Keys to the Kingdom: Solving musical mysteries from ‘King King’

The standing joke about blues music is that to play it you only have to learn three chords and be able to play in a corresponding number of keys. At your average blues jam on a random night in Anywhere, USA, one would expect to run into a whole boatload of songs in E, A and G with few tunes straying from this trio. On the cuts that made “King King” The Red Devils certainly leaned on some from that lot, but the variations are quite interesting.

King King

As follows in order of appearance (all songs listed are in the keys of the stringed instruments; all harmonica keys should be assumed to be in “second position” or “cross harp” unless otherwise noted):

  1. Automatic — E
  2. Goin’ to the Church — E
  3. She’s Dangerous — E
  4. I Wish You Would — A
  5. Cross Your Heart — B-flat, harmonica in key of B-flat/first position
  6. Taildragger — E
  7. Devil Woman — D
  8. No Fightin’ — B
  9. Mr. Highway Man — E
  10. I’m Ready — E
  11. Quarter to Twelve — E
  12. Cut That Out — B

The final key tally:

  • E — 7
  • A — 1
  • B-flat — 1
  • D — 1
  • B — 2

You know the keys. Now learn the lyrics.

The Red Devils, at least in the case of this collection of recordings, fairly bucked the standard notion that it’s just E, A and G all night long. The obvious favorite is E, but it’s interesting that there is only one song in A and not a single one in the key of G. It would be interesting to hear the whole of the recording sessions from which these tracks were taken (an apparent fantasy for fans as of this writing). Perhaps there are a number of different songs in a variety of keys that were more common on the band’s usual nights, but those tunes simply didn’t make the cut due to performance or sound quality or simply because it was felt they didn’t fit with the total sound of the album.

A few extra bits of information can be gleaned from the inside foldout of the CD itself. Pictured is a ratty notebook with a rough set list presumably written by Lester Butler. Titles not included on the CD are:

  1. Help — very possibly Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Help Me”
  2. A partially obscured tune that looks to be “Wine Head” — possibly meaning “Wine Headed Woman” and starred on the list
  3. Last Nite (sic) — likely Little Walter’s “Last Night”
  4. Bring It on Home — most certainly the Sonny Boy Williamson song (this one garnered a star on the set list)
  5. Okie Dokie — undoubtedly Gatemouth Brown’s “Okie Dokie Stomp”
  6. Killin (sic) — one would presume this translates to Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killin’ Floor,” and also starred on the list
  7. Crawl — a partially obscured name, it’s not hard to guess the preceding word is “Backstreet,” a Devils original. (The title could also refer to that brand-new dance called “The Crawl,” a Louisiana hit by Lonnie “Guitar Junior” Brooks that became an anthem thanks to The Fabulous Thunderbirds.)
  8. Backstroke the instrumental popularized by the likes of Magic Sam and Albert Collins
  9. Too Many Drivers
  10. Hip Shake

READ MORE: One-of-a-kind notebook gives peek into Lester Butler’s creative process

We here at No Fightin’ would love to hear from anyone who may have heard the band on a consistent basis, especially at local spots in California prior to the release of “King King.” This would have been an opportunity to hear them when their song choices would have been more relaxed and free of any expectations to play recordings from “King King.” Likely there were also astute musician in the crowd, as The Red Devils attracted those who were serious about performance as much or more than a night of entertainment, and perhaps those folks can help us get a better view of the breadth of the Devils’ set list might have entailed.

#NowPlaying: “The Roots of The Red Devils”

Published by J.J.

Drums and barbecue ribs. Blues music.

One thought on “Keys to the Kingdom: Solving musical mysteries from ‘King King’

  1. can you please tell me what key “Night” is played in on the youtube video that refers to “Lester Butler’s last gig” tract #1


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