Country Blues => Weenie Campbell Main Forum => Topic started by: Norfolk Slim on April 19, 2006, 05:53:46 AM

Title: Country Blues Influences on New Material: Blues & etc.
Post by: Norfolk Slim on April 19, 2006, 05:53:46 AM
Interesting stuff- and I agree in principle with the thrust of it all.  I often wonder, when I play, whether I "should" be playing, if you see what I mean...  The world of blues music is about as far removed from my own experience as is possible (being a white middle class English lawyer who finds it easier to buy guitars than to play them properly) but is at the same time uniquely enchanting, absorbing and a source of great passion for me.

What son house said is absolutely right.  We've all heard some awful attempts at blues by folks who just 'dont get it'. 

I had a friend who bought an early John Lee Hooker album and disliked it because the rhythms weren't right and it seemed to be full of mistakes.

Perhaps the main reason for me replying to the thread though is to take issue with the idea that Rory Block fits into that category.  I can fully understand that people would not like her voice.  It grated with me to start with, but has gown on me over time.  However, it is completely her.  Its not a copy of anyone and seems to me to coming from absolutley the right place.  This is a woman who played and learned from a number of the greats and was utterly obsessive about it for many years. A woman who plays so hard she often bleeds during gigs and doesnt notice until she's finished.   Her rhythmic playing is fantastic and the singing, whether she tries too hard, or doesnt happen to suit your ears, seems to me to be completely genuine. 

One idea that has grown with me over recent years is that we have been inadvertantly trained from a young age to appriecate and accept a certain type and style of singing as being good or correct and that its hard to hear beyond that sometimes.  More and more I appreciate singing that is personal, unique and not what is generally accepted as being a good voice- its the character and person coming through the voice and its individuality that makes it enjoyable to listen to.  In my view, Rory's singing is unique in that way.  Whether the sound she produces fits any one person's idea of what the blues should sound like is another matter. 

To me, if someone understands, feels and is passionate about the music, and sings in the way that comes most naturally to them, then that is the closest that most of us will ever get.
Title: Country Blues Influences on New Material: Blues & etc.
Post by: Stuart on April 19, 2006, 06:37:23 AM
FWIW: I wouldn't be so quick to jump to conclusions. No one can really look into another person's soul or understand his or her life from the inside out. One function of music is as a form of personal emotional expression. I was fortunate to meet and to hear Son House play in the early 70's. I never met Rory Block, but from what I understand her life has not always been easy. I doubt that she is merely lip-syncing the blues.
Title: Country Blues Influences on New Material: Blues & etc.
Post by: Norfolk Slim on April 19, 2006, 07:10:06 AM
I enjoy Rory's stuff.  The important thing, imo, is that you accept that it may be important to her.  Surely thats the key?  It may not hit the right chord (pardon the pun) with you, but the soul of the blues is surely doing it the way that feels most right and natural to you?  I think she does that.

If thats the case, then Rory is as genuine as anyone, but simply not to your taste.

I would add that she has been moving away from those recreations to a large extent.  Her newer material often doesnt suit my tastes- I find it a bit self indulgent, but I guess its more personal to her.   I really enjoyed her recent recording of Dry Spell Blues though.
Title: Country Blues Influences on New Material: Blues & etc.
Post by: Orb Mellon on April 19, 2006, 01:06:56 PM
I think this is an interesting thread because it touches on the question of what constitutes artistic authenticity, both as it relates to a particular artistic community and as it relates to individual artists and the nature of their expressions.

FWIW, this is how I feel on the subject:

First, Son House was a bit of a narcissistic drunk in his later years. His comments that blues isn't blues if it's not about a man and a woman and that only certain types of people can play blues were IMO simply ill tailored attempts to "appropriately" answer leading questions from journalists grilling him about already well established blues iconography as well as an attempt by House to assure continued jounalistic interest in originators like himself.

Second, I think the future of country blues as a relevant art form and not just as an interesting relic lies in our willingness to let loose our intellectual elevation of the perfection we perceive in our ancient heros. The question should be why does that "style" work for YOU? If we each focus in on that, feel it, then make music, whatever it sounds like, it will be authentic.

I'm not saying it isn't a relavant endeavor to learn the techniques and nuances of our predecesors. In fact, it is a worthy pursuit indeed. We just need to remember at some point to forget what we learned about Charlie Patton's slapping technique before we create our own music. The product will sound better, and more real. In the end it has to be our own brilliance that makes the music that we create, not some old dead guy's once brilliant idea.

