Language of the Blues: CROSS-SPANISH

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This is the latest installment in our weekly series, The Language of the Blues, in which author and rocker Debra Devi explores the meaning of a word or phrase from a blues song. Come back every week for the latest! Devi’s award-winning book, The Language of the Blues: From Alcorub to ZuZu, includes a foreword by Dr. John  and is blurbed by Bonnie Raitt and Joe Bonamassa. Get your signed copy at Bluescentric.com!

Robert Johnson took this self-portrait in a photo booth in the early 1930s. (© 1986 Delta Hazeall rights reserved; excerpted from The Language of the Blues and used by permission)
Robert Johnson took this self-portrait in a photo booth in the early 1930s. (© 1986 Delta Hazeall rights reserved; excerpted from The Language of the Blues and used by permission)

In Cross-Spanish tuning, the guitar is tuned to E major (E B E G# B E). If you strum the guitar without fretting any notes, you will sound an E major chord. Cross-Spanish tuning is popular with slide players because simply by fretting straight across the neck with the slide, you can play major chords. Son House is credited with naming this tuning “cross-Spanish.” It was Duane Allman’s favorite slide-guitar tuning and is popular with great modern blues players like Derek Trucks.

Many delta blues bottleneck players also used Spanish tuning, which is open G (D G D G B D). You can hear Spanish tuning on recordings by Son House, Robert Johnson (“Traveling Riverside”), Bukka White, and Muddy Waters, to name a few.

Robert Johnson used an open A tuning (E A E A C# E), which is sometimes referred to as “Spanish”- although traditionally Spanish tuning is D G D G B D. Johnson used open A for “Terraplane Blues,” but he put a capo on the second fret of the guitar, in order to achieve the higher pitched sound of an open B tuning.

Delta blues players used a lot of creative tunings, and guitarists are still puzzling over Robert Johnson’s tunings today.

Songs:
“I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom”- Robert Johnson
“Dust My Broom”- Elmore James

The Language of the Blues

Video:
Elmore James – “Dust My Broom”

Robert Johnson — “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom”