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Country Blues => Weenie Campbell Main Forum => Topic started by: Johnm on May 25, 2005, 11:25:52 PM

Title: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Johnm on May 25, 2005, 11:25:52 PM
Hi all,
I have been thinking about pre-Blues material for a long time (years and years) and figured out a long time ago that I particularly like it.  I suppose the question comes up then, what makes a song pre-Blues, as opposed to Blues?  I think two chordal/harmonic characteristics most strongly define pre-Blues songs:
   * Absence of the "blue" IV chord.  Blues have a dominant 7 chord with a flat 7 note relative to the IV chord of the scale.  Pre-Blues material has either a straight major triad for the IV chord or a telescoped major 7 chord off of the IV note of the scale.
   * Absence of the "blue" I chord.  Blues most often have a dominant 7 chord (major triad with a flat 7) off of the I chord of the scale.  Pre-Blues material has a straight major triad off of I, or, as with the IV chord, a telescoped major 7 chord.
What separates Blues chordally from the various western musics that preceded it, is that it has dominant 7 chords off of I, IV and V.  Neither the major scale nor any of the Greek modes conforms to this chordal configuration.  As a result, Blues has both a structure and a sound that does not have commonly known precedents prior to its appearance.
Blues is most often described by persons living at the time as having first made an appearance in the first decade of the 20th century.  I can remember Sam Chatmon saying that he could recall the first Blues he ever heard, and when it happened (around 1908).  What is really interesting is that pre-Blues material, which must have had origins prior to that, was still being recorded by musicians in the 1960s and '70s.  What would be examples of Pre-Blues songs recorded either in the first wave of Country Blues recording or in later years?
   * Henry Thomas--"Run, Mollie, Run", "Bob McKinney", "Shanty Blues"
   * Blind Lemon Jefferson--"Beggin' Back", "Prison Cell Blues"
   * Robert Wilkins--"Police Sergeant Blues", "Alabama Blues"
   * Sam Collins"--"Lonesome Road Blues", "My Road Is Rough And Rocky"
   * Ed Bell--"She's a Fool Gal"
   * Jim Jackson--"Old Dog Blue"
   * Charley Jordan--"Keep It Clean"
   * Bo Carter--"Pussy Cat Blues", "Twist It, Babe"
   * Mance Lipscomb--"Willie, Poor Boy", "Sugar Babe"
   * Shirley Griffith--"Take Me Back To Mama"
   * John Jackson--"Boat's Up The River", "Going Down In Georgia On A Horn"
   * John Hurt--"Boys You're Welcome", "Don't Want Me, Baby"
One of the interesting things about Pre-blues material is that as you listen, you encounter hybrid material, or perhaps more correctly, transitional material, that has some Pre-Blues qualities and some Blues qualities.  A couple of songs come to mind that would fall into this category:
   * Henry Thomas's "Bull Doze Blues"--The lyrics and phrasing adhere to the 12-bar structure of the Blues, but Henry Thomas's melodic vocabulary for the song is strongly pre-Blues, a major pentatonic scale with no flat 7 for either the I or the IV chord.
   * Mance Lipscomb's "Sugar Babe"--This song, though having an 8-bar structure, does not conform to any of the commonly encountered 8-bar blues structures, and does not have flat 7 notes in the melody either over the I or the IV chord.  However, when Mance solos, he plays flat 7 notes over both the I and IV chords.  Conclusion:  The song, as sung, has pronounced pre-Blues characteristics.  As soloed on, however, "Sugar Babe" would more aptly be termed a Blues.
One of the most interesting things about Pre-Blues material is that it seems to coincide with an historical period in which there was even more than usual cross-over between African-American and white American music. This comes through loud and clear if you listen consecutively to the recordings of Henry Thomas and those of the early Grand Ole Opry star Uncle Dave Macon. 
You may want to seek out some of the Pre-Blues material if you have not been conscious of it before.  It is great stuff, quite often with beautiful melodies that don't even require chords to make their impact felt.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Slack on May 26, 2005, 06:59:49 AM
Terrific Johnm.  I asked you one time the difference between Blues and Pre-Blues (the terms were confusing to me and now I know why!) -- and you gave me one or two sentences alluding to structure.... so I'm really glad you put your thoughts down in a more detailed way, makes much more sense  - thanks!

Cheers,
slack
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: outfidel on May 26, 2005, 08:51:52 AM
John,

Great post on a fascinating topic! Your comments highlight for me some of the reasons why I find "pre-blues" more satisfying to play & listen to than "blues" (fyi I also prefer old-time mountain music to bluegrass, perhaps for the same reasons).

I only wish "pre-blues" had a better name -- seems like it's better to define something by what it is, rather than what it's not. I believe this music was called "folk music", until folk music became synonymous with political/protest music.

Thanks,
Michael
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: thumbstyle on May 27, 2005, 08:48:14 PM
Fascinating as usual, John, thanks for the insight.

Can you explain what you mean by a "telescoped major 7"? Are you referring to how the maj 7th chord is voiced on the guitar, or are you implying that it's the sung melody that steps on the major 7 (relative to I or IV) scale note? I'm guessing the latter.

Thanks,
Dave
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Johnm on May 28, 2005, 12:13:02 AM
Hi Dave,
You're right, the second meaning is what I intended--a melody note that is a major 7 relative to the root of the I or IV chord it falls over, but which is not acknowledged in the guitar chording, which is playing straight major chords.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Johnm on June 04, 2005, 10:54:30 AM
Hi all,
An example of a song that seems transitional between pre-Blues and Blues is Wiley Barner's rendition of "My Gal Mistreats Me", which has been mentioned earlier on the "How Did That Get Recorded?" thread.? On it, Wiley Barner's piano accompanist opens with a solo on the full form, hitting flat seven notes in his statement of the melody.? When Barner comes in singing, he persistently lands on the major seven note of the scale, and it sounds really odd in the Blues context that the pianist has set up in his intro.? If you would like to hear the sound, the song is on the Juke.? The major seven notes in the singing of the first verse are indicated by capital letters.
? ? Take your PICture, make it in the FRAME,
? ?When you're gone, I see you just the same
? ? When you're gone, see you just the same
? ? Lord, when you're gone, see you just the same
Instances of this kind of clash created by someone singing a major seven note on a Blues are so rare that I remember this cut really standing out to me when I first heard it years ago.?
An equivalent instance in Old-Time music occurs on Buell Kazee's rendition of "John Hardy", which some of you have probably heard on Yazoo's "Before The Blues" series.? The melody of "John Hardy" is most commonly played as Leadbelly played it on the thread that Norfolk Slim started recently.? Assuming the song is in the key of G, the melody and chords in the first line would go as follows:
? ?John Hardy was a desperate little man
? ? ?G? ? ?C E? ? F? ?E? ?D? ? ?D? ?B A? G--melody notes
? ?| G? ?|? ? ? ? ? ?C? ? ? |? ? ? ? ? ?G? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?|--chords
In Buell Kazee's version, though, he substitutes the major 7 note of the scale, F#, for the F note normally sung in the melody when he states the melody in his opening banjo intro, and sometimes in his singing.? Buell was one of the few early Appalachian singers who was recorded in Old-Time music who had vocal training, and his singing does have a sweet, "trained" sound and sort of elocutionary enunciation.? Without being able to talk to him about it, I suspect that flat seven in the melody that gives "John Hardy" it's bluesy sound just didn't sound right to him.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: crawley on June 04, 2005, 11:16:53 PM
i don't the music theory angle here (or anywhere,) but i do love the old songster stuff. seems to me it's alot more dance oriented. check out paul oliver's book, "sonsters and saints." it's all about this here matter. lotsa pictures too.
crawley
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: frankie on August 31, 2005, 05:37:27 AM
Curly Headed Woman by Burnett & Rutherford is interesting in this context.  One of the things that I find curious about the way they play it is the lack of blue notes in the accompaniment.  Burnett picks the banjo in a simple accompaniment pattern.  I'm not totally sure how the banjo is tuned (could be G or C - CGBD), but the fifth string is tuned to A.  Since the song is played out of F, that makes the fifth string ring as the major 3rd of the tonic chord.  When the song moves to the IV chord (Bflat), instead of avoiding the 5th string, Burnett seems to lean in, just slightly more insistenly, creating a wonderful example of the "telescoped major 7 chord" John mentioned in his initial post.
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Johnm on August 31, 2005, 12:59:34 PM
I will have to dig up that "Curly Headed Woman", Frank.  It sounds like a perfect example of the telescoped major seventh.  It seems that most often when the telescoped major seventh happens over a I or IV chord, instrumentally, it could fairly be described as a "found" interval, one that the instrument gives the player.
Several examples exactly analogous to the Burnett & Rutherford one you cited can be found in Henry Thomas's tunes that he played out of C position, like "Run, Mollie, Run" and "Bob McKinney".  In those songs, when he goes to the IV chord, F, he rocks his ring and second fingers back, respectively from the third fret of the fifth string and the second fret of the fourth string, to the third fret of the fourth string and the second fret of the third string, with the index holding its ground at the first fret of the second string.  He leaves the first string open when he goes to the IV chord, and this results in a IV major 7 chord, FACE, ascending from the fourth string to the first.  It is really pretty, and because it is diatonic, the ear doesn't have to do a lot of adjusting to accept it--it just sounds right.  Similarly, he often leaves the first string open when he goes to the V chord, G.  In this way, his open first string acts as a drone, much as the fifth string does on a banjo.  It is a great sound, and has the additional benefit of being easy to execute.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Bunker Hill on September 13, 2005, 12:15:27 PM
i don't the music theory angle here (or anywhere,) but i do love the old songster stuff. seems to me it's alot more dance oriented. check out paul oliver's book, "sonsters and saints." it's all about this here matter. lotsa pictures too.
crawley

