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Joe Turner
Grades 4-6; 7-9; 10-12; C-U

Click here for recording
Recorded: September 22, 1959, in Como, MS.
Performers: Bob Pratcher and Miles Pratcher.
Activity 1: Changing Chords, Changing Meters (Grades 4-6; 7-9; 10-12; C-U)

1. Listen to recording, with the following question:

Q: What instruments do you hear?
A: Acoustic guitar, male voice, fiddle

2. Demonstrate I-IV-V chords on piano or guitar. Provide each student with three sheets of paper or index cards, each of which contains a roman numeral for one of the chord types (I, IV, or V). The teacher different chords on the piano or guitar, while students respond by raising the appropriate card.

3. Listen to the first four verses of the recording, raising the appropriate cards when the guitar chord changes.

Verse I (in beats):
(fiddle introduction)
I I I I
IV IV IV IV
I I I
V V V V
V V V V
I I I I

All other verses:
I I I I
I I I I
IV IV IV IV
I I I
V V V V
V V V V
I I I I

4. Listen to verse 1 only, noting the order of the chords (I –IV – I – V- V- I)

5. T tells the students that most measures in the recording are in 4/4 time, but one is in 3/4.

Q: Which chord is in 3/4 time?
A: The second time the I chord is heard
Note: If this is challenging, invite Ss to conduct the song in 4/4 time, in an attempt to determine where the pattern starts too "feel wrong."

6. Ss listen to verses 2, 3, and 4

Q: IS the I chord always in 3/4 meter?
A: Yes

7. Practice conducing 3/4 and 4/4 meters. While the recording sounds, conduct the changing meter pattern.

8. Tell the students that Alan Lomax recorded these performers playing this song two different times. This was recorded on September 22, 1959, but it was also recorded on the previous day, September 21. Listen to the other recording.

Q: Do you hear the 3/4 measure?
A: No, all measures are in 4/4 time.
T notes that in the folk process, variants are common, as performers decide to change aspects of a performance.

Activity 2: Changing Song Texts (Grades 7-9; 10-12)

1. Listen to recording, with the following question:

Q: What instruments do you hear?
A: Acoustic guitar, male voice, fiddle

2. Note that the words in this recording are particularly difficult to understand. They appear to be something similar to the following:

Lord, Lord, Lord, hey now,
Tell me, darlin' ain't no hand me down
Got something to tell you
Give it to yourself
Go tell your daddy, tell nobody else
Tell nobody else

She reminds (?)
Goodbye, goodbye, gal (?)

Well, I lay down happy,
I woke up cryin' thinking about that gal of mine
Tell me, tell me, darlin', ain' no hand me down

Well, I got the blues (?)

Come out, come out
How can it be you love somebody

Oh, Lord, Lord, Oh Lord, hey
Goodbye, goodbye, let you call it gone

Alan Lomax recorded Hobart Smith and Ed Young performing a different version of "Joe Turner" in 1960, playing a banjo and fife. Listen to the recording, which can be found here. Note the text, which is much easier to understand. (The text only occurs at the end of the recording, at 2:10.)

Well, they tell me Joe Turner is done come
Oh, they tell me Joe Turner is done come
Oh, they tell me Joe Turner is done come
Oh, they tell me Joe Turner is done come

When he come, he brought 319 chains (3X)

Well, baby, you go bring my gun (2X)
I'm gonna shoot Joe Turner, gonna shoot him when he comes

Oh, tell me Joe Turner is done come (3X)

Well, my baby my son the clothes is pawned (?) (closin' pond?)

3. T tells the class that the title is "Joe Turner," and provides context about the title.
a. The legendary character of Joe Turner has been sung about in early blues songs, most notably in W. C. Handy's composition "Joe Turner Blues." Variations of the legend exist, but typically Joe Turner is seen as a white man, possibly a plantation owner, who captured freed black men and illegally enslaved them.
b. In addition, the writer August Wilson titled a play "Joe Turner's Come and Gone," one of a series of ten plays that deals with themes concerning African Americans in the 20th century.
c. (Big Joe Turner was also the name of a blues shouter from Kansas City, Missouri, who lived from through 1911 — 1985. However, the song does not seem to refer to him.)

4. Compare the texts of the two recordings. Which one better reflects the context of Joe Turner myth?

5. Note that in folk music, song melodies are often set to different texts, as the song tunes may have particularly strong staying power. Invite students to recall "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and "The ABC Song," pointing out that the tunes are identical.

Possible extensions:

- Compare the two recordings for:
o Instrumentation (banjo, fife, vocal)
o Melodic ornamentation (much more ornamented on the Smith/Young recording)
- Brainstorm other mythical villains. These could be from plays, movies, comic books, or other genres that students know from either from classes or from their own experience.

Lesson plan by Christopher Roberts

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