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Robert Wilkins' "Police Sergeant Blues" as taught by guitar master John Miller.
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John Miller Teaches Police Sergeant Blues
Okay, let’s work through Police Sergeant now phrase by phrase. I should mention also that in my rendition of these songs, I’m not saying all the words, just singing a couple of verses to sort of get you the idea of how it sounds and how the vocal sounds over the guitar compliment. Really, you do want to hear Wilkins sing his own songs, I recommend that very highly but all the lyrics will be included in the tab booklet that accompanies the video also so they will be there for your reference. If we look at Police Sergeant here in the verse, starts in C, pretty easy left hand, really in the left hand, the little fingers are doing all the work, its coming on and off from the first string, 3rd fret open, 3rd fret gets into the 2nd string. Kind of fairly straight forward type stuff, much like some Frank Stokes or Mississippi John Hurt or Fury Luis is similar pieces. That’s another video in this series.
Now I’ll just play this, okay and you can see it’s pretty darn straight up and down. Every once in a while he’ll phrase in front of the beat, for instance when he goes—he anticipates the down beat and phrases in front of it. Now he gets to the chorus where he’s singing and this is the kind of thing if you we’re going to do a sort of cleaned up version of it. Robert Wilkins kind of starts the F chord and from there on out he was just playing the melody but just free handing the bass and hitting open strings in the bass in the occasional chord tone in the bass, so I’ll play this for you and I think you’ll see what I mean. This is the kind of thing where I suppose if you look at it from a kind of hard core theoretical view point you’d sort of say “Well gee, how did those notes go with the melody?” In fact what I think its illustrating is that in this instance the time keeping function of the bass is more important than the notes themselves.
It’s keeping a very strong time through there and that’s the main thing about it. For that reason when you play it, you really want to lay into it; you don’t want to be timid about it because if you play this in a kind of meticulous way, it sounds sort of meticulous. So that’s the verse, now for the chorus, he brings the chorus right out of the conclusion of the verse. The final measure of the verse, then he takes the C shape with a little finger on the 1st string up 2 frets and walks it right up to the 8th fret and at that point when you’re up here with your little finger on the 8th fret of the 1st string and your ring finger on the 8th fret of the 5th string, you’re actually playing it with a half chord out of the C shape, same chord, voice differently. So he’s up here, watch it back down and into a G and he gets into this neat kind of pattern in both C and G when he first resolves to the next chord.
He does a regular alternating bass but the measure that precedes going back to the other chord, he hits three down and one up. Back up to F, three down, one up, and now the chorus again but it’s instrumental. So that’s pretty much what involved in playing Police Blues and I would say that the bass that goes behind the chorus where its kind of roaming around a bit, its very hard to hear on the original recording and it’s a kind of thing where I don’t think you need to feel like you have to be an absolute stickler for getting it precisely the way that it was done because I suspect he changed it up himself a good bit of course of playing it. So now what we’ll do is move to a split screen version of Police Sergeant Blues.