Last summer, when Happy Traum first received his brand-new Santa Cruz HT/13 signature model, he posted a video introducing the instrument and picking an old favorite song: “Worried Blues,” a variant of traditional songs like “Chilly Winds” and “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad.”
Traum learned “Worried Blues” some 60 years ago from a record called Hally Wood Sings Texas Folk Songs. Wood was a song collector as well as performer who worked with John and Alan Lomax on transcribing field recordings, and sang with Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and others in the New York folk scene of the 1940s. She played frailing banjo on “Worried Blues,” and Traum loosely adapted her rendition to fingerpicking guitar in dropped-D tuning (capoed at the second fret to sound in E). Bob Dylan picked up “Worried Blues” from the same source; his 1962 recording, also fingerpicked but played with C shapes (capo 3), can be heard on The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1–3.
Traum recorded “Worried Blues” for his 1976 solo album, Relax Your Mind (the track also appears on the compilation Bucket of Songs). “It’s one of those lonesome blues things, but it’s not a standard 12-bar blues,” he says. “It’s more like a folk song.”
This transcription is based on Traum’s recent video (above) and shows the song’s instrumental intro and one of the solos. The thumb drives the arrangement throughout, with an alternating bass that varies in only a few spots.
In the intro, play the melody on the upper strings while you keep the bass steady on the sixth, fifth, and fourth strings. On D, shift between fifth position (as in the first two measures) and open position. On G, fret the sixth string, fifth fret, with your third finger so your first can fret the D notes on the second string. At the end of the intro, bars 20–22, strum the treble strings lightly with your fingers over half notes in the bass before resuming the alternating bass picking pattern with the vocal.
Traum’s first solo break is similar to the intro, but in the second solo, transcribed here, he departs more from the melody and the alternating bass. In bars 25–26, play a ragtime-y double-stop riff, and then switch to a monotonic bass (bars 27–28) while you play a quick melodic line on the treble strings. In bars 32–34, play an extended bass run, alternating your thumb and index finger for picking speed.
In the tag, go back and forth between G and D—two bars each—as in bars 23–34, before wrapping up with one final repeat of “I’ve got those worried blues.”
Once you’ve got the basics of this arrangement under your fingers, try making up your own licks and embellishments. “Because of the dropped D and because it’s so basically simple,” says Traum, “you can just add stuff to it that’s fun to do.”
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2021 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.