What chords are they playing in Robert Earl Keen's version of T for Texas

Throttleneck

Member
Messages
1,161
Hi Folks,

Simple question. I am just starting to work on training my ear as to what chords are being used in songs. For my first attempt I chose a simple song. Robert Earl Keen's version of T for Texas.

You can see them playing it here:


And you can hear it here.


Simple 1 - 4 - 5.

Are they playing E - A - B
or
E7 - A - B

I think it is the second. Or it could be something completely different. :) What are they actually playing?

Thanks!
 

stevel

Member
Messages
15,794
Hello,

Firstly, you need to make a distinction for the word "they" - many times people want to know what the GUITAR player played, as opposed to the harmony created by the entire group. "They" the group could be playing an E7, while the acoustic guitar strumming could just be playing an E (same is true for the A and B chords).

The problem with songs like this is that the lead licks tend to be "bluesy", which introduces notes that make all the chords 7ths.

So the real answer is, the chords are E7, A7, and B7.

You should know that in anything remotely "country" sounding, especially in an older folksy strummy style like this, the V (5) chord is pretty much always a V7 (five seven - B7 here) without fail. Most guitarists would have learned their "B" as the "cowboy chord" form of B7. If they want a true plain B, it's going to be with a capo :)

So the "default" choice in the key of E would be E, A, and B7.

Now, there's a catch here: There's an "extra" measure or two at the end of the first part of the verse on the E chord which does more obviously change the chord from E to E7 - so you're not completely wrong there.

If the key were E Major, it would look something like this:

E - E7 - A - E - B7 - E

Now, all of those chords except the E7 are in the key of E Major.

The E7 is what is known as a "secondary dominant" - the dominant chord (V7) from a "secondary" key (some key other than the original key).

In this case, E7 is the V7 of the key of A, which is the IV chord in this key, so we call it "V7/IV" (five-seven of four).

I - V7/IV - IV - I - V7 - I

This is a hugely common move in a lot of music.

But it appears in blues forms as well - so much so that you'll often see Jazz blues forms written like:

E6 - E6 - E6 - E7 - A....

So the E Major chord (with 6th added in this example) "turns into" an E7 to "lead into" the IV chord - the A - as V7/IV.

In essence, you're adding a dissonance to the Tonic I chord that pushes it towards the IV chord instead of it standing stable on its own.

But songs like this are not as "simple" as you say.

When there's all these "bluesy" licks going on, they tend to use ideas that make the E E7 throughout, and even the A becomes A7.

IOW, you would not be "wrong" to strum this song with E7 - A7 - and B7.

It would probably not sound right to use only E, A, and B as you've surmised.

It might be tolerable to use E, E7, and A and B(7) because then you'll hear that "secondary dominant" move a little more clearly.

I just listened to Jimmie Rodgers's version and it's E, A, and B7.

I also just listened to a Lynyrd Skynyrd version which they "blues up" with a typical "boogie" honky tonk bass line riff that clearly uses the 7th in the riff (theirs is in A, but transposing to E) which makes it E7, A7, B7.

In your first video, around 3:25 you can see the guitar player singer (Keen?) playing a standard E7 chord shape (based on the cowboy C7) and he always strums that shape on all the E chords. Now, whether you can hear his guitar in the mix that well, is another issue :) Still there are plenty of other people hitting the 7th in the chords as they pass by in licks and whatnot.

Still, they do tend to "play up" the 7th on the E7 at the end of the phrase (which are kind of the added measures) in both videos making it sound more like "plain E" at first, then "E7" right before the A.

However, the 7th is featured prominently in the "bluesy" solos as well all the licks on various instruments - and there's so much going on - fiddle, banjo, guitar, dobro, bass, etc. there's no telling who's hitting a 7th when.

IOW, these guys are thinking of it primarily as E7, A7, and B7 and using typical "mixolydian"-ish country blues licks for fills and solos, but certainly emphasising the 7th right before the A for that secondary dominant feel.

Don't feel like listening hard enough to determine if the E at the beginning of the phrase sounds like they're intentionally avoiding the 7th so that the later E7 has more impact, but the "gist" of playing it in this kind of format is the 7th is available as a note option on all the chords.