That's why Rory Block is tired to my ears. Robert Johnson played Robert Johnson. That Rory can copy it is simply "interesting." It's not artistically great.
Title: Country Blues Influences on New Material: Blues & etc.
Post by: Wayne on April 19, 2006, 01:11:44 PM
Orb Mellen.."If we each focus in on that, feel it, then make music, whatever it sounds like, it will be authentic."

Yup, I'm with you there.........
Title: Country Blues Influences on New Material: Blues & etc.
Post by: GhostRider on April 19, 2006, 02:43:40 PM

I have been reading this thread with interest. I have very strong feelings on this matter, which run quite contrary to the majority-held opinion expressed herein.

BTW if my non-country blue fanatic friends were given a chance to listen to Rory Block or the R. Johnson reissue CD, they would (and have!) chosen Rory every time. They don't care a wit that she's doing (recreating) RJ tunes, they just like the over all sound.

Rather than rant on again, I would direct you all to a similar thread we had some year's ago:


I shall take the liberty of reproducing one of my posts from this thread:

How could a person be drawn to imitate something if they didn't first see something that related to them in some way?  If you already recognized yourself in something, you wouldn't need to "inject yourself", you'd already be there, finding new ways to express yourself through it.

Frankie, that's it! To me that's the essence of the discussion. The creative process in country blues is largely in material selection. By selection of a previously recorded piece to imitate or perform, you've made a creative decision, an expression of yourself. If you write your own material to play your selection of it is your creative decision. Both of these options gives the listener some incite into you, the performer. Material selection.

In 1929 (that year again) Besse Smith recorded Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out, perhaps the classic down-and-out depression blues. However she didn't write the song, Jimmy Cox did. She probably didn't arrange or conduct it either. She was a re-creative singer recreating another persons song, probably from sheet music. The creative part for her was material selection and performance. She made it her own, just like Johnm did with Church Bell Blues so long ago and frankie is doing with Snigglin'

I don't try to learn Son House tunes, even though I realize that they are great pieces of music. They just don't happen to appeal to me. That tells you something about me (I don't know what!)

I got to thinking about John Hurt after Orville's comments. And of course he (MJH) is an almost unique example. In his 1928 recordings he expressed the results of his creative efforts in the preceding years which yielded the tunes he recorded at that time. However at the time of his rediscovery in the 60s he was still playing mostly the same tunes with very similar arrangements. He was in fact at that point a re-creative musician, recreating himself! I suspect that is why that kid Orville mentioned had a MJH tattoo (how cool is that!) and not a Clifford Gibson one, MJH was able to re-create his tunes on modern (relatively) recording technology, with a better instrument, making his music accessible to the average listener who did not want to plow through the static.

The many (most?) of the recorded 20s and 30s country bluesmen were commercial musicians, deriving all or part of there income from performing music, either on the street, at parties, medicine shows or fees for recording. The creative process had pressure on it, pressure to come up with tunes that would move the public to stop and listen (and throw some money your way), dance or buy your record (so the record company would ask you back). "Expressing oneself" was a distinctly secondary (or tertiary) consideration. These guys (in my opinion) weren't folk musicians, they were professionals. Borrowing was not only essential for their musical development, it was good business, familiarity (especially in lyrics) breeding recognition. I'll bet that no one, passing a bluesman on a street corner in Clarksdale, Miss. in 1928 said "Oh, that guy's not playing original material, I won't stop."

It seems to me, in this day and age, creativity and originality have become synonimis (sp). The cover artist is really looked down upon. This is the age of the singer-songwriter, where the only way to be creative is to drag ones angst out via original songs. Rubbish! Tim Williams, a great (really great) acoustic bluesman from my neck-of-the-woods, often remarks about how he is dismissed when he goes to solo artist workshops because his repertoire is 80% covers (he dosen't care).

BTW, I agree with OMpicker that technology is a great help. To "make a song your own" you gotta learn the song!

Great discussion,
Title: Country Blues Influences on New Material: Blues & etc.
Post by: chipmonk doug on April 20, 2006, 05:35:43 AM
I try to do every CB song as if I just stole it from someone in a jukejoint and I'm in a jukejoint down the road 100 miles doing it as if it was mine.

My vocals are from a white boy that grew up in NE Mississippi in the 50's, and while I don't talk like a black man from the 30s I grew up talking to black men from the 30s and it flavors my vocals.