Musicology is beyond me too but Oliver's book, although published 21 years ago, is very good at comparing the recordings of "songsters" like Stokes or Henry Thomas with either early texts or songs collected in the early 1900s by Dorothy Scarborough, Newman Ivey White or Odum and Johnson (to name but four).? The book certainly lives up to its sub title of "Vocal Traditions On Race Records". The two double LPs that accompanied its publication also helped!? :)
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Johnm on December 18, 2005, 02:00:10 PM
Hi all,
A really interesting case of a song using a non-Blues pentatonic scale of the type discussed over on the Henry Thomas thread is Dock Boggs's recording of "Wild Bill Jones".  You can find it on "Dock Boggs:  His Folkways Years 1963-1968", Smithsonian Folkways SF-40108.
Dock's version of "Wild Bill Jones" (of which there are many) has the lonesome, bluesy sound of so much of his music.  He plays the song in the key of G, using a G tuning on the banjo.  The song's melody uses the notes of the G major pentatonic scale, G-A-B-D-E, but is given an eerie sort of cast by ranging from D to D and giving a lot of weight to the VI note, E.  It works as follows
     
   I was out a-walking around one night,
  D  E    G G    E   D  E   G     G     E
   When I met with old Wild Bill Jones
      G   A  B    D   BA GA   G     E
   He was walking he was talking with the girl   I    loved,
    D   E     G   G  A   G     E  E    D    E   G  AG    E
   And I bid him for to leave her alone
     G  A B    D   B  A  GA   G  D E

I think it was this type of melody, as well as the way Dock sings it, that led to the term "the high, lonesome sound".  One of the interesting things about the melody is how, when played without the vocal or chordal accompaniment, it sounds as though it could have come from so many places: Ireland, Virginia, Mali, Bali, China. 
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: waxwing on December 18, 2005, 03:26:39 PM
Gre just played the melody on her recorder and you are so right that it sounds like it could come from anywhere. With each line ending on E it really seems that the melody is in the E minor pentatonic scale, being the relative minor of G.

Gre want's to hear the Doc Boggs version. Woohoo, trip to Down Home Music in El Cerrito coming up. Gotta get that Buddy Boy Hawkins cd, too.

All for now.
John C.
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Johnm on January 30, 2006, 11:46:33 AM
Hi all,
One of the ways in which Pre-Blues material has survived is as banjo tunes moved over to the guitar.  There are a number of examples of such performances right up into the 1980s and later.  Most often such performances employ a banjo tuning moved over to the guitar, either Spanish or Vastapol, but other tunings can be used as well.  Similarly, a thumb lead is often employed in the right hand by players doing these songs, though they sometimes do use more of a downward frailing or rapping motion.  Here are a few examples of such performances, who did them and the tunings they employed.
   * "Reuben" by John Jackson, in Vastapol (Arhoolie)
   * "Run--Run/Mama Your Son Done Gone" by Elizabeth Cotten, in Spanish
   * "Reuben" by Elizabeth Cotten, in Vastapol (Smithsonian Folkways)
   * "Old Dog Blue" by Furry Lewis, in Spanish (Arcola)
   * "Rabbit On A Log"  J.W. Warren, in Vastapol (Fat Possum)
The earliest recording of "Reuben" on guitar that I'm aware of was done by Emry Arthur, a Kentuckian transplated to Indiana, I believe, who recorded it in the late '20s in Vastapol tuned to C.  Algia Mae Hinton has recorded "Reuben" (which she calls "Out of Jail") on the banjo.  "Mama Your Son Done Gone" was recorded on the banjo by Doc Watson's father-in-law, Gaither Carlton, as "Omie Let Your Bang Hang Down".

Probably my favorite recording in this style is Jim Jackson's version of "Old Dog Blue" which a number of you probably know from Harry Smith's "Anthology Of American Folk Music".  I had long thought that Jim Jackson played the song out of G position, standard tuning, but closer listening revealed a "ghosting" low root G that Jim is lightly brushing below his thumb leads on the D string.  The left hand work is so minimalistic on "Old Dog Blue", that the only fretting Jim does is of the fourth and third strings at the second fret and of a high G note on the first string.  Because of the awkwardness of holding down the fifth fret first string G that you would have in Spanish while fretting the second fret of the fourth and third strings, I think it is most likely that Jim Jackson employ either the so-called G6 tuning:  DGDGBE, or possibly a less frequently encountered tuning of his own devising:  EGDGBE.  Since he never sounds the 6th string, it is a moot point (and unknowable) whether he tuned it to D or left it at E. 
Jim Jackson does employ a thumb lead in the bass for "Old Dog Blue", and the song has a beautiful, trance-like quality.  There are no chord changes or harmonic information as it is normally thought of, just the open strings and the high G drone humming away against the melody.  The sung melody is very minimalistic, and except for where he calls "Here, Ring!" is pretty much just three notes.  Likewise, there are not really verses.  Jim starts singing at the beginning of the performance and does not stop until the end of it.  The only song I have heard that has a similar feel to it is Peg Leg Howell's song "Please, Ma'am". 
I really love these lyrics.  They have a kind of epic scope, and like a lot of pre-Blues material introduce seemingly unrelated lines at points along the way.  It is really great that something so musically fascinating but inward and ruminative was recorded.

   I'm goin' back where I come fr'
   I'm goin' back where I come fr'
   I'm going back to Giles County
   My wife died and left me a bounty
   With them pretty girls ganged around me
   That's the reason why I'm goin' to Giles County
   Had a old dog and 'is name was Blue
   You know Blue was mighty true
   You know Blue was a good old dog
   Blue treed a possum in a hollow log
   You know from that he's a good old dog
   Blue treed a possum out on a limb
   Blue looked at me and I looked at him
   Grabbed that possum, put him in a sack
   Took me and Blue 'til I get back
   Here, Ring!  Here Ring, here!
   Here, Ring!  Here Ring, here!
   Who been here since I been gone?  Little bitty girl with the red dress on
   Who been here since I been gone?  Little bitty girl with the red dress on
   Old Blue's feets was big and round
   Old Blue's feets was big and round
   Never 'lowed a possum to tetch [sic] the ground
   Me and Blue went out on a hunt
   Blue treed a possum in a hollow stump
   You know, Blue was a good old dog
   Blue treed a possum in a hollow log
   You know from that he's a good old dog
   When old Blue died and I dug his grave
   I dug his grave with a silver spade
   I let him down with a golden chain
   And every link I called his name
   Go on Blue, you good dog, you
   Go on Blue, you good dog, you
   Blue laid down and died like a man
   Blue laid down and died like a man
   Now he's treein' possums in the Promised Land
   I'm gonna tell you this to let you know
   Old Blue's gone where the good dogs go
   When I hear old Blue bark
   When I hear old Blue bark
   Blue treed a possum in Norah's [sic] Ark
   Blue treed a possum in Norah's [sic] Ark

All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Bunker Hill on January 30, 2006, 12:41:43 PM
I really love these lyrics.  They have a kind of epic scope, and like a lot of pre-Blues material introduce seemingly unrelated lines at points along the way.  It is really great that something so musically fascinating but inward and ruminative was recorded.
Paul Oliver discusses the origins of this song in Songsters & Saints and apparently the earliest reportage of it was in 1906 when informant W P Cassedy from Mississippi recounted the song (as Come On Blue) to E C Perrow. What follows is a 1915 version heard in Northern Mississippi which is in Newman Ivey White's "American Negro Folk Songs" (Harvard UP, 1928 p.208):

My old blue dog
'll make a 'possum walk a log,
Make a 'possum clim' a tree,
Then set down and bark for me.
G'on! Blue, you rascal you,
Ketch another 'possum for me and you.

He'll make a 'possum walk a lim',
Then set down and laugh at him;
I'd get the 'possum and carry him home,
Blue'd get nothing but the bones.
G'on! Blue, you rascal you,
Ketch another 'possum for me and you.

My old blue dog is dead and gone,
Left this nigger here to moan;
I went to the barn one sunny day,
There my good old blue dog lay.
Blue! Blue! Blue! Blue!
You rascal you,
I wish it was me instead of you.

I buried him in a beautiful shade,
Dug his grave with a silver spade;
Let him down on a golden chain;
At every link I'd call his name:
Blue! Blue! Blue! Blue! You rascal you,
I wish it was me instead of you.

Going to Heaven some Sunday morn,
Going to tell you what I'll do:
Get St. Peter's golden horn,
Then go out and blow for Blue;
Blue! Blue! Blue! Blue! You rascal you,
Ketch another 'possum for me and you.
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Stuart on January 30, 2006, 12:56:34 PM
John:

Thanks for the lyrics to "Old Dog Blue." It's one of my favorites as well. To go a little bit afield, a modification of a bumper sticker I once saw seems to be in order here:

"My Old Dog Blue Is Smarter Than Your Honor Student!"

Bunker Hill:

Thanks for the tip on Paul Oliver's quote and the lyrics re: man's best friend.
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Johnm on February 07, 2006, 03:43:49 PM
Hi all,
After thinking about recorded performances of people playing "banjo on guitar", I went back and listened to Emry Arthur's recording of "Reuben Oh Reuben".  I liked it even more than I had remembered liking it; it is really a striking rendition.  He played "Reuben" in Vastapol tuned to C.  "Reuben" is always played in Vastapol or its banjo version, when played on the banjo; the tuning might just as well be called "Reuben" tuning.  
Emry Arther gives "Reuben Oh Reuben" an eerie cast by playing and singing it in the Lydian Mode.  The Lydian Mode is built off of the fourth note of the major scale.  Thus a C Lydian melody would be built off of a "parent" major scale of G major, like so (distances between scale tones are indicated, as well):
          1    1   1/2   1     1     1    1/2      
       /    \/   \/     \/   \ /   \ /   \/     \        
      G    A    B      C    D    E    F#    G--G major

         1    1     1     1/2    1    1    1/2
       /   \/    \/     \/     \ /   \/   \/     \
      C    D    E      F#    G    A    B     C--C Lydian

By comparing the scales, you can see that the only structural difference between the two is the placement of the fourth note in the scale.  In the Lydian Mode, it is a whole step above the third note of the scale, resulting in the #4 note that gives the mode its characteristic sound.  Considering the structural difference is so small, the difference in sound is striking.  As used by Emry Arther in "Reuben Oh Reuben", that #4 note makes all the difference in the sound.  Here are his lyrics, with his melody indicated above his first verse.

   CHORUS:  Rube, oh Rube, oh Rube
   It's Rube, oh Rube, oh Rube
   Reuben, where you been so long?

    C     G    G  E    G     C     G    F# E     C
   I've been to the East, I've been to the West
    C     G    G  F#  E   F#   E     C
   I've been all around this old World

   I've been to the river and I've been baptized
   I'm ready for my hole in the ground

   Poor Reuben had a wreck, he broke his fireman's neck
   He can't get no letter from his home

   CHORUS

   REPEAT VERSE 1

   REPEAT VERSE 2

   Honey, if you just say so, I'll railroad no more
   I'll side-track my engine and come home

   The longest day that I ever seen
   Was the day that I left my home

   My Mama told me and Papa did too
   That I must never roam

I think Arthur's tagline on verse two captures something emblematic about a lot of Old-Time lyrics--that toughness and lack of self-pity.  If you'd like to hear this, it can be found on Yazoo 2014, "The Music Of Kentucky, vol. 2".  Also included on the disc is Emry Arthur's version of "Man Of Constant Sorrow", one of the earliest recordings of that song, if not the earliest, on which he is joined, I think, by Dock Boggs on banjo.  It is great stuff.

Edited 5/5/11 by Johnm to correct lyric
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Johnm on February 08, 2006, 05:46:07 PM
Hi all,
While I was listening to Emry Arthur do "Reuben Oh Reuben", I scouted out his other songs on "The Music of Kentucky, vol.2" on Yazoo, and found another song of his that fits this thread beautifully.  I don't actually know if anyone is interested in this stuff but me, but I'm going to throw it at the wall and see if any of it sticks.
The song is entitled "She Lied To Me", and Emry played it in Spanish, tuned quite low, to E.  That alone gives the song an eerie sound, but taken in combination with the melody and Emry's singing, the effect is spine-tingling.  Unlike "Reuben", for which Emry employed a thumb lead, he sounds to be playing the melody with the back of a fingernail, more in a frailed style, on She Lied To Me", though as in "Reuben", the accompaniment tracks the sung melody very closely. 
The melody of "She Lied To Me" is so distinctive and unusual that it took me a while to figure out how it is oriented.  It employs the notes of a D Major pentatonic scale--
D-E-F#-A-B-D, but the span of the scale places it so:  B-D-E-F#-A-B.  (Arthur sort of ghosts a G note near the end of each melodic phrase, too.) The key center is E, so if you want to convert the notes into a pentatonic scale starting and ending on DO, it works out to be E-F#-A-B-D-E, or in a structural sense, I-II-IV-V-flatVII-I.  Try that scale out on your instrument to get a notion of the character of the song.  It is really eerie, and I can not think of another song that employs that scale. 
Here are the lyrics to "She Lied To Me".  I will indicate where the melody goes up in between notes with the symbol /, if the melody goes down in pitch, I will use \.  The two halfs of each verse employ exactly the same melody, and there are no chord changes.
    E /  B   B\A\F#E D\B/   D   /   E       F#     A    B   F#/G\    E
   Oh once I had a happy home, good clothes and money to spend
   Until my girl went back on me then all my troubles begin

