26 November 2015


Listening to Wabash Blues, I was reminded that what 'makes' this tune is the 13th bar (measure), where we suddenly land on a note and chord that sound alien but are in fact just right.

Don't know what I mean? Well, hear what happens at 30 - 32 seconds into this video (click on to view) and again (more conspicuously) from 1 minute 42 seconds to 1 minute 44 seconds.

Checking it out, I found it's the chord on the flattened 6th of the key in which the tune is played. So, if you are playing in C, the flattened 6th would be the chord of Ab. If you're playing in F, it would be the chord of Db:
And so on.

The flattened 6th is a chord that rarely appears in our music but, whenever it pops up, it creates a special effect.

I discussed this with my friend Ralph Hunt and he told me that among banjo players such as himself it is known as the 'Nowhere Chord'. That sounded really interesting. Did it mean the chord that led nowhere? Did it mean the chord that seemed to come from nowhere? Unfortunately the explanation was much more mundane: it came from the tune 'Out of Nowhere', in which the chord plays a prominent part.

The led us to wonder what other tunes we could think of in which the listeners are hit at some point with the chord on the flattened 6th. In five minutes we came up with these:

Bye Bye Blues (on the word 'blues': you can hear it, can't you?)
Come Back Sweet Papa (very emphatically in the Verse)
I Never Knew What a Girl Could Do (both in the verse and in the main theme)
Love Songs of the Nile
Oriental Strut (in the main theme)
Oh, You Beautiful Doll
Marie (30th bar)
Mama's Gone, Goodbye (Mama's gone, Mama's gone goodbye)
My Melancholy Baby (in the second half of each of the first two bars):
San (it makes the Chorus truly distinctive)
Golden Leaf Strut (bars 25 and 26)

Henry Kiel reminds me that four more are:
Alabama Jubilee (in both Verse and Chorus)
Black and Blue (Middle Eight)
Dancing With Tears in My Eyes
But no doubt you will tell me there are more......

And while we're on the subject of these strange named chords, did you know there is one called 'The Clapham Junction Chord'? I learned about it from The Oxford Companion to Music. It is the chord of the 7th diminished. For example, in the key of C, it would contain B, D, F, and Ab.

Why Clapham Junction? Because that is a railway station in South London from which routes branch off in many directions. In the same way, when you play this chord, you can modulate into any one of several different chords to follow it.