Mark Drobnick
Mark Drobnick

"Waukegan Jack Benny Song" - How to Play it

"Waukegan/ Jack Benny song"-How to Play


The arrangement I cooked up, is in E major, but capoed at guitar's fourth fret to accomodate voice, of yours truly.  That raises it to sound like G♯ major. 


At solo break, sounds like brief, key change to D major (I'm saying, relative to E).  Perhaps helpful to mention, the guitar is in standard tuning (E - A - D - G - B  - E). 


Please see internet's YouTube, "Mark Drobnick Waukegan song", to get rhythm and melody.  Then, you have the complete picture. 


If you need capo too, capo anywhere you like.  Some artists go up as high as frets six or seven, e.g. Simon & Garfunkel's "Sounds of Silence" or George Harrison's "Here Comes The Sun".  It all depends upon the singer's vocal range.


My guitar's got distortion, because the music's easier to play, that way.  The B chord had been being un-cooperative, so I outsmarted it.  Guitar playing is simply easier when amped distorted, instead of clean.  By the way, you're hearing my voice and guitar thru "valve" amps (how the English say, those that produce tube tone). 


At song's end, before I throw pick, is a nod to Led Zeppelin.  Their "Misty Mountain Hop"['s] A - G - E chords are played a few times.  (Coincidentally, if you reverse these to E - G - A, you get another of their songs:  "In My Time of Dying".)


F.Y.I.:  with massive distortion, single notes and dyads always sound better than guitar's potential, more expansive, six string chords.  That's one reason power chords (dyads consisting of only first and fifth tones of triad voicing, thereby omitting major or minor third) are so frequent in heavy metal; they come thru as both appropriate and clear. 


Another perk:  they're easier to play.  Interestingly, their ambiguous attitude can only be clarified by context.  They are unable to stand alone as an unequivocal statement, put most simply, as to whether they imply happiness or sadness.  


When heavily distorted, too many strings sounding at once, i.e. more than a few simultaneously,  tend to come off as muddied, cluttered and unclear.  Led Zep, Jimi Hendrix, and Aerosmith are cases in point, for examples of how to avoid doing that, and commandingly tame the beast.


The main change I made to the Waukegan-Benny song, from what Peter, Paul, & Mary premiered on national television, 14 January 1964, was adding an instrumental solo, guitar break, after singing verse one.  That never was part of the original.  Thereby, is obtained a good, two minute plus (radio friendly), song.


I still wonder, the identity of the original composer(s).  Maybe it was Mr. Benny's orchestra chief, Mahlon Merrick?  Or, was it Yarrow, Stookey and Travers?  Who then?


As for the lyrics, since I did not write them (without mentioning the intro narrative), and they are serviceably discernible in my YouTube rendition, I omit copying them here.  But, with one exception, as I decipher the "much" and "touch" rhyme from verse one.  Maybe the clarification is not so necessary since, probably, many listeners were able to infer what was former word, from how sounds the latter.


The folk song and my version in electric folk, follow a standard, I - IV - V chord menu, recipe of ingredients, with the surprise being the inclusion of a flatted, seventh chord.  It's here we depart from standard fare when it turns out, that last's root tone is out of scale.  (Scale, literally means steps.) 


Think of the analogous, C major scale.  It should be all white keys on the piano, but, applied as here, we would have the semi-tone, black key between A and B, as a chord's root tone, a bit exotic. 


Specifically, in the Jack Benny song, there is the standard E - A - B relationship, plus added in, the unusual D.  We shall make sense of, reconcile, the D when we get into modes [infra].





"Waukegan/ Jack Benny song" - arrangement & composition

© 2013 by Mark Drobnick (ASCAP)


The song's chord pattern is thus:


(Chorus) Waukegan,...     E D B

                                                     D A E

                                                     D A E


(Verses) And maybe Jackie,...     E D B

                                                                   D A B

                                                              E D B

                                                                    D A B

                                                                    D A B


Now, for the piece de resistance, here is my original, guitar solo.  It follows the chord sequence displayed, then repeats, slightly varied.  The change manifests itself as rhythmic surprise, done on purpose, to make the passage more interesting.


  x x 7 7 7 x      D/A


  x x 7 7 8 x      Gsus2/A


  x 0 - 11 - 9 - 10 x      A


                                                               12 - 10 - 10 x x x      C/E  aka  Em+5


                                                               12 - 11 - 9 x x x      E


                                                               x 7 9 9 9 x      E                          


(repeat 1x, taking less measures)



Recall, we're in the key of E.   And, repetitive, chord E, becomes more colorful, by way of the varied voicings.  More color in any song is a good thing, unless composer is purposely striving for monotony to help make his/her musical statement. 