   She said she loved some other man and would not marry me
   Now, since she's turned me down for him I'm lonesome as can be

   I never loved no one but her, for her I would have died
   But now she loves another man, she has laid me aside

   She said I was the only one that she could ever love
   But she has lied and done me wrong as sure as God's above

   I never can forget the time when she said we must part
   She said her love for me was gone, it almost broke my heart

   She always said she loved me more than anyone in the World
   But since this stranger came along he stole my darling girl

   Oh, Mary, don't go, don't go, come back and see me once more

In a way, the lyrics are not very bluesy, especially with all the talk of love.  The sense of disappointment in love it expresses seems to come right out of a certain vein of 19th century parlor songs, though it is much older than that, and can be found in a lot of ancient Irish and English Folksongs.  The lyrical stance, though, of having no power in a relationship, does have counterparts in Blues lyrics, especially, those of Robert Wilkins like "I Do Blues", "That's No Way To Get Along", and "Jailhouse Blues".  Most Blues have an element of exuberance or defiance, but "She Lied To Me" is just down there, lonesome.  The lonesomeness of the sound is accentuated by Emry Arthur's flat affect as he sings it.  There is no emoting or acting--he trusts the words and the way he sings them to put the feeling across and it does.  Once again, a very strong performance from Emry Arthur.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: frankie on February 08, 2006, 09:07:09 PM
I-II-IV-V-flatVII-I

The term that gets applied (somewhat inappropriately) to songs that use this kind of gapped scale in old-time circles is 'modal'.  One thing that bugs me about this name is that the scale in question isn't modal at all, at least in the sense of the modes of the major scale.  The sound is totally unmistakable - sometime fiddle tunes will have one or another strain that uses a scale like this - the high part to Salt River or Cookhouse Joe, for example... there are others, I'm sure.  Shady Grove essentially uses this scale, doesn't it?  One thing I've always found peculiar about it is how it manages to completely avoid the 3rd degree of the scale.  Something about that is just unsettling in some way.

This is one of my favorite songs from Emry Arthur - thanks!
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Johnm on February 09, 2006, 09:44:20 AM
Way to hear, Frank!  "Shady Grove" does use the same pentatonic scale as "She Lied To Me".  I suppose you could think of it as a sort of "Dorian pentatonic" or "II pentatonic" scale since it starts on the II note of the major scale, and makes its way upward and downward from there,  omitting only the IV and VII note of the parent scale, or III and VI of the Dorian scale.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Johnm on March 02, 2006, 06:02:21 PM
Hi all,
I have been listening to a performance recently that seems transitional between pre-Blues and Blues as they would normally be identified:  Jim Jackson's "Wild About My Lovin'".  This song caught on with the generation of listeners who came to this music in the 1960s largely through Geoff Muldaur's rendition of it on the first Jim Kweskin Jug Band album, and Geoff really sang it well, as he does just about everything. 
Jim Jackson's original version of "Wild About My Lovin'" is both simpler and stranger than the Kweskin Jug Band version.  The song is phrased as a 12-bar chorus blues, but Jim is notably inconsistent in his verse accompaniments.  In the song's six verses, he only goes to the IV chord for the fifth and sixth bars in the second and third verses; in the other verses, he stays on the I chord through the bars normally reserved for the IV chord.  As for the V chord, Jim Jackson plays it only for the second half of the ninth bar in the first verse, plays it to accompany the ninth bar in the second verse, omits it in the third verse, and plays it in the ninth bar for verses four through six.  The variety with which Jim Jackson backs the song would seem to indicate that he didn't have a hard and fast notion of the chordal form at all, and varied it as he saw fit.  When you're playing solo, this is not so much of a problem, but it drives bass players crazy.
Jim Jackson backed the song in G position, standard tuning (though perhaps tuned low) and accompanies it with a 4/2 pulse, striking bass notes on the four beats and strumming on the upbeats.  He worries a 3-note motif that was also made much of by Jim Baxter: it's on the fourth string, walking from the second fret to the first fret to the open string.  Relative to the key in which they are played, these notes are VI-flatVI-V.  When you phrase any 3-note motif in a meter divisible by four, it flips over and over on itself.  Here is a transcription of Jim's bass line for his fourth verse.  Unless otherwise indicated, the notes are played on the fourth string.

   |1-0-2-1|0-2-1-0|2-1-0-2|1-0-2-0|

   |2-1-0-2|1-0-3(6th)-2(5th)|3(6th)-2(5th)-0-2(5th)|3(6th)-2(5th)-0-2|

   |0-0-0-0(all 5th)|0-2-0-2|3(6th)-2(5th)-0-2(5th)|3(6th)-2(5th)-0-2|

To test the sound of this if it is unfamiliar, just hold down the 3rd fret of the first string for your strumming on the off-beats in all the measures except the ninth.  In the ninth measure play a D chord in the left hand for your strumming.
Listening to the sound of this accompaniment, I think it's fair to say the Blues had not fully arrived in Jim Jackson's neck of the woods.  It is really odd to start the accompaniment for a vocal hitting the flat VI note of the scale on the downbeat of the form, but listen to it a couple of times and it sounds like it was meant to be.  It has an odd sort of circular perseveration and its own kind of loosey-goosey charm.  It's a striking sound, and I don't recall hearing anything like it in Blues-related music in recent years.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Johnm on March 23, 2006, 10:18:24 PM
Hi all,
One pre-blues tune that has enjoyed a lot of popularity in both the African-American and Old Time traditions is "Railroad Bill".  The earliest recording of it that I have heard was done by Will Bennett, who recorded two sides in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1929.  Bennett's version, while played in C in standard tuning like every other version of the song, lacks the spiffy finger-picking that is to be found on virtually every other recorded version.  Bennett plays a simple cut-time version of the song, and sounds to be simply strumming downward with his thumb.  That having been said, Bennett's playing provides a perfect accompaniment for his terrific singing.  He plays the song with the following chord progression/bar structure.

   |      C       |        C        |         C          |        C        |

   |      C       |        C        |         F          |         F        |

   |      C       |        G7      |         C          |         C        |

The lyrics phrase verses over the first 8 bars of the form with the refrain entering at the tail end of the eighth bar, a la

   Railroad Bill, ought to be killed
   Never worked and he never will,
   REFRAIN:  I'm gon' ride my Railroad Bill

