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Author Topic: Blind Willie Johnson technique  (Read 2432 times)

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Offline banjochris

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Blind Willie Johnson technique
« on: June 15, 2007, 12:55:27 PM »
In that photo of Blind Willie Johnson it sure looks like he's holding a jackknife in his left hand, between his fourth finger and pinky, although you can't be sure because of the coarseness of the halftone dots on the picture. If only someone had the original...
Chris

Offline natterjack

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Re: Blind Willie Johnson technique
« Reply #1 on: June 15, 2007, 02:58:37 PM »
If Blind Willie played lapstyle, he'd have to untie that cup from the headstock every time he switched between his slide and non-slide songs ::)  ;)

Offline Rivers

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Re: Blind Willie Johnson technique
« Reply #2 on: June 15, 2007, 03:38:49 PM »
Close study of the photo as usual raises interesting questions.
That's a helluva tin cup mounting system. I'd go so far as to say it may not be a tin cup, why would he have that in the studio shot? Could it be something on a stand in front of the headstock?
The slide implement / flying finger are hard to make out. I actually think he's not holding a slide, it's an illusion created by the edge of his coat behind.
If he's in Vestapol what would the chord be, looks like 2-0-0-3-2-x, in open D that would be E A D A B. If he's not playing slide he's likely in standard tuning so F#-A-D-Bb-C#. Hmm.
 
« Last Edit: June 15, 2007, 03:47:46 PM by Rivers »

Offline banjochris

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Re: Blind Willie Johnson technique
« Reply #3 on: June 15, 2007, 06:14:33 PM »
If he attached the cup to the headstock of his guitar with wire or something, I doubt he'd bother to take it off for a picture he couldn't see anyway. It looks like it's attached to the guitar for me.

Also, it's definitely not his coat -- his coat is light, and whatever is in his fingers is dark. Either he has a mutated pinky finger longer than all his other fingers, and wearing a slide on it, or he's holding a knife between his last two fingers. It looks like a jackknife to me, with metal at the ends (you can see both ends of the knife) and darker wood on the side -- I have something similar that belonged to my grandfather -- the knife Mance Lipscomb uses also looks similar, although he holds it differently. If I remember right from seeing John Jackson years ago, this is the way he held his knife when he was playing slide tunes. As far as his fingers, he could just be posing. It also looks to me that his index and middle fingers are holding down the same string (4th), which, if he is playing something in vestapol, would be a relatively normal placement for the bass runs that he plays.
Chris

Offline Rivers

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Re: Blind Willie Johnson technique
« Reply #4 on: June 15, 2007, 06:56:13 PM »
Mmmm... Disagree. About the knife. You can see the bottom edge of the neck the whole way from his hand down, nothing intersects the line of the fretboard. That would be hard to do without flopping the knife forward into plain view. I've temporarily mislaid my Mance DVD but my recollection is it would be hard to miss a big old (Barlow?) knife being used in that way.

The white blob could be a cup, given the context that's a natural assumption. But really, Willie's dressed to the nines in the shot though which make a tin cup totally incongruous, does it not? I have to wonder, what else could it be? I'm not convinced it's a cup.

The fret positions are weird, no doubt about it. That is a non-chord, not a run. I play a lot of altered and extended chords and that one has no utility that I can think of unless he's in some hitherto unknown (for BWJ) tuning.

I'm now starting to doubt the veracity of the entire photo! Who says it's BWJ anyway?

Offline Slack

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Re: Blind Willie Johnson technique
« Reply #5 on: June 15, 2007, 08:45:25 PM »
You guys have better eyesight than I.  I wonder why there is not a higher resolution photo available?  It is a very low res photo.  One thing that is striking is the length of his fingers - that first joint of both his index and middle are very long! 

I never thought BWJ played lap style as he never hits that high range between the 12th and the saddle like Charlie Patton did.  You can also hear his slide hit the frets on some tunes, which I don't think would be as likely playing lap, but more indicative of playing slide upright.  I agree that Mance is about as close to BWJ's vibrato that I've heard - so easy to imagine BWJ playing with a knife edge.

Offline banjochris

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Re: Blind Willie Johnson technique
« Reply #6 on: June 15, 2007, 11:25:01 PM »
Rivers--
I doubt we'll ever settle this unless we someday see a good copy of the photo but...

The object or whatever it is in BWJ's hand clearly comes in front of the fretboard between the 6th and 7th fret. And although Mance's knife is very visible when he plays, there's no reason for it to be.

I took a picture of myself in a similar pose to BWJ holding a knife (also pictured) and noised it up a bit in Photoshop. I can and have played slide holding a knife like this (in fact I can't really do it too well the way Mance does it).
Chris

Offline natterjack

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Re: Blind Willie Johnson technique
« Reply #7 on: June 16, 2007, 05:28:36 AM »
I took a picture of myself in a similar pose to BWJ holding a knife (also pictured) and noised it up a bit in Photoshop.

This thread is turning into an episode of CSI! ;D - Love it!

I'm now starting to doubt the veracity of the entire photo! Who says it's BWJ anyway?

Columbia records were touting it as him.

Offline Rivers

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Re: Blind Willie Johnson technique
« Reply #8 on: June 16, 2007, 08:00:22 AM »
Chris, outstanding work, I see what you're saying.

But I still maintain you can follow a perfect line of the edge of his jacket down from above the neck down to where it emerges below the neck. It's darker because it's shaded by the guitar and left arm. My theory is that creates the illusion of a hard edged object.

But now Im not so sure. See blow up below.

Slack great points re slide noise and higher register. I think you're correct, knife guitar played upright.

Natterjack's ads explain why there's no higher res shot. If I recall correctly the original photo was never found and all versions are repros from half-tone newspaper ads.


Offline Slack

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Re: Blind Willie Johnson technique
« Reply #9 on: June 16, 2007, 08:21:12 AM »
Yeah, great work Chris - certainly bolsters your argument!


Offline dj

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Re: Blind Willie Johnson technique
« Reply #10 on: April 26, 2012, 07:56:05 AM »
THREAD MERGE BEGINS HERE

Quote
Do you think Oster is referring specifically to Blind Willie's glissandi and tremolo, and only that, or suggesting that Blind Willie played lap style?

In the one picture we have of Johnson holding a guitar, he's got something that looks like a collection box attached to the instrument's head.  That would certainly make it hard to switch from upright to lap style quickly.
« Last Edit: April 26, 2012, 08:41:28 PM by uncle bud »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Blind Willie Johnson technique
« Reply #11 on: April 26, 2012, 08:07:44 AM »
Yes, that photo has been one reason I never pursued this line of thought in detail to the bitter end. But Johnson had a whole side of his repertoire that was not slide playing, of course.

Offline banjochris

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Re: Blind Willie Johnson technique
« Reply #12 on: April 26, 2012, 09:25:25 AM »
And BWJ is also holding his slide (a knife) as if he's ready to play in that photo as well.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Blind Willie Johnson technique
« Reply #13 on: April 26, 2012, 10:41:34 AM »
Thanks Chris. I had been looking at the photo again after dj's post, trying to determine what I saw going on in the left hand. All the versions of the photo I find online are smallish and low res, and the reproduction in Nothing But the Blues is surprisingly terrible. Anyway, I can't see an actual knife clearly but his hand position sure looks right for one, so will assume it's my eyes/brain letting me down.


Offline blueshome

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Re: Blind Willie Johnson technique
« Reply #14 on: April 26, 2012, 01:20:45 PM »
Re BWJ playing position, in his LOC interview Willie McTell reports Johnson playing with a bottleneck.

 


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