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I know my doggie when I hear him bark. I can tell my rider if I feel her in the dark - Charley Patton, Banty Rooster Blues

Author Topic: Post-War Country Blues Harmonica  (Read 5053 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Post-War Country Blues Harmonica
« on: May 23, 2006, 07:34:52 PM »
Hi all,
I realize that we have another thread focusing on Pre-War Blues harmonica, but I think a lot of great playing happened in the Post-War period as well, both by players who were first active in the Pre-War period and who could still play really well, like Hammie Nixon, and by people who made their first appearance on recordings in the Post-War period.  I encourage people to add posts on other Post-War Country Blues harp players whose work they admire.

I know the playing of Clyde Causey from two CDs on which he appeared, playing along with Smoky Babe (Robert Brown).  The two CDs are "Hottest Brand Goin'--The Blues of Smoky Babe", Prestige-Bluesville OBCCD-595-2, and "Smoky Babe & Herman E. Johnson--Louisiana Country Blues", Arhoolie CD440.  On those two CDs, Clyde's playing is featured on only a couple of cuts, but something about his sound really stuck with me. 
I first noticed something really unusual about Clyde Causey's sound on "Locomotive Blues", from "Hottest Brand Goin'".  The song is a train blues, but the way Claude evoked the sound of the train whistle was different from any harp player I had ever heard.  I've recently been listening to the "Louisiana Country Blues" CD a lot and noticed the sound again on two tracks Clyde played on, "Ain't Got No Rabbit Dog" and "Black Gal", and determined to figure out what he was doing.
It turns out that the source of Clyde Causey's distinctive sound on those three songs is that he is playing cross-harp in the key of the V chord of the key that Smoky Babe is playing in; in all three instances, Smoky Babe is playing in Spanish tuning, tuned to A, whereas Clyde Causey is playing cross-harp in the key of E.  Since cross-harp is played in the draw key of a harmonica which when blown, plays the I chord a fifth below the draw chord's V, Clyde was using an A harmonica, played in E, cross-harp style, to accompany a song in the key of A.  The sound is quite eerie.  On "Locomotive Blues", Clyde Causey emphasizes the V of the V chord as his point of resolution--as the II note of the scale, it makes a really unusual place to land over and over again.  Moreover, in his train whistle imitation, Causey does an unbent draw of the V chord minus its seventh, just root, third, and fifth, which work out to be the V, major VII and II notes of the scale.  No wonder the sound so effectively evokes the sound of a train whistle--it's not really in the key the song is being played in, and the sound is sort of extra-musical, or somewhere between noise and music.  On "Don't Got No Rabbit Dog", Clyde Causey centers his phrasing around the V note of the scale, constantly resolving back there.  The sound is not quite as alien as on "Locomotive Blues", but it is still definitely not Blues harmonica as we are accustomed to hearing it.

If you think of the Blues pentatonic scale as being constructed I-flatIII-IV-V-flatVII-I, you can figure out how a Blues scale based off of V will transfer over to the key of the original I.  Putting both scales in an actual key may help to make the example more clear.  If I is A and V is E, as in the Smoky Babe tunes, the scales work out as follows:
   A Blues scale:  A-C-D-E-G-A   E  Blues Scale:  E-G-A-B-D-E
E Blues scale expressed as scale degrees relative to A:  A-B-D-E-G-A, or I-II-IV-V-FlatVII-I

You can see that there is only one note difference between the I and V blues scales; the I scale has the flatIII note and the V scale has the I's II note.  The difference in sound is huge, though.  George Benson, before he began concentrating on a career as a Pop vocalist, would often use the V blues scale when playing on Blues, and he sure made it sound good, just smoking.  The difference between Benson's approach and Clyde Causey's is that Benson converted that V blues scale into a scale starting and ending on I.  Clyde Causey made no attempt to reconcile his different key with the key Smoky Babe was playing in, and chose instead to have the piece sound in two different keys at once.  For the sake of the sound, I am glad he made that choice. 

For you harmonica players out there, it's something to consider.  One way to sound different playing Country Blues harmonica may be to use the "wrong" harp.

