Country Blues => Weenie Campbell Main Forum => Topic started by: Johnm on June 01, 2005, 10:57:12 PM

Title: Jesse Fuller
Post by: Johnm on June 01, 2005, 10:57:12 PM
Hi all,
With all the interest expressed in 12-string guitars and the people who played them, it's a little surprising the Jesse Fuller's name doesn't come up more often.  I've been listening lately to an album of his on the Good Time Jazz label from 1958 ( I got it used).  It is called "Jesse Fuller--Jazz, Folk Songs, Spirituals and Blues", and it is really good.  His program on it reminds me of the breadth of repertoire that people like John Jackson had, and that Warner Williams, who was at PT last summer, still has.  Jesse's repertoire seems to have had more in common with John Jackson's than with Warner's, being a bit more heavily based in Folk and less grounded in Pop.
On this record, Jesse's preferred playing position is definitely G in standard tuning, with C a close second.  He also does one song each in E standard and D standard.  He had a way of keeping time that was really nice, just sort of churning and munching away.  This, combined with the fact that he was a one-man band, accompanying himself on cymbal, guitar and kazoo on a rack (sometimes both on the same song), and an instrument of his own invention, the fotdella, that enabled him to play bass with foot pedals, allowed Jesse to achieve a full ensemble sound all by himself.  His description of how he came up with the fotdella is worth quoting.
   "I took me a whole week one time when I wasn't doing anything,and I made this thing I call the fotdella in my back room.  I just got the idea lyin' in bed one night, just like I write songs. I lie down on the bed and write songs at night.  I thought about doin' something like that so I could have somethin' to go along with me and help me out instead of another fellow.  I just took some masonite, heated some wood in hot water and rounded it off around a wheel.  I learned that in the barrel factory where I used to work--that's the way they do the staves.  They make cotton pickin' baskets the same way.  I tried to use bass fiddle strings, but they don't sound so good, they stretch out of tune so I use piano strings.  My wife named it the fotdella because I played it with my foot, like "foot diller".
Jesse starts off the program with three songs in G, "Take This Hammer", which he describes as his favorite, "Linin' Track", and "I'm Gonna Meet My Loving Mother", which Jaybird Coleman and Ollis Martin did as the great harmonica duet  "I'm Gonna Cross That River of Jordan".  Jesse was fond of going to the E minor chord when playing in G, and often did it in a really pretty, churchy way, using it to precede a D chord near the end of a phrase.  "Tiger Rag", played in C, features some irresistibly funky harmonica playing; in a certain kind of way he is not doing all that much, but his time is so great that he doesn't need to do anything more.  For "Memphis Rag" he returns to G, and "Raise a Ruckus" is performed in C.  Side two opens with the hymn "Bye and Bye", followed by an instrumental, "Fingerbuster" that would be a great candidate for the "Blues and Circle of Fifths" thread.  It is an exceptionally nifty tune in which an extended circle of fifths progression is walked through with a step-wise descending bass line.  Boy, is it put together beautifully!  "Stagolee" follows, and it is really interesting, for it is the only tune on the album Jesse plays out of D standard.  John Hurt similarly played "Stackerlee" out of D, and it seems conceivable that Jesse heard his record of it.  There are a couple of verses in common and the melodies of the two versions are similar.  When the differences in the versions are considered, though, it is just as likely, or moreso, I suppose, that Jesse put together his version based on ways he had heard the song done in his travels, or had come up with on his own.  "99 Years" is played in E standard, and is done using the melody and lyrics I associate with the bluegrass version of the song.  It is nothing like Julius Daniels's version.  "Hesitation Blues" is done in the major, a la Charlie Poole or Buddy Boy Hawkins.
Jesse was born in Georgia but left home at a very early age, and seems to have travelled throughout most of the United States.  Perhaps as a result of having left Georgia in his early life, his playing does not have the Georgia sound of the twelve-string players from there in the late '20s:  Willie McTell, Barbecue Bob, Charley Lincoln, George Carter, and Willie Baker.  I look forward to picking up more of his recordings on Arhoolie and Original Blues Classics.  If you like 12-string guitar and a pre-Blues/songster type of material, you may really like what he did.  Do any of you have other favorite recordings of him or remembrances of him?
All best,
Title: Re: Jesse Fuller
Post by: Stuart on June 02, 2005, 05:59:14 AM

Jesse Fuller has always been a favorite of mine, but the only song I ever learned was "San Francisco Bay Blues,"--and then it was a mish-mash of the various covers that had been done over the years. I have a few of his LPs that I picked up in the early 70s, but they are in Shoreline, WA. When I get back there, I'll go through them--maybe some haven't been issued on CD.?

As you point out, he certainly didn't limit himself to what we might refer to "strict blues" (if indeed this categorization really makes any sense upon closer examination). There's a lot of interesting territory to be explored in this man's music and I would encourage folks to take a listen.

Title: Re: Jesse Fuller
Post by: uncle bud on June 02, 2005, 06:56:23 AM
Hi John,

I enjoy Jesse a lot and am also surprised he's not referred to more in general. Like you say, he's a rhythm machine, and I think a really fine singer with a great gravelly, raspy voice. I have the album you mention and like it a lot - Take This Hammer is simple but beautifully done. I think "Fingerbuster" is one he's also recorded as "Tickling the Strings". Serious picking.

There's a CD called Brother Lowdown that is "double-length" and is essentially the SF Bay Blues album and the Jesse Fuller's Favorites album put together I believe. Probably my favorite tune of his is Red River Blues from the Favorites/Lowdown records, based a little bit on One Dime Blues but it's own tune and a smokin' good one. I've tried with limited success to work it out. It can be a little tricky I find trying to distinguish low bass notes on the 12-string from the fotdella sometimes. You Can't Keep a Good Man Down is another great one, same record. I am interested in hearing the Arhoolie, which I don't have.

Edited to add: The "Favorites" record is on the Juke, by the way.
Title: Re: Jesse Fuller
Post by: Stuart on June 02, 2005, 10:51:57 AM
Uncle Bud:

Looks like "Brother Lowdown" is the CD version of the original Fantasy 2 LP set. As I recall, the Fantasy Grey/Silver 2 LP series was a re-packaging of the earlier Prestige/Bluesville LPs, but I could be wrong. Anyway, one thing that I have found is that the CDs often have tracks left off owing to the CD time limit. So much music, so little time!

Title: Re: Jesse Fuller
Post by: Stuart on June 02, 2005, 10:59:07 AM
One more thing--here's the URL to the FantasyJazz.com page:

Title: Re: Jesse Fuller
Post by: uncle bud on June 02, 2005, 11:21:53 AM
Uncle Bud:

Looks like "Brother Lowdown" is the CD version of the original Fantasy 2 LP set. As I recall, the Fantasy Grey/Silver 2 LP series was a re-packaging of the earlier Prestige/Bluesville LPs, but I could be wrong. Anyway, one thing that I have found is that the CDs often have tracks left off owing to the CD time limit. So much music, so little time!

You're right, Stu. Also, doublechecking the tracklists, Brother Lowdown incorporates all the tracks from the "Favorites" record, and others that came from the original "San Francisco Bay Blues" record from 1963 on Prestige Folklore (FL 14006  or FL 14023 or Prestige 7718 - thank God for Stefan Wirz's discography site: http://www.wirz.de/music/fullefrm.htm). Weirdly, there is another record with a very similar title, "San Francisco Bay Blues: The Amazing One Man Band,"  with different tracks, which is the SF Bay Blues CD currently available from Fantasy and listed on the link you posted. I got really confused looking at the Fantasy website and the tracklists because of this! Also means I've got another Fuller CD to buy.  :o

Thanks for the info.
Title: Re: Jesse Fuller
Post by: Cambio on June 02, 2005, 11:27:24 AM
I am also a big Jesse Fuller fan. ?"Jazz, Folksongs, Spirituals and Blues" has a permanent place in the music rotation in my truck and my shop. ?It's such a great, up beat record, perfect for driving or getting things done!
He is one of my favorite harmonica players, not to mention the fact that he's playing on a rack. ?He does play in a very rhythmic old time style, which reminds me of the way my grandfather used to play the harp. ?His solo on Fingerbusters is absolutely perfect.
I remember reading an interview of Jesse Fuller, where the reporter was asking some very leading questions, trying to get the sort of answers that a young, white reporter might want to hear. ?He asked Jesse who his favorite musician was and Jesse replied, "Tony Bennett". ?He more than likely gave that answer because of the royalties he received for Tony Bennett's recording of San Francisco Bay Blues, but he really threw the reporter for a loop.
Title: Re: Jesse Fuller
Post by: Eldergreene on June 13, 2005, 12:34:08 PM
Hope y'all don't mind if I bump this thread; some 30+ years ago I had an album by JF that contained a song I loved called "Fables Ain't Nothin' but Doggone Lies", I can't for the life of me recall the lyrics now, & wonder if anyone out there can supply them?


