Here’s a quick sketch track and tabbed PDF (with related MIDI) for a recent favorite of mine. I’m an Old Cowhand from the Rio Grande is a Johnny Mercer song I love because it’s fairly easy but still different from typical steel guitar standards like Steel Guitar Rag, Panhandle Rag, etc. And though it’s popularity is up there with other big western swingers, I’d argue it’s not as obvious as Roly Poly and Rose of San Antone. But since it originated as a jazz pop tune back in the early 20th century, it’s both a western tune and a jazz pop standard. Killer.
And no wonder it’s so famous. What really catches me is how smooth and jazzy it sounds. And what I loved finding for myself was in terms of C6 lap steel approach the opening chord’s bar position feels like you are playing a 4 (G) chord over the seventh fret but you’re really playing a 2 (Em7) chord over the seventh fret. (Measure 2 in the tablature below.) To me, that is so cool and refreshing from standard 1, 4, 5 chord changes.
There’s lots of great versions of this song by western swing bands online but while I was doing my Spotify research I did come across the Sonny Rollins Way Out West album which this song is a part of and has really interested me ever since. It seems to me almost old hat for western/country musicians to take on jazz as inspiration but for a jazz musician to take on western/country as inspiration is really interesting to hear. I’ve taken some inspiration from Sonny’s head for my playing here but I aspire to play anything remotely similar to the solo section.
Low F Tuning for C6/A7
The C6 tuning version here has a low F (see tab) which enables us to land on different chord voicings in the melody than we’re used to normally playing with straight C6 chord positions. For example in measure 8 of the tab, instead of resolving on the predictable second fret 1 (D) chord, we are now landing on the 9 fret (D) chord (really it’s a Dmaj7 since its scale tones are bottom to top 1, maj7, and 5.) It still sounds “correct” and resolved but it also has a very dark-flavored voicing. All enabled by the low F.
Low F tuning is used in both the melody and the rhythm tab tracks.
Note that: I’ve not been able to find a free reliable source to check my chord work against here so if any part of this is wrong I’d hope someone would let me know.