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: August 31, 2006, 10:25:43 PM by Johnm »

Offline frankie

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Re: Post-War Country Blues Harmonica--Clyde Causey
« Reply #1 on: May 23, 2006, 08:25:55 PM »
If I is A and V is E, as in the Smoky Babe tunes, the scales work out as follows:
A Blues scale:  A-C-D-E-G-A   E  Blues Scale:  E-G-A-B-D-E
E Blues scale expressed as scale degrees relative to A:  A-B-D-E-G-A, or I-II-IV-V-FlatVII-I

This is essentially the same scale used in Emry Arthur's "She Lied To Me" and similar 'modal' old-time tunes and songs - discussed in this thread.  The effect feels a little different to me in Causey's playing - maybe because it's looser and not hammered home in quite the same way a melody is in old-time music.
« Last Edit: May 23, 2006, 10:31:51 PM by frankie »

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Post-War Country Blues Harmonica--Clyde Causey
« Reply #2 on: May 24, 2006, 11:43:52 AM »
Harry Oster recorded him in his own right, none have ever been released. Here are the sessions. The last three songs can be found transcribed in Oster's Living Country Blues book.

CLYDE CAUSEY Born Zion City, La.
V/hca. Add v by his sister -1 or Mrs. Causey -2.      
Clinton, La,    c. 1960/1
Shine my shoe man   
Black mink   
Dark woods   
She?ll be coming round the mountain   
Wild hog   
My baby?s gone -1   
Things you do baby -2   
I went down in the valley and   go toll the bell -2
That woman won?t cook my breakfast   
Deer chase   
Baby, oh hush   
Hambone   
Cotton pickin? all day long   
Mary had a little lamb   
School days   

V/hca.   Scotlandville, La, 15 Mar 1961
Sweet home Chicago   

V/hca. Baton Rouge, La, 10 Jun 1961
When I was a little ole boy   
Lord, you is so good to me children

Offline Johnm

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Re: Post-War Country Blues Harmonica--Clyde Causey
« Reply #3 on: May 24, 2006, 01:24:46 PM »
Thanks so much for posting that list of tunes, Bunker Hill.  I'm always amazed when you come up with these things.  Is there a master list available somewhere of all the recordings Harry Oster did?  It would certainly make for fascinating reading if there were.
All best,
John

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Post-War Country Blues Harmonica--Clyde Causey
« Reply #4 on: May 24, 2006, 11:36:17 PM »
Thanks so much for posting that list of tunes, Bunker Hill.  I'm always amazed when you come up with these things.  Is there a master list available somewhere of all the recordings Harry Oster did?  It would certainly make for fascinating reading if there were.
Nothing to be amazed at I assure you. Anything blues post 1942 can be found in the session discography Blues Records 1943-1970 by Mike Leadbitter & Neil Slaven.  In the mid 60s Oster provided them with a copy of his files to include in their first one volume edition (1968). Mike Leadbitter died in 1974 (aged 32) and Slaven kept updating and a revised two volumes were finally published, A-K in 1987 and L-Z 1996, both now long out of print. Bob McGrath is going to publish something similar in December based upon those volumes.

In the meantime consult Stefan's Harry Oster discography (http://www.wirz.de/music/osterfrm.htm) to see what has been released or try to track down a used copy of Oster's book.

Offline Stefan Wirz

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Re: Post-War Country Blues Harmonica--Clyde Causey
« Reply #5 on: May 25, 2006, 04:46:52 AM »
incidentally, just yesterday I added Dr. Harry Oster to the Wikipedia roster of folklorists and ethnomusicologists (with my little knowledge of the english language of course only a 'stub')
Isn't it a shame that there has to come a guy from Germany to do that ;-)

Everyone is invited to make a full article out of my stub at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Oster

attached Harry Oster portrait is from front flap of his Living Country Blues book (1969)