Title: Re: Jesse Fuller
Post by: Stuart on June 13, 2005, 02:24:18 PM

Looks like it is on both "Brother Lowdown" and "Favorites." Both are available on CD. However, I don't have the lyrics.

Title: Re: Jesse Fuller
Post by: GerryC on June 27, 2005, 10:23:18 AM
I don't have the Jesse Fuller version of 'Fables', but a few years ago the song was recorded by the English singer/songwriter/guitarist Ralph McTell on one of two CDs he made as a tribute to his early blues, ragtime and jug-band influences. The lyrics Ralph sings are as follows:

1. Uncle Josh's nephew was a student of letters, come home with a? ? ? ? book one night;
Said he to his uncle, 'This is Aesop's fables and I don't understand it right;
Will you kindly explain what it means by a fable, does it mean what I think it might?'
Uncle Josh's eyes looked extremely wise and thoughtfully he replied...
Fables are stories often told in ordinary walks of life
Fables are stories that a wife tells a husband and a husband tells a wife;
Fables are stories we really believe 'til somebody puts us right;
In the olden days they called 'em fables but they nothing' but doggone lies.

2. [First part harmonica break]
Fables are stories told by candidates just before election day;
Fables are stories told to the wife when her husband's far away;
Fables are stories we really believe 'til sombody puts us right;
In the olden days they called 'em fables but they nothin' but doggone lies.

3. Now they tell us that Adam was the husband of Eve, he was the first with the Lord's consent.
Now we can't deny there was no other person to give him an argument;
He was made outta mud by a fence that stood there 'til the Lord come and give him sense;
But what puzzles me most and I'd like to know, who in the dickens built that fence???
Fables are stories when a girl of sixteen may tell you that she never been kissed;
Fables are stories when a just-arrived sailor sees just how bad he's missed;
Fables are stories that eyes can tell when eye looks into eye;
In the olden days they called 'em fables but they nothin' but doggone lies.

As I say, I haven't been able to compare Ralph's version with the original, but he is faithful to the original lyrics on the other songs he recorded on these CDs, which are Called 'Blues Skies, Black Heroes' and 'Stealin' Back'. I think they're still available from Ralph's website www.ralphmctell.co.uk He's not the greatest blues singer - as he would be the first to admit - but he really puts over well the ragtime and jug-band stuff. And he's a fine guitarist by any standard. Oh and a GREAT songwriter.


Gerry C
Title: Re: Jesse Fuller
Post by: Eldergreene on June 28, 2005, 03:50:56 PM
That's great Gerry - thanks indeed
Title: Re: Jesse Fuller
Post by: Easy Rider on August 29, 2005, 07:49:49 AM
Does anybody here play Jessie Fuller's "The Monkey and the Engineer"?

I would LOVE to get a TAB/Music transcription, so I could learn it.
Title: Re: Jesse Fuller
Post by: JuanA on August 29, 2005, 04:54:28 PM
I play a version of this song for my nieces and nephews.  The Grateful Dead did this song on I think "Reckoning " and there is a tabbed version @ rukind.com. Little kids love this song when I play it on my style N.
Title: Re: Jesse Fuller
Post by: Slack on September 03, 2005, 11:10:02 AM
Welcome SpikeDriver!
Title: Re: Jesse Fuller
Post by: dj on July 27, 2006, 01:49:16 PM
I was just browsing in Bruce Bastin's Red River Blues (you'd think I'd have it memorized by now), when I came upon some interesting information apropos of this thread.  Jesse Fuller was born in Georgia.  In Jonesboro, just south of Atlanta, to be exact.  It's worth quoting Bastin here:

"As a boy, he heard his first guitar blues - "frailing blues", perhaps like the Hicks brothers - in Stockbridge (Henry County), adjoining Newton County.  Moving to Red Oak in the southwest outskirts of Atlanta, he learned to play banjo from a brother-in-law, Melvin Moore.  He used to travel to McDonough (Henry County) to hear blues, where many others recalled fine musicians from the past, but eventually took off on his travels, which modified his style.  By no means a Georgia bluesman as such, he plays a twelve-stringed guitar."

