As a guitar player, I’ve rarely used anything but standard tuning. I don’t even like capos. So it was a new challenge to learn three custom tunings to accompany the amazing and beautiful Pollyana Bush, on three Joni Mitchell songs. This is part of her concert series, “Full Circle, musings on Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell, and Carole King.” We’ve done the gig once in the East Bay, and tomorrow we’re doing it in San Rafael.
One of the songs, “Case Of You” was challenging for another reason – I couldn’t not cry when we were doing it. Ridiculous, no? But seriously, once I got the song down, every time we’d play it and Pollyana started singing, my eyes would be raining. This leveled out after a while and I was composed during the performance. I can’t recall another song/singer ever affecting me in that particular way. Why am I sharing this? Oh, I don’t know, why not.
We’re doing “Case Of You” in an open-G# tuning, and I needed to figure out how to make it sound something like a dulcimer doubling a guitar. Luckily, Pollyana has a Taylor acoustic with a cutaway, which is perfect for this. Another song I’m playing on is “Help Me,” which is open-tuned to C Major 7th. Who does that!? It’s been a great experience learning these songs, and to sort of get a glimpse into Joni Mitchell’s creative process. You couldn’t play these songs in standard tuning, it’s physically impossible. I found myself wondering – does Joni play with the tuning and THEN write a song, or hear a song in her head, and then tune the instrument to fit? Both approaches maybe? She uses so many tunings, and they are wildly different. Now I’m fascinated enough to find some interviews with her, and see if she talks about this. Tackling this was made much easier by the wealth of info provided by Joni Mitchell herself, on her own website.
I’m thrilled to be on this gig, with some amazing cats, including the great Raz Kennedy. Raz called me asking if I knew anyone who could do this kind of guitar playing, a few weeks before the earlier concert. I recommended a few players but none were available, so I started learning the odd tunings to see if I could even get there. It turned out to be a really fun and rewarding guitar lesson, and now, as a consequence of this, I wrote a song in open-G! A good friend told me years ago the day you stop learning is the day you die. I guess I’m still alive.
Here’s the concert info, I think some tickets are still available if you are interested.
Oh, and Pollyana, this happened to your guitar case. But don’t worry, Lucy is very neat and does not have fleas.