Fifty-Three Years Later I Learn the Song

Last night when I went to bed, the weather forecast for today called for rain all day long. This morning the cats got me up before the sun and there was an appropriate song on my mind: "Ashes the Rain and I," from the 1970 album, James Gang Rides Again, the second outing from the James Gang featuring Joe Walsh. That song embodied what I was expecting from the day - depressing rainy weather from sunrise to sunset.

In 1970 I mixed my first radio broadcast, I was given my first guitar for Christmas, and my brother gave me James Gang Rides Again to encourage me along as a brand new guitarist. With Joe, the James Gang always featured two sides - their hard rock side and an introspective acoustic side. They were usually assigned to the two separate sides of their albums. Side two of Rides Again was the introspective side and closed out with"Ashes the Rain and I." I was drawn to this song immediately and as a new player, tried to crack the fingerboard code.

The song is easy enough on its face: There is an interesting intro figure at the beginning and a powerful strummed chord structure in the musical interlude. I tried to crack the fingerboard code for a couple of years and just couldn't work it out because my analytical skills weren't good enough. The song is in G minor and the beginning figure and verses are easy enough to get but then the instrumental interlude comes in with the powerful chords, still in G minor. I just couldn't make the powerful interlude sound right. I set it aside to learn later.

Early this morning when I got up, after I got coffee working for my wife and myself, the first thing I did was pull out my couch guitar and listen to the song with the goal of working it out. As usual, I was able to get through the into and verse and then in came the interlude. I could hear that the interlude was clearly played using the root A minor chord form. The interlude was strummed on a big Martin dreadnaught 12-string, I think a D12-18. There's a picture of Joe playing the guitar on the back of the next James Gang album, Thirds. Then one of those obscure facts about the period hit me, a fact that change everything: In that period, Martin designed their 12-stringers to be tuned down a full step to reduce the tension on the bridge. They had a problem with 12-string bridges popping off and asked players to tune down a full step and capo back up. In fact, the bridge of a friend's D12-18 popped off right in front of me at a summer camp. Boom!

Click to embiggen.

Well there you go. With the period Martin 12-string in its native tuning and with the capo removed, the root A minor form IS G minor. Done. Joe took advantage of this oddity to get those huge strummed chords as a contrast for the interlude. Now, all this worked out to my advantage in the modern day. Joe is a pretty high tenor and I am a baritone. His arrangements are always too high for me to stretch up to but too low for my octave-lower voice. BUT, the easiest way to perform the song these days with 12-string guitars designed to be tuned to concert pitch, is to capo up the six string guitar one step during the intro and verse and use a modern 12-string tuned to concert pitch to play the interlude. As a result, the combination chips in a full upward step up to keep me from sounding like a frog!

Sooooo... It's never too late to learn, eh?

Oh, and the weather? Bright sunshine, all day today. The rain has been postponed until tonight.