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Everybody would grab a guitar and listen to somebody else and call themselves a folk singer. When they didn't know no more songs, they'd run out of them - Brownie McGhee

Author Topic: Time/Phrasing--Country Blues Favorites  (Read 4086 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Time/Phrasing--Country Blues Favorites
« on: May 29, 2006, 08:58:18 AM »
Hi all,
I was thinking of how we have threads devoted to favorite singers, songs played in different tunings, slide or in minor, and it occurred to me that we don't exactly have a thread focusing on particular players' senses of time or phrasing.  This despite the fact that apart from touch and tone, a player's sense of timing is probably the aspect of his music most distinctively his own.  I'll get the ball rolling, and if you want to join in with your favorites in this area, please do so.

   * Blind Lemon Jefferson--Of course Lemon was one of the greatest Blues singers ever, and a tremendous guitarist, but if I had to choose the aspect of his music most different from his contemporaries, it would be his time and sense of phrasing.  Lemon is one of the only Country Blues players to treat rhythm and tempo as dynamic qualities in the way that other players use loudness or softness for expressive purposes.  In a music where so much emphasis is placed on grooving, Lemon stands out, by virtue of his decision not to simply jump on the groove train and go for a ride.  Lemon's ability to stop and start on a dime, coupled with his tremendous singing and incredibly nuanced touch on the guitar make for a sound package that I don't think has ever been surpassed.

   * Big Joe Williams--Joe Williams' treatment of time was so exciting.  Just listen to his debut recording, "Little Leg Woman", or "Wild Cow Blues" with Dad Tracy on fiddle and Chasey Collins on washboard.  Big Joe had the ability to move instantaneously between different subdivisions of the beat, moving fluidly from a straight four feel to un-swung eighths, to triplets, to furiously strummed sixteenth notes or thumb-popped bass lines flipping the beat.  He said his cousin Jesse Logan beat him at his own style, but I'm dubious, because that's hard to imagine.

   * King Solomon Hill--Joe Holmes seems a good example of a player without a great deal of breadth, but with tremendous depth.  When you really listen to "Gone Dead Train" or "Whoopee Blues" or "Down On My Bended Knee", it's remarkable to note the tight integration of voice and guitar, the utter control of rhythmic placement and duration on his instrument, the use of register shifts on the guitar for dramatic emphasis, and the way the voice imitates the guitar and vice versa.  He really was amazingly good at what he did and must have been unforgettable to see in person.

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: January 20, 2008, 07:03:07 PM by Johnm »

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Time/Phrasing--Country Blues Favorites
« Reply #1 on: May 29, 2006, 09:23:25 AM »
He said his cousin Jesse Logan beat him at his own style, but I'm dubious, because that's hard to imagine.
Yes that's what he told Pete Welding who recorded BJW's uncles Bert and Russ Logan but not son (of one of them), Jesse.

Offline banjochris

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Re: Time/Phrasing--Country Blues Favorites
« Reply #2 on: May 30, 2006, 10:49:37 PM »
I'll add to that list:

Charlie Patton -- of course, but I'd single out "Moon Going Down" and "Bird Nest Bound" with Willie Brown. There's times in those recordings where each guitar seems to be pulling you in a different syncopated rhythm and then they suddenly come back together.

Sleepy John Estes -- a deceptively simple pulse that's very hard to recreate, plus the sound he gets with Jab Jones and Yank Rachell has much of the same quality I like in the Patton/Brown duets.

Robert Wilkins -- for "Rolling Stone," "I Do Blues" and "Get Away Blues" alone he wins some kind of prize.

Fred McDowell -- he usually has a good groove going, but often his melodic phrases don't quite fit it -- yet he always moves back and forth seamlessly.

and Charlie Jordan and Henry Spaulding.

Chris
« Last Edit: May 30, 2006, 10:51:54 PM by banjochris »

Offline rlspt

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Re: Time/Phrasing--Country Blues Favorites
« Reply #3 on: May 30, 2006, 11:12:18 PM »
lightnin hopkins. sometimes 12 bars, sometimes 13, whatever, always sounds good.

