Photo: Jimmie in concert, 1976. Click for larger view.
Many visitors have requested that we include information on the subject of guitar tablature for Jimmie's music. While we know of no published book on this subject, the late Johnny Pierce sent us some information that we're pleased to share. This page covers some of the many tunings Jimmie used.
Notes from Johnny Pierce
As many of you know, I was a member of Jimmie's band from 1973 through 1980. One of my jobs on the road was to tune Jimmie's many guitars before each performace. I did so with pride. I also learned his open tunings (and how to play each song as he did). Jimmie wrote most of his guitar songs in open tunings. He rarely wrote in standard tuning (actually, I only remember one song - "Snake Man"). I'm pleased to share some of his open tunings here.
UPDATED! Special thanks to Jimmie fan Keith Walker for pointing out a typo Johnny and I never noticed. 3rd F tuned down is now correct... F#...only tuned down a half-step. Thanks again, Keith!
This is a wonderful, dark tuning. One of the reasons Jimmie used to break strings often on stage was because of this tuning. It requires the forth & fifth strings to be tuned up, which puts much stress on those strings. Plus, Jimmie always used heavy gage strings, which made it even harder to get those strings to tune up. Sometimes one would pop in the middle of "Mercury", but Jimmie would just keep on playing as if nothing had happened.
You'll have to learn how to play these songs on your own, but I can give you hints on how to get started. "I Am The Mercury" is probably one of the most beautiful and unique open tuning songs ever written. "Mercury" has no "bar" chords in it and you'll have to just sort of hunt around for the right positioning... but it starts on the ninth fret/sixth string/third finger. You're on your own from there (listening to the track will help you find what you need).
I still remember how to play this song note-for-note as Jimmie did. And I love to play this song, especially the opening lick. That part sounds so intricate, but actually your fingers barely move. And it's so simple when you're in the correct position. A real master created this song. Knowing Jimmie, it probably just flowed out of him one day.
This tuning is also called "open E" tuning. It's a fairly common open tuning, the same as "open D" except a full step higher. It also can break strings because of the added tension, but the tones are very sweet. For those of you who want less string tension - but the same basic sound - try "open D" (below). "For Roach" is one of the easiest of Jimmie's open tuning songs to play. Jimmie played "For Roach" with a large, triangle, flat pick... and he picked it back near the bridge, which gave it a more mid-range sound. "Love's In Vain" is also played with a pick... and you'll find that it's very simple, with only two or three fingers making the chords.
"Open D" tuning for Monte Luna
"Monte Luna" is very simple. On the recording, Geoff Levin's second acoustic guitar makes this song sound more complex than it is (Geoff was a master at adding the perfect second guitar harmony).
Of all Jimmie's open tunings, "open C" is probably the most unusual. As I recall, he got this tuning from Joni Mitchell. [note: you can find more of Joni's tunings at JoniMitchell.com. This tuning is probably the reason Jimmie used heavy gage strings... because the low "E" string has to be tuned down to a "C"... which is very low for a guitar. But with heavy gage strings, the low "C" will stay in tune and sound rich and strong. On how to play "Let It Flow"... it's another song that you just have to find your way through, but it's mostly finger picked with only two or three fingers pressing on the fret board at any given time. "Eternity Spin" is the easiest. You basically "bar" the whole song with your first finger. The first "bar" hammers (from open) onto the second fret. Try it... you should hear it right away. The same goes with "Blown Out". Remember to use a big triangle pick (actually, any flat pick will do, but if you're a "Jimmie purist" use a big, flat, triangle pick).
Jimmie always used finger picks on all his finger-picked songs. He used metal Nationals on his 1st & 2nd fingers, and a thumb pick. I still have some of Jimmie's National finger picks, thumb pick, and triangle flat pick. I keep them in the same plastic tube that he kept in his guitar case (funny the things we save).
I think the reason artists like Jimmie and Joni Mitchell gravitated towards open tunings is because they performed solo much of the time... and open tunings sound much bigger than standard tuning. So, in essence, the open tuning handled the absence of a band. It can help the solo artist feel like there is more sound surrounding their voice. Another plus: open tunings open up a whole new world of possibilities in songwriting.
So, give these a try. You can create your own songs with these open tunings. Consider this a gift from Jimmie... and most of all, have fun.
- Johnny Pierce