Stefan

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Post-War Country Blues Harmonica--Clyde Causey
« Reply #6 on: May 25, 2006, 10:01:47 AM »
Isn't it a shame that there has to come a guy from Germany to do that ;-)
No stranger than Joachin E Berendt writing the first authoritative history of jazz in 1953 which was to be the bench mark for successive works and has been in print (in revised editions) ever since. I met him briefly during the mid 70s when he was in London to promote his latest revision. He told those assembled that originally nobody wanted to publish his manuscript but a small publisher offered to do so if Berendt was prepared to pay the publisher an advance payment as he didn't hold out much hope of the book even breaking even! This is what Berendt apparently did but being somewhat of a cynic, with hindsight, I now think this was probably apocryphal. An author paying a publisher an advance? Oh come on. ;D

However, I digress.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Post-War Country Blues Harmonica--Johnny Woods
« Reply #7 on: August 31, 2006, 10:24:48 PM »
Hi all,
I've been intending to return to this topic for some time.  Johnny Woods falls into the category of a great Post-War Country Blues harmonica player.  I have him on the Fat Possum CD, "Mama Says I'm Crazy--Fred McDowell & Johnny Woods", Fat Possum 80364-2.  The CD is one of several in the Fat Possum catalog recorded by George Mitchell. 
According to the CD's liner notes, Johnny Woods and Fred McDowell had not played together in eight years at the time the session was recorded, and they did no multiple takes--everything on the CD was a first take.  If this was indeed the case, the extent to which Fred and Johnny were synched up and in tune with each other's musical ideas and impulses verges on the supernatural. 
Johnny's approach to the harmonica placed a particular emphasis on grooving, and the way he links up with Fred's way of playing time is practically without precedence in my listening.  They are absolutely locked.  What makes it all the more impressive is the way that when Fred breaks out of his time-keeping to play a lick, Johnny joins him, as often as not playing the lick in unison with him or very closely shadowing him.  The effect is difficult to interpret, for the music is, on the one hand, very droney and trance-like, without a lot of phrasing mile-posts to help guide the way and, on the other hand, so tight it almost sounds like a particularly well-executed set piece (which it certainly was not). 
I remember having Johnny's playing brought to my attention by Grant Dermody and Joe Filisko at Augusta Blues Week in 2005.  Both of them were very high on Johnny's playing.  I am short on Fred McDowell recordings.  Did Johnny appear on any of his other recordings, or with any other musicians?  He was a great player and I would like to hear more of him.
All best,
Johnm   

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Post-War Country Blues Harmonica--Johnny Woods
« Reply #8 on: September 01, 2006, 10:06:24 AM »
I remember having Johnny's playing brought to my attention by Grant Dermody and Joe Filisko at Augusta Blues Week in 2005.  Both of them were very high on Johnny's playing.  I am short on Fred McDowell recordings.  Did Johnny appear on any of his other recordings, or with any other musicians?  He was a great player and I would like to hear more of him.
His pre 1970 recordings were all done with McDowell and can be found at Stefan's Fred McD page. Here follows the Johnny Woods entry from a draft I have (for checking!) of Robert Ford's Blues Records 1971-2000. Hope the format doesn't become too garbled when posted:

JOHNNY WOODS
Born Looxahoma, Ms, 1 Nov 1917. Died Olive Branch, Ms, 1 Feb 1990.

V/hca with Lee Baker, g; poss. Teddy Paige, b; poss. East Memphis Slim, d.
                                                           Memphis, Tn, c.1972
      Old Hucklebuck    Fan Club (F) LP 044

V/hca with Verlina Woods, v; Bobby Ray Watson, v; Lee Baker, g; James Luther Dickinson, p; Teddy Paige, b; East Memphis Slim, d; Jimmy Crosthwait, ?.   Memphis, Tn, c.1972

      Ol' Man Mose    Fan Club (F) LP 044

V/hca with James Luther Dickinson, p.   Memphis, Tn, c.1972

      Blue moon     Fan Club (F) LP 044

V/hca. Memphis, Tn, c.1972

      Jes' like a monkey    Fan Club LP 044

(NOTE: Recorded by Jim Dickinson. LP 044 also on New Rose CD 761, Fan Club (F) CD 064.)