According to David Evans' liner notes to the old OJL anthology, "Let's Go Riding",
   "Railroad Bill was a nickname for Morris Slater, a Negro train robber who operated in Alabama and Florida from 1894 to 1897.  In his career he killed a deputy and a sheriff before being shot down himself on March 7, 1897, while eating cheese and crackers at a grocery store at Atmore, Alabama."
Will Bennett's version of "Railroad Bill" is currently available on the Document CD "Sinners And Saints", DOCD-5106, and I don't believe it has ever been equalled vocally.
A version of "Railroad Bill" that evidently influenced a lot of people in the New York Folk Music scene was recorded by the great Old Time player Hobart Smith in 1946.  Like just about everything Smith recorded at that time of his life, this rendition of "Railroad Bill" was played really fast, really hard and really strong.  This version is available on the Rounder CD "Hobart Smith--Blue Ridge Legacy", Rounder CD 11661-1799-2, and includes many of the verses that are most commonly heard sung to the song.  Two other versions of the song by Smith (one played on banjo) are included on the recently released Smithsonian Folkways CD, "Hobart Smith--In Sacred Trust", SFW CD 40141.  The notes to this CD inform us that Smith learned the song from Bob Campbell, an albino African-American from Saltville, Virginia's Smoky Row, of whom Smith recalled,
   "His eyes would just dance in his head when he played that "Railroad Bill".  And of all my traveling since, of all the colored people I've heard play it, of all the men I ever heard play it, I've never heard a man could beat Bob Campbell playing "Railroad Bill".  Ah, he was wonderful.  Ain't no question about that."
Whether he got it from Bob Campbell or not, Hobart Smith's versions of "Railroad Bill" introduces a chordal innovation not found in Will Bennett's version.  Occasionally, Smith substitutes an E7 chord for the C chord in the fifth and sixth bars.  The resolution of the E7 to the F chord can similarly be found in Elizabeth Cotten's "Freight Train".
The next version of "Railroad Bill" to catch people's ears was recorded by Etta Baker in 1956, and appeared on the old Tradition LP, "Instrumental Music Of The Southern Appalachians".  This version, done instrumentally, has an epic quality, and is chock full of fresh ideas and nifty personal touches.  Etta Baker came up with a segue passage that occurs several times in the course of the rendition, employing a "mystery" chord, that occasioned a lot of discussion.  The mystery chord is substituted for the C chord in the first four bars of the form, resolving into the E7 chord in the fifth and sixth bars and then the form is completed as it is normally played.  Etta's mystery chord is a rootless F7 chord, fingered:   x-3-x-2-4-0.  She alternates between the fifth and third string with her thumb while moving back and forth between the fourth fret of the second string (Eflat) and the open first string (E).  When she resolves to E7 in the fifth bar, she simply moves the position down one fret, intact, winding up with E7 played as x-2-x-1-3-0.  She keeps the same right hand pattern going, alternating between the fifth and third strings while moving between the third fret of the second string (D) and the open first string (E) in the treble.  The sound of the rootless F7 is so striking in this context, and the resolution to the E7 is so satisfying; it's one of the great moments in finger-picked guitar.
I believe this early recording by Etta Baker has recently been made available on CD again, and she also recorded an excellent version of "Railroad Bill" for her Rounder CD, "Etta Baker--One Dime Blues", Rounder CD 2112. 
A particularly strong version of "Railroad Bill" that is not nearly as well-known as it should be was recorded by the late Delaware Bluesman Frank Hovington, and can be found on his Flyright CD, "Frank Hovington--Gone With The Wind", Fly CD 66.  Something about "Railroad Bill" seems to inspire players to come up with their own special touches, and Frank Hovington does some great things that I haven't heard anyone else do on the song.  He introduces at a couple of points in his rendition a whole different lyric strain and melody that is like an interpolation from another song.  He sings:

   If I lose, let me lose, I don't care
   If I lose, let me lose, I don't care
   Lose eight dollars while trying to win one dime
   We can afford some hard luck sometime

Charlie Poole sang essentially the same lyric in his song, "If I Lose", but his melody was different than Frank Hovington's.  Frank Hovington's version of "Railroad Bill" is on the Weenie Juke, and you might want to check it out if you've not heard it before.
John Jackson also recorded a beautiful version of "Railroad Bill" on his Alligator CD, "Front Porch Blues", ALCD 4867.  John's version clocks in at 4:02 and is notable for the great number of verses he sang that did not appear on any other recorded versions.  John sometimes concludes the form in this rendition with an instrumental tag that is reminiscent of the Carter Family's "Cannonball Blues", which Maybelle may have learned from A.P.'s song finder and blues source, Leslie Riddle.
If you are interested in playing "Railroad Bill", there are certainly a number of excellent versions to get ideas from, both in terms of lyrics and accompaniment, and it's particularly appealing to have a song that appears to have a built-in expectation that the player will come up with a few original wrinkles of his or her own.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Bunker Hill on March 24, 2006, 12:46:50 AM
According to David Evans' liner notes to the old OJL anthology, "Let's Go Riding",
   "Railroad Bill was a nickname for Morris Slater, a Negro train robber who operated in Alabama and Florida from 1894 to 1897.  In his career he killed a deputy and a sheriff before being shot down himself on March 7, 1897, while eating cheese and crackers at a grocery store at Atmore, Alabama."
Will Bennett's version of "Railroad Bill" is currently available on the Document CD "Sinners And Saints", DOCD-5106, and I don't believe it has ever been equalled vocally.
I love that song, and that entire OJL compilation as a matter of fact!

Norm Cohen in "Long Steel Rail; The Railroad in American Folk Song" (Illinois UP 1981) devotes a chapter to the songs about Railroad Bill and reproduces conflicting "eye witness" reports of the shooting. Cohen lists the first recorded version as by Riley Pucket on Sept 11, 1924.

I have a yellowing photocopy of a Paul Oliver three page article on "Railroad Bill from Music Mirror (Dec 1956), if it strikes me as worth posting as a new topic I may attempt to scan and do so.
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Cambio on March 24, 2006, 05:42:42 AM
Frank Hutchison also recorded the song in 1929.  His version would be similiar to the Hobart Smith version in which he goes from the C to E in the fifth and sixth bars.  Hutchison's version can be found on Documents Old Time Music From West Virginia.  This CD also features the recordings of Dick Justice.  Both Justice and Hutchison were fountians of lots of pre-blues material in addition to being great white blues players .
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: frankie on March 24, 2006, 05:54:54 AM
In L&N Rag by Alex Hood and the Railroad Boys, the same E to F movement is also used (actually, F to E and back to F) - I think it must have developed partially out of pop music of the day...  doesn't Darktown Strutter's Ball have some motion like that in it?
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Johnm on March 24, 2006, 11:30:52 PM
Hi all,
I agree with you about the Origin Jazz album, "Let's Go Riding", Bunker Hill.  It's a tremendous collection, and has one of the greatest covers of any blues re-issue CD, a wonderful photo of a paddlewheeler. 
Your mention of Frank Hutchison was a good one, Todd.  I had completely forgotten that he recorded "Railroad Bill", and when I went back and listened to his version I found it to be a really interesting one.  Frank Hutchison had such a wonky sense of phrasing, yet it sounds natural when he does it.  He does an interesting tag on some of his verses, walking the C chord he resolves to at the end of the form up two frets to a D7 and then going to G for a very brief modulation from which he returns almost immediately to C.  A tune that employs this move in much the same way is Elizabeth Cotten's instrumental "Wilson Rag", though in "Wilson Rag", you stay in G much longer than in Frank Hutchison's version of "Railroad Bill". 

After thinking about it, I believe one reason that so many of the people who played "Railroad Bill" put interesting little instrumental tags at the end of the form or added new material to the basic form of the song is because if the song is performed without any such additions, the vocal never lets up and dominates the accompaniment on what is designed to be an instrumental showpiece.  It's analogous to the way that many musicians when playing 8-bar blues--Ishmon Bracey playing "Woman, Woman", Furry Lewis playing "Dryland", John Hurt playing "Sliding Delta" and others--extended the form to allow for some instrumental fireworks at the end of the form before starting the next verse.  Since in the 8-bar blues mentioned the vocal, as in "Railroad Bill", never lets up in the course of the form, the only way to get the vocal to pause for a moment so the guitar can shine is to lengthen the form.  And the ways that the various musicians who have played "Railroad Bill" have chosen to lengthen the form provides insight into their musical personalities and imagination.
I don't think I have heard "L & N Rag", Frank.  Where can it be found?  Another C song that has the E7--F move is the Trad Jazz classic, "Make Me a Pallet On Your Floor", or as John Hurt played it, "Ain't No Tellin'".
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Stefan Wirz on March 25, 2006, 12:04:03 AM
since man is an eye-animal (from my OJL discography (http://www.wirz.de/music/ojl.htm):
(https://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/proxy.php?request=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.americanmusic.de%2Fojl%2Fgrafik%2F18a1.jpg&hash=32ef8e45228696ffd97b4b4e36dddd7b9ccba755) (https://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/proxy.php?request=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.americanmusic.de%2Fojl%2Fgrafik%2F181.jpg&hash=2866f6017fdb176ad270d9d4f0a15526fcd1ad0a)
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Cambio on March 25, 2006, 05:45:24 AM
I've been on a Frank Huchison bender for a couple of months now.  He's really seems under rated and largely ignored.  His style is particularly peculiar and he's a very diverse player, fingerpicking, playing lapstyle and strumming in accompaniment to his harmonica rack playing.  He's a fantastic singer and has a really interesting repertoire.
Back to what you were saying about different player's treatment of Railroad Bill, I guess that is one of the reasons why I really enjoy pre-blues material, there are so many different treatments of the "standards".  It's almost the same way that different jazz players put their mark on a tune by playing it in their own unique style.  You can look at songs like Cassie Jones, Stagger Lee, Take Me Back, Pallet, and each player makes it his or her own.  I think Lemon's Beggin Back is the perfect example of this as is Frank Hutchison's Stagger Lee.  They both follow the basic guidelines of the song or story, but they are both unique creations of the player.
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Wayne on March 25, 2006, 07:42:15 AM
I haven't heard much Frank Hutchison stuff........but what I have heard is great.....the  tune 'The Last Scene Of The Titanic' sounds so much like stuff Woody Guthrie and Dylan would do later...the wonderful scene contrasts etc.
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: frankie on May 23, 2006, 08:34:06 PM
I don't think I have heard "L & N Rag", Frank.  Where can it be found?

