PROGRAM: Trying To Find My Baby; You Have Mistreated Me; New Diddey Wah Diddey; Troublesome Mind; Shine On; I Love You, Sweet Baby; I've Had Trouble; Good Time Boogie; New Careless Love Blues; Goin' To The Country; She's Coming On The C & O; My Baby's Ways
This CD collects recordings made of the North Carolina singer and guitarist Willie Trice by Peter B. Lowry in the period July, 1971--December, 1973. The music that Willie Trice plays here is superlatively strong and in a personal style of considerable complexity, to the extent that much of what Willie Trice played can be fairly said to be distinctively his own. That degree of originality and particularity of voice is very rare, in any style.
At the time at which Peter Lowry and Bruce Bastin found Willie Trice, after a tip from Buddy Moss, Willie had gone through a period in which he had not done a lot of playing. Moreover, he had serious physical challenges, and had recently lost both of his legs from the knee down due to diabetic complications. That having been said, it is apparent from the first notes that Willie Trice plays on the CD that there is no need to make allowances for his infirmities in listening to his music. Far from being the pale memory of a once-great player's music, the renditions here are muscular and alertly engaged, from the beginning of the program right through to its end.
How can Willie Trice's sound be characterized? Willie's singing voice was a light baritone with a bright sort of overtone to it, and his delivery was very country. He was not an urban guy and made no bones about it. His tone on the guitar was big, full, and ringing--not sloppy, but also not being struck carefully to avoid mistakes. Willie's most distinctive quality, it seems to me, resided in his phrasing and sense of time. In these areas, he was so much his own man, and definitely not a member of the musical herd adhering to formal conventions. As a result, his phrasing could be angular, metrically irregular and yet swinging and danceable. Indeed, the infectiousness of his rhythm often masks the thorniness of his conception until you listen with an ear to figure out what he's doing, at which point you say, "Wait a second!" He was fond of inserting chordal resolutions into forms in places where you are not accustomed to hearing them. He was not a player who relegated the thumb of his right hand to any kind of regular time-keeping; it's the sign of a player very secure in his rhythmic sense, for you don't have to play the pulse for it to be there, ticking away, whether or not you state it explicitly. In this respect, Willie Trice's playing is like Buddy Moss's or Lemon Jefferson's, and in a couple of instances it shares an even less common trait with Lemon's treatment of time: a temporary suspension of pulse altogether, so that the musical idea is swimming freely until the time when he chooses to re-introduce the pulse. It takes confidence to be comfortable choosing such a vertiginous course, but when it works, it's like magic. Good for Lemon and good for Willie, and may the rest of us keep striving!
The notes to the CD inform us that Willie played in C, D and B, but you wouldn't know it from the program here. With the exception of "You Have Mistreated Me" and "I've Had Trouble", both of which are played in A position, standard tuning, the entire program is played out of E position in standard tuning. I can't think of another player from Willie's part of the world who so heavily favored E position in his recorded work. Willie hits the ground running with "Trying To Find My Baby", and a schematic of his form may give some idea of his phrasing. The song is a chorus blues with the refrain arriving in the fifth bar with the arrival of the A chord. It maps out as follows:
| E | E | E | E |
| A | A | E |E, 3 beats|
| B7 | E |E-2 beats, B7-3 beats| E |
It is a tribute to Willie's execution that the metric irregularities he introduces do not remotely impede the flow of the song. He gets a nifty touch in the A chord by introducing a three-note boogie bass figure that keeps flipping over on itself, since it is phrased in four. "You Have Mistreated Me" is a freely phrased A blues that doesn't conform to any commonly encountered formal model. It's a shock to hear Willie's version of "New Diddey Wah Diddey" played in E, but he sure makes it work. The next song, "Troublesome Mind" is my favorite on the CD, freely phrased in a beautifully controlled rubato, with the guitar answering the vocal with spectacular fills. "Shine On" is an 8-bar blues, in terms of its phrasing, that just happens to be 9 bars long, for Willie inserts an extra bar of resolution back to the I chord at the end of the first 4-bar phrase before going on to the second vocal phrase. "I Love You, Sweet Baby" is a jumping dance number. "I've Had Trouble" is a contemplative blues in A in which Willie engages in the suspension of pulse noted earlier at the beginning of the first two vocal phrases in each verse. "Good Time Boogie" is terrific dance instrumental with a very entertaining spoken commentary. (I know the song has some fans at the Weenie site, for there was a thread devoted to figuring it out a couple of years ago which I suspect is still in the Country Blues Licks and Lessons board.) "New Careless Love Blues" is probably the song in the program that is the closest to how we are accustomed to hearing it. Interestingly, Willie plays it in E, not A, as did Blind Boy Fuller. In "Goin' To The Country", Willie states his preference for country life. "She's Coming On The C & O" is another instrumental with a spoken commentary, and in this instance, an especially complex instrumental--not that you would know it from the ease with which Willie Trice delivers it. The lively "My Baby's Ways" closes out the program.
I'm accustomed to hearing the predominant influence of Blind Boy Fuller in the music of players of Willie's generation and the next generation from his part of the world, so it's a bit disorienting to hear a player who is so notably non-indebted to Fuller for his sound, but that's what you hear when you listen to Wilie Trice's music: someone who came up with his own ways of doing things musically. It sounds, from the liner notes, that Willie's rediscovery and the interest in him and his music that came from that were very happy things, both for Willie and for those who came to know him, spend time with him, and listen to his music. He looks like a really nice man in his portraits on the CD, and I have friends who saw him perform who said he was so happy to be doing it. It's wonderful that he was afforded opportunities to share what he'd been doing with himself musically towards the end of his life.