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Country Blues => Weenie Campbell Main Forum => Topic started by: Johnm on December 06, 2007, 10:05:28 AM

Title: Notable Omissions
Post by: Johnm on December 06, 2007, 10:05:28 AM
Hi all,
For some time, I've been thinking about tunings/positions that various of the great Country Blues players did NOT record any numbers in.  What sparked the thought, I think, was when frankie noted in his listing of keys/positions for Blind Lemon's recordings that Lemon never recorded a piece played out of D position in standard tuning.  This is intriguing, for a player of Lemon's skills and sophistication obviously had the knowledge necessary to play a song in D, standard tuning; after all, any number of his songs contain the chords, D, G and A, needed to play a conventional 12-bar blues in D, standard tuning.
This got me thinking as to whether there were notable omissions in the keys/tunings played in by other Country Blues musicians.  From logic's standpoint, for the omission of a tuning or position to be notable, the player in question must have recorded enough material in different tunings/positions to have demonstrated the ability to play in several tunings or positions.  Thus, to say that it is notable that Rubin Lacy never recorded in C in standard tuning or that it is surprising Garfield Akers never recorded in E in standard tuning is a bit of a stretch, since Rubin Lacy only recorded 2 songs, both in E position, standard tuning and Akers only recorded four sides, all in A position, standard tuning.  It stands to reason that players who recorded such a small number of sides, all in one key, would have significant gaps in the tunings/positions in which they were recorded.
If we say arbitrarily that for the omission of a tuning/position from a player's recorded works to be notable, the player must have recorded in at least four different tunings/positions, the findings become more interesting and telling, for they show gaps in the playing of fundamentally versatile players.  If we look at Charlie Patton, and his tunings/positions recorded in, with examples for each tuning/position, we find the following:
   * Spanish tuning--"Screamin' and Hollerin' The Blues", many, many more
   * Vestapol tuning--"Spoonful Blues", the only one
   * C, standard tuning--"Down The Dirt Road Blues", and several more
   * F, standard tuning--"Hang It On The Wall", one other different version
   * E, standard tuning--"Pony Blues", many, many more
   * A, standard tuning--"Devil Sent The Rain", the only one
Notable omissions?  Charlie Patton never recorded a single number played in either D position or G position in standard tuning.  As with Lemon, the knowledge to record in these positions was there.  Did he reject the positions on the basis of not being singing-friendly?  It's hard to believe that is the reason, based on how much the keys vary on his recordings. 

Of course, we will never know the answer as to why Charlie and Lemon avoided the playing positions they avoided, but being aware of such notable omissions can make lines of influence between players clearer.  A Mississippi musician from around the same area as Charlie and a contemporary of his who recorded a fair amount relative to the size of his recorded repertoire in both A standard tuning and G standard tuning, was Ishmon Bracey, with several songs played in those positions.  By the time we get to a Mississippi player of the next generation from the same area, Tommy McClennan, we find that a heavy portion of his repertoire was played in G and D in standard tuning.  A strong Patton influence at work here?  It sure doesn't look like it!

If anyone would care to keep this particular ball rolling or finds this interesting (I'm not sure that anyone else will) if you'd like to format the information on any musician you select as I did Patton's, with a listing of the tunings/positions the player recorded in and examples of songs for each tuning/position, we might get at information that I don't believe has ever been compiled before, as well as instances in which, possibly, recordings brought playing in a different tuning/position into areas where that tuning/position had never been employed in the past.  We may be able to identify musical innovators, too.
All best,
Johnm
   
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: GhostRider on December 06, 2007, 10:50:14 AM
Interesting:

Well, how about Blind Blake. Certainly a wide recorded repertoire.

C position: tons! "Early Morning Blues", "Diddie Wa Diddie" etc.
D position: only two that I can think of, "Chump Man Blues" and "Bad Feeling Blues".
E position: Only one that I can think of, his last recorded tune "Depression has Gone From Me", an obvious "Sittin' On Top of the World" cover.
F position:"Search Warrant Blues", "Notoriety Woman", others
G position: "Come on Boys, Lets Do That...", Lots of others
A position:  "One Time Blues", "Terrible Murder Blues"
Vestapol:  only two I can think of, "Police Dog Blues", "Down the Country Blues"
Spanish: none?

Could it be that, because Blake favored raggy blues that the shied away from the "harder" blues keys (E, Spanish for example) because it is harder in those positions to play the raggy chords.

Alex

Note: edited to reflect Andrew's comments below
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: CF on December 06, 2007, 11:06:56 AM
D position songs have been on my mind as of late as i've realized that I play virtually none. When I first began teaching myself guitar I played several songs in D position. This was before I learned about alt. tunings & capoing. A lot of songs I would have played in D before I just capo up two & play out of a C chord or etc. I do play several Skip James songs in a D position ('Cypress Grove', 'Hard Time Killing Floor') because I do them in standard tuning which I understand Skip did not . . . I find this thread interesting if only to see how many or little prewar blues were played out of a D chord. 
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: CF on December 06, 2007, 12:01:50 PM
Blind Boy Fuller seems to have played out of most chords:

C position: 'Baby, I Don't Have to Worry', 'Baby, You Gotta Change Your Mind' & lots more
A position: 'Rattlesnakin' Daddy', 'Weeping Willow', 'Cat Man' & lots more
E position: 'Ain't It A Cryin' Shame', 'Bus Rider Blues', & lots more . . .
G position: 'Mama Let Me Lay It On You', 'Shaggy Like A Bear' & many others . . .
Vestapol at different keys: 'Homesick & Lonesome', 'I'm A Stranger Here' & 'Little Woman You're So Sweet' etc . . .
& even my elusive D position: 'Working Man Blues', 'Painful Hearted Man' etc.
I can't think of any in F position tunes tho' which I guess is not uncommon.
* Did Rev. Gary play much out of a D position?
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: uncle bud on December 06, 2007, 12:40:28 PM
Well, how about Blind Blake. Certainly a wide recorded repertoire.

C position: tons! "Early Morning Blues", "Diddie Wa Diddie" etc.
D position: only two that I ,  can think of, "Chump Man Blues" and "Bad Feeling Blues".
E position: Only one that I can think of, his last recorded tune "Depression has Gone From Me", an obvious :Sittin' On Top of the World" cover.