It's on Yazoo's The Music of Kentucky, Volume 1.
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Johnm on May 23, 2006, 09:29:17 PM
Thanks, Frank, for the place to find "L & N Rag".  Turns out I have that CD but didn't register the title.  Doh.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Richard on May 25, 2006, 01:13:33 PM
Yes, Frank Huchison has a very diverse talent and quite a musican - it's worth getting the Document CD. 

Sorry, no connection but am laughing having just heard myself do one of those silly links with a fragment of lap steel on the juke.. haha
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Johnm on December 25, 2006, 02:29:18 PM
Hi all,
An interesting performance that falls into this category is J. D. Short's recently re-released "By The Spoonful", which can be found on "The Sonet Blues Story--J. D. Short", Verve B0007206-02.    Accompanying himself on guitar in a boom-chang style and harmonica played off a rack, Short does his version of "Spoonful" in a play-party or "frolic" approach that sounds to be in an older style than the Charlie Patton version recorded more than thirty years earlier.  Short's melody lacks "blue notes', the flat III or flat VII notes, and harmonizes his chant-like song simply, like so:
   Verse:
   |   G    |    G   |   D   |   D   |
   |   D    |    D   |   G   |   G   |
   Chorus:
   |   C    |    C   |   G   |   G   |
   |   D    |    D  |   G    |   G   |
Short accelerates as he makes his way through the song, and the extreme repetitiveness of the lyrics and melody combine for a trance-like sort of feel, somewhat like the Peg Leg Howell song "Please, Ma'am", though the two songs bear no melodic resemblance to each other.  I think Short's song would make a great Cajun or Zydeco dance tune, but it is a great dance tune as is, too.  It is on the Weenie Juke for anyone who cares to hear it.

   I'd kill my Ma, sugar, my babe, 'bout a spoonful, spoonful
   I'd kill my Pa, sugar, my babe, 'bout a spoonful, spoonful

   And all I want, sugar, my babe, just a spoonful, spoonful
   It's all I crave, sugar, my baby, just a spoonful, spoonful

   HARMONICA SOLO

   It's all I crave, sugar, my babe, just a spoonful, spoonful
   It's all I crave, sugar, my baby, carry me to my grave

   I'd kill my Ma, sugar, my babe, 'bout a spoonful, spoonful
   I'd kill my Pa, sugar, my babe, 'bout a spoonful

   It's a spoonful of this, sugar, my babe, it's a spoonful of that
   It's a spoonful of this, sugar, my baby, that killed the cat

   A---ll I want, is a spoonful
   That's all I want, sugar, my baby, that a spoonful

   HARMONICA SOLO

   All I crave, sugar, my baby, carry me to my grave
   That's all I crave, sugar, my baby, just a spoonful

   Hit it all night long, sugar, my baby, just a spoonful (2)

   It's a spoonful of this, and a spoonful of that
   It's a spoonful of this, baby, that killed the cat

   It's all I crave, sugar, my baby, just a spoonful (2)

   Carry me to my grave, carry me to my grave
   That's all I want, sugar, my baby, is a spoonful

   HARMONICA SOLO

   All last night, all last night
   Hit it all last night, I'm worryin' 'bout it, just a spoonful

   I'm kill my Ma, sugar, my babe, 'bout a spoonful
   I'll kill my Pa, sugar my babe, 'bout a spoonful

   It's all I want, just a spoonful
   It's all I want, sugar, my baby, is a spoonful

   It's a spoonful of this, oh, a spoonful of that
   It's a spoonful of this, baby, that I sure do like

   HARMONICA SOLO

   It's late last night, sugar, my baby, it's late last night
   It was late last night, sugar, my babe, I want a spoonful

   It's all I want, sugar, my baby, is a spoonful
   That's all I crave, sugar, my baby, carry me to my grave

All best,
Johnm
   
   
   

   
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Bunker Hill on December 29, 2006, 11:22:20 AM
Hi all,
An interesting performance that falls into this category is J. D. Short's recently re-released "By The Spoonful", which can be found on "The Sonet Blues Story--J. D. Short", Verve B0007206-02.    Accompanying himself on guitar in a boom-chang style and harmonica played off a rack, Short does his version of "Spoonful" in a play-party or "frolic" approach that sounds to be in an older style than the Charlie Patton version recorded more than thirty years earlier.  Short's melody lacks "blue notes', the flat III or flat VII notes, and harmonizes his chant-like song simply, like so:
   Verse:
   |   G    |    G   |   D   |   D   |
   |   D    |    D   |   G   |   G   |
   Chorus:
   |   C    |    C   |   G   |   G   |
   |   D    |    D  |   G    |   G   |
Short accelerates as he makes his way through the song, and the extreme repetitiveness of the lyrics and melody combine for a trance-like sort of feel, somewhat like the Peg Leg Howell song "Please, Ma'am", though the two songs bear no melodic resemblance to each other.  I think Short's song would make a great Cajun or Zydeco dance tune, but it is a great dance tune as is, too.  It is on the Weenie Juke for anyone who cares to hear it.

   I'd kill my Ma, sugar, my babe, 'bout a spoonful, spoonful
   I'd kill my Pa, sugar, my babe, 'bout a spoonful, spoonful

   And all I want, sugar, my babe, just a spoonful, spoonful
   It's all I crave, sugar, my baby, just a spoonful, spoonful

   HARMONICA SOLO

   It's all I crave, sugar, my babe, just a spoonful, spoonful
   It's all I crave, sugar, my baby, carry me to my grave

   I'd kill my Ma, sugar, my babe, 'bout a spoonful, spoonful
   I'd kill my Pa, sugar, my babe, 'bout a spoonful

   It's a spoonful of this, sugar, my babe, it's a spoonful of that
   It's a spoonful of this, sugar, my baby, that killed the cat

   A---ll I want, is a spoonful
   That's all I want, sugar, my baby, that a spoonful

   HARMONICA SOLO

   All I crave, sugar, my baby, carry me to my grave
   That's all I crave, sugar, my baby, just a spoonful

   Hit it all night long, sugar, my baby, just a spoonful (2)

   It's a spoonful of this, and a spoonful of that
   It's a spoonful of this, baby, that killed the cat

   It's all I crave, sugar, my baby, just a spoonful (2)

   Carry me to my grave, carry me to my grave
   That's all I want, sugar, my baby, is a spoonful

   HARMONICA SOLO

   All last night, all last night
   Hit it all last night, I'm worryin' 'bout it, just a spoonful

