BY LIL’ REV | FROM THE SPRING 2018 ISSUE OF UKULELE
Depending on who’s singing it, this song goes by a half-dozen different names, including “In the Pines,” “The Longest Train,” and “Black Girl.” Regardless of the name, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” is a classic American folk song that has been sung by everyone from Lead Belly, to Nirvana, to Bill Monroe, and Dave Van Ronk. Folklorist Cecil Sharp first collected and printed a version of it in 1917 and since then rock, blues, bluegrass, and folk versions all attest to the song’s enduring power as a song passed around in the public domain.
Poetically, the tune is a murder ballad and it’s interesting to note that lyrically it’s been altered by each interpreter. For instance, Lead Belly sang, “Black girl, black girl don’t lie to me,” and Nirvana sang, “My girl, my girl don’t lie to me.” The chord progression is also unique, with its movement from G to G7 to C, and the real kicker is the Bb, which makes for a real unpredictable flavor.
Please note: I prefer to play the Bb as a G shape at the fifth fret. To give the tune a bluesier flavor, I like to up-strum (that is play on the up-beat) as the chorus moves from the G to the G7. Since most blues guitarists, including Lead Belly, used a finger and thumb approach with the thumb playing all the down-beats and the index finger playing all the up-beats, I thought we’d mimic this with by plucking the G and G7 on the up-beats, giving the tune a very unique ride, versus a typical down-up, down-up stroke throughout.