Friday, May 3, 2013

See See Rider

"See See Rider", also known as "C.C. Rider" or "See See Rider Blues" or "Easy Rider" is a popular American 12-bar blues song. It was first recorded by Gertrude "Ma" Rainey in 1924, and since then has been recorded by many other artists. The song uses mostly traditional blues lyrics to tell the story of an unfaithful lover, commonly called easy riders: "See See rider, see what you have done," making a play on the word see and the sound of easy.

The term "See See Rider" is usually taken as synonymous with "easy rider." I would like to be able to tell you exactly what the lyrics mean, but after a bit of research, it is clear that there are as many theories as there are lyrics.  So I'm not going to wade into that discussion for this post.

My inspiration for this attempt at See See Rider was the late, great Tommy Flanagan.  Recently I realized that after all of this time taking lessons,  I've never played a basic 12-bar major blues.  I did a minor blues original number once,  but never a good 'ole core 12-bar blues.  That probably explains a lot :-(

When I think of playing the blues on piano though,  I don't think of playing blues piano.  That sounds like a dumb statement.  What I mean by that is:  Blues piano is separate art form.  If you look at instructional videos on the internet, or listen to players in a blues band,  you see that the approach to playing is a style all its own.  

When I think of how I would love to sound playing the blues, I think of Tommy Flanagan.  Tommy played in a very bluesy style,  and you could hear the roots influence,  but he still brought those clever voicings and jazz quality to the song.  One music reviewer described Tommy's blues  as "so deep that they are almost purple".  I have always loved his rendition of See See Rider,  so I tried to steal as much of the arrangement as I could from what he was doing on the recording.   See See Rider was on Tommy's final album (1997) titled Sea Changes.

As an accompanist, Tommy worked with Ella Fitzgerald from 1963 to 1965 and 1968 to 1978.  Because he is best known as Ella's accompanist,  he doesn't really get the credit he deserves(IMHO) as a jazz pianist.  In the two decades before he died he performed almost exclusively in small ensembles such as the one on See See Rider with  bassist Peter Washington and drummer Louis Nash.

Geek Alert

This is a 12 bar blues in C with a number Tommy-esque embellishments in the arrangement.  The unaccompanied intro starts with Eb blues, C blues, F blues, C blues.  Tommy uses a number of four or 5  chord turnarounds that I've tried to use as well.  For instance C-Am-Dm7-G7  right before going into the melody,  or C-F7 shell 1- F7 shell 2- Dm7- Am7/G is one that is used often.

You will also hear that some of the chords are changed into a chromatic run starting on Dm7, and other chords are changed into minor ii-Vs.   This is all pure Tommy stuff.

I tried to keep a rootsy blues feel to it while doing some of the solos with an eye towards not just the blues/pentatonic/dorian modes but also a little bit of altered scale stuff in there too.    

Ma Rainey lyrics:

See see rider, see what you have done, Lord, Lord, Lord
Made me love you, now your gal has come
You made me love you, now your gal has come

I'm goin' away, baby, I won't be back till fall, Lord, Lord, Lord
Goin' away, baby, won't be back till fall
If I find me a good man, won't be back at all

I'm gonna buy me a pistol, just as long as I am tall, Lord, Lord, Lord
Shoot my man, and catch a cannonball
If he won't have me, he won't have no gal at all

See See Rider, where did you stay last night? Lord, Lord, Lord
Your shoes ain't buttoned and your clothes don't fit you right
You didn't come home till the sun was shining bright


  1. Lovely playing, I just came across a Ray Charles disk with this song on.

  2. Ken,

    You certainly pulled all of the elements together for this arrangement. Guitar solo adds another "blues band" sound dimension to the track. You definitely kept precisely the right tempo & feel throughout. The solo piano introduction is outstanding.
    Your musical growth is moving in leaps & bounds now.
    Keep up the terrific work,