Learn to Play “You Gotta Move” | AG Patreon Song of the Month

Learn to play an African American spiritual as interpreted by the legendary bluesman Mississippi Fred McDowell

Mississippi Fred McDowell (1904–1972) had toiled for years as a farmer, playing his blues on the side, when in 1959 he was discovered by the folklorist Alan Lomax and the English singer Shirley Collins. McDowell’s distinctive North Mississippi hill country blues went on to earn the singer and guitarist widespread attention during the 1960s folk and blues revival. He would eventually tutor a young Bonnie Raitt on slide-guitar technique and inspire the Rolling Stones to cover his version of the old African American spiritual “You Gotta Move” on 1969’s Sticky Fingers.

It’s easy to understand why the Stones—and in particular lead guitarist Mick Taylor—were so taken with “You Gotta Move.” McDowell’s 1965 recording is marked by a subtly unconventional structure and rich slide work. The song’s sections are each seven bars long, as opposed to the expected 12, and are based on the I chord rather than a progression involving the I, IV, and V. The melodic instrumental line is essentially identical in the intro and verse, and it’s transposed down an octave in the interlude.


McDowell likely recorded the song with a glass slide on his fretting hand’s third finger, picking with a thumbpick and a fingerpick. In learning the notation, keep in mind that the up-stemmed notes (save, of course, for those falling on the open strings) should be played with the slide and a fingerpick, while the down-stemmed notes are fretted conventionally and sounded with the thumb pick.

A few miscellaneous details to note: Throughout, bend the sixth string’s third-fret F slightly sharp, for a bluesy effect. Similarly, keep in mind that a bunch of the other notes are played in between the cracks; for instance, in actuality, the C on beat 4 in bar 6 falls somewhere between a C and a C#. Subtleties of intonation like this lend an unmistakably bluesy character to the music.

The TAB and notation for “You Gotta Move” is available to members of the Acoustic Guitar Patreon page at the Supporters tier or higher. Join our community to access live workshops, song transcriptions, exclusive podcast episodes, and more!

Adam Perlmutter
Adam Perlmutter

Adam Perlmutter holds a bachelor of music degree from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and a master's degree in Contemporary Improvisation from the New England Conservatory. He is the editor of Acoustic Guitar.

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