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Too many dirty dishes in the sink for just us two. You got me wondering, baby - who's making dirty dishes with you? - Albert Collins, Too Many Dirty Dishes

Author Topic: pre-war music scouts  (Read 1941 times)

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Offline unezrider

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pre-war music scouts
« on: February 15, 2008, 02:20:18 PM »
hello friend,
one of the things i find most fascinating about country blues music is the variety of styles contained under that umbrella, 'country blues' - the first generation of recording artists, in particular. prior to the advent of records, i would assume artists would gather their influences & teachings first hand from other musicians. i'm not sure of the number of traveling musicians at that time, (mainly vaudeville?) but i would imagine it was small in comparison to what was to come in the following years. hence the distinctive regional sounds that can be heard from texas to the piedmont. i'll point to the players (guitar, in this instance) different right hand picking styles that vary greatly from one region, to the next. & while there isn't one way to approach playing delta blues, it still is a far cry from the raggy approach from the carolina region, as an example.
but i often wonder what influence did the recording scouts of that day play in what kind of music, or musician, was selected to make records? were they looking for a particular kind of sound? were the musicians themselves aware of what was being looked for? this was a business, after all.
what gets me thinking of this, from time to time, is the music of skip james, mjh, or bo carter. none of them fall into that 'mississippi sound' you get from patton, house, t. johnson, & a host of the other recorded artists from the region & era. were these guys that musically singular for their region, or was their kind of music just not what the scouts were looking for? (it's not lost on me bo carter recorded extensively, by the way). but you understand.
you often read of how those musicians liked other kinds of music than what they recorded. but other than (probably) pedestrian versions of tin pan alley songs, were there styles of picking that just got over looked, or discouraged just because of the tastes of the music scouts? is this something we can ever know? & maybe some of you have a better understanding of this, as well.
chris
"Be good, & you will be lonesome." -Mark Twain

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: pre-war music scouts
« Reply #1 on: February 16, 2008, 07:25:42 AM »
but i often wonder what influence did the recording scouts of that day play in what kind of music, or musician, was selected to make records? were they looking for a particular kind of sound? were the musicians themselves aware of what was being looked for? this was a business, after all.
I too have wondered about this and whilst folk such as Polk Brockman, Ralph Peer or Lester Melrose have been interviewed their methodology has rarely been a topic raised. Does anybody have access to a 1968 University of Illinois thesis "Men and the Mechanics of Expeditions in Jazz and Race Records, 1920-32" by Ronald C. Foreman Jr? The title suggests it might have some answers.... ;D

Offline Johnm

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Re: pre-war music scouts
« Reply #2 on: February 16, 2008, 08:13:33 AM »
Hi all,
I don't know if you would consider him a music scout in the sense that Ralph Peer was one, but there is a great piece on and interview with H. C. Speirs, who "found" Tommy Johnson, Ishmon Bracey and others in Gayle Dean Wardlow's "Chasing The Devil's Music".  In the interview, Speirs is pretty clear on what he was looking for in a musician to record.
All best,
Johnm

Cooljack

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Re: pre-war music scouts
« Reply #3 on: February 16, 2008, 08:15:55 AM »
I've always thought recording scouts operated in a much similar way to which they do these days, I would guess the record companies would employ a man "in the know" (such as Georgia Tom, who was a recording scout I believe?) for a certain genra of music to find out who was popular, what their sound was like and make a prediction on how they would be recieved on record.

Offline dj

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Re: pre-war music scouts
« Reply #4 on: February 16, 2008, 09:26:27 AM »
The recording career of Blind Willie McTell is illustrative of the roll not of "scouts" but of A & R men in deciding what a given artist would record.  When McTell was recording for Victor under Ralph Peer, he recorded pretty much straight blues.  When recording for Columbia (Frank Walker), there was a fair amount of raggy stuff mixed in with the blues.  Then when he went to Decca (not sure who did the A & R on these sessions), McTell did his only commercial religious recordings, and some novelty numbers like "Hillbilly Willie's Blues" along with the standard blues fare.  So it seems that each recording director brought out a slightly different segment of McTell's repertoire.   

Offline uncle bud

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Re: pre-war music scouts
« Reply #5 on: February 16, 2008, 09:54:38 AM »
Not to mention the difference in repertoire when John Lomax recorded him for the LoC. Interesting way of looking at it.

Offline Stuart

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Re: pre-war music scouts
« Reply #6 on: February 16, 2008, 02:43:15 PM »
Does anybody have access to a 1968 University of Illinois thesis "Men and the Mechanics of Expeditions in Jazz and Race Records, 1920-32" by Ronald C. Foreman Jr? The title suggests it might have some answers.... ;D

Alan: UMI gives the following info:

JAZZ AND RACE RECORDS, 1920-1932; THEIR ORIGINS AND THEIR SIGNIFICANCE FOR THE RECORD INDUSTRY AND SOCIETY. FOREMAN, RONALD CLIFFORD, JR., PhD. UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS AT URBANA-CHAMPAIGN, 1968. 301 pp.