Note:  Newton County, where Fuller heard "frailing blues", was the childhood home of Curley Weaver and Robert and Charlie Hicks (Barbecue Bob and Laughing Charlie Lincoln).
Title: Re: Jesse Fuller
Post by: Bunker Hill on July 28, 2006, 01:05:45 PM
"As a boy, he heard his first guitar blues - "frailing blues", perhaps like the Hicks brothers - in Stockbridge (Henry County), adjoining Newton County.  Moving to Red Oak in the southwest outskirts of Atlanta, he learned to play banjo from a brother-in-law, Melvin Moore.  He used to travel to McDonough (Henry County) to hear blues, where many others recalled fine musicians from the past, but eventually took off on his travels, which modified his style.  By no means a Georgia bluesman as such, he plays a twelve-stringed guitar."
In 1958 a 16 year old Valerie Wilmer of South London struck up correspondence with Fuller in which he detailed his early life for her and enclosed photos of he and his wife. The following year Jazz Journal's editor encouraged her to turn the contents of the letters into a feature which they published in May 1959.

In 1971 I had correspondence with Val concerning what JF told her about his date of birth (He was born in Jonesboro, Georgia but ask him when and he'll tell you, "1896, March 12. I really don't know my age but I had to give myself a date"). Here's part of her reply to me:

"Do you want to make me feel ancient or something? May 1959? Well, that's where it all started, with payment for Jazz Journal articles being a couple of records (or probably only one in those early days) that Sinclair T[raill]got from Decca's distribution as freebies! Those were the days....

I have absolutely no idea why Jesse F. gave himself that particular birth date. If you recall, I wrote that article when I was still at school, using Jesse's letters to me as my only source. In my experience, people often give the wrong age when marrying, making themselves either older or younger to give a particular impression. But I imagine Jesse knew roughly the year he was born, despite the circumstances of his early life. Later on in life, it often suits people to claim an earlier birth date when it can't be proved through the existence of a birth certificate. This is in order to be eligible for pensions, etc. I still have that old snap of Jesse and his second wife, etc., plus one taken outside his shoeshine parlor and -- believe it or not, 3 stills from films (names escape me), one being with Mary Pickford/Harold Lloyd(?), the other with Douglas Fairbanks Sr. I've never done anything with these because they were tattered and torn when Jesse lent them to me. I copied them at the time but now they could be retouched with a bit of effort."

Haven't yet check on the current received wisdom as to when he was born but maybe our Jonesboro resident maybe moved to investigate.
Title: Re: Jesse Fuller
Post by: Bunker Hill on July 29, 2006, 09:36:31 AM
I've been a fan of Jesse Fuller eversince seeing him perform at Cecil Sharp House, London, 1965. The charisma he exuded was astonishing, so much so that I just had to have everything and anything he recorded. Here are the notes that accompanied an album he recorded that year in London.
(Oh yes and don't forget Stefan's page http://www.wirz.de/music/fullefrm.htm)

Fontana TL5313
Recorded in London, October 26, 1965

For the ordinary busking one-man band, the biggest problems are presumably the plain mechanical ones of getting dressed ('Just straighten my tambourine for me dear.') and staying upright. No man who earns his living by clashing a cymbal with one elbow, nodding his head to ring a bell, squeezing a concertina, blowing a kazoo, and carrying on his back a bass drum worked by a string tied to one ankle, is going to bother all that much about purely artistic standards.

Jesse Fuller is different. He is one of the only two one-man bands I can think of - the other is Roland Kirk - whose whole elaborate layout is directed to primarily musical ends. He may spend a great deal of time getting ready, but this is a true act of setting up. in the recording engineer's sense of the term.

That famous fotdella, the toe-operated double bass made from parts of an upright piano, has to be tuned and positioned: the home-made hi-hat cymbals have to be assembled: the big black 12-string guitar has to be tuned, the harness holding mouth-harp and kazoo adjusted. And when all this has been done to Jesse's satisfaction, the entire improbable assembly has to be plugged into his amplifier and meticulously balanced.

That amplifier, of course, is another thing that makes Jesse different. Folk performers are generally expected to scorn electricity the way an eremite scorns soap and water. Not Fuller. He is not troubled by irrelevant notions about 'authenticity': he just plays and sings. And in any case, he's a man with some basic skills. He can weld, steam wood into shapes (he made staves in a barrel factory as a kid) and can repair most mechanical things: he could hardly be expected to resist an opportunity to tinker with electricity.