Offline Slack

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Re: Time/Phrasing--Country Blues Favorites
« Reply #4 on: May 31, 2006, 07:48:33 AM »
Quote
Robert Wilkins -- for "Rolling Stone," "I Do Blues" and "Get Away Blues" alone he wins some kind of prize.

Whole heartedly agree Chris -- simple sounding songs, until you try to recreate them.  I count 'em among my longest effort and lamest attempts at country blues.  ;)  ..but the guitar parts are great.

Offline outfidel

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Re: Time/Phrasing--Country Blues Favorites
« Reply #5 on: June 06, 2006, 10:57:33 AM »
Lemon is one of the only Country Blues players to treat rhythm and tempo as dynamic qualities in the way that other players use loudness or softness for expressive purposes.  In a music where so much emphasis is placed on grooving, Lemon stands out, by virtue of his decision not to simply jump on the groove train and go for a ride.

Interesting -- didn't the Delta players like Son House & Willie Brown criticize Lemon Jefferson for "breaking time"? I guess one man's vice is another man's virtue.
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Offline frankie

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Re: Time/Phrasing--Country Blues Favorites
« Reply #6 on: June 06, 2006, 05:10:52 PM »
Interesting -- didn't the Delta players like Son House & Willie Brown criticize Lemon Jefferson for "breaking time"? I guess one man's vice is another man's virtue.

Mance Lipscomb definitely criticized Lemon's time - although ML was pretty strictly a dance musician.  Lemon could and did function in that way (Beggin' Back, Dry Southern...) but if Mance had heard Lemon doing one of his more free-form pieces, I could see why he might come off with an observation like that (not that I'd agree).  Seems like there might have been, perhaps, a small amount of professional envy involved.  I love ML, but Lemon is in a whole 'nuther league.  Maybe an acquired taste for some, but one well worth acquiring, imho.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Time/Phrasing--Country Blues Favorites
« Reply #7 on: June 07, 2006, 07:06:04 AM »
Hi all,
Criticisms of Lemon's "danceability" seem might puny to me, I must admit.  First of all, who established danceability as the highest goal of music?  For someone operating at Lemon's musical level (and who else did that?), having to be constrained by what a bunch of unnamed suckers could dance to would be criminal.  Surely there are greater expressive ends to be met.  My favorite quote re danceability came from a wise-ass Jazz musician who when queried at a break, "Why don't you play something we can dance to?" responded, "Why don't you dance something we can play to?".  The goal of being constantly danceable is fine if you are unable to achieve it--if you can achieve it, why is it necessary to do so all the time?
All best,
Johnm

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Time/Phrasing--Country Blues Favorites
« Reply #8 on: June 07, 2006, 08:10:21 AM »
Interesting. Mance of course has that steady thumping bass, very danceable. Off the top of my head, he played several tunes associated with or written by Lemon. One Dime Blues, Jack o' Diamonds, and Easy Rider come to mind. Mance's playing One Dime and Jack o Diamonds could have come from anywhere I guess (musicologist needed!), but Easy Rider in particular shows direct Lemon influence and a Lemon tune you don't hear many other country blues players do. In fact, I can pick more Lemon out of Mance's repertoire than I can others. Although Easy Rider and One Dime would qualify as dance tunes as played by Lemon.

Goes without saying but I'll say it anyways -- I agree with John and frankie, Lemon's time and phrasing is astonishing.

Offline dj

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Re: Time/Phrasing--Country Blues Favorites
« Reply #9 on: June 07, 2006, 09:08:47 AM »
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didn't the Delta players like Son House & Willie Brown criticize Lemon Jefferson for "breaking time"?

What, like Charlie Patton?  ;D

Actually, I've always felt that House's famous statement that "Willie [Brown] was way better than Charlie [Patton]" was based on the fact that Brown kept to a regular form and didn't add extra beats and measures as much as Patton did, and so was easier to play along with.  I don't recall reading any criticism of Jefferson by House, but if there was any, it might have been based on the same premise - not that Lemon was hard to dance to but that it was hard to learn his songs off of records because of his irregular structures.

