Charley Patton Guitar Keys and Positions

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compiled by Andrew Mullins


In compiling this list, I used the remastered Yazoo CDs The Best of Charlie Patton (Yazoo 2069) and Charlie Patton - Primeval Blues, Rags, and Gospel Songs (Yazoo 2074) for all songs available on those discs. The first disc features speed corrections to "High Sheriff" and "Jersey Bull Blues," and I think "Down the Dirt Road" is more true as well, at least compared to JSP. The second Yazoo CD features another 8 tracks at corrected speeds: "Revenue Man Blues," "Hang It On the Wall," "Stone Pony Blues," "34 Blues," "Love My Stuff," "Troubled Bout My Mother," "Oh Death" and "Poor Me". I'm going to take Rich Nevins' word for it that these are now the correct speeds, but what it does mean is that in Patton's later recordings, where most of these songs come from, he was tuned a bit flat or a bit sharp on several tunes. I've noted places where he is a bit sharp or flat in parentheses. Patton was actually pretty meticulous about tuning, I find, so this is a minor point worth making. For songs not on the recent Yazoo releases, I used the JSP set, Charley Patton - Complete Recordings 1929-34.

NOTE: It's generally held that Patton wasn't using a capo but tuned up one, two or several steps. With some of these songs, one can see how he might have gone through several guitars doing this. You might want to use a capo instead. For standard tuning songs, I tuned to standard pitch then used a capo. For "Spoonful," I tuned the guitar to Vestapol at E. For the tunes in Spanish, I tuned to open G and capoed to A, Bb, B, as needed, though you could easily get away with open A, depending on your guitar. I'd recommend tuning it back down when you're done though. For the slide tunes, it's also worth noting he's likely playing lap-style for most of them. I have not included the Henry Sims songs, but they were all played out of E position, pitched at F#.

In the table below, the song title is followed by playing position, then actual pitch, then the 2nd guitar position (played by Willie Brown), if applicable. A "+" symbol means that the pitch is sharp of this key, but less than a fret. A "-" symbol means that the pitch is flat of this key but less than a fret.

OrderTitle Position/Tuning Pitch 2nd Gtr Position
1Pony Blues E F
2Spoonful Blues Vestapol E
3Down the Dirt Road Blues CC#
4Prayer of Death Part 1 Spanish A
5Prayer of Death Part 2 Spanish A
6Screamin' and Hollerin' the Blues Spanish A
7Banty Rooster Blues Spanish Bb
8Tom Rushen Blues Spanish A
9It Won't Be Long Spanish A
10Shake It and Break It F F
11Pea Vine Blues Spanish A
12Mississippi Boll Weevil Blues Spanish B -
13Lord, I'm Discouraged Spanish A
14I'm Goin' Home Spanish A
15Hammer Blues Take 1 Spanish B
16I Shall Not Be Moved Spanish B
17High Water Everywhere Part 1 Spanish B
18High Water Everywhere Part 2 Spanish B
19I Shall Not Be Moved Spanish B
20Rattlesnake Blues E F#
21Going to Move to Alabama E F
22Hammer Blues Take 2 Spanish B
23Joe Kirby E G
24Frankie and Albert E F#
25Devil Sent the Rain Blues A A#
26Magnolia Blues Spanish B
27Runnin' Wild Blues E F#
28Some Happy Day Spanish B
29Mean Black Moan E F#
30Green River Blues E F#
31Some of These Days I'll Be Gone E F#
32Elder Green Blues Take 2 E F
33Jim Lee Part 1 E F#
34Jim Lee Part 2 E F#
35Mean Black Cat Blues E F#
36Jesus Is a Dying-Bed Maker Spanish B
37Elder Green Blues Take 2 E F
38When Your Way Gets Dark Spanish B -
39Some of These Days I'll Be Gone Take 2 E F# +
40Heart Like Railroad Steel Spanish C
41Circle Round the Moon E F
42You're Gonna Need Somebody When You Die Spanish B
43Some Summer Day Spanish Bb A
44Bird Nest Bound Spanish Bb A
45Dry Well Blues E F E
46Moon Going Down Spanish Bb A
47High Sheriff Blues Spanish Bb
48Stone Pony Blues E F
49Jersey Bull Blues Spanish Bb
50Hang It on the Wall F G
5134 Blues C D -
52Love My Stuff Spanish A
53Poor Me C D -
54Revenue Man Blues Spanish B -
55Troubled 'Bout My Mother Spanish Bb +
56Oh Death Spanish Bb +
57Yellow Bee E F
58Mind Reader Blues E F

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