Next, we can discuss modality and call this piece mixolydian, as its tonal center of gravity tends towards the fifth, rather than tonic or first.  But, that's of little utility in practice, except to introduce a five dollar word and be able to categorize "Waukegan-Benny" with other mixolydian songs, e.g. Beatles' "Day Tripper" and Aerosmith's "Walk This Way", or, styles or eras where this particlar mode is fashionable and frequent.


Note how our seven, diatonic, western modalities, have a different feel, color, and aura, or ambience, as each starts on its own corresponding stairstep of the same, scalar stairway.  All these modes proceed in diatonic steps thus:  whole (W), W, half (H), W, W,W, & H.  Next, imagine that sequence as a circle, capable of interruption at any point.  So, we could commence at any of seven points in the segment, then follow along, until reaching where the end becomes joined to the beginning.


It's like arriving at a movie theater in the middle of the film.  So, one stays for the next showing to pick up the first part.  Or, starting to read a novel at one of the interior chapters.  Other analogies could be:  a belt about one's waist, a shotgun start at the golf course, or a parade of eight siblings arranged by age.  Any of these chains can be interrupted at any divisible point, but how it segues into the next components remains unaltered.  And, passing thru all parts of the segment returns us to where we started. 


[There's] Enough of analogies.  The eight tones of the octave, with these seven steps between are of an invariable order and connection.  By definition, Ionian, the most straightforward and common of all the diatonic modes, fits the tonics of both the major key and the mode to identical positionings.  In all respects, they are identical twins.


The distinction between the various, diatonic modes is simply where their center of gravity, or tonic center, is located.  Does a particular mode begin at the second tone, third, fourth (sub-dominant or plagal), sixth, or seventh?  All seven are worked out from the same interval procession, the only difference being, where to start (and end).  This includes the Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Aeolian, & Locrian modes, respectively.


Mixolydian interrupts the diatonic order to start at its own distinct point along the chain of notes.  Concomitantly, the finish is unique, too.  The steps, from beginning to end, stay the same, except for they where they take up and leave off. 


The five W's and two H's still obtain, in the same succession presented above.  But here, jumping in at the fifth


, they are two whole steps, next one half step, then two whole steps, a half step, finishing with a whole step, to return to the fifth.  Still, it's 5 W + 2 H, but now ordered:  2W, 1H, 2W, 1H, 1W. 


Specifically, "Waukegan-Benny's" E-major key, seats itself at E-mixolydian mode.  This means that the same, diatonic scale sequence is picked up, but as if we were starting at the fifth. What has happened now, is that we are treating the letter of the key signature, as if it were the fifth.  Thus the scale notes morph into E - F♯ - G♯ - A - B - C♯ - D. 

That sums to a total of three sharps.  Observe, the departure from E-major's key signature, which includes a fourth sharp.    So, E relates to the rest of the scalar notes in E-mixolydian, in the same way that B would ascend to the next B, were it in E-major-Ionian.  That is, 2W, 1H, 2W, 1H, & 1W. 


Recall the C-major scale (all whites).  If we were in C-mixolydian, proceeding similarly, we would begin on C, then observe the same jumps (W's or H's), as if we had begun on G (in C-major-Ionian).  Consequently, that C scale would be transformed into including a black key in its set of scale tones, namely B♭  (instead of B natural).  Now, onto other types of modes.


There exist the more arcane modalities to western ears, often originating in the Far East.  The oriental, pentatonic scale, which inspired the French Impressionists, Debussy and Ravel, a century ago, is one example.  Relatedly, take note of how Debussy jettisons our traditional, diatonic scale for the whole tone scale, and the consequent, dream-like, lacking in resolution, ambiance generated, as in his "Cloches à Travers Les Feuilles" ("Bells Through The Leaves").


Raga, from India, is still another modality.  It inspired Steven Tyler's "Dream On". 


African modality has made it into our hit parade under the guises of Steve Martin's "King Tut" and The Bangles' "Walk Like An Egyptian", both of which became quite popular.  The LP album that included "Tut", won for Mr. Martin, a Grammy.


In any event, for documentation purposes, it is of utility to be able to pin down tonality.  In assigning key signatures to music, pragmatically, there can be a bit of wiggle room.  Ultimately, let your ear be the guide, scoring it as you personally hear it. 


Nor is it rare to find a change of key, once into a song.  Certainly, frequent, key changes are hallmarks of jazz.  Every several measures, they can happen.  Think of "Dearly Beloved", as an example.  In a related vein, frequent chord changes are characteristic too, e.g. "Autumn Leaves". 


