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When I die, they'll say, "He couldn't play shit, but he sure made it sound good!" - Hound Dog Taylor

Author Topic: The Texas Blues of Smokey Hogg  (Read 182 times)

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Offline dj

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The Texas Blues of Smokey Hogg
« on: April 12, 2021, 01:13:33 PM »
The Texas Blues of Smokey Hogg by Guido van Rijn
Agram Blues Books, 2021
300 pages

If you're a blues fan in 2021, it's possible you've seen or heard Smokey Hogg's name, but you're almost certainly not all that familiar with him.  So why a 300 page book on such a marginal figure?  It's because Smokey is one of those musicians, like Peetie Wheatstraw, Bumble Bee Slim, Bill Gaither, and others - who was a dependable seller over the course of a decade, with some songs rising to the level of "hits", who has unfortunately been relegated to obscurity in the 21st century.  It's not hard to see why Smokey Hogg's star has faded.  He was a rudimentary guitar player and a fairly chaotic occasional pianist who performed almost exclusively in the key of G.  Hardly the stuff that modern blues heroes are made of. Though he played an electric guitar on record and usually recorded with a small band, Smokey was country through and through.  But in December of 1950, he was a big enough name to share the headline of a Christmas show in Los Angeles with the Orioles and Earl Bostic.

Guido van Rijn's book lays out pretty much everything there is to know about Smokey Hogg.  There's a 30 page biography, 218 pages of lyrics and discographical information on every publicly available recorded performance of Smokey's, a chapter of lyric analysis, al list of songs that Smokey recorded covers of, and a chapter of musical analysis.  The book is solidly made, well, laid out, and profusely illustrated.  The biography is a little sketchy, but, honestly, there's more there than I would have thought possible before I read the book. He's honest about the limitations of Smokey Hogg's talents, quoting J. D. Nicholson, a pianist who recorded with Hogg, on page 1: "Smokey he was popular then. I couldn't understand why that guy got so popular."  Van Rijn then does a pretty good job of laying out why Smokey Hogg "got so popular" in his heyday. 

I do have a few complaints.  First and foremost is that van Rijn's lyric transcriptions never give the second line of a 12 bar blues.  I guess I can see why - van Rijn is interested mostly in combing Hogg's lyrics for biographical clues (and he makes a good case that they're there), and adding another line to every verse of 200 or so songs would add more than a few pages to the book - but I think it's important to read the lyrics as they're actually sung, and I miss looking for those minor variations that invariably creep in from line to line.  Second, while van Rijn gives the key of every song, almost invariably G or A flat, he never gives the playing position.  Again, I can see why.  Van Rijn is not himself a guitar player, and assumes that knowing the key is enough.  But I can't help but wonder about the playing position and tuning.  Is everything in E position capoed at the third fret, or In G position uncapoed, or in Spanish, or a mix of positions and tunings?

In Sum, The Texas Blues of Smokey Hogg is a beautifully produced nook giving interesting look at someone who, today, is pretty much a footnote of early postwar Texas and West Coast blues.  It's fairly expensive, so you might not want to run out and buy a copy, but if you can find it in a library, definitely take a look.

And do give Smokey Hogg a listen.  You really don't want to sit down and listen to 30 Smokey Hogg songs in a row, but a couple songs a day, mixed in with your other listening, would reveal Mr. Hogg's appeal.
« Last Edit: April 12, 2021, 01:17:10 PM by dj »

Offline Thomas8

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Re: The Texas Blues of Smokey Hogg
« Reply #1 on: April 12, 2021, 03:26:57 PM »
The pairing of Smokey Hogg and a polished west coast sounding band makes for a hard listen. I wished he'd just stayed solo, he had a terrific voice. Does it mention much about him recording with Whistlin' Alex Moore?

Offline dj

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Re: The Texas Blues of Smokey Hogg
« Reply #2 on: April 12, 2021, 03:43:48 PM »
Quote
Does it mention much about him recording with Whistlin' Alex Moore?

Yes, it mentions every session he had in a recording studio.

Quote
The pairing of Smokey Hogg and a polished west coast sounding band makes for a hard listen.

It can, depending on the band and how sympathetic they were to Smokey.  I too wish he'd recorded more solo, but I'm sure he was thrilled to be with a band, as was the style at the time.


Offline Thomas8

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Re: The Texas Blues of Smokey Hogg
« Reply #3 on: April 13, 2021, 03:12:29 AM »
Great, thank you dj

Offline Harry

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Re: The Texas Blues of Smokey Hogg
« Reply #4 on: April 13, 2021, 05:30:15 AM »
Thanks for the review dj.

The pairing of Smokey Hogg and a polished west coast sounding band makes for a hard listen.

I actually like his "weird" timing. Sometimes it's just refreshing to hear it like ​that.

I highly recommend "Smokey Hogg - Who's Heah! Selected Singles 1947-1954" on Jasmine Records.

 


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