But nothing by Ronald C. Foreman under that title--a sub-title or sub-section perhaps?

OCLC lists the following libraries that have this title in their holdings:

Location   Library 

US,CA      CALIFORNIA STATE UNIV, FULLERTON 
US,FL       FLORIDA A&M UNIV 
US,IA       UNIV OF NORTHERN IOWA 
US,IL       CHICAGO PUB LIBR 
US,IN       INDIANA UNIV
US,IN       INDIANA UNIV, MUSIC LIBR 
US,MA      WILLIAMS COL 
US,ME      COLBY COL 
US,NJ       MONTCLAIR STATE UNIV
US,NJ       PRINCETON UNIV
US,OH      OHIO STATE UNIV, THE OSU   
US,PA      WEST CHESTER UNIV 
US,TN      CENTER FOR POPULAR MUSIC, MTSU 
US,TX      TEXAS TECH UNIV

Nothing in my neck of the woods, but perhaps someone else might be able to help.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: pre-war music scouts
« Reply #7 on: February 16, 2008, 11:40:29 PM »
Does anybody have access to a 1968 University of Illinois thesis "Men and the Mechanics of Expeditions in Jazz and Race Records, 1920-32" by Ronald C. Foreman Jr? The title suggests it might have some answers.... ;D
Alan: UMI gives the following info:

JAZZ AND RACE RECORDS, 1920-1932; THEIR ORIGINS AND THEIR SIGNIFICANCE FOR THE RECORD INDUSTRY AND SOCIETY. FOREMAN, RONALD CLIFFORD, JR., PhD. UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS AT URBANA-CHAMPAIGN, 1968. 301 pp.

But nothing by Ronald C. Foreman under that title--a sub-title or sub-section perhaps?
Thanks for your diligence. The citation I copied from the bibliography in a book I borrowed in the 70s in case it might be useful in the future. Now that the future has arrived what I should have done was check Robert Ford's Blues Bibliography. Under the entry for Polk Brockman is this:

Foreman, Ronald C., Jr. "Men and the Mechanics of Expeditions.", in Jazz and Race Records, 1920-32, pp. 158-162. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Illinois, 1968.

The title I wrote down all those years ago is perhaps a chapter not the dissertation and specific to Brockman! Duh.
« Last Edit: February 16, 2008, 11:46:38 PM by Bunker Hill »

Offline dj

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Re: pre-war music scouts
« Reply #8 on: February 17, 2008, 04:39:43 AM »
I just picked up a few of the Document Bumble Bee Slim disks to fill in some holes in my collection.  In the notes to Volume 8, Jerry Zolten quotes Slim from an interview with Don Kent in 1966.  Slim is talking about recording in the 30s at Vocalion (with Lester Melrose doing A & R) and Decca (with Mayo Williams in that role):

"Each time I go to the studio I have a piano player and a guitar player.  Piano and guitar, piano and guitar, you hear one number you hear them all. ... My contract calls for 40 tunes a year... But they wouldn't give me the accompaniment I wanted... So to get away from this piano player... guitar player, bang, bang, bang, same thing, I just take off for California. ... That way I'd have different musicians.

So we know that Bumble Bee Slim's "sound" would have been different had it not been for recording directors forcing him to go in a certain direction.

Slim is often dismissed as a Leroy Carr clone (though I hear as much Memphis Minnie as Carr in his music), but perhaps the Carr influence would not have been as obvious if he had been able to record what he wanted instead of what Lester Melrose and Mayo Williams wanted.     

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: pre-war music scouts
« Reply #9 on: February 17, 2008, 09:56:39 AM »
So we know that Bumble Bee Slim's "sound" would have been different had it not been for recording directors forcing him to go in a certain direction.
Yep and can be heard in the Art Rupe sessions of 1951 (78s on Specialty/Fidelity) and the Pacific Jazz LP of 1962. I have a feeling Rupe was asked about Slim's sessions by Mike Leadbitter in the early 70s.

Offline banjochris

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Re: pre-war music scouts
« Reply #10 on: February 17, 2008, 10:36:15 AM »
Wasn't it Lester Melrose who told Lonnie Johnson he had to change his style? Did anyone ever ask Johnson about that in detail?
Chris

Offline dj

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Re: pre-war music scouts
« Reply #11 on: February 17, 2008, 11:57:11 AM »
Quote
Wasn't it Lester Melrose who told Lonnie Johnson he had to change his style?

While at Bluebird, recording for Melrose, Johnson got squeezed into the same 12 bar blues mold as almost everyone else.  Blues Documents CD 6025, which collects Johnson's recordings from 1940 - 1942, contains 4 songs recorded live by the Lonnie Johnson Trio at the Boulevard Lounge in Chicago on January 6 1941.  Chris Smith's notes contain no indication of who made the acetates or why, but they give a glimpse of what Lonnie Johnson sounded like outside the restrictions of the recording studio.  The songs include 2 blues (one with Lonnie on piano!), a pop song, "Secret Emotions", sung by rhythm guitarist Dan Dixon, and the Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm".     

 


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