Another clue about how to assign key, is how many accidental signs you find yourself having to write, as if amending notes.  Look to minimize this inconvenience, by placing the key signature where it works best at avoiding, your having to "tweak", i.e. append sharp (♯), flat (♭ ), or natural (♮) prefixes to, melody and bass line notes.  Now, for a look at what kinds of tones I used for the solo here.


Notice that, in a similar spirit to the "Waukegan-Benny" song originator(s), I also insert my own off-scale, root notes, upon which to base chords.  The D, G, and C naturals (here mixed into the key of E major) are both exotic and surprising, but nevertheless, blend in perfectly.  I am referring to D/A, Gsus2/A, and C/E. 


Observation:  regarding solo break, if we concede there's a modulation (key change), to D major, then, only C is left as lying off-scale, after all.  Or, you could leave music sheet scripted in E major and append natural signs to appropriate, E key's sharp notes.  Identical interpretation and sound would obtain either way, the only difference being, how documented on the printed page.


In other words, viewed in a different way, there's a modulation at the beginning of the solo, going to D major, which then gravitates back to E.  Since we're playing on the thin, treble strings prior to the thick, bass ones, it helps to give the sensation that we have ascended seven tones, instead of fallen one.  Those particular tones which give the chords their first letter or name, are lifted from the melody itself, where they were first encountered. 


The off-scale type notes give the piece a bluesy flavor.  Such effect is part and parcel of dominant sevenths, where the 7th tone is flatted away from the tonic, as if something had momentarily gone out of tune.  This works especially well with the guitar instrument, which lends itself to all the note bending a player can technically exercise, as it howls and sings, yearning to land upon that sweet spot, which sounds correct and resolved, like few other instruments are capable of doing. 


Another case is the first chord of "Chopsticks".  Although it falls in the middle of the song's scale, it is akin to a dominant seventh, in that again, here are joined sounds, two semi-tones apart.  And, despite the whole tone of separation, to many ears, sounds like plenty enough, sonorous tension, in need of prompt fixing by the rest of the song.  Only implementing jazz's major sevenths, placing the seventh right next to the tonic, would be capable of creating more tension and generating more momentum.


Die-hard jazz aficionados, on the other hand, might actually perceive the major seventh as their comfort zone.  In other words, to them sounds as being sweet and perfection, where harmony ought to be, compared to anywhere else.  They might even consider much of pop music to be boring and pedestrian!  Be that as it may, being high-brow takes work, until habitual.  It is an acquired taste.  To each his own.


Another, equally evocative device is the tri-tone (augmented fourth, which perfectly divides the octave in two).  Think of Hendrix' intro to "Purple Haze", for this alternate slant on understanding, how to churn up tension, which then begs for resolution.  He marches in, with alternating dyads of A#-E and E-A# (or B♭ -E and E-B♭ , if one wishes to describe the enharmonic).  The effect is most dramatic.


Now, note that the "Waukegan-Benny" slash chords' bass tones, unanimously, include on-scale notes.  They are A, A, & E, which help to achieve more consonance.  I did not consciously aim for these alignments.  They just coincidentally turned out that way.  Finally here, I note how remarkable.


Why then, after all, were those chords used by me?  Composer's experience of what constitutes pleasing music [determined them].  My ears were my guide, as to what aspired to excellence.


Also, I created these chords, from scratch.  They're not exactly what you're likely to find in any chord dictionary.  I went about them by obtaining first, the single note that sounded best.  Then, I went to the closest, nearby strings to find reachable notes that blended in harmoniously. 


I believe the Beatles used this technique for writing many of their songs.  So, must be a very good method.  One premium is that listeners often get to hear something new, a departure from tone combinations and voicings they have already heard elsewhere.


If you play lots of scales and arpeggios as exercises, then you already have the chops and instincts to concoct your own chords, likewise.  And, even if you don't do such exercises, not to worry.  Mr. Jimmy Page has been quoted as saying that neither does he.  Nonetheless, his musical, creative capacity seems to be amply extensive.  Wouldn't you say?


I think that's all one needs to interpret the "Waukegan-Benny song".  But, if any further clarification is desired, just ask (e-mail or phone, best).





P.S.:  Coming up (in near future) - look for a couple of completely original songs by Mark Drobnick, here.  One is in the pop rock genre, inspired by Paul McCartney's style.  Another fits into the folk rock genre, inspired by Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, and Gordon Lightfoot styles.


Will they be hits?  Time will tell.


But, I can assure you, both are very good songs.  Naturally, I humbly hope they meet with your approval. 


Until then!



by Mark Drobnick © 2013


Mark Drobnick


Waukegan, Illinois  USA


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