   I'm kill my Ma, sugar, my babe, 'bout a spoonful
   I'll kill my Pa, sugar my babe, 'bout a spoonful

   It's all I want, just a spoonful
   It's all I want, sugar, my baby, is a spoonful

   It's a spoonful of this, oh, a spoonful of that
   It's a spoonful of this, baby, that I sure do like

   HARMONICA SOLO

   It's late last night, sugar, my baby, it's late last night
   It was late last night, sugar, my babe, I want a spoonful

   It's all I want, sugar, my baby, is a spoonful
   That's all I crave, sugar, my baby, carry me to my grave
John fwiw if you go to http://www.wirz.de/music/shortfrm.htm and scroll to bottom you will see a scan of Bob Groom's discussion-cum-analysis of J.D's lyrics using what was available 30 years ago. Just click on each page to read.
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Johnm on December 29, 2006, 02:13:06 PM
Thanks very much for the tip, Bunker Hill.  As soon as I get through the holidays I will definitely check out Bob Groom's analysis of Short's lyrics.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Johnm on March 27, 2007, 03:41:34 PM
Hi all,
I recently picked up the JSP set "The Paramount Masters", and one of the cuts that piqued my interest immediately was Sweet Papa Stovepipe's rendition of "Mama's Angel Child".  Musically, it has the sound of the parlor song era of the late 19th century, but its chord progression has surprising elements in common with Ragtime and some circle-of-fifths Blues.  In any event, its sound is arrestingly different from the rest of the material on the set, which is pretty uniformly excellent.  Much of the song's character derives from Sweet Papa Stovepipe's delivery, which communicates so many layers of irony that you feel like you could scratch through them for the rest of your life without coming to the end of them.  When Sweet Papa faux sobs the line, "I'm my mama's baby child", you realize at what a remove the delivery of the lyrics is from their written meaning, taken at face value.
Part of the "parlorish" aspect of the song is its meter, 3/4, which is very infrequently encountered in the work of most Blues players.  Sweet Papa plays the song out of A position in standard tuning, and the progression and bar structure of the song are as follows:

   |  E over B   |   E7 over B   |     D     |     D     |

   |  E over B   |   E7 over B   | A minor |     A     |

   |C# over G# | C#7 over G#| F# minor |   F      |

   |   A over E   |    E7            |     A      |     A     |

Sweet Papa plays both his E over B going to E7 over B and his C# over G# and C#7 over G# out of the long A going to A7 positions on the top four strings, hitting the bass for each chord on the fourth string, and barring the first four strings at the ninth fret for E and E7 and at the sixth fret for C# and C#7.  The two measures of D are played as a descending arpeggio D-A-F# followed by an ascending one, D-F#-A.  The A minor is played as an ascending arpeggio, A-C-E, and the bar of A following it is played out of the F position on the top four strings.  The movement from F# minor to F is particularly nifty and can be played in a couple of places on the neck.  This solution would work:  F# minor:  X-X-4-6-X-5, resolving to F:  X-X-3-5-X-5.
The concluding A over E to E7 to A portion of the progression is played out of the F position fingering the E note at the seventh fret of the fifth string in the bass, playing the E7 out of a C7 shape rooted at the seventh fret of the fifth string and returning to an A played out of an F position.  The progression and melody are really surprising, beautiful and striking, and have been stuck in my head ever since I first heard the song.
Here are the lyrics.  I'm missing one word enclosed by bent brackets and any help would be appreciated.

   Tell me, what have I done?
   Tell me, what have I done?
   Tell me, what have I done?
   I'm my mama's baby child

   Haven't got nobody that I can call my own
   Haven't got nobody that I can call my own
   I haven't got nobody that I can call my own
   I'm my mama's baby child

   SOLO

   Some give me a nickel, some give me a dime
   Some give me a nickel, some give me a dime
   Some give me a nickel and some give me a dime
   I'm my mama's baby child

   Some day you'll feel lonesome (guitar finishes line)
   Some day you'll feel lonesome, when I'm gone far away
   Some day you'll feel lonesome when I'm gone far away
   I'm my mama's baby child

   Knocked on the door and I heard somebody roar
   Knocked on the door, I was out in the rain and snow
   Knocked on the door and I had nowhere to go
   I'm my mama's baby child

   SOLO

   Hacks and those hearses all formed one line
   Hacks and those hearses all formed one line
   Hacks and those hearses all formed a line
   Just to bury the best buddy of mine

   REPEAT VERSE 1

   I'm goin' away, I ain't gon' be gone long
   I'm goin' away, I ain't gon' be gone long
   I'm goin' away, but I ain't goin' to stay
   I'm my mama's baby child

   Tell all, I'm bound to roam
   New York, plumb bound to roam
   Hey, yuh, I'm bound to roam
   I'm my mama's angel child

Edited 3/28 to pick up corrections from banjo chris and dj

All best,
Johnm   

   
       
     
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: banjochris on March 27, 2007, 07:44:04 PM
John -- I agree, that "Mama's Angel Child" is really one-of-a-kind. I'm not certain of that one line either, but he might be singing "Just to bury this base body of mine" -- although it comes out "blase". I also hear the line before that as "Hacks and those hearses..."

This is such a weird sounding tune, and it also has the slightly surreal touch of one note on the kazoo at the very, very end.

Chris
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: dj on March 28, 2007, 03:42:32 AM
I think "Hacks and those hearses all formed one line" is correct.  I hear the final line of that verse as "Just to bury that bes' buddy of mine", though the u of buddy is elongated towards an o sound.

Thanks for pointing this one out, John.   
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: banjochris on March 28, 2007, 03:50:26 AM
"Best buddy" would make more sense.
Chris
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Johnm on March 28, 2007, 09:38:25 AM
Thanks for the help, banjochris and dj.  "Weird" really is a good description of "Mama's Angel Child".  It takes so long to get to home--the front end of the melody and progression is particularly disorienting.  I found one other thing that I missed on the first try at the lyrics:  in the second line of the last verse, I think Papa Stovepipe says "plumb bound to roam".  I sure like this kind of material.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: uncle bud on March 29, 2007, 08:34:24 AM
Papa plays the song out of A position in standard tuning, and the progression and bar structure of the song are as follows:

   |  E over B   |   E7 over B   |     D     |     D     |

   |  E over B   |   E7 over B   | A minor |     A     |

   |C# over G# | C#7 over G#| F# minor |   F      |

   |   A over E   |    E7            |     A      |     A     |

Sweet Papa plays both his E over B going to E7 over B and his C# over G# and C#7 over G# out of the long A going to A7 positions on the top four strings, hitting the bass for each chord on the fourth string, and barring the first four strings at the ninth fret for E and E7 and at the sixth fret for C# and C#7.  The two measures of D are played as a descending arpeggio D-A-F# followed by an ascending one, D-F#-A.  The A minor is played as an ascending arpeggio, A-C-E, and the bar of A following it is played out of the F position on the top four strings.  The movement from F# minor to F is particularly nifty and can be played in a couple of places on the neck.  This solution would work:  F# minor:  X-X-4-6-X-5, resolving to F:  X-X-3-5-X-5.
The concluding A over E to E7 to A portion of the progression is played out of the F position fingering the E note at the seventh fret of the fifth string in the bass, playing the E7 out of a C7 shape rooted at the seventh fret of the fifth string and returning to an A played out of an F position.  The progression and melody are really surprising, beautiful and striking, and have been stuck in my head ever since I first heard the song.

Hi John,

I agree this is one weird and wonderful tune. To me, it sounds almost like its roots are in some kind of European folk tradition, as if Papa Stovepipe bumped into some displaced French or Italian street musician and copped this song from them.