- C position: Yes, Blake is certainly dominated by tunes in C and G position. I've actually started a Blake keys/position file which I could post in a separate thread for help with completion.
- D position: Chump Man and Bad Feeling Blues are in dropped D, no? If we can nitpick.  ;D Still qualifies as D position in my book, of course. You can add "Back Biting Bee Blues" as another dropped D sideman session for Blake. I'm not a huge fan of the records with Blake as accompanist, mainly because I'm not crazy about the women singers he accompanies. But Back Biting Blues with Leola Wilson is a really good one IMO.
- E position: I think Cherry Hill Blues is in E position. Granted, it's again only accompaniment by Blake as sideman, with vocal by Irene Scruggs.

Quote
G position: "Come on Boys, Lets Do That...", I'm sure lots of others
A position: "Wabash Rag", "One Time Blues"

Wabash Rag is in C position.

Another one I think is in A position is "Terrible Murder Blues", accompaniment by Blake to vocal by Bertha Henderson. And I'm wondering if "Keep It Home" is in A position. A position seems less surefooted territory for Blake. His accompaniments are, relatively speaking, kept fairly simple.

edited to add: Blake also played several songs in F - Search Warrant Blues, Notoriety Woman, Doing a Stretch, and Fighting theJug.

So yes, Spanish is the omission here. This is a little surprising.
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: frankie on December 06, 2007, 06:23:23 PM
This got me thinking as to whether there were notable omissions in the keys/tunings played in by other Country Blues musicians.

I have to put some context around my favorite "notable omission."  In most old-time music, the key of A figures really prominently.  Old-time fiddlers can probably spend days in A and not repeat a tune.  Its interesting to me that in what I've heard of the music of the Mississippi Sheiks  and the other satellite groups, there isn't a single tune that the fiddle plays out of A position.  It's not that there usn't enough of a sample size - there are four volumes on Document just devoted to the Sheiks, then probably another CD's worth of material scattered among other performers...  not a single one in A.  G is their most often used key, followed by B-flat, then E-flat, then D (!), C, F, one song in E...  tunes that modulate from F to B-flat to E-flat...  from a guitar perspective, there's a couple that could possibly be in G6 tuning, but nothing apparently in spanish tuning.  On the fiddle, though, there's nothing in A, and the E-flat tunes outnumber the D tunes.  Now that's weird.
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: frankie on December 06, 2007, 07:24:48 PM
Blind Boy Fuller seems to have played out of most chords:

I can't think of any in F position tunes tho' which I guess is not uncommon.

Nothing in F from Blind Boy Fuller, and nothing in spanish.

* Did Rev. Gary play much out of a D position?

Some - You've Got To Move, There's A Destruction In This Land, Right Now - those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head.  Ernie H. attributes Penitentiary Blues to Rev. Davis - said he was rendering a theme that he'd heard Lead Belly play.  That one's in D.  He played plenty in all the more typical keys:  A, C, G, D, E, F.  He could play in any key using closed chord positions and would make a game out of playing something like "Amazing Grace" in any key.  Nothing in spanish or vestapol, unless you count the tuning he used for Whistlin' Blues:

D A D F-sharp A B

I'm sure he could have played in either of those tunings had he chosen, but nothing was ever recorded.
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: banjochris on December 06, 2007, 10:51:27 PM
Mance Lipscomb had precious few tunes in D, considering how often he tuned to drop D to play in A -- Tell Me Where Did You Stay Last Night, Louise and one version of You Rascal You are the only ones I can think of, and considering how many tunes he had, that's not many. He had more tunes in F (Gotta See Your Mama, Alabama Jubilee, Rag in F, Casey Jones and I'm sure I'm forgetting some).
Chris
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: CF on December 07, 2007, 08:54:38 AM
Tommy Johnson's recorded output is only 18 songs but he mixed it up chordally (I may be wrong on a couple of these, corrections welcome):

Cool Drink of Water: E (+1)
Big Road Blues: drop D (+1) (?)
Bye & Bye Blues: E (+2)
Maggie Campbell: Spanish at B (?)
Canned Heat: possible drop D
Lonesome Home Blues (1) tk. 1&2: A
Big Fat Mama: A
I Wonder To Myself: C (+1)
Slidin' Delta: E (+1)
Lonesome Home Blues (2): E
'Boogaloosa Women Blues': C
'Morning Prayer Blues': C
Black Mare Blues (1): E (+2) (?)
Black Mare Blues (2): E (+3) (?)
Ridin' Horse: spanish at Ab (?)
Alcohol & Jake Blues: possible drop D
I Want Somebody To Love: C

So no F or G position tunes . . . Should it go without saying that there are no B/B7 position tunes? I use to play Leadbelly's 'Roberta' out of a B7 position until I learned he tuned down to Bb & played out of an F position & I didn't find the B7 crazily awkward . . . are there any prewar blues in B position?
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: GhostRider on December 07, 2007, 09:24:58 AM
Howdy:

Funny Papa Smith recorded 22 sides:

A position: 13/22 (59.1%) Honey Blues, Howling Wolf Blues etc.
C position 3/22 (13.6%). County Jail Blues, Heart Bleeding Blues
D position 2/22 (9.1%). Before Long, Good Coffee Blues
E position 2/22 (9.1%). Fool's Blues, Hard Luck Man Blues
G position 1/22 (4.5%). Hoppin' Toad
Crossnote 1/22 (4.5%) Wiskeyhead Blues

No F position, Spanish or Vestapol

Sort of like Robert Johnson, FPS had a ton of sides with a +/- set arrangement in A position (10 of them) plus three others with different arrangements, plus a smattering of tunes in other positions.

Strange that his only piece in an open tuning is in Crossnote.