I just don't see CB as a stagnant thing but a living thing.  What made a person a blues singer in the 30s isn't the same thing that makes a person a blues singer today but it envokes the same emotions.

just my $0.02
Title: Country Blues Influences on New Material: Blues & etc.
Post by: Orb Mellon on April 20, 2006, 05:47:21 AM
I also want to note that I'm not trying to dis Rory Block. She is clearly VERY capable, well respected and appreciated by many blues connoisseurs and according to Stefan Grossman, apparently has quite a prodigious talent for deciphering tunes from scratchy old recordings. I don't know what it is exactly about her approach to the work that doesn't do it for me. Maybe it seems too well executed, maybe it's just the fact that the recordings sound too "good."

As a point of personal reference, I recently say a show in NYC with Rory Block and John Hammond Jr. among others. Hammond, who I never really appreciated in the handful of recordings I've heard, was leaps and bounds beyond Rory for how he let the audience feel the material he was playing. Where Rory would very effectively execute difficult material perfectly with much of her famous emotive physicality, Hammond, by comparison seemed to genuinely struggle to bring the tunes into existence, Patton material mostly. There was some noticeable slop in his style, there were some errors and flubs but the feel of the music was very present in his somewhat imperfect interpretations. I know it's just my opinion, but at least with that performance, he was really channeling something powerful in a way that Rory wasn't. He had that Son House quality.
Title: Country Blues Influences on New Material: Blues & etc.
Post by: uncle bud on April 20, 2006, 07:27:11 AM
Technology is a great thing & I certainly wish they had in the 20s & 30s what we have now. I don't think anyone would prefer the 20s 'Paramount' sound to even the average home recorder from today.

Interestingly, I was interviewing a highly regarded classical music producer/sound engineer recently and we got on the subject of old recordings vs. the technology available in the studio and on recording soundstages today. She said there are a number of classical musicians who swear by old 78s, and that it's something she's interested in exploring more, what they're hearing in them, what they're responding to. There is something missing in 21st century technology and production. One has heard similar things said about vinyl LPs vs. CD of course. But it was interesting to me that she'd take it right back to scratchy 78s. There's something very "live" and "alive" about them in her view.

But I'd still love to hear Blind Lemon, Papa Charlie Jackson, Charley Patton et al recorded on today's technology!
Title: Country Blues Influences on New Material: Blues & etc.
Post by: waxwing on April 20, 2006, 09:05:21 AM
A couple things I take issue with here. No one performs "Slavish Imitations", at least from my point of view (especially Rory Block, who I think goes a ways to make her own arrangements with homage to the originals). Maybe some play all the same notes and sing all the same words, but those who are at the performance level are there because they put their own feeling and inflection into it. They "perform" the material. To me. most of the creativity in the blues is in the performance, not in deciding what notes to play and what words to sing. I feel the old blues has much to communicate to modern audiences. Of course, those who are more adept at improvising feel that is more important: those adept at creating new arrangements feel that is important: those with an ear for deciphering the playing of the pre-war greats and giving new meaning and feeling to these arrangements in a live performance for modern audiences think that is important. Really, I think every one does what comes easiest to them. Recently in a thread on the Back Porch a couple folks apologized for having created their own arrangement of a song because the "weren't good enough to figure out the original". I posted my version and pointed out that I wasn't good enough to create my own arrangement so I just played the original. I think there was some truth in what both of us were saying. We were taking the easiest path for us, because what really matters is getting the feelings into the performace, not who wrote the notes. But why is it that we have to feel that our way is the "right way" and that other people "should" do what we do? To me there is room for all these various paths to performance. I celebrate these different approaches. The important thing is what the audience feels. And I'm not talking about the two blues aficionados sniping from the back of the crowd, one saying, "well, thats not how Charlie Patton played it," and the other complaining that it's too close to the original and not showing any "creativity". While the audience is totally digging it because they never heard a Charlie Patton record in their lives and find this music compelling and meaningful because of the commitment of the performer that the two aficionados are too far up in their critical heads to notice. I guess that's my point. If you want to perform solely for the pre-war blues crowd, well, then, you've got to figure out what faction you want to please and go ahead. But if you want to bring country blues to a larger audience, I don't think it really matters much where you sit in this discussion. I think what matters is that you feel a strong connection to what you are playing and you put it out there with commitment. I worry about developing new audiences for country blues more than pleasing the diehard fanatics, who are pretty split on the subject anyway.

And, really, the spirit of Weenie Campbell is to be inclusive of all these styles, for they are all valuable to the community and to furthering country blues. So however you want to find your notes and lyrics, you are welcome here.

