Country Harping With The Rolling Stones – Sweet Virginia [..with tab]

Wadin’ through the waste stormy winter

Fifty years on, old big lips and the gang are back on stage delivering their special brand of rock’n’roll. And we still like it!

Coincidentally, we got a call from our good friend Gordon Russell, asking if Harp Surgery had a student who could add the harp line to a song one of his own protégés would be performing locally. ‘What’s the song?’ the Harp Surgery’s Good Doctor asked. ‘Sweet Virginia in A, by the Stones’, replied the ex-Doctor Feelgood axemeister.

Listen to

‘No sweat me old mucker, we’ve got just the person.’ Cue Harp Surgery’s junior player of the year 2011 and 2012, Josh Cooper, age 10. Josh and the Doc duly put their heads together and this is what they came up with..

And there’s not a friend to help you through

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards co-wrote Sweet Virginia for their 1972 Exile On Main Street double album. Having checked out the recording and a few YouTube clips, our dynamic duo concurred that the song is in A major and Mick Jagger uses an A harp in first position to play the intro.

Josh and the Doc paused to consider the musical landscape. Sweet Virginia is a country flavoured song; theyswapped their Fedoras for Stetsons. ‘Now how did that top end country scale go again…?’, the Doc mumbled. ‘Like this’, replied the new Apprentice..

7B   8D   8B’..8B   9B   10D   10B

Listen to

Tryin’ to stop the waves behind your eyeballs

Now it was time to figure out Mick Jagger’s intro. After a few rewinds, it was clear there are four harp phrases at the start of the song…and that’s about it. Josh quickly picked them off..

4B…     4D…     4B..4D..5B

Listen to

5B   4D   4B..4D..4B…       4D…       4B..5B

Listen to

5B   4D   4B..4D..4B…       4D…    5B…6B…7B…

Listen to

8B…   8D…   7B…

Listen to

Drop your reds, drop your greens and blues

Having nailed the intro, the Doc asked Josh what he’d do if he was asked to solo later in the song. ‘The original has a Sax solo mid-way through and more Sax towards the end’, he pointed out. ‘If the band doesn’t have a Sax player, you should be ready to add a suitable harp break’. Josh scratched his head quizzically.

The Doc leaned forward, peered over his spectacle frames and smiled. ‘Working between 7B and 10B, let’s build on the intro phrases, taking note of the chord progressions, thinking about the country scale, keeping the tone light and working out what we can do without changing harps’.

Josh ran up and down the top-end Country scale a few times and produced some new country licks. ‘Ok that’s cool’, the Doc nodded, ‘but don’t forget 10D and 8D. These are your Country notes. Without them we’re relying too heavily on the blow bends and laying down a blues line’. Within minutes the job was done. The new licks sounded hot and Josh was looking confident. Gig on!

The song’s chord changes require three very simple, but very important, clean draw notes on the diatonic harp: 10D on the ascending runs, a holding 9D at the end of the third phrase and 8D in the resolving phrase. And just as we’d use the 3D bend in country cross harping, so the 8B bend becomes pivotal to high end country phrasing on a straight harp. Milk it!’.

I want you to come on, come on down Sweet Virginia

And so dear reader, without further ado, it’s time to check out Josh’s Sweet Virginia solo licks and add them to your own gig repertoire. Let’s get country harping to the Rolling Stones..

7B   8B’..8B   9B..10D..10B   10D   9B    8B..8B’..7B   8B’..8B..9B

Listen to

7B   8B’..8B   9B..10D..10B   10D   9B    8B..8B’..7B   8B’..8B……

Listen to

7B   8B’..8B   9B..10D..10B   10D   9B    8B..8B’..7B   8B’..8B..9B   9B..9D

Listen to

7B   7B..8B’..8B   8B’..8B   8D     8B..8D..7B

Listen to

And for that schmalzty, yee-ha, country style ending, how about..

……9B..10D..9B   8B..8B’..7B

Now try this over a full cycle of the song

Listen to

For more Country Harp technique and tips check out:

Country Harping First Steps


12 thoughts on “Country Harping With The Rolling Stones – Sweet Virginia [..with tab]

  • December 3, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    Great stuff. By coincidence, I have been learning the guitar part and was thinking of playing the opening riff on the ‘rack’. Now I can add to the song with some great upper register lines, thanks.

  • December 3, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    Hi Captain – you’re patience is appreciated! Let me know if there are any others tunes you’d like to hear about.

  • December 3, 2012 at 8:47 pm

    Thanks for dropping in Stuart. Your kind message means our job is done! Get that harp going dude ;0)

  • December 14, 2012 at 11:43 pm

    Well, since you did ask, have you ever tabbed out BWH’s song Skip It? I do believe it was played on a 364 Solo in the key of C?

  • January 6, 2013 at 10:57 pm

    Just checking out your website. I live next door to the Brunswick in hove and will be coming along on 2nd feb. I have been playing for 20 years on and off bust mostly off. Have recently got right back into it and recently played through an amp for first time (Roland cube15xl) . I look forward to getting some advice on amps that done cost the best part of a grand. Online it’s all about old fender valve amps which are well out of my price range

  • January 10, 2013 at 10:01 pm

    Crikey Ronny my man, great call. When my bangers are done and the washing upds finished I’ll take a look.

  • January 10, 2013 at 10:09 pm

    Mr McVitie, how are you my man?!! Trade your 15xl Cube in for a Street Cube, get up Churchill Square and start earning! That way you can then get down to the Guitar and Amp Centre and buy one of them thar Fender Twin Reverbs or, one I recently invested in…the Fender Bassman 2 x 10 TV face. Oooh B-A-B-Y baby! She’s a honeydripper. And all valve. See ou down at HBTS 2013!

  • February 4, 2013 at 7:48 pm

    I just ordered my Hohner 364 Solo Tuned!

    I will probably need to hit some really BIG octaves to play Skip It but I am motivated!

  • June 17, 2019 at 4:39 pm

    Sweet Virginia by Mick is so awesome

  • July 30, 2019 at 4:40 pm

    Just played Sweet Virginia by the Stones to your tabulation and it really works for me.Sounds great when you play along with the cd.I even felt confident enough to improvise the rest the song.Wonderful.Thanks.👍👍👍👍

  • July 30, 2019 at 5:06 pm

    Yee-haw! Thanks for checking it out Graham. Glad it’s given you something new to fly with. Doc

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *