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Author Topic: Pernell Charity--The Virginian, Trix 3309  (Read 3067 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Pernell Charity--The Virginian, Trix 3309
« on: November 25, 2009, 06:30:40 PM »
Pernell Charity--the Virginian, Trix 3309
PROGRAM:  Woke Up on the Hill; War Blues; I'm Climbing on Top of the Hill; Black Rat Swing; Pig Meat Mama; Flying the Kite; Mamie; Evil Hearted Woman; Richmond Blues; Blind Man; Find Me A Home; Come Back, Baby, Come; I Don't See Why; Blind Lemon's Blues; Dig Myself a Hole;

I was happy and surprised to find this CD in a used record store where I live in Belingham, Washington about a year-and-a-half ago and have been listening to it quite a lot for the past month or so.  It features Pernell Charity, a guitarist  and singer of blues from Waverly, Virginia, about 18 miles below Petersburg, in recordings made in 1972 for Peter B. Lowry's Trix label.  From the liner notes, it appears that Pernell Charity (1920--1979) was a discovery of Kip Lornell, who was recently out of high school at that time.

Listening to Pernell Charity's music here, I found myself coming away with an impression of him as a very strong player, slightly more reserved vocally than he was instrumentally.  He is interesting in that he bears no obvious musical resemblance to Virginians who recorded who were a generation or two older than he was, like Luke Jordan or William Moore or to such near-contemporaries as the Foddrell brothers or John Jackson.  The most profound influences on Pernell Charity's music appear to have been via recordings, for by his own admission, he encountered few musicians growing up and living practically his entire life in Waverly. 

The CD's program opens with "Woke Up On The Hill", a medium tempo number played out of E in standard tuning that has a catchy and unusually upbeat refrain:
   I'm gonna look this world over, yes, enjoy good things
   Well, I'm just having my fun, whooo, me and my righteous one
Next up is "War Blues", an interesting original number played in D, standard tuning, with a one-off form, being a chorus 17-bar blues.  Pernell's time was outstanding and really infectious, and the fatalistic stance of the song is sobering--
   I've got to go to the war, if I have bad luck I won't be back no more
"I'm Climbing On top of the Hill" keeps things moving along in Pernell's favorite playing position, E in standard tuning.  His playing here shows a very strong Buddy Moss influence, with a strong predeliction for brushed triplets in the treble and lots of fast and very clean runs.  Pernell's phrasing was much more metrically irregular than Buddy Moss's was though.  Pernell's version of "Black Rat Swing" is exceptionally strong, with a slick damped bass sound.  I believe this is my favorite version of a song that has never been one of my favorites.  "Pig Meat Mama", played on a rasty-sounding electric guitar, is an interesting hybrid, combining what sounds like a pre-blues number with Blind Boy Fuller's "Pigmeat is What I Crave".  Next up is a Lightnin' Hopkins-influenced number in E, "Flying The Kite", the jive talk of which I admit to finding impenetrable. Pernell gives it a good shot, especially instrumentally, but he doesn't sound like he had the sort of personality to really make a number like this work as Lightnin' would and did.  Blind Boy Fuller's "Mamie" follows, and it is just terrific.  About this point in the program you begin to realize just how strong a guitarist Pernell Charity was--fast, clean and making his notes with some real nuance and pizazz. 
For "Evil Hearted Woman", Pernell Charity is back working in E, and is seconded by an anonymous accompanist.  As you listen to more of Pernell's playing in E, you realize how big his sound was.  His sound in E was very much a call-and-response, riff-oriented approach, and he sounded like an entire band all by himself, much like John Henry Barbee, or Honeyboy Edwards, for that matter.
"Richmond Blues" returns to Blind Boy Fuller territory, and Pernell Charity's timing of this 8-bar blues in A makes you realize what an individual thing phrasing can be. His timing seems inexplicable to me, (not that it couldn't be analyzed) but he felt it the way he played it, and that's about the best you can put it.  "Blind Man" is a sensational original number in E, with very strong singing, and as the program moves along, you realize Pernell Charity is upping the ante in terms of intensity. Truly, his playing on the last few numbers of this program in E is the most intense I've ever heard from a Virginia player, apart from Hobart Smith.  "Find Me A Home" and "Come Back, Baby, Come', one intense and the other jivey, continue the E tune trend.  "I Don't See Why [My Mama Don't Love My Daddy No More]", another very intense original number in E follows and it's striking to hear a man in his fifties having a tough time handling his parents' domestic difficulties.  "Blind Lemon's Blues", played in A, was attributed by Charity to a Lemon Jefferson recording, but apart from some shared instrumental licks, there are no Jefferson tunes like it, so there you go.  In any event, it's a very strong number, beautifully played and sung, and is musically closer to Otis Harris' "You'll Like My Loving", as noted by Kip Lornell in the liner notes, than any of Lemon's songs.  It also bears a resemblance to Edward Thompson's "Seven Sisters Blues".  The program concludes with another E blues, Dig Myself A Hole".
All in all, this is another strong entry in the Trix catalog, and Pernell Charity must have been one of the very strongest of the East Coast players of the generation that included Frank Hovington, John Jackson, John Cephas and John Dee Holman.  If you see this CD, by all means, pick it up, and if your experience with it is anything like mine has been, you'll find that it really grows on you with repeated listening.

All best,
Johnm                                             
     
« Last Edit: September 06, 2018, 09:28:29 PM by Johnm »

Offline Kokomo O

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Re: Pernell Charity--The Virginian, Trix 3309
« Reply #1 on: November 25, 2009, 09:08:44 PM »
John, I've just listened to the two cuts of Charity's that are available on iTunes, and he's definitely someone I'd like to check out further. Thanks for posting this. It's interesting that you hear little resemblance to the more famous VA pickers, but I'm not surprised. Of those I'm most familiar with, John Jackson was originally from Culpeper, in the heart of Piedmont . Both William Moore and John Cephas were from Tidewater Virginia, north of the James River, while Charity was from Southside, south of the James. In Tidewater, the James marks the boundary between tobacco plantation country and pork farm country--Smithfield is in Southside. While I grew up in "occupied Virginia," outside DC, and have spent a lot of time in several parts of the state, I don't know much about Southside and have never been down there. But one thing I believe, in part from recollections of school learning and in part from an old girlfriend who grew up in Petersburg, is that Southside is different from anyplace else in the state--generally poorer than Piedmont and the rest of Tidewater, and probably in Charity's youth much more isolated. So those factors could have contributed to the differences you hear.

Offline Michael Kuehn

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Re: Pernell Charity--The Virginian, Trix 3309
« Reply #2 on: November 26, 2009, 06:16:55 AM »
Thanks, John, for that analysis of 'The Virginian.' I've been enjoying that CD for the last year or so, and as usual your review brought me back to it with a new appreciation.

Mike

Offline oddenda

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Re: Pernell Charity--The Virginian, Trix 3309
« Reply #3 on: November 27, 2009, 05:28:39 PM »
John -

          Thanks for that... Pernell was reserved, but fruitful, if i may put it that way. Kip and I managed to forget the second guitarist, though - "Blind Man" turns out to be a B.B. King piece "Piedmontized". Pernell said that Fuller and Hopkins were his biggest influences and that he met Lightnin' personally when he stopped in Waverly en route to NYC... to record! Possibly for Bob Shad. I've plenty more where that came from, and planned another album further down the road! His death and Trix's dying with a whimper put paid to that. Pernell wouldn't come "out" to any festivals, though - some effort was made; I remember trying to get him to come to Chapel Hill in 1972/73.

Peter B.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Pernell Charity--The Virginian, Trix 3309
« Reply #4 on: November 28, 2009, 11:29:09 AM »
Hi Peter,
I did note that in the updated liner you wrote to accompany the CD version of "Pernell Charity--The Virginian" that you recorded 40 titles by him; that's almost two more albums of unreleased material, and if it's anything like what did get released, there's a lot of outstanding stuff there!  I hope things do work out for it to become available someday.
All best,
Johnm

Offline oddenda

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Re: Pernell Charity--The Virginian, Trix 3309
« Reply #5 on: November 30, 2009, 01:19:17 AM »
Yeah, there's more stuff by Pernell. While not the worst seller for Trix (that dubious honor goes to the wonderfully unique Frank Edwards), his sales were not very good at the time. I slot him alongside Ed Harris [a/k/a Country Paul, Carolina Slim, a.o.) showing the impacts of both Blind Boy Fuller and Lightnin' Hopkins (who was touched by Fuller as well). Good guitarist, adequate singer - nice guy. They all were, save Buddy Moss! But that's another story, one that I wrote about for B&R some years back - my column is planned to return, so everybody ask Tony when it'll be back!! A little pressure never hurt.

Peter B.
« Last Edit: December 12, 2009, 06:23:38 PM by oddenda »

Offline Blue in VT

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Re: Pernell Charity--The Virginian, Trix 3309
« Reply #6 on: November 30, 2009, 08:17:28 AM »
Thanks for that review John...sounds like a great album...I've had a couple of his numbers on my play list for few years and everytime one comes up I wonder if there is more of his music out there...now I know and will look for it.

I sure hope the rest makes it to print some day!

Blue
Blue in VT

Offline jopoke

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Re: Pernell Charity--The Virginian, Trix 3309
« Reply #7 on: November 30, 2009, 10:56:49 AM »
The Virginian is an excellent album.  It's one of my favorite Trix records.  I sure hope the unrelased Trix recordings are issued soon.

Joe

Offline oddenda

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Re: Pernell Charity--The Virginian, Trix 3309
« Reply #8 on: November 30, 2009, 05:56:17 PM »
Joe -

          Don't hold your breath - tapes in NJ, I'm in OZ! Same old same old.

Peter B.

Offline Michael Kuehn

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Re: Pernell Charity--The Virginian, Trix 3309
« Reply #9 on: December 10, 2009, 09:52:00 AM »
John, I really appreciate the timing in The War Blues... I find it such an infectious tune that I'm working it out -- it's a blast to play! I find the timing in the verse in the move from the I (D) to the IV (G) to be really tricky. I was playing it wrong, until I listened again, more carefully, and picked up on the quick shift to the G. And then he hangs on that G (G7) a few beats longer than I would have anticipated. Very tricky to get right. There are other timing landmines buried in there, but this one really stands out once you hear it!

Edit: Actually now that I focus on the timing of a few of the other verses, it seems that the odd timing of the first verse is an anomaly. Or else I'm hearing things, which is quite possible.

Mike
« Last Edit: December 10, 2009, 10:31:04 AM by bluesmikedk »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Pernell Charity--The Virginian, Trix 3309
« Reply #10 on: December 10, 2009, 04:12:07 PM »
Hi Mike,
Good on you for figuring out "War Blues"!  You're absolutely right about the timing, too.  I knew that Pernell Charity tended to vary his phrase lengths over the course of a rendition, and when I went back and listened carefully after reading your post I found that to be the case.  
Most times through the form, Pernell Charity played it as a 17-bar blues, with three four-bar phrases and a concluding one of five bars.  In the singing of his first verse, he kicks the IV chord, arriving there two beats earlier than expected, so that his form looks like this (the A/D in the eleventh bar describes his sound of an A run played over a D bass):
  ||    D    |    D    |    D    |    D    |

   |    D    |    D    |    D    |  D  G7 |

   |   G7    |   G7   |    D    |    D    |

   |    A    |    A    |   A/D   |    D    |    D    ||

For the singing of the second verse, he goes to a more conventional phrasing, with the G7 chord arriving in the ninth bar.  For his first solo, he shortens the tail end of the form, ending up with this:
   |   A(6 beats) |   A/D    |   D    |    D    |
For the verse immediately following the first solo, he reverts to the phrasing of the first sung verse, and from there on out, I believe conforms to the more conventional phrasing model used in his second verse.  
A couple of interesting things about the way Pernell Charity varies his phrasing over the course of "War Blues"--
   * There is nothing singular or special about the lyrics in the verses where the IV chord is kicked that would require the early resolution to the IV chord, so it was a choice driven by feel rather than lyric content or the length of the sung line.
   * Pernell Charity flows smoothly over the unexpected resolutions and metric irregularities in "War Blues" with nary a hitch, and no "speed bumps" to give the irregular phrasing away.  It is our own expectation of metric and formal regularity that draws attention to his divergences from the form as it would most often be played, rather than his execution, which is flawless.
The kind of forceful, flowing irregularity that Pernell Charity brings to his rendition of "War Blues" is notably absent from most present-day playing of Country Blues, and notably present in the playing of most Country Blues players of the past, including very popular hitmakers like Lightnin' Hopkins and Blind Boy Fuller.  I hope that Robert Lowery, a musician who has this quality in abundance, will yet have some more opportunities to appear before the public, and perhaps, record his music.  There are very few left like him.
All best,
Johnm      
« Last Edit: December 10, 2009, 04:45:48 PM by Johnm »

Offline Michael Kuehn

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Re: Pernell Charity--The Virginian, Trix 3309
« Reply #11 on: December 10, 2009, 04:55:35 PM »
Thanks, John. Yes, I may not have even noticed these timing idiosyncrasies had I not tried to figure out how to play it. Surprising how much one learns about a tune when one picks it apart measure by measure.

Also of real interest to me is his first four notes of the IV chord in his intro. I agonized over these notes and the timing to get it right, as I just love the sound and the syncopation of that particular phrase. Funny how a few well placed notes can stick in your head.  I finally settled on this: G (open 3rd string), G (6th string, 3rd fret) followed by 1st string, 1st fret and open 2nd string played in unison, G (open 3rd string). Although I have to admit that rather than the open 3rd string, it sounds to me more like a fretted note, but I'll be darned if I can figure out how to finger it that way. He may have just been damping a bit. I don't know.

Mike


Offline Johnm

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Re: Pernell Charity--The Virginian, Trix 3309
« Reply #12 on: December 10, 2009, 05:30:45 PM »
Hi Mike,
I think for that first IV chord in the opening solo, Charity used a G7 with the seventh doubled on the first and fourth strings, like so:  3-2-3-0-0-1.  It sounds to me as though he is alternating in those first two bars of G7 between the third fret of the sixth string on the first and third beats and the third fret of the fourth string on the second and fourth beats, though he opens up and hits the open D string for the fourth beat of the second bar.  He's damping his upbeats throughout these two bars, too, so it wasn't until he switched to an open D string upbeat on beat four of the second bar that I realized he hadn't been playing it all along.
I think I hear him hitting the third fret of the sixth string on beat one, on beat two pinching the third fret of the fourth string and the first fret of the first string, and on the + of beat two picking the open third string.  On beat three he re-strikes the third fret of the sixth string, then picks or brushes the first string, first fret and open second string together on the + of beat three, concluding the measure with the thumb striking the third fret of the fourth string on beat four.
That "double seventh" way of voicing the G7 chord is one that Bo Carter especially liked and used in many of his C tunes, like "Your Biscuits Are Big Enough For Me" and "Honey".  I've not heard many East Coasters like Pernell Charity use it.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Michael Kuehn

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Re: Pernell Charity--The Virginian, Trix 3309
« Reply #13 on: December 11, 2009, 06:21:42 AM »
Thanks, John, I think you nailed it. I think I was trying to force a pick-up note into that bar which was throwing me off. I'm going to try and record a "work-in-progress" mp3 of this when I get it polished just a little more. I appreciate you renewing my interest in Pernell Charity and your assistance on this tune.

Mike

Offline killerblues

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Re: Pernell Charity--The Virginian, Trix 3309
« Reply #14 on: April 21, 2013, 08:44:33 AM »
Does anyone know where Pernell is buried and does he have a headstone

 


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