I've gotten the impression that Patton was considered a good musician to dance to.  I have no idea how Blind Lemon Jefferson was judged by dancers.  And I know absolutely nothing about how people would dance to country blues, though I feel a bit guilty about that - I can't help thinking that if I knew more about regional black dance styles in the 20s and 30s (heck, if I knew anything about dancing), it would give me a deeper understanding of the blues.

Quote
First of all, who established danceability as the highest goal of music?

John, I don't think anyone here would make the claim that danceability is the highest goal of music.  But if you were running a Saturday night juke in Mississippi in the 1920s or a rent party in St. Louis in the 1930s, danceability would be a factor in your decision of what musician to hire, so it was a factor in the repertoire development of many country blues players.  Not the only one by any means - as you said there were other expressive ends to be met.  The unfortunate fact is that we don't know which blues songs were written/learned with dancing in mind, nor which records were considered at the time of their release to be good to dance to.  (By the way, if anyone does know, or knows of any publications relating to this, I'd love to be enlightened).

Offline Johnm

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Re: Time/Phrasing--Country Blues Favorites
« Reply #10 on: June 08, 2006, 01:29:02 AM »
Hi all,
I love Mance Lipscomb's music, but as far as its danceability goes, I'd say it was great if you didn't mind always ending up dancing significantly faster at the end of a song than you were at the beginning.  Mance was a demon for accelerating the tempo during the course of a song, and if you didn't mind a sort of "running downhill" quality to your dancing, I'm sure it worked fine.  The same quality would have been much more problematic in an ensemble situation.
All best,
Johnm

Offline frankie

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Re: Time/Phrasing--Country Blues Favorites
« Reply #11 on: June 08, 2006, 04:01:11 AM »
Mance played dances early in his life accompanying his father, who fiddled.  I'd have to go back and re-read "I Say Me For A Parable" to see for sure if he said was still playing dances as an adult.  Of course, he did speed up a lot in his recordings...  are there any recordings of Mance working with another musician as an accompanist?  There are two other speedsters I can think of - Leadbelly and Blind Willie McTell - whose accelerating tendencies are kept noticably in check when playing with other musicians.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Time/Phrasing--Country Blues Favorites
« Reply #12 on: June 08, 2006, 06:23:36 AM »
There are a couple recordings of Mance playing with a couple second guitarists. There's also a couple recordings of him in a "band" with bass and drums, I think with his son playing bass. I'd have to listen to see if tempo increased. The band cuts are the last two tracks on the Texas Country Blues CD, which is on the Juke. They're not Mance's best moments as I recall.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Time/Phrasing--Country Blues Favorites
« Reply #13 on: June 08, 2006, 07:34:22 AM »
Correction, that should be Mance's grandson, Frank Lipscomb, on bass (and Wayne Davis on drums). Some other tracks with other musicians, all from the Texas Country Blues CD: "Oh Baby! (You Don't Have to Go") has Mike Birnbaum on second guitar playing lead lines mostly; "Wonder Where My Easy Rider Gone" has Charlie Pritchard on second guitar; "Tell Me Where You Stayed Last Night" has Powell St. John on harmonica. Mance speeds up on all of these. :)

The two tracks with his grandson and the drummer are Blues in the Bottle and Angel Child. Time is steadier here, though not exactly metronomic. He's also playing an electric geetar, which I believe he had referred to as a "fraud" somewhere.

Lest this seem like a Beat-up-on-Mance-fest, I love Mance Lipscomb's music and have most of it that's currrently available. I like his speeding up as well. Sometimes it just seems like tempo fluctuation, but much of the time it adds intensity to that driving rhythm he builds up. I find I have the same reaction to McTell's speeding up. With McTell it even seems somewhat deliberate to me, though I have nothing to back that up. It just feels that way on some songs.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Time/Phrasing--Country Blues Favorites
« Reply #14 on: June 08, 2006, 09:43:18 PM »
Hi all,
I think Mance and Leadbelly tended to accelerate in a continuous, linear fashion, whereas Willie McTell seemed to have more little internal accelerations within the course of a given phrase, a quality I usually think of as "nervous time".  Because of Mance's steady speeding up, he very well may have been an exciting player to dance to. He is definitely one of my favorites, a varied and inventive player and a great singer.  The Bob West interview with him was great, I hope you all had a chance to hear it.
All best,
Johnm

 


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