On his latest album, Day by Day, Norman Blake plays a rich mixture of traditional and original tunes, each recorded in a single take. The bulk of the tracks are solo settings, with Blake, still a nimble picker at 83, accompanying himself on guitar, and the new recordings provide a good glimpse of the depth and subtlety that has always been characteristic of his playing.
From the album, “Just Tell Them That You Saw Me” was composed by American singer-songwriter and vaudeville entertainer Paul Dresser (1859–1906), and published in 1895. It was first recorded that same year by Paul Gaskin, who was one of the most popular singers in the United States at the time, and covered by old-time musicians like Uncle Dave Macon in the 1920s, but the song became a largely forgotten gem in the following decades.
As shown in the transcription here, Blake sings and plays “Just Tell Them That You Saw Me” in the guitar-friendly key of G major. Rather than strumming full chords, which would overpower his singing, he plays a taut melody on the bass strings, sometimes mirroring the vocal line, and other times moving in an opposite direction, punctuated by two- or three-note chordal fragments based on open shapes.
Though not difficult from a technical standpoint, it takes great skill and sensitivity to pull off guitar accompaniment like Blake does. While it wouldn’t be a bad idea to learn the music note-for-note, it would be far more musical to follow the concepts at play for use in your own accompaniments—the biggest one being to avoid clutter while honoring the melody.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.