Alex
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: Johnm on December 07, 2007, 03:21:57 PM
Hi all,
Papa Charlie Jackson recorded in the following positions in standard tuning:
   * D--"Airy Man Blues" and many others
   * E--"Shave 'Em Dry" and many others
   * C--"Cat's Got the Measles" and many others
   * G--"I've Got What It Takes, But It Breaks My Heart To Give It Away" and others
   * A--"Salt Lake City Blues" and several others
   * F--"Corn Liquor Blues" and a few others
   * B flat--"Four Eleven Forty-Four" and a few others
   * E flat--"Ash Tray Blues", the only one
Notable omissions?  Vestapol and Spanish.  Perhaps Papa Charlie's recording only in standard tuning speaks to the extent to which he was a more sophisticated Jazzer and less of a country bluesman.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: Johnm on December 07, 2007, 03:50:19 PM
Hi all,
Thanks to all who have been contributing thus far.  A couple of thoughts have occurred to me since the initial post here.
   *  It may be possible to work this process in reverse.  For example, I know recordings of Bill Broonzy playing in G, C, D, A and E in standard tuning, and one tune in Vestapol, "Joe Turner Blues".  Can anyone turn up a recording of Big Bill playing in Spanish tuning, dropped D, or F in standard tuning?  If you find such tracks, could you list them by title and the CD/LP where they can be found?  Thanks.
   *  Frank, your finding of no Mississippi Sheiks tunes played out of A position on the fiddle is shocking, both because they recorded so prolifically and because A is such an easy key for fiddlers.  I wonder if Lonnie Chatmon simply did not like the sound of a fiddle played in A?  I can think of no other logical explanation.  Or maybe Lonnie took the fact that he didn't play in the easiest fiddle key as a bona fide of his status as a superior musician.
   * Those of you who know Rev. Davis's discography better than I probably know the answer to this:  Did he ever record any songs in B flat position in standard tuning?  I wouldn't consider the omission of that position notable for anyone else in the genre other than Rev. Davis, but given his immense harmonic sophistication, I think I would consider it notable if he never recorded in B flat.
   * The issue of players being influenced by the musicians discussed here is clear-cut only in the instance of persons who heard these musicians only on their recordings, and never saw them in person.  We can not rule out the possibility that various of the players discussed here, did in fact play in tunings or positions that they were never recorded playing in, and that persons who saw them perform may have seen them play in one of the "notable omission" tunings/positions on a number of occasions.
   * Also an imponderable when it comes to gauging influences is the work of notable and highly regarded musicians who were never recorded.  The influence of such musicians would logically extend in a first-hand way only throughout the areas they frequented in their lives, but could possibly manifest much further afield in the event of a musician influenced by their playing recording something in their style and having it disseminated via record sales.
     
There's a lot to think about, but this is really fun.
All best,
Johnm
       
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: frankie on December 07, 2007, 05:49:08 PM
   * Those of you who know Rev. Davis's discography better than I probably know the answer to this:  Did he ever record any songs in B flat position in standard tuning?  I wouldn't consider the omission of that position notable for anyone else in the genre other than Rev. Davis, but given his immense harmonic sophistication, I think I would consider it notable if he never recorded in B flat.

I'm familiar with Rev. Davis's discography up to a point, but I can't think of anything that he recorded in the key of B-flat.  I remember Ernie H. telling me that Rev. Davis had a full guitar setting of "God Will Take Care Of You" in B-flat, but the only recording of that has him playing piano on it.
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: banjochris on December 07, 2007, 10:00:29 PM
Couple of observations:
I think Lonnie Chatmon recording in flat keys could easily have been to demonstrate musical prowess, especially since fiddlers often retuned for A, and I've seen quotes from some old fiddlers disparaging that practice, Emmett Lundy coming to mind off the top of my head. (Of course, many highly accomplished fiddlers did and do retune to many tunings.) Also, didn't the Sheiks usually have (not on recordings, of course) Harry Chatmon playing piano with them? If so, that may help explain some of the key choices.

Also, I don't know of any Leadbelly songs in Vestapol. He plays in A, C, D, E, F, G and Spanish, but I can't recall any in Vestapol.

And Scrapper Blackwell recorded lots in A, D, and E. I have two recordings of him playing in Vestapol - "Lost John" and "John Henry" and one in G standard - "Frankie." Without going through all his recordings, I don't think he ever recorded in F or Spanish; I was going to add C standard to that, but just found a couple in C -- "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" and a guitar solo (and there may be others).

This is a fun topic, by the way.
Chris
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: Johnm on December 08, 2007, 05:41:09 PM
Hi all,
Thanks for the information on Scrapper and Leadbelly, Chris.  There is a ton of Scrapper I have not heard, especially if you include all his tracks with Leroy Carr.  Thanks also for the information on Rev. Davis recording in B flat, Frank.  I have a couple of more questions with regard to Rev. Davis's recorded works.
   * I know Rev. Davis did "Death Don't Have No Mercy" in E minor in standard tuning.  I'm currently away from my records/CDs.  Did he have any tunes recorded in E major out of E position in standard tuning?  Like Blind Blake I don't think of him being much of an "E" guy.
   * I know Rev. Davis did "Samson And Delilah" in G position in standard tuning, essentially working out of an F shape, as he did many of his other Gospel numbers.  Did he record any tunes in G in standard tuning that he played out of what I think of as the "open" G position in standard tuning, 
3-2-0-0-0-3?  I can't recall any, but I don't know his repertoire nearly as well as some of you do.  Similarly, are any of his D position, standard tuning performances recorded in the "open" D position in standard tuning, 2-0-0-2-3-2?  All the ones I can think of without digging out the recordings and listening are essentially in C shape moved up to frets.
Normally, I would think of this kind of micro-defining of tunings/positions as being unnecessary, but in Rev. Davis's case there are so few notable omissions that if some can be found in distinctions between two different ways of playing in the same position in standard tuning, I think it is worth noting, if only to bring to light some of the nuances of his personal preferences with regard to playing in a particular key.                                                                                                                                               
All best,
Johnm   
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: frankie on December 08, 2007, 07:01:04 PM
   * I know Rev. Davis did "Death Don't Have No Mercy" in E minor in standard tuning.  I'm currently away from my records/CDs.  Did he have any tunes recorded in E major out of E position in standard tuning?  Like Blind Blake I don't think of him being much of an "E" guy.

Off the top of my head:

Cross And Evil Woman Blues
The Sun Is Going Down
Slippin' 'til My Gal Comes In Partner
Going To Chattanooga
A few different, unnamed blues in E

   * I know Rev. Davis did "Samson And Delilah" in G position in standard tuning, essentially working out of an F shape, as he did many of his other Gospel numbers.  Did he record any tunes in G in standard tuning that he played out of what I think of as the "open" G position in standard tuning,  3-2-0-0-0-3?  I can't recall any, but I don't know his repertoire nearly as well as some of you do.

Again, off the top of my head:

O Lord Search My Heart
Crucifixion
Baby, Let Me Lay It On You

All three of these get a lot of mileage out of a first position G7: 3-2-3-0-3-1

Similarly, are any of his D position, standard tuning performances recorded in the "open" D position in standard tuning, 2-0-0-2-3-2?  All the ones I can think of without digging out the recordings and listening are essentially in C shape moved up to frets.

I think Right Now could be described this way, except that he never seems to use a D major chord - rather a D7 in first position: 2-0-0-2-1-2.

In general, I think it's very natural for him to find C shapes up the neck and to riff using them.  It's exciting, but it's not quite the same kind of expression you find with someone like Robert Wilkins, who will mine a particular key in 1st position and pull something really expressive and unique out of it.
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: uncle bud on December 08, 2007, 07:59:29 PM
Is another Rev. Gary Davis G first position tune "There's a Destruction in This Land"? Like Frank, this is off the top of my head, and I could be wrong.

I was pleased with myself for coming up with "Right Now" for D (D7) position, but Frank beat me to it. :P I adore this D7 riff he does, BTW.
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: frankie on December 08, 2007, 09:40:00 PM
Is another Rev. Gary Davis G first position tune "There's a Destruction in This Land"?

That one's in D...  and one where the "home" position is more like a C moved up two frets rather than a 1st position D chord (iirc! - I'd have to go listen to be sure...  maybe tomorrow). 
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: uncle bud on December 09, 2007, 07:29:58 AM
Is another Rev. Gary Davis G first position tune "There's a Destruction in This Land"?

That one's in D...  and one where the "home" position is more like a C moved up two frets rather than a 1st position D chord (iirc! - I'd have to go listen to be sure...  maybe tomorrow). 

Right. Sorry, I think the song I was trying to recall as being in first position G was actually "Lo, I'll Be with You Always".
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: frankie on December 09, 2007, 07:36:39 AM
"Lo, I'll Be with You Always"

That's a good one.

Is RGD's "She's Funny That Way" a first position "G" tune?

Yes it is, although the other songs mentioned might be slightly better examples of what John was thinking about, imho.
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: Johnm on December 09, 2007, 03:25:38 PM
Hi all,
Thanks very much, Frank, Andrew and Spike Driver, for the information on Rev. Davis.  That is great stuff to know, and the pooling of information really seems to be working here.
Taking a look at the recorded works of Leecan & Cooksey yields some interesting notable omissions.  The position breakdown of their repertoire is as follows:
   * G, standard tuning--"Black Cat Blues" and 8 other tunes
   * C, standard tuning--"Dirty Guitar Blues" and 16 other tunes
   * B flat, standard tuning--"Talk 'Bout Somethin' That's Gwine To Happen" and two other takes
   * D, standard tuning--"Whiskey and Gin Blues", two takes
   * D minor/F--"Big Four"
   * A minor/C--"I Wants A Real Man" and two other takes
   * E minor/G--"Macon Georgia Cut Out"
   * F/B flat--"South Street Stomp"
   * F/C/G/B flat--When My Want Run Out, two other takes in F
A couple of things stand out about Leecan and Cooksey's repertoire and their notable omissions:
   * Robert Leecan did not record a single tune in Spanish or Vestapol, carrying forward the trend remarked upon in Papa Charlie Jackson for sophisticated Jazzers to avoid the open tunings commonly employed by Country Blues players
   * Robert Leecan was undaunted by flat keys, with several tunes recorded in F and B flat, but he altogether avoided the far more commonly encountered blues positions of E and A in standard tuning, and recorded only one tune in D position.
   * Based on Robert Leecan's instrumental expertise and sophistication, it probably does not make sense to set too much store on the common positions that he didn't record in, since he was also part of a duo, and some of the key choices may have been dictated by the harmonica and singing key preferences of Bobby Cooksey.  When you hear Leecan's playing in the positions he did record in, it is hard to believe he was avoiding other common positions because he didn't know how to play in them.
All best,
Johnm
   
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: waxwing on December 09, 2007, 04:02:15 PM
This is a great thread. Wish I had the chops to contribute more (somebody beat me to my BBF keys-G-) but you guys are doin' great.

I was thinking about what you were saying about not playing in an "Open G" position, Johnm, and I thought you might categorize that as playing in a closed position, as I've heard Suzy and others talk about fiddle keys. The idea might be that pretty much all closed position keys fall into several types (I guess along the lines of CAGED?) but that essentially it represents a certain step by a guitarist that makes them all similar (except for the occasional open string bonuses). Would be handy if someone were going to chart this material somehow, eh?

Banjochris, I appreciated your look at Scrapper. I was thinking in that direction. I was wondering if you did a breakdown of what he did pre-war and then after his rediscovery. Might be interesting. I guess that would go for many rediscovered artists. I also wondered what position Little Boy Blue was in?

All for now.
John C.


Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: Johnm on December 09, 2007, 07:53:22 PM
Hi John C.,
Your point re "open" versus "closed" G position in standard tuning is very well taken.  There is very little difference between playing in a "closed" G position in standard tuning, which you might otherwise think of as G played out of an F position, and playing in B flat out of the F position, as did Walter Vinson so often on the Mississippi Sheiks recordings.  The primary difference , as you noted, is how the open strings interact with the key and how useful they end up being for playing connecting runs and the like. 
Once a player develops the ability to play with closed chordal positions, there is little to choose from between playing a song in E flat out of the closed C shape or playing it out of F.  This is a skill that is a relative commonplace among Jazz guitarists but all but unheard of among Country Blues guitarists.  The list of Country Blues players who played what they wanted to hear whether or not it fit naturally or idiomatically in the tuning/position they were working in is pretty darn short; Rev. Davis, certainly, also Bo Carter and Lemon.  This is not to say that what these musicians chose to play was not dictated by the tuning or position that they were working out of to some degree, but rather that what they chose to play was not completely dictated by the tuning/position, as it was for most players, including very skillful ones.  Certainly the most common approach taken by Country Blues guitarists was and continues to be, "Take what the tuning/position gives you."
All best,
Johnm   
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: banjochris on December 09, 2007, 08:00:34 PM
I also wondered what position Little Boy Blue was in?

