China Cat Sunflower / I Know You Rider

tldr: China Cat is primarily in G mixolydian, and I Know You Rider is in D mixolydian; they are melded together because China Cat has a part that goes to G major, and G major is the parent scale of D mixolydian. So G mixolydian -> G major -> D mixolydian is how it happens seamlessly. The main groove in China Cat is based around a mixolydian G – F chord vamp, and then the move to D major over a V chord, D, then back to G mixolydian. In the middle the key changes from G major to E mixolydian via that D chord, which pushes up to E as a bVII chord to a I. The E mixolydian part mirrors what we did in G mixolydian, including a switch to E major before returning to G. There are a couple of different ways that different versions get back to G, one of which is chromatic and one of which is harmonic. I Know You Rider is a D mixolydian I – bVII – IV – I (D C G D) progression, with an F – C counterpoint borrowed from D minor. Lead in mixolydian except over the F – C, where you switch to aeolian.

China Cat

China Cat is in G major, mixolydian mode. You can tell right away because the song’s initial riff on the low end establishes a G major focus but has the flattened 7th degree, F, instead of F#. In fact, the initial groove and main verse is based around a mixolydian G – F chord change, albeit Jerry only plays the actual chords when he starts singing. The riff correlates to the chord change, with part of it tracking a G chord and part of it tracking an F. As always, you can play many variations, but the gist is:

G G   F    G |G G   F     F
-----------------------------
-----------------------------
-----------------------------
--5-----3---5---5-----3-----3
----3h5---5--------3h5---3h5-
3-------------3--------------

You can see on the D string how the riff phrases bounce between the G (the 5s) and F notes (the 3s), and how the last two beats in particular focus on the F. And, while the entire thing fits comfortably within G mixolydian, there is a pentatonic feel to the riff that corresponds to G major pentatonic over the G and F major pentatonic over the F. Why does that work so well? Let’s take a look at the notes in each pentatonic:

G: G A B D E

F: F G A C D

Combining the two, you get G A B C D E F, which is all of the notes of G mixolydian. Pretty cool. So we’ve learned that a mixolydian I and bVII can be improvised over with the major pentatonic of each chord, switching back and forth, and all of the notes are diatonic.

The high end starts out with a harmonization riff, but then steps to the forefront with a signature riff that is likewise within G mixolydian. This is full mixolydian scale without the pentatonic focus, but one F chord is traced in as an arpeggio (bolded):

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----12-13-12-------12-13-15-15
-12----------14-12------------
------------------------------
------------------------------
------------------------------
-------------13-------15-17-19
----------13-------15---------
[same]-14-------16------------
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------------------------------
------------------------------

As noted above, when Jerry starts singing, he replaces the low riff with G and F chords.

After each verse, there is a little music interlude that starts in G mixolydian and then switches to G natural major over the major V chord, D (mixolydian would have a minor v chord). You can hear it when the lead replaces the F with an F# note; there’s a noticeable shift in the sound, and then there’s a back and forth between the C and D chords (IV and V chords), staying with G major. After the first time, we go right back to G mixolydian and the initial riffs.

After the second time, things get really interesting. The D chord in this part is used to pivot up a whole step into a new key, in this case E major, with E as the next chord. The D, as the pivot point, trades on its role both as the major V of the starting key, G major, and as the mixolydian bVII chord of the destination key, E major. And the lead over this part is in E mixolydian, as you would expect with a bVII, with a similar feel as the original G mixolydian lead work, but in a new key.

After some E and D back and forths, the song moves from E mixolydian to E major in the same way that it did earlier from G mixolydian to G major: by moving to a major V chord, this time B (now that we are in E major). And, in fact, listen to Jerry, he switches from E mixolydian to the E major scale here. From there, we again do a back-and-forth between the IV and V chords, here A and B, and then return straight from B to the original G mixolydian riff.

Why does B work as a transition back to the key of G? After all, B is not diatonic to G major or mixolydian, where it would be a major III. Let’s look at the individual notes lined up:

A:  A  C# E
B:    B   D#  F#
G: [] B   D   G

(brackets where notes were moved for illustrative purposes)

As you can see, there is a shared B and two chromatic half-steps leading between the two chords: D# down to D and F# up to G. In addition, there is voice-leading from the E note of the A chord to the D# and then the D. So I see this as a chromatic transition back to B rather than a harmonic one that would use chord roles to recenter the ear on the new key.

Update: I listened to a version from 1973 where instead of B – A – B – G, they went B – Esus4 – A – D – G as the transition back. This follows the circle of 5ths, with each chord being the V of the next chord in the next chord’s key: B is V of E, E is V of A, A is V of D, and D is V of G. This is a good contrasting example of how you can modulate by getting to the V chord of the new key. (The Esus4 could easily be just E; it’s a stylistic choice that softens the transition and perhaps helps signal that E is no longer the tonic).

Anyhoo, after the main verse again, we go to the lead improv in G major, transitioning to the D chord again, but this time we just stay on the D chord, and we’re on our way to I Know You Rider after an extended jam. The scale notes don’t change, because G major is the parent scale of D mixolydian, but what used to be the G major scale (when played in the key of G) becomes D mixolydian (in the key of D). How does the key change without the notes changing? Partly by staying with emphasis on D, and partly because in their jam, Jerry and Bob work in C# notes (from D major) and G# notes (from D Lydian). Even though those notes aren’t from D mixolydian, they work with D and not so much with G, so they recenter the tonal context on D major. As you get closer to I Know You Rider in your transition jam, start focusing more on straight up D mixolydian notes, and even a C – D chord combo.

I Know You Rider

I Know You Rider is in D major, mixolydian mode, and prominently uses that mixolydian bVII chord, C. The chorus and main verses start with I – bVII – IV – I (D C G D) and you can, of course, play over those chords with the D mixolydian scale.

Then there’s a sort of counterpoint of F – C, F – C before returning to G – D. The F is borrowed from D’s parallel minor, D minor, and C is shared by both D minor and D mixolydian, so it works well as a change of pace. But because the F is borrowed, switch to to the D natural minor scale (aeolian) over the D, and the C for that matter, and then move back to mixolydian for G and D.

Takeaways:

  • Over a mixolydian I – bVII, playing each chord’s major pentatonic.
  • Shifting from mixolydian to natural major on a V chord
  • Modulating by going from V chord up a whole step, as a bVII to a I in the new key
  • Key change back chromatically from a major III to I, or harmonically by getting to the V chord
  • Changing keys from a parent key to its mixolydian equivalent (e.g., G major to D mixolydian) by focusing on the new I chord and mixing in notes from the new key that are inconsistent with the originating key.
  • Borrowing from parallel minor and switching to the aeolian scale over those chords.

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