Learn to play Leadbelly’s ‘Keep Your Hands Off Her’, arranged by Paul Brett
Having slipped over the Mexican border in the 1800s as a derivative of the bajo sexto (a 12-string Mexican instrument), the 12-string guitar found its way into the hands of a highly talented lady by the name of Lydia Mendoza. She became an iconic figure in Tex-Mex border music, with her powerful voice and delivery, supported brilliantly by her 12-string playing. She was born in Houston, Texas, in 1916 and was taught by her mother and grandmother to play a variety of musical instruments. In 1928, when she was just 12 years old, the legendary Okeh Records signed up her family group and recorded around 20 songs in Spanish, for which they were paid $140. Lydia also went down the well-trodden road of entertaining in cafés and plazas. One such appearance that was well-received led to Lydia being signed for her first radio broadcast; she then signed to appear regularly on the station.
Now, many of us who have experienced listening to a strolling mariachi band whilst enjoying a few tequilas will appreciate that there are some brilliant musicians in their midst and that it is a great grounding for talent to learn their trade. Such was the case with Lydia, and she was lucky that she did it with her family alongside. One of Lydia’s famous songs which was recorded for Bluebird Records in 1934 was entitled ‘Mal Hombre’ (Evil Man) and earned her the grand sum of $60. Her star was indeed on the rise and by the start of World War II she was the most well-known female Spanish language singer on the Tex-Mex border, helped to fame by her Acosta 12-string, which she used with great skill to enhance her soulful songs.
The Acosta 12-string was not a bajo sexto and was at the time referred to in Spanish as a “guitarra doble”. Acosta instruments were made in San Antonio, which became known for their fine instruments. Bajo sextos in the main are tuned lower than the guitarra doble and, from accounts, Lydia tuned her guitar down to B, as did Leadbelly.
This leads me on to the 12-string tab for this month. Leadbelly recorded some great songs during his lifetime; some became iconic songs in the standard catalogue and others were just really good solo tunes. ‘Keep Your Hands Off Her’ is the song (with some cheeky lyrics) tabbed here. The art to accompanying it on a 12-string is to pick the octaves as cleanly as you can. If you have trouble with the speed at first, practice playing it slowly and then, when you have confidence, speed it up.
Download the tablature here: Keep Your Hands Off Her