Make Me A Pallet


One of the great blessings of my life is that I was born to a father who played guitar and appreciated Mississippi John Hurt (1882–1966). When I picked up the instrument in my mid-teens, Hurt's accessible, but subtle and intricate fingerstyle country blues provided many a long, pleasurable afternoon of study for me as it has so many others. Among the tunes I learned from him was this song, Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor. Have a listen to how he did it. If you are new to fingerstyle playing, listen for the steady alternating bass that runs throughout. He's playing that with his thumb, but we'll do it with a pick in hand so we're free to use the pick for other things as well.

Audio clip: Mississippi John Hurt on Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor



Though he didn't record this song until late in life, Hurt was probably playing it from very early on, as some version of the tune was surely in circulation at the turn of the century when he was first learning to play guitar. Virginia Liston was a vaudeville singer and performer whose 1925 recording of it has no composer's credit —though other of her songs do— so one might suppose the song was already considered public domain even at that date. Here's a sampling that 1925 recording, now available among the treasures at Document Records/The Orchard.

Audio Clip: Virginia Liston sings Make Me A Pallet, 1925



The song is also reputed to have been a favorite of cornetist Buddy Bolden, a key figure in the development of the New Orleans style of jazz whose playing career ended so early (circa 1907) that there are no recordings of him. New Orleans icon W. C. Handy himself used strains of Pallet in his 1924 Atlanta Blues and the song continues to be performed in the New Orleans jazz style to this day. Here's a taste of that approach from Kid Ory's Creole Jazz Band in 1955. The clip I've chosen starts with a clarinet solo that is not too challenging and would make a terrific ear training exercise if you're in the market for one (especially since you'd have to learn it in Bb and transpose to G, where we play it!).

Audio Clip: Kid Ory's Creole Jazz Band on Make Me A Pallet, 1955 (Fantasy/Good Time)


In a way, our last clip brings all these elements together. It's from David Bromberg's hilarious and musically superb, How Late'll Ya Play 'Til (Live, Vol 1). Bromberg is a singer and multi-instrumentalist who can nail a mandolin line or fiddle riff with great skill, but guitarists tend to know and love him for his blues playing, which he can approach from every which way: electric or acoustic, fingerstyle, bottleneck, you name it. On this track he's playing fingerstyle acoustic not unlike John Hurt, but with the support of a full band that is itching to break into a New Orleans style jam on this one. I've once again included an instrumental solo on the track—this one by trombonist Curt Linberg—as another example of how good phrasing and melody trump flashy licks every time.

Audio Clip: Bromberg and his band on Make Me A Pallet



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