This brings me to another issue. In that we see the country blues scene as our community, and we encourage professionals to join us, I don't really see the need to bad mouth a particular performer. It is just as easy, and perhaps more to the point, to describe what aspect of a style one doesn't like, without ever having to mention a specific performer, especially since others will have just as subjective a viewpoint on that performer as you do. We count several known players among our posters here, and hope more will follow. Bad mouthing will not be conducive to this end, and really comes off sounding like sour grapes.

Otherwise, I think this is a great thread. I encourage everyone to examine what brings them to the country blues and how they can contribute to developing a broader audience for this meaningful and even curative music.

All for now.
John C.
Title: Country Blues Influences on New Material: Blues & etc.
Post by: Orb Mellon on April 20, 2006, 10:31:27 AM

I basically agree with what you are saying. Certainly, I hope nobody who posts here would be insensitive the feelings of others and I hope we all agree that shallow, mean spirited or hyper-subjective criticism of specific works of art or artists is of no use to any of us here.  If you want that kind of harsh discourse, I can direct you to other music related forums with a much lower civility threshold.

However, when discussing the nuances of performance, technique and interpretation, I'm not sure why the use of specific examples should be avoided, especially if participants work hard to be respectful of other opinions and to remain sensitive to the underlying subjectivity of all of our opinions. I feel we are able to communicate with more precision if we can all point to common shared experiences. For this community those experiences would primarily include the commonly available documented performances of the music that we all love so much.

As an ex-professional recording artist myself, who's enjoyed good and endured bad press (some of it quite harsh), I doubt that thoughtfully presented and considerate criticism of any professional artist's work would turn them away from this forum.  As professionals, I would highly expect them to have pretty thick skin in that regard. It's a VERY tough business.

That said, if through my inarticulateness, I came across as bad mouthing anyone, I'm sorry, that was definitely not my intent.
Title: Country Blues Influences on New Material: Blues & etc.
Post by: Prof Scratchy on April 20, 2006, 10:45:48 AM
Thanks to waxwing for putting most of my thoughts on this topic into words...I've been following this interesting thread and have been meaning to say something. I really do think that  what counts is that a performer's enthusiasm for, and homage to the history and tradition of, this great music will shine through whatever the approach. I remember once seeing Steve Philips - a wonderful torchbearer for the tradition and someone with a faultless ear for the nuances of the music - do a twelve string guitar version of Blake's Rope Stretchin' Blues. The arrangement was all his own and the instrumentation had nothing to do with the original performance. But what was there was an authenticity born of years and years of immersion in the genre. Whether you're a note-for-note person, someone who absorbs a style and reproduces the essence of it, or someone producing entirely new takes on CB tunes and/or lyrics, what ultimately stands out is the degree of authenticity and affection you bring to the music.
Title: Country Blues Influences on New Material: Blues & etc.
Post by: Orb Mellon on April 20, 2006, 11:30:33 AM
Theory has it among some of the studio guys I've known that the decline of the warm 70's sound and the advent of the brittle 80's sound can be blamed, not on overzealous utilization of improvements in recording technology in the late 70s, but on ubiquitous cocaine fueled recording sessions.  One of the apparent side effects of heavy cocaine use is the loss of perception of high frequencies. Artists, and A&R guys and label presidents, trying to get in the mix what they lost due to their drug habits, simply pumped up the treble. Voila, the 80s!

Oh well. So goes history. All I know is that I've recorded in at least one very famous LA studio that, as part of the chassis of it's totally automated, super-duper, Neve mixing console, there was a small slide out desk style leaf made out of a mirror. Go figure. I doubt it was there for producers to look at one's chin and nose hairs.
Title: Country Blues Influences on New Material: Blues & etc.
Post by: uncle bud on April 20, 2006, 11:46:47 AM
I think naming names is OK, personally. There's a difference between being critical of an established performer's work and being mean-spirited about a fellow amateur's stuff as well. I think if one is a professional, as Rory Block certainly is, then part of that is dealing with negative opinions of one's work. Hopefully those opinions are intelligently expressed, whether it's in the popular press, or (as I think they are) on Weenie Campbell. Sometimes, naming names is important for illustrative purposes. Or sometimes you're just discussing a specific recording or concert and it can't be helped.

If a performer shows up to participate on the Weenie forum and people start saying, "I hate the way you play this song, what were you thinking" etc. that's another story. We do encourage respectful discourse, natcherly. :) 

My opinion only.
Title: Country Blues Influences on New Material: Blues & etc.
Post by: Wayne on April 22, 2006, 04:28:42 PM
My apologies, I think I overstepped the mark in my criticism of Rory Block....

I've removed the criticisms, which were, as we say in U.K "out of order"...

This place is too nice (and I mean that in the nicest way) for such stuff.  Sorry.
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