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Rant: Blue weirdness, cultural irrelevance and Sawmill Moan

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Re: Sawmill Moan

--- Quote from: uncle bud on March 30, 2004, 08:52:05 AM ---It's freakin' weird on first listen then starts to make sense.
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--- Quote from: Slack on March 30, 2004, 10:17:41 AM ---I listened to it once before bed last night and decided I needed to go back and listen to it a few more times before commenting as I am unfamiliar with this tune.? Like UB says, it didn't make much sense to me! hehe
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Trust me - I know what you guys mean.? One of the things I struggle with in my taste (or lack thereof) for blues is the WTF factor.? Seems to me that most blues nerds would have a hard time digesting a tune like this (or just about anything by Ramblin' Thomas or Bo Weavil Jackson) on either a listening or playing level.? You might get some spark of recognition from the real crusty-edged blues nerds, but you can just forget anybody else...? At least with Charley Patton or Blind Boy Fuller, their music has informed (no matter how thinned out) the shape of current popular music.? Musicians like RT were just guys standing on the curb of a backroad that flowed into the superhighway of popular culture.

Granted, I'm probably rendering RT poorly (especially the singing), but most people just have no analog whatsoever for a style like this...

I should explain a little about what I like about the tune, I guess:? the overall impressionism of the tune is what initially drew me to it.? At first, I was also struck by the freedom of his timing and the fearlessness of his musical approach - almost no alternating bass, a nod to a twelve-bar structure, plenty of licks, the voice weaves through it all.? In his own way, Ramblin' Thomas is as impressionistic as Debussy - the chords he uses for colors, the sense of confusion he conveys...? On further listening, I realized that while the tune is initially pretty chaotic-sounding, there's an amazing symmetry in the way he lays out the accompaniment.? One you get past the intro, you've basically got three 'patterns' that are repeated in this way:


With the 'how can I love you' verse serving as that interior 'C' section.

Anyway, my estimation of the piece notwithstanding, I'm conflicted about the idea of performing it - there's no reference point for a tune like this for most people.? I can't think of many players among the old ones who so effortlessly evoke a similar feeling of strangeness (or fearless originality, put another way), and even fewer current-day players whose tastes run to such expression....? but then, it seems to me on most days that most guys think that 'acoustic' blues begins with Robert Johnson, ends with Charlie Patton, makes a nodding acquaintance with Gary Davis and Mississippi John Hurt, and should include Aerosmith...

Awwww nuts, I think my inner grouch came out again.

Kim says to play it anyway - I quote:? "F*** 'em".

Love that woman!

? Last Edit: March 30, 2004, 09:22:57 pm by frankie's 2nd grade math teacher, who thinks this whole blues business is a bad idea, anyway ?

Thanks for the road map frank, I've printed it out and will use it to listen (sheesh, been much too busy lately, not much time to play on the weenie forum!)

I agree with Kim, your playing is so strong - YOU can pull it off.? You never know, if there is ONE person lsiteing who gets it, well, you;ve done your job.? :D

Also, you've inspired me to go dig out my Document Ramblin Thomas CD and give it a listen (obviously been a while since I've listened to RT).


uncle bud:
Well, someone has to be interested in it if Catfish released a whole CD of the stuff. Maybe I'm the only one who bought it. ;D

I was reading an interview with one of the people involved in the rediscovery period and the reissues in the 60s (can't remember who at the moment) complaining about Blind Lemon, how he couldn't get into him, he was too free form, but he did like Hot Dogs - not exactly a representative Lemon piece. On first listen, a lot of his stuff can be a bit weird I guess - I'm too far gone to know anymore! Not to harp on the similarities with Lemon, but there are definitely similar approaches to playing: the free style, the impressionistic chordal bits, the wacky licks and runs, the dissonance and unusual time.

For that matter, Charley Patton can be a little hard to digest for many people.

I think its great to push the limits of the repertoire, seeking out the lesser known but wonderful players like Ed Bell or RT. John Miller has been doing this in his workshops and in the online lessons for awhile and I always come away with some great tune that's new to me or that I never listened to carefully.

Anyway, I like your version, including the singing. So where are you playing it?  :P

I know where you're comin' from, Ramblin' Frank (BTW I think that's gotta stick as your "handle"). I was really taken with Sawmill Moan when you played it for us last week, even in the rough. The mp3 sounds great. I absolutely think you should play it. And, as I told you in person, I really think you should be playin' out, a bit, at least. I know, kids and all, but see if you can find a laid back, once a month, happy hour kinda thing. Even in central Jersey there've gotta be a few folks who would support someone with your artistic abilities. And I think you might find some who would be able to hear and appreciate the impressionism of that song. Call me crazy, but I've always been suprised by certain elements in every audience. I'd play it in a second if it was in my bag. Sounds great on that Fraulini'ed Stella, too. I think every artist has to educate their audience. Don't just give in to the norm, you gotta show them what's out there that they haven't heard yet. It always pisses me off that mass media plays to the lowest common denominator. As edgy prewar blues freaks we owe it to each other to play to those who are looking for something different. There, now you got my grouch out, too.
You listen to that woman. And tell her, for me, she makes a fine chocolate torte. Gre says "Hi". Next time we're out we want to hear some fiddle, too.
All for now.
John C.

You can get away with murder if you tell a good story up front. "This is a really weird song..." sets up people's expectations and you can surf that wave.

"Losin' Out Blues" by Robert Wilkins is one a mutual friend (initials AY) does, explains supposedly for the guitarists present how it took him ages to figure out it goes from C to A flat... the audience then listens out for the strange tones. Works.


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