Bass Transcription: Dolly Parton – ‘Jolene’

The main fact about Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’ which I was dying to find out is that the name ‘Jolene’ appears 31 times in under three minutes. You’re welcome.

This transcription was done so I could get through a gig at short notice, so it’s not 100% note-for-note accurate to the record; it wasn’t worth my time (or sanity) to catch every single fill. I played this chart on the gig and nobody yelled at me, which is good enough.

Dolly Parton – ‘Jolene’ bass transcription PDF

Although ‘Jolene’ seems like a straightforward country song on first listen there are a few twists and turns along the way:

  1. The 2/4 bar. Much like Aretha’s ‘Say a Little Prayer’, it’s easy to listen to ‘Jolene’ numerous times and not clock the fact that it’s not all in 4/4 time; I don’t think there’s any shame in yelling ‘1,2’ at yourself the first few times you play through the chorus if you’re not used to playing in any meter other than 4/4 – better to treat yourself like a toddler and get it right than trying to breeze through it and falling flat on your face…
  2. Inversions. The B chord in the second bar of the chorus (bar 6 on the chart) is in root position, but the same chord gets treated differently in the verse sections. Here, we’re playing the first inversion of the chord, which puts the major 3rd in the bass (expressed in chord symbols as B/D#, a B chord with D# as its lowest note). Notice how changing the inversion of the chord has a totally different effect compared to playing it in plain ol’ root position.

Other than that, it’s very much a country root-5th affair without anything else to sweat over. While we’re here, the use of the major 7th against a minor chord in the backing vocals at around 2’28” on the record always makes me smile.