It's in E.
Chris
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: Johnm on December 11, 2007, 03:12:42 PM
Hi all,
Ishmon Bracey recorded far too few tunes to suit me, but they covered a good bit of ground, in terms of the tunings/positions in which he played.  The breakdown is as follows:
   * A, standard tuning--"Four Day Blues", "Trouble Hearted Blues"
   * E, standard tuning--"Saturday Blues", "Woman, Woman Blues"
   * G, standard tuning--"Pay Me No Mind", "Leavin' Town Blues", "Brown Mama Blues", "Left Alone Blues"
   * C, standard tuning--"Jake Liquor Blues", "Bust Up Blues"
   * B flat, standard tuning--"Family Stirving"
   * Spanish tuning--"Suitcase Full Of Blues"
Based on this admittedly small sample of tunes, we wind up with no tunes recorded in D or F in standard tuning, or in Vestapol.  "Suitcase Full of Blues" occupies a position in Bracey's repertoire analagous to that occupied by "Police Dog Blues" in Blake's repertoire:  amazingly adroit considering what a tiny percentage the tuning it is played in is represented in the recorded works.  The absence of any songs in Vestapol in Bracey's early repertoire doesn't seem surprising when you take into account the fact that Tommy Johnson similarly recorded no tunes in Vestapol, and Patton had only one tune in Vestapol.  Based on nothing more substantial than the fact that Tommy McClennan's playing in G standard sounds to have been influenced by Bracey's playing in the same position, Bracey may be a possibility as an influence on McClennan's playing in D standard as well, despite having no early recordings in that position.  It would be interesting to know the tunings/positions of the religious numbers that Gayle Dean Wardlow recorded Bracey playing in the '60s, to find out if there had been any shifts in his preferred playing positions in the intervening years.  Bracey's playing in B flat on "Family Stirving" is striking, for it is the only playing in that position by a Country Blues player that I can think of apart from Papa Charlie Jackson and the Mississippi Sheiks' guitarists.  I reckon Kid Ernest appreciated Bracey's willingness to play in B flat, for that allowed him (Ernest) to play the clarinet in C.  Based on the amount of variety in Bracey's very small recorded repertoire, I think you could make a case for him being one of the most severely under-recorded Country Blues musicians.
All best,
Johnm 
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: Cleoma on December 11, 2007, 06:03:41 PM
I've thought quite a lot about how so many of the "Golden Era" black blues fiddlers played out of closed positions in standard tunings, playing all over the neck. The Chatmons, Clifford Hayes, Howard Armstrong, and Eddie Anthony all did this.  Meanwhile their fiddling hillbilly brethren were using all kinds of alternate tunings and rarely ventured out of first position.

I can't think offhand of any country blues fiddle players who used alternative tunings.  The Cajuns and Creoles did, some -- Bebe Carriere definitely cross tuned sometimes.  But among black "Golden Era" country blues fiddlers, I can't think of any at the moment.

Why is this?  Some fiddlers (Clifford Hayes) played with horn players.  Piano players (like Harry Chatmon) sometimes played blues using just the black keys.   The Chatmons, Howard Armstrong, Clifford Hayes, and Eddie Anthony were all professional musicians, so they may have needed to be able to switch keys at the drop of a hat, to accommodate whatever singer or player they were backing up or jamming with.   This can still happen today as those of us who participated in the fiddle jam with Sunpie Barnes at PT Blues Week 2006 experienced when he wanted to play blues in A flat.

Cross-tuning makes the fiddle more resonant.  It's especially good when playing alone, gives a fuller sound.  For playing a long dance, it's a lot less work with the left hand and you don't have to be as careful with the right hand.  As Frankie pointed out, some hillbilly fiddlers (Emmet Lundy for one) considered re-tuning "cheating" and prided themselves on not doing it.  But it definitely gives a bigger sound to the fiddle.  It certainly sounds wonderful on material by John Salyer, Tommy Jarrell, Burt and Edn Hammons, Melvin Wine, the Crockett Family, etc.

Playing in closed position out of standard means that you don't have to tune as carefully; if you're basically in tune with yourself, but a little off from the rest of the band, you can just play anyway and fret the notes where they sound in tune.  More flexible that way.  Maybe it has a certain rasp or other qualities that help the fiddle to project?  But I would think a fiddle would be louder when open tuned. 

Then again -- you can bear down on the bow harder with a fretted note than with an open string -- if you want the open string to resonate, you need to have somewhat of a light touch.  Maybe these blues fiddlers were playing in bands, playing on the street, etc. -- and needed to just play really loud and hard all the time??

It's a mystery to me.  Anyone have any theories?

Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: frankie on December 11, 2007, 07:00:36 PM
Re:  Blues fiddling - cross tuning does seem to be used very infrequently in blues fiddling...  I can only think of a few examples:

The (unnamed?  can't recall his name, anyway) fiddler on Joe Taggart's "Been Listening All The Day" and the song on the other side if the 78 ("A Mother's Love"?) tuned the first string down to D (playing out of G position).  Same fiddler plays on "Coal River Blues" - same tuning.

Andrew Baxter tuned his first string down for "Moore Gal" in the key of G - okay, okay - it's a fiddle tune!

Will Batts sounds like he tuned his first string down to D for "Bunker Hill Blues," playing in the key of D.

Will Batts again - tuned the fiddle down three half-steps when playing with Jack Kelly's South Memphis Jug Band - C figures for the key of A, G figures for the key of E.

I'm not sure that tuning the whole fiddle up or down really constitutes pure cross tuning or scordatura, but it's interesting to note, anyway.

I'm not sure the preference was entirely for closed positions, as many black fiddlers mined first position pretty heavily, but seemed to prefer flat keys, often using open string drones to complement the sound.  Learning flat-keys does give the player largely "closed" and easily transposeable positions that they can use anywhere on the fingerboard.

