THE HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN
The Animals did a brilliant British R&B take on this ballad of a Cajun bordello, but here Stuart offers his solo guitar take on the trad legend.
Think of House Of The Rising Sun and it’s impossible not to imagine The Animals’ version of the tune. With Hilton Valentine’s arpeggiated Gretsch intro chords (that everybody had to learn as their six-string rite of passage in the 60s), Eric Burdon’s fantastic vocal delivery, Chas Chandler’s thumping Epiphone Rivoli bass and of course that unforgettable organ solo from Alan Price. However it is actually a traditional American folk song (some even believe it to be a traditional English folk song that was taken over to the States and turned into a blues number), and has been recorded by artists as diverse as Bob Dylan and Nina Simone. Even The Beatles did a version. One of our favourites is by the black acoustic blues man Josh White, whose heartfelt rendition takes some beating. White’s 1947 recording predates The Animals by 17 years, it also sticks to the original narrative which talks about a New Orleans brothel, not a gambling den as Burdon, Price and co had it.
For the solo acoustic guitar player, songs like this can either be a great bonus or a hindrance: a bonus as the simple melody offers many arrangement possibilities; a hindrance as the man in the street is so used to hearing that first arpeggiated A minor chord that he may look at you strangely if you do anything different.
However, it is a sure fire winner to have in the repertoire as its universal appeal and innate bluesiness means that it should find favour, whatever the audience.
So how do we go about arranging such an iconic piece of music? I decided to take two different approaches: firstly to imagine how a Travis picker such as Tommy Emmanuel might approach it and then to tip a hat to The Animals’ recording and use some arpeggios but with more sophisticated voicings and physical stretches, as a jazz guitarist like Martin Taylor might do.
If you are new to Travis picking this arrangement will give you a great opportunity to work on the technique as the melody notes are quite long and you can really focus on putting the bass line and top melody together. If you are already a Travis picker you won’t encounter too many problems, but it’s worth thinking about the tail end of the arrangement where you can try your rolling arpeggios on some tricky chords – remember that with all guitar styles the fretting hand should be able to play anything it is required to, and bigger stretches must be overcome. When playing the chords make sure everything rings out so the melody can be clearly heard against the underlying harmony.
It’s really worth taking a simple song like this and re-arranging it (and check out Josh White’s version with its bluesier chords). Enjoy learning this arrangement, but do use it as a springboard for your own ideas.
JOSH WHITE’S 1947 RENDITION PREDATES THE ANIMALS BY 17 YEARS; IT ALSO STICKS TO THE ORIGINAL NARRATIVE THAT TALKS ABOUT A NEW ORLEANS BROTHEL!