Maybe try some Hank Williams Sr. "Hey Good Looking" would be a good choice.
 
Last edited:

Throttleneck

Member
Messages
1,161
Hello,

Firstly, you need to make a distinction for the word "they" - many times people want to know what the GUITAR player played, as opposed to the harmony created by the entire group. "They" the group could be playing an E7, while the acoustic guitar strumming could just be playing an E (same is true for the A and B chords).

The problem with songs like this is that the lead licks tend to be "bluesy", which introduces notes that make all the chords 7ths.

So the real answer is, the chords are E7, A7, and B7.

You should know that in anything remotely "country" sounding, especially in an older folksy strummy style like this, the V (5) chord is pretty much always a V7 (five seven - B7 here) without fail. Most guitarists would have learned their "B" as the "cowboy chord" form of B7. If they want a true plain B, it's going to be with a capo :)

So the "default" choice in the key of E would be E, A, and B7.

Now, there's a catch here: There's an "extra" measure or two at the end of the first part of the verse on the E chord which does more obviously change the chord from E to E7 - so you're not completely wrong there.

If the key were E Major, it would look something like this:

E - E7 - A - E - B7 - E

Now, all of those chords except the E7 are in the key of E Major.

The E7 is what is known as a "secondary dominant" - the dominant chord (V7) from a "secondary" key (some key other than the original key).

In this case, E7 is the V7 of the key of A, which is the IV chord in this key, so we call it "V7/IV" (five-seven of four).

I - V7/IV - IV - I - V7 - I

This is a hugely common move in a lot of music.

But it appears in blues forms as well - so much so that you'll often see Jazz blues forms written like:

E6 - E6 - E6 - E7 - A....

So the E Major chord (with 6th added in this example) "turns into" an E7 to "lead into" the IV chord - the A - as V7/IV.

In essence, you're adding a dissonance to the Tonic I chord that pushes it towards the IV chord instead of it standing stable on its own.

But songs like this are not as "simple" as you say.

When there's all these "bluesy" licks going on, they tend to use ideas that make the E E7 throughout, and even the A becomes A7.

IOW, you would not be "wrong" to strum this song with E7 - A7 - and B7.

It would probably not sound right to use only E, A, and B as you've surmised.

It might be tolerable to use E, E7, and A and B(7) because then you'll hear that "secondary dominant" move a little more clearly.

I just listened to Jimmie Rodgers's version and it's E, A, and B7.

I also just listened to a Lynyrd Skynyrd version which they "blues up" with a typical "boogie" honky tonk bass line riff that clearly uses the 7th in the riff (theirs is in A, but transposing to E) which makes it E7, A7, B7.

In your first video, around 3:25 you can see the guitar player singer (Keen?) playing a standard E7 chord shape (based on the cowboy C7) and he always strums that shape on all the E chords. Now, whether you can hear his guitar in the mix that well, is another issue :) Still there are plenty of other people hitting the 7th in the chords as they pass by in licks and whatnot.

Still, they do tend to "play up" the 7th on the E7 at the end of the phrase (which are kind of the added measures) in both videos making it sound more like "plain E" at first, then "E7" right before the A.

However, the 7th is featured prominently in the "bluesy" solos as well all the licks on various instruments - and there's so much going on - fiddle, banjo, guitar, dobro, bass, etc. there's no telling who's hitting a 7th when.

IOW, these guys are thinking of it primarily as E7, A7, and B7 and using typical "mixolydian"-ish country blues licks for fills and solos, but certainly emphasising the 7th right before the A for that secondary dominant feel.

Don't feel like listening hard enough to determine if the E at the beginning of the phrase sounds like they're intentionally avoiding the 7th so that the later E7 has more impact, but the "gist" of playing it in this kind of format is the 7th is available as a note option on all the chords.

Maybe try some Hank Williams Sr. "Hey Good Looking" would be a good choice.

Thank you very much for taking the time to give such a illuminating response. I clearly have a lot to learn. :) This gives me a lot to process and think about.
 




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