For all this, he is a true folk musician, totally unselfconscious. What he plays and sings has a chlidlike honesty and directness which has almost ceased to exist in other forms of entertainment. Indeed this particular form itself hardly exists elsewhere, for in Jesse Fuller certain kinds of American folksong seem to have become fixed just at the very moment when they were turning into jazz. His rhythms often have the charming stiltedness of classic ragtime: his voice sometimes suggests the earthy hollering of the earliest blues: his songs are a mixture of his own original words and reach me down lines from the common stock of the blues and the folk ballad: his approach is an odd mixture of the square and the hip. Spirituals, work songs, prison songs, rudimentary blues, all jostle each other in his extensive repertoire.

This record represents roughly one half of an extraordinary session held in London on October 26, 1965. After not merely posing, but actually playing, for photographers for half an hour, Jesse went into the studio, sat down, and in the space of less than an hour and a half, recorded 17 titles. There were no second takes: there was only one false start.

Terry Brown produced the session, though 'production' was really limited in this case to getting the sound balanced. After that he said: 'You just take your own time Jesse. And chat if you want to.'

'You'll have to ask me questions then' said Jesse. But before anyone could ask him anything, he was away. 'I think I'll do some spirituals today', he said, like a man deciding what to have for lunch, and went straight into Bye and bye. As it turned out, he only did one more spiritual in the entire session, but once he'd started it simply didn't matter. He moved easily and logically from one number to the next. The only time anyone said anything to him was to ask him to hold it while they changed the tape.

Somehow word got around the building that something out of the ordinary in the way of sessions was going on down in the studio. People manufactured excuses to look in, and at one point some dozen pairs of unauthorized eyes were gazing out of the control room in awe at this little old man, perched all alone in the studio on his stool (home made) and apparently having the time of his life.

He has recorded some of these numbers before. But the astonishing thing is that as he gets older (this session took place a few months before his 70th birthday) his approach actually seems to get freer. On this LP, for example, his rhythms and phrasing are often closer to the loose swing of the jazz musician than they've ever been in the past. His guitar figures this time seem to have quite a lot in common with early Muddy Waters, and his kazoo playing, once the least successful element in a Jesse Fuller performance, has here and there picked up a terse, trombone-like quality, particularly on How long blues, And his present version of his own hit, San Francisco Bay blues, must surely be the best he's ever done, with its tough, wailing harmonica.

In the course of the session (which, incidentally, is presented here almost exactly in the order in which it was done) he told two hilarious stories. The first of them, which has been given the title Reserved seat, is on this record. Now. Jesse's originally from Georgia. and although he's lived in Oakland, California, for close on 30 years, his speech is still Southern in texture and occasionally very rapid, so that it may be somewhat hard to follow at first. It's worth listening to carefully, however, for this episode, in which he has to take refuge under the bed to get away from the razor and gunplay during a country breakdown (dance) is a minor classic of storytelling. It ends where Jesse has a bucket of water slung at him, which, he says 'almost drowned me to death'. A perfect curtain line, springing from a nice sense of drama.

But then Jesse Fuller is a very great artist, even if the medium in which he works is a humble one. He's been playing guitar and singing on and off for most of his life. but I suspect he really developed quite late. This record was made during his third trip to this country. Each visit has presented us with a steadily improving, ever more confident Jesse. For once we are confronted, not with a frail performer resurrected from decent obscurity by some sudden boom, but with a genuine folk-jazz musician of great originality and power who is only now hitting his stride. PETER CLAYTON
Title: Re: Jesse Fuller
Post by: BlindSockeyeSalmon on January 01, 2008, 08:10:51 PM
Just wanted to bump this thread with a mention that the LP John M mentioned in his original post is available on emusic.com:


Title: Re: Jesse Fuller
Post by: BlindSockeyeSalmon on April 30, 2008, 08:39:18 AM
I've been listening to "Jesse Fuller--Jazz, Folk Songs, Spirituals and Blues" on headphones & have to comment that whoever mixed this album in stereo made the very unfortunate decision to put Jesse's vocal, harp and kazoo on the left channel, and the guitar and fotdella on the right channel. (I suppose it was recorded with two mics, each panned hard to one channel in the mix.)

It gives a listener the odd impression of lying on his side while listening to an upright Jesse -- or perhaps, of standing upright while listening to a performer who's lying on his side. I like the album enough that I may have to remix it to mono!

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