Maybe playing in flat keys gives the player more fine-grained control over certain key tones:  In first-position B-flat, neither the tonic, third or fifth fall on open strings and must be fingered - that means vibrato can be applied or shades of pitch used to increase the expressiveness of the playing.  In the key of A, first position, the tonic and fifth are stranded on open strings, requiring a stretch with the pinky on an adjacent string to double those notes and provide some kind of expressive color...  maybe that just didn't seem like it was worth all the effort...  Blues or jazz fiddling doesn't appear to me to be as "bow-centric" as old-time fiddling proper, whether done by blacks or whites - at least, not in quite the same way.

Edited to add:  blues and jazz fiddling also isn't a solo style the way old-time is.  While there were definitely old-time fiddlers that resisted cross tuning or thought it was backwards, it does seem to lend itself to self accompaniment.  It's kind of interesting to compare old-time fiddle styles to CB harmonica styles in that sense - both exist within their traditions in solo and ensemble contexts...
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: Johnm on December 12, 2007, 05:41:58 PM
Hi all,
Thanks, Suzy and frankie, for bringing the Country Blues fiddlers into play.  The differences between them and their hillbilly brethren are fascinating to note.  I feel like I hear a pretty consistent tonal difference, or sense of how a fiddle sounds best.
The tunings/positions that Henry Thomas recorded in work out as follows:
   * D position, standard tuning--"John Henry" and 8 other tunes, one of which, "The Fox And The Hounds", periodically modulates to a G position.
   * G position, standard tuning--"Cottonfield Blues" and 5 other songs
   * C position, standard tuning--"Arkansas" and 5 other songs
   * E position, standard tuning--"Texas Easy Street" only
   * Vestapol--"Shanty Blues" only
The two most notable tunings/positions not recorded in by Henry Thomas are Spanish tuning and A position in standard tuning.  Not recording in Spanish tuning holds true to a general predeliction of Texas guitarists of that era who were recorded, and so is not a particular surprise, but if we compare Henry Thomas and Lemon's notable omission positions in standard tuning, we find they invert each other:  Lemon recorded no songs played out of D position in standard tuning, and it was Henry Thomas's most commonly recorded position; conversely, Henry Thomas recorded no songs in A position in standard tuning, and Lemon recorded many songs in that tuning and particularly excelled there.  Are we seeing the result of some kind of generational difference in these position choices?  I think it is generally conceded that Henry Thomas was probably a generation older than Lemon, though I don't know if anyone actually knows this for a fact.  It may be, too, that Henry Thomas's preference for D position and Lemon's avoidance of it reflect some kind of bygone subregional stylistic characteristics (though both men traveled a great deal).  It could be, too, that D position lends itself more readily to Thomas's pre-Blues material than the Country Blues Lemon recorded.  This is all guess-work, but a fair point can be made that Lemon's preference for A position over D position was borne out by far more Texas guitarists of his and the next generation than was Henry Thomas's preference for D position over A position.

On a completely different point, has anybody ever considered the possibility that Henry Thomas played a miniature guitar?  I know there are smaller 6-string guitars in the Mexican tradition, and he did not record a single song at standard pitch in standard tuning, so he was either playing a smaller instrument or was fairly drastically capoed on all of his recordings.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: Rivers on December 12, 2007, 06:08:19 PM
Re. Rev. Davis tunes out of a first position G with open strings, Runnin' To The Judgement is in this category. You can find it on Pure Religion & Bad Company, it's one of the Reverend's very bluesy gospel numbers. I find myself naturally falling into a Broonzy 'dead thumb' feel, great fun but not quite the way Gary played it. Check it out.

More Rev., Devil's Dream is in F
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: Johnm on January 02, 2008, 12:01:52 PM
Hi all,
I haven't posted here in a while but have continued to think a lot about this issue.  Lately, I have been listening a lot to Luke Jordan.  With only ten sides recorded to his credit (a tragedy, in my opinion), it is a bit of a stretch to speak of notable omissions for Luke Jordan with regard to commonly played tunings/positions, especially when his playing shows such a high degree or originality and sophistication in the keys he did record in, but since those ten sides are all we have to go on, so be it.  Here is how they break down:
   * In E position, standard tuning--four sides:  "Church Bells Blues", takes one and two, "My Gal's Done Quit Me" and "If You Call Me Mama"
   * In C position, standard tuning--four sides:  "Pick Poor Robin Clean", takes one and two, "Cocaine Blues and "Tom Brown Sits in his Prison Cell"
   * In F position, standard tuning--one side:  "Traveling Coon"
   * In A position, standard tuning--one side:  "Won't You Be Kind?"
Some thoughts re Luke Jordan's notable omissions and style:
   * Luke Jordan had no tunes recorded in either Spanish or Vestapol tuning.  Virginia Country Blues guitarists were not very often recorded in the period in which Jordan recorded, 1927-1929, but the Virginia guitarist who recorded the most titles apart from Luke Jordan in that period, William Moore, likewise recorded no titles in Vestapol or Spanish tuning.
   * It is interesting that of the commonly played positions in standard tuning, the two notable omissions for Luke Jordan, D position and G position, are exactly the same as those for Charlie Patton.  Considering that the two musicians developed without ever having seen or heard each other, this seems more a coincidence than a significant finding, and I think the omissions of G and D positions from the recorded repertoire of Charlie Patton are more telling than the same omissions from Luke Jordan's recorded repertoire, simply by virtue of Patton having recorded so many more titles.
   * Listening to a lot of Luke Jordan's accompaniments for his singing makes me think that a "boom-chuck" approach to vocal accompaniment is sorely under-rated.  Luke Jordan used such an approach, with spiffy connecting bass runs on most of his recordings, all but the ones in E position, and it sounds terrific.  Having such relatively simple accompaniments seemed to allow him to give more of his attention to his singing, and boy, did that pay off!  Luke Jordan is also one of the few Country Blues guitarists I have heard whose playing had the "Spanish tinge" that Jellyroll Morton spoke of New Orleans musicians possessing.  On both takes of "Pick Poor Robin Clean" and "Won't You Be Kind?", Jordan's solos break into a syncopated kind of double mambo that is notably absent from the playing of other people from his part of the world.  Who can say where Luke Jordan picked it up?
All best,
Johnm 
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: Johnm on January 08, 2008, 05:58:24 PM
Hi all,
Gabriel Brown was an interesting East Coast singer/guitarist of an in-between generation, born in Orlando, Florida in 1910.  He was recorded by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress in 1935, with 10 performances, on some of which he was joined by a friend, Rochelle French.  His commercial recording career was confined to the '40s and 50s.  The great majority of his recordings have been re-issued on the JSP set, "Shake That Thing", which also includes the complete recorded works of Dan Pickett and Ralph Willis.

Brown was an excellent and versatile guitarist.  Indeed, according to the notes to the "Shake That Thing" set, Alan Lomax considered Brown the best guitarist he ever heard.  Considering who some of the other guitarists Lomax heard were (Leadbelly, Smith Casey), that is high praise indeed.

The tunings/positions for Gabriel Brown's recorded works re-issued on "Shake That Thing" break down as follows:
   Vestapol tuning, slide:  8 songs
   Vestapol tuning, non-slide:  1 song
   C position, standard tuning:  6 songs
   A position, standard tuning:  10 songs
   E position, standard tuning:  2 songs
   Dropped D tuning:  14 songs

Based on this sampling, at least, Gabriel shows notable omissions in the commonly played G position in standard tuning and in Spanish tuning.  The predeliction of the '20s generation of Atlanta players for Spanish tuning is beginning to look more and more like an anomaly viewed in the context of the East Coast blues in the larger sense.  Apart from those Atlanta players, the only East Coast player I have heard play a lot in Spanish tuning was Elizabeth Cotten.  Brown's avoidance of G position in standard tuning is every bit as mystifying as is Charlie Patton's and Luke Jordan's avoidance of the same position.  Brown's affinity for A position in standard tuning is shared by many of his contemporaries, like Blind Boy Fuller and Buddy Moss, but his favored tuning of Dropped D was characteristically employed for only one or two tunes, if any, in the repertoire of most East Coast players of his period, and probably qualifies as Brown's most distinctive feature as a guitarist.  E in standard tuning comprises a notably small percentage of Brown's recorded works as it did for Blind Blake.  Blues guitarists choosing not to play in E standard always catch me by surprise.  For his commercial recordings, Brown tended to favor C in standard tuning for his his salacious material, like "It's Getting Soft" and "I Had My Hands On It".

Working from the discography of Brown helpfully provided by Bunker Hill and dj in the Gabriel Brown thread located elsewhere in the Main Forum here, the following titles are missing from the "Shake That Thing" set:  "I Don't Feel So Good", "Stop Jivin' Me", "Boogie Woogie Guitar", "Hold That Train", "Pleading", "I'll Be Seeing You One of These Days", "Wrap Me Up Tight", "I Want a Little Fun", "I Can't Last Long", "Suffer", and the un-issued "It Ain't Like That".

One other aspect of Gabriel Brown's guitar playing that bears mention is his tendency for playing an out-of-tune instrument.  I know there's a lot of talk about musicians hearing things differently, and sometimes it's true, a musician may consistently tune an instrument in a way that would generally be considered out of tune, as Joseph Spence tuned his G string noticeably sharp.  More often, though, I think arguments exonerating musicians for playing out of tune instruments amount to patronizing special pleading, and I think that is the case with Gabriel Brown.  There is nothing that he played that required his instrument to be out-of-tune to sound a specific way, nor is he consistently out of tune in a particular way.  He is just out of tune, quite often, just as often as J. T. Smith, and like Smith, he was an expert enough player that his lackadaisical attitude toward tuning is hard to figure in the context of his over-all musicality.  All this having been said, he was an excellent guitarist, really worth hearing, especially if you like Dropped D tuning, and an excellent singer.
All best,
Johnm   
 
   
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: banjochris on January 09, 2008, 12:36:08 PM
Adding to your aside about out-of-tune musicians, John, I'll never forget the first time I heard Sam Collins. It was the first track on the Yazoo, which is Devil in the Lion's Den, IIRC, and he plays those beautiful slide lines followed by his hideous out-of-tune barred IV chord and open strings. This might be a whole other topic, but surely some of the people running sessions in the '20s would have asked them to tune up. (Or maybe they did.)
Chris
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: Johnm on January 10, 2008, 12:42:12 PM
Hi Chris,
You make a good point re Sam Collins.  The thing I always find baffling is how well he played in tune with the slide (excluding barres, as you said), when his open strings were not in tune.
Recorded out of tune performances do merit a thread in their own right, I think.  For folkloric recordings done by collectors or ethnomuscologists, I can see the point in non-involvement by the person doing the recording in the question of the player's tuning, because you are altering the player's process, which is one of the things you are trying to preserve.  For commercial recordings, though, where the recorded product is expected to be palatable for listeners in the Pop Music world of the day, it's hard to see why an engineer or a & r man didn't intervene on some recordings and say, "You aren't done tuning, are you?" 
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: frankie on January 10, 2008, 03:56:56 PM
For commercial recordings, though, where the recorded product is expected to be palatable for listeners in the Pop Music world of the day, it's hard to see why an engineer or a & r man didn't intervene on some recordings and say, "You aren't done tuning, are you?" 

Did you ever see the footage of Tom Ashley being interviewed by (I think) Ralph Rinzler?  RR asks Ashley about going to New York to record and about Frank Walker & asks Tom "How much did those men know about music?"  Ashley replies "Oh, not anything.  They couldn't tell you whether you was in tune or outta tune."
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: banjochris on January 10, 2008, 08:11:51 PM
Did you ever see the footage of Tom Ashley being interviewed by (I think) Ralph Rinzler?  RR asks Ashley about going to New York to record and about Frank Walker & asks Tom "How much did those men know about music?"  Ashley replies "Oh, not anything.  They couldn't tell you whether you was in tune or outta tune."

