Those Rawhide Chords

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Portland Patty asked me to elaborate a little bit on those troublesome chords in the bridge of "Rawhide". I will try, but it’s so hard on paper!

"Rawhide" is played in the Key of C. So, let’s take a look at the “bridge” of the song. (For info on what a “bridge” is, see below.)

The chords for the bridge are: 8 beats of E, 8 beats of A, 8 beats of D, and finally 8 beats of G. Then you go back into C chord and the regular part of the song.

Aside: (If you were doing it by the numbers—which are not useful to me in this case—it would be—I’ve got to stop and figure this out now—III, VI, II, V—or in regular numbers: 3, 6, 2, 5.)

I suggest you get your banjo out and find these as vamp chords on the neck. Just get a feel for them. It definitely helps if you’ve heard the song before!

Now, if this is all you had to do, we could stop here. But the banjo normally capoes up to the fifth fret to play Rawhide (unless you are Craig Smith or Casey Henry), playing out the G, C, and D positions. (Five G, as we say in Virginia.) So if you continue to think in “positions” and not “real” chords, the bridge chords will now be: B, E, A, D. (The numbers, of course, stay the same, 3, 6, 2, 5, which is why they can be useful.) These four-finger chords are for vamping. When you take the lead, the chord positions shift slightly so you can get a “seventh chord” sound, just like Rudy Lyle did on the original recording. But for that, I’ll have to refer you to the video!


WHAT IS A BRIDGE? To me, it’s just a part of a song that has a totally different chord pattern than the main or regular part of the song. The dictionary says: “A transitional modulatory passage connecting sections of a musical composition.” My definition is easier!

WHAT IS THE STRUCTURE OF "RAWHIDE"? The first part (the A part) is played through twice, usually once low and once high, and then comes the “bridge.” After the “bridge” another instrument takes over and plays the same thing, A part twice, then the bridge. When it’s time to end the song, usually the mandolin will take a final A part after the bridge and put an ending on.

WHAT ARE THE CHORDS IN THE A PART?  In the key of C, they are C, F, and G. If you capo up five and play out of G, the positions are G, C, and D. Note: the A part has the same chords as "Lonesome Road Blues" and you can actually use the "Lonesome Road Blues" breaks—low and high—for the A parts of "Rawhide".

But please: check out the Rawhide DVD and listen to the original recording by Bill Monroe! Also, Red has two versions of this song (with moi playing banjo)—live and studio—on his CD Bluegrass Mandolin and Other Trouble. Logan said my break to "Rawhide" was “awesome”!

3 thoughts on “Those Rawhide Chords

  1. Patty

    Thanks Murphy! And thanks for using the numbers, because, as you might guess, I really like them! The video clip of Rawhide is quite instructive, esp. since it shows the bridge chords you’ve explained.

    Now I’m really curious how Craig and Casey play the song out of the C position, ie, no capo!

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