Just curious what is meant by the terminology "E over B", "A over E" etc. I'm not familiar with it. Is this the same as E with a B bass (notated sometimes as E/B)?
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Johnm on March 29, 2007, 08:52:56 AM
Hi Uncle Bud,
You're right--I hadn't thought about it, but both the melody and the chord progression of "Mama's Angel Child" sound like they might have come from one of the mazurkas on the Rounder release, "Italian String Virtuosi" (Rounder CD 1095), a collection of recordings from the '20s, '30s and '40s of Italian mandolinists, guitarists and tenor banjo players.  I'd recommend the CD very highly to fans of the mandolin or people who just enjoy great melodies and stellar musicianship.
You interpreted the terminology "A over E" correctly.  Normally, I would designate such a chord "A/E", but I've gotten in the habit here of using slashes to indicate instances when a bar is split evenly between two chords.  So I've tried to turn the slash into a single-meaning symbol for the purposes of these posts. 
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: tommersl on March 29, 2007, 12:07:28 PM
Is the "pre" word about chronological? What if those were just songs with elements that are different from other elements of other songs?
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Johnm on March 29, 2007, 03:08:18 PM
Hi tommer,
Welcome to Weenie Campbell!  Your question is apt, particularly with regard to "Mama's Angel Child".  The term Pre-Blues can be used in a strictly chronological sense, meaning working in a style that pre-dates Blues, as is the case in "Mama's Angel Child".  More often, Pre-Blues is used to describe music that pre-dated Blues and had some qualities that survived in the Blues.  A lot of Henry Thomas's and John Hurt's music would fall into this second category, though some people would contend that what they did did not evolve into Blues, but simply remained a separate style of music.  This all may not help very much in clarifying things; what really moves the discussion forward is talking about separate songs or songs of a type and analyzing their musical characteristics in comparison to those of the various Blues forms.  If you look at the whole thread, it may help.
All best,
Johnm 
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: tommersl on March 31, 2007, 07:52:07 AM
John thank you for welcoming me. Interesting thread.
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: dj on March 31, 2007, 08:20:20 AM
tommersl's post made me go back and reread the earliest posts in the thread.  One part of John's first post jumped out at me:

Quote
Blues is most often described by persons living at the time as having first made an appearance in the first decade of the 20th century.  I can remember Sam Chatmon saying that he could recall the first Blues he ever heard, and when it happened (around 1908).

This struck me because the commonly accepted theory of the origins of the blues is that it arose probably around Mississippi form a common pool of African musical retentions in the Black community, transmitted through and formed via work songs and especially field hollers.  And yet it's really common to come across cases where African Americans, even Mississippians such as Sam Chatmon, recall the first time they heard the blues.  It makes me wonder if the commonly accepted theory is not entirely correct.  Ah, well, another on the long list of life's unanswerable questions... 
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Rivers on April 02, 2007, 08:53:52 PM
Don't get me started on this whole topic...  ;)

OF COURSE the blues was around long before recorded music. Since McCluhan was totally correct in observing that the medium is the message of course the paradigm shifted, not only for the people of the time but certainly for anyone studying the topic in latter days, it's a total no brainer.

Some folks to this day believe that Delta blues is older than Piedmont blues. No, actually delta blues was the punk scene of the Twenties. It just sounds older. My point? I don't have one, except for possibly let's take all this as read.

The point of the thread is contained in the original post, I respectfully suggest posters refer to page 1  >:D

 
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Johnm on January 23, 2008, 12:23:13 AM
Hi all,
I was just listening to the cuts that Honeyboy Edwards recorded for Alan Lomax in 1942, included on the JSP set, "Big Joe Williams and the Stars of Mississippi Blues", and found a performance that suits the pre-blues category to a T:  Honeyboy's version of "Stagolee".  Played in D position in standard tuning, as were the versions recorded by the Down Home Boys and John Hurt approximately fifteen years earlier, Honeyboy's version of "Stagolee" makes those earlier versions sound urbane by comparison.  He hits a drony shifting monotonic bass, sometimes landing on chord tones and sometimes not.  When the vocal enters, he appears to be phrasing in 6/4, but it turns out that there is pulse but no consistent meter.  Both melody and lyrics are minimal, almost to the point of sounding like chanting.
   Stagolee. . . . . . Stagolee . . . . . Stagolee . . .oh Stagolee . . . oh Stagolee and they killed old Stagolee
   Stagolee was a man . . .Stagolee, he was a man . . . and they killed poor Stagolee

For a song that is usually presented as a blues ballad with an involved narrative content, this is a unique treatment.  Its effect is all the more striking for being played by one of the flashiest practitioners of Mississippi blues at the time it was recorded, and it flies in the face of most of the rest of the material Honeyboy recorded at the session.  This is substantially the most "country" version of Stagolee I've ever heard, and sounds almost like Honeyboy had only the vaguest idea of the story of Stagolee.  This one is worth digging up if you haven't heard it.
All best,
Johnm   
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: CF on January 23, 2008, 06:56:23 AM
Hey John thanks for the heads up on this tune I just got this JSP set in the mail. This will be my first encounter with Honeyboy's recorded work, can't wait.
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Bunker Hill on January 23, 2008, 11:29:06 AM
Honeyboy's version of "Stagolee" makes those earlier versions sound urbane by comparison.  He hits a drony shifting monotonic bass, sometimes landing on chord tones and sometimes not.  When the vocal enters, he appears to be phrasing in 6/4, but it turns out that there is pulse but no consistent meter.  Both melody and lyrics are minimal, almost to the point of sounding like chanting.
   Stagolee. . . . . . Stagolee . . . . . Stagolee . . .oh Stagolee . . . oh Stagolee and they killed old Stagolee
   Stagolee was a man . . .Stagolee, he was a man . . . and they killed poor Stagolee
I've only got this on the 1993 Indigo CD it first appeared on but from memory there it's only about a minute long and at the time reminded me of perhaps being in answer to one of Alan Lomax's "do you know such-and-such a song?" and that's all Edwards could come up with at such short notice.

Is the number any longer on JSP?
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: CF on January 23, 2008, 07:25:00 PM
Nope, it's a minute long on the JSP too. 'Stagolee' is followed by an almost equally sparse version of 'Spoonful'. I agree BH, sounds like Lomax was asking for some trad material & Honeyboy just knew fragments.
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Johnm on January 24, 2008, 10:39:04 AM
I agree with you, Bunker Hill and cheapfeet, that what Honeyboy did on "Stagolee" and "Spoonful" at the session in question may have been the result of trying to honor a request from Lomax for songs that were not a regular part of his repertoire.  The two versions are so "low tech" compared to everything else Honeyboy played in those sessions. 
They also make me wonder if Honeyboy ever heard John Hurt.  The tag he sings, "They killed poor Stagolee" is very close melodically to John Hurt's tag, "that cruel Stackerlee".  Also Honeyboy's "Spoonful" bears some melodic resemblance to John Hurt's "Coffee Blues" and is unlike any commercially available recording of "Spoonful" available at that time that I have heard.  If Honeyboy was indeed influenced by John Hurt, it is one of the only instances I can think of where there is any evidence of a Mississippi musician even having heard John Hurt.
EDITED TO ADD, 1/25: I should have made clear that if Honeyboy was influenced in any way through John Hurt's renditions of "Stackerlee" and "Coffee Blues", I think it would have been through seeing him play live rather than hearing the recordings, both because it was so long in 1942 since John Hurt had made his Okeh recordings and also because I don't believe he ever recorded "Coffee Blues" until the '60s.  Considering the fact that John Hurt seemed to stick pretty close to home, it may be a long shot that Honeyboy ever saw him play.
All best,
Johnm   
Title: Re: The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Post by: Johnm on January 27, 2013, 04:49:02 PM
Hi all,
I was just listening to Roosevelt Holts on the "Roosevelt Holts & Friends--The Franklinton Muscatel Society" CD, and he does a very pretty version of "Corina" out of C position in the record that very much falls into this category.
All best,
Johnm
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