the second is in fact a standard blues and jazz move: making the IV minor (i.e. Fm). Otis Span uses it here (from F to Fm on “we’s allright” and “shoot my baby, etc..). This same progression even made some nineties kids millionaires, it’s so fucking special…
E dim: I – IIIb – Vb or E – G – Bb played 312XXX — is indeed not as CW remarks a Gm6 but an Em chord. And can be substituted for a simple Em chord!
F dim: F – G# – B played X213XX
B dim: X869XX
Dm7b5: played X5656X
C9/E is the best way to describe the XX233X chord leading into the chorus. C9 by itself would be a great way to go to F, but putting the E note in the bass makes so much sense.
For now, I only transcribed the basic chords for the two sections, not the details, which I will bring in later.
I don’t know of any blues heroes for whom there isn’t even a recorded year of death, I have never seen a clip that struck me on my path like this one and I never read so many people experiencing exactly the same when they hear Blind Connie Williams for the first time.
He only did one recording session, on the 5th of May 1961 in Philadelphia, for Pete Welding‘s label, on which he played both guitar and accordeon. Most of these tracks are available on Youtube. This clip, however, is a true gem because there are only 1 or 2 pictures of Williams. The only other source of info are the liner notes of the album. The catalog number also makes clear that it wasn’t issued until more than a decade later: Testament T-2225 (1974)
His first wife, Nettie, who had been Rainey’s wardrobe mistress, died in childbirth in 1932. Two days later the child, a son, also died. In his grief, he wrote his most famous song, one of the most famous of all gospel songs, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”. Unhappy with the treatment received at the hands of established publishers, Dorsey opened the first black gospel music publishing company, Dorsey House of Music.
The musical basis was taken from an older, traditional hymn and is generally played in a death march like tempo. It was Martin Luther King’s favorite song, who specifically liked Mahalia Jackson’s version, which I give here by way of reference as to how the song usually sounds.
Connie’s version is musically very different from the traditional version and could be transcribed as a traditional 8 bar blues:
But what Connie is playing contains almost every passing chord from the gospel book:
This may look infinitely intricate, but it isn’t. Connie’s guitar is tuned in open G tuning (DGDGBD tuned down to CFCFAC), so this will mostly be one or two finger chords; F7 – F6 is x00003 – x00002. There are a lot of rumours on the internet that he would be using Vestapol tuning, but the album track on guitar are all in G and detailed analysis of the video will show him picking the root bass on the second string, which is G (tuned down to F).
You could even take it a bit further: replace the Gm-like chord C7/G by a D7 and extend the walkdown which started on line 3 to include line 2. It would then virtually span an octave and a half, from “lead me on” until “storm.” It would change the lead a bit, but it need not. Connies steady singing seems almost independent of the changes he plays… and it always works.
It was a real revelation to see how flexible gospel chords are. You could almost go anywhere with the last line:
I haven’t figured out how to play it in open G, I hardly know anything in this tuning (contrary to open D), but this video of Lonesome Joseph playing another Blind Connie Williams track in open G, reveals a lot the positions:
The little, silly blues album I posted would never have been recorded without some sort of euphoric eureka on finally figuring out how to play both minor and major chords in an open D tuning. It’s really very, very simple, but as yet I found no simple video on youtube explaining the fingering for the minor chords.
Now, the minor chords means: the chords that fit with the scale you are playing in. In the case of D major, we call D the Ist, G the IVth and A the Vth. The first minor chord to go with these major chords is a whole tone up from the Vth — so VI — in the scale of D that is Bm. If you extend a blues I-IV-V from this Bm chord, you get all corresponding celexa chords: Em an F#m. These are only the natural minors, the ones that fit into the scale.
And these minors are very easy to play — two or three fingers, and it’s all just one shape…
Bm 9X0890 or Bm7 900890 or 990000 but you can also play X20000 and “hammer on” into the root
Em7 2X0120 or E9sus4 220000 or E11m 220100
F#m add D 4X0340 or 440000
These chords are used on almost every song, in different combination and rhythms, hammering on etc… Also, the same basic variation in the root chord are used and re-used throughout. The riff on ‘Golden’ slides into the root to fall on a sus4 add 2 root chord before being dissolved again. D (004300) – Dsus4add2 (002100) – D (000000) Em7 (2000120).