 V/hca.  nr Coldwater, Ms, 19 Aug 1981
 
      So many cold mornings     Swingmaster (H) LP 2112, CD 2203
      She's loving another man         ~,                             ~
      Be my baby                           ~
      That's allright                         ~
      Going over the hill                   ~

V/hca (omit -1) with R.L. Burnside, g -2. Groningen (H), Nov 1984
      Going up the country          Swingmaster (H) LP 2112, CD 2203
      My Jack don't drink no water -1, 2                 ~,             ~
      On this killing floor                                      ~
      Susanna -2                                               ~,              ~
      Shake a regular boogie                                ~


« Last Edit: September 01, 2006, 10:11:07 AM by Bunker Hill »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Post-War Country Blues Harmonica
« Reply #9 on: September 01, 2006, 10:28:39 AM »
Thanks very much for the information, Bunker Hill.  For a moment, I thought I had the Swingmaster cuts with R.L. Burnside, but I found that the Fat Possum CD I have that was licensed from Swingmaster does not include those cuts.  I should have thought to check Stefan's site; so often the answer to queries such as mine can be found there.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Post-War Country Blues Harmonica
« Reply #10 on: September 01, 2006, 11:20:07 AM »
Poor old Johnny Woods, the most that was ever written about him came in the form of obituaries. Even the Fat Possum CD only managed a reprint of what George Mitchell had written for the Revival LP.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Post-War Country Blues Harmonica
« Reply #11 on: September 01, 2006, 11:03:03 PM »
I've always loved Stanley Booth's tongue-in-cheek assessment of Woods in his lengthy Rolling Stone Review of the 2nd Memphis Blues Festival (April 16, 1969, p. 36):

"To call Woods' playing funky is to be guilty of gross understatement; he is the funkiest harmonica player to ever come up from the farm. He sounds like Sonny Boy Williamson, Sonny Terry, Howlin' Wolf, and a large dying animal all at once."
« Last Edit: September 01, 2006, 11:06:47 PM by Bunker Hill »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Post-War Country Blues Harmonica
« Reply #12 on: October 22, 2006, 12:05:01 PM »
Hi all,
Another harmonica player who rates mention here is someone who has been generating a good bit of notice recently:  J D Short.  His Pre-War recordings had no harmonica, and it is only the Post-War stuff recorded by Samuel Charters that has Short playing harmonica.  This material can be found on the old Folkways "Son House & J D Short" and on the recently re-issued CD "J. D. Short", in the Sonet Blues Story series on Verve.  Both of these recordings are available on the Juke.
Most of J D's harmonica playing is off of a rack, and while he is no technical wizard in that format, his tone is superlative, and has the brilliancy and focus, with a sharp attack, that his singing shares.  J D's harmonica playing can be heard to particular advantage on the unaccompanied "Train Bring My Baby Back" from the Folkways record, as well as "So Much Wine", "You've Been Cheating Me" (a terrific variant of "How Long"), and "Starry Crown Blues".  It is all great stuff.
All best,
Johnm   

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Post-War Country Blues Harmonica
« Reply #13 on: October 22, 2006, 11:45:32 PM »
and it is only the Post-War stuff recorded by Samuel Charters that has Short playing harmonica. 
Bob Koester recorded Short with Big Joe Williams in 1958 the result of which were two LPs (Piney Woods Blues and Stavin' Chain). Short has several songs on these as well as backing up Big Joe with harmonica on a few. Koester said of these "...the work of repair and editing have been a labor of love for years but perfect salvage of some was impossible. However, the music was too important to lay dormant".
« Last Edit: October 22, 2006, 11:47:10 PM by Bunker Hill »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Post-War Country Blues Harmonica
« Reply #14 on: October 23, 2006, 12:01:25 PM »
Good catch, Bunker Hill!  I actually have "Piney Woods Blues" and spaced it, something that is happening with greater frequency as the years go by, I'm afraid.  Thanks for the reminder.
all best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: December 18, 2006, 05:04:32 PM by Johnm »

 


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