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...traditional musicians, too, often try to "get it down just like" an admired player picks a particular tune. This is not slavish imitation for its own sake but rather a passionate desire to get at the very sinews of the style, based on the realization that the impact of traditional music depends on detail and an evocative context... - Art Rosenbaum, Old-Time Mountain Banjo

Author Topic: Leadbelly Style Transformation?  (Read 190 times)

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Offline ThatGuyWithThe12Stringer

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Leadbelly Style Transformation?
« on: March 08, 2023, 03:58:14 PM »
Recently, I've been streaming the Document "The Remaining ARC and LOC Recordings" albums. Like many, I began with some of his later work and slowly worked my way back.

I'm not sure if I'm biased or just plain mistaken, or maybe even the only one who hasn't noticee, but it seems like his style and tone changed a LOT between his earliest recordings and his Capitol Records sessions! I am aware of the limitations of the recording equipment they had access to early on, and that much of the media is in less than ideal condition, but for such an established guitarist even at the beginning of his recording career, it's a very different sound and feel. For example, his common 1-3-4-5 run (used in Salty Dog, Sweet Mary and Ella Speed) seems to disappear, his style seems to become less chord-focused and ragtimey, and despite them being very similar instruments the tone of his guitar changes greatly.

Any other observations, comments or the like?
Whatever you're doing, go on and do it right!

Offline banjochris

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Re: Leadbelly Style Transformation?
« Reply #1 on: March 09, 2023, 10:00:34 AM »
I think like any other performer Leadbelly changed his presentation style as his audience changed  as mics got better he didn't have to "declaim" as much and I think he realized that he could tell stories/explain songs in his natural voice rather than the style he used on those early Library of Congress recordings. Also once he was less influenced/limited (however you want to put it) by the Lomaxes, that would have an effect, and as skilled a performer as he was, he knew what style of presentation his new audiences would respond better to.

As far as guitar style, being exposed to more modern sounds in blues, with more modern jazz influences and boogie-woogie, I would be surprised if his style hadn't changed like Big Bill, he changed to fit the expectations of the audience.
Chris

Offline Johnm

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Re: Leadbelly Style Transformation?
« Reply #2 on: March 09, 2023, 10:21:12 AM »
I would add to what banjochris said about Leadbelly's later guitar playing by noting that if you want to get a sense of Leadbelly's playing towards the tail end of his career, listen to his Last Sessions, since they were not made for a commercial record label and thus had no commercial expectations/desires being suggested by a record company intent on selling records. I don't hear a notable difference from his earlier playing in the Last Sessions.

Offline ThatGuyWithThe12Stringer

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Re: Leadbelly Style Transformation?
« Reply #3 on: March 11, 2023, 10:36:22 PM »
Thanks,
I really hadn't thought that the Lomaxes might's had much influence besides censoring what songs and lyrics he played.
While many of his songs did remain similar throughout the years, a few do stand out - Fannin' Street and Gallows Pole, and House of the Rising Sun in particular.

I'm sure that being exposed to new and different styles of music did influence and change how he played to a point, I just can't seem to draw any connections personally...

Does anyone have any interesting examples of a song that remained remarkably unchanged, or conversely, went through a dramatic change like House of the Rising Sun?

I feel that it would provide an interesting insight, perhaps, into his influences later on and what exactly it was that he was doing differently.
Whatever you're doing, go on and do it right!

 


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