I'm sure that was true for a lot of A&R men and producers, but, for instance, Sam Collins recorded for Gennett, which was owned by a piano company, so presumably they had some people around that knew music. Whether any of them were involved in the studio, who knows?
Chris
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: Johnm on January 12, 2008, 10:01:48 AM
Hi all,
Two great early Country Blues musicians from the states of Louisiana and Texas, respectively, were Willard "Ramblin'" Thomas and Willie Reed.  Ramblin' Thomas's tuning/position breakdown for his recorded repertoire is as follows:
   * Vestapol, slide:  9 songs (not including multiple takes)
   * G position, standard tuning:  3 songs
   * A position, standard tuning:  3 songs
   * E position, standard tuning:  1 song (with an additional take)
   * G6 tuning, DGDGBE, key of D:  1 song
Ramblin' Thomas recorded no songs in Spanish or D or C position in standard tuning.  Based on his over-all sophistication and, in particular, his fluency in G position in standard tuning, it's hard to believe he did not play in C position in standard tuning at all.  The absence of Spanish and D position in standard tuning from his recorded repertoire are easier to reconcile.
Some thoughts on Ramblin' Thomas's music:
   * His three songs played in G position in standard tuning are among the most distinctive played in that position in all of the Country Blues.  Thomas clearly nabbed a couple of ideas from Blake, but his rhythmic feel is altogether different and his phrasing far more quirky and disjunct.  Moreover, Thomas is all over the neck of the guitar, playing bass runs up the neck that employ open interior strings, moves that only work in one place on the instrument.  All three of the songs, "Lock and Key Blues", "Sawmill Moan" and "Ramblin' Mind Blues", are amazing, but "Ramblin' Mind Blues" seems particularly striking even in the company of the others.
   * Just as Thomas's G position playing shows Blake's influence, so do his A position tunes show a strong Lemon Jefferson influence.  Once again, though, Thomas ventures into areas not explored by his model (at least on records), though it must be conceded that Lemon also played a mass of ideas in this position that Thomas didn't get to either.  Thomas's playing in A is superlative.
   * Thomas's two one-offs, "Hard Dallas" in E standard and "Jig Head" in G6 tuning are both tantalizingly strong, with "Jig Head Blues" standing as one of the greatest performances ever by someone working in Lonnie Johnson's signature style and tuning.  Thomas's brother, Jesse, also worked very strongly in Lonnie Johnson's style.
   * The Vestapol slide work comprises the largest portion of Ramblin' Thomas's recorded repertoire, and sounds like him, and noone else that I have heard, up to his last recording session, in Dallas in 1932.  At that session, he recorded two Vestapol slide tunes, "Ground Hog Blues" and "Shake it Gal", that mimic Tampa Red's playing and sound very closely, and sound quite different from Thomas's earlier slide material.  Perhaps these last two tunes represent an effort by Thomas to keep up with the times, but it is very rare for a musician as established as Thomas was at that point of his career (he was around thirty years old) to alter his style so drastically, or to be so explicitly imitative.

Willie Reed recorded so few tunes that he barely qualifies for inclusion here, but like Ishmon Bracey and Luke Jordan, his recorded repertoire hints at a greater variety than was captured on disc.  His tuning/position breakdown is as follows:
   * A position, standard tuning:  "Dreaming Blues"
   * E position, standard tuning:  "Texas Blues"
   * G position, standard tuning:  "Goin' Back To My Baby"
   * C position, standard tuning:  "Leavin' Home", "Some Lowdown Groundhog Blues", and "All Worn Out and Dry Blues"
Missing from Willie Reed's recorded repertoire are any tunes in Spanish, Vestapol, or D position in standard tuning.  Given the time and place in which he recorded and his regional identification, it is not hard to believe that he did not play in Vestapol or Spanish at all, and D position in standard tuning is shaping up as the most common notable omission from Country Blues players' recorded repertoire in standard tuning, apart from the flat key positions.

A couple of thoughts with regard to Willie Reed's recordings:
   * "Dreaming Blues" and "Texas Blues" were both recorded at his first session, in Dallas in 1928, and are outstanding finger-picked blues, about as good it ever got in Texas.  I'm probably in the minority, but I prefer Willie Reed's playing on these songs to that of Little Hat Jones; I like his time and concept better.
   * By the next time Willie Reed returned to the studio, in 1929, he had switched to a flat-pick, for "Leavin' Home" and "Goin' Back To My Baby".  One wonders if this choice is an indication of some kind of fashion among Dallas players at that time, like Carl Davis and Gene Campbell, both of whom sound to be flat-picking on their recordings.
   * Reed's last solo sessions were in 1935, and the two tunes that resulted from the session, "Some Lowdown Groundhog Blues" and "All Worn Out And Dry Blues", share the same flat-picked accompaniment.
EDITED, 1/18, TO ADD:  I had forgotten earlier that Willie Reed was in the studio on August 29 and 30 in 1934, accompanying Texas Alexander along with Carl Davis.  Those sessions yielded 8 titles, one of which was played in C position, standard tuning, 2 of which were played in D position in standard tuning (with at least one of the guitars playing in dropped D), and the remaining five titles played out of A position in standard tuning.  The inclusion of the songs played out of D position in standard tuning reduces Willie Reed's notable omissions in commonly played tunings/positions to Spanish and Vestapol.   
With such a small recorded repertoire, it's hard to draw very many conclusions about Willie Reed's music apart from this:  he was woefully under-recorded(!), especially in his finger-picked pieces.
All best,
Johnm
   

   
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: MTJ3 on January 19, 2008, 10:01:06 AM
One wonders if this choice is an indication of some kind of fashion among Dallas players at that time, like Carl Davis and Gene Campbell, both of whom sound to be flat-picking on their recordings.

I don't know that identification of Gene Campbell as a Dallas player is dispositive, even though his first and third sessions were in Dallas (his 3 other sessions being in Chicago). In fact, I don't think we know anything about him at all.  If he was a Texas musician, with 24 recorded and issued sides to his credit, he was the most prolifically recorded Texas blues guitarist other than Blind Lemon Jefferson.  (Without going into the details, there are things about his style that may suggest a Texas provenance.)  He certainly played with a pick, but it is unclear to me whether he played with a thumb pick or a flat pick and fingers.

Campbell recorded only in the keys of C and G.

Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: Johnm on January 19, 2008, 10:28:41 AM
Hi MTJ3,
Thanks for pointing out the Gene Campbell is not known to have been a Texan, despite having done two of his recording sessions in Dallas.  Somehow I got the idea in my head that he was remembered in Dallas as a resident, but upon reviewing the notes to his Document CD, found this wasn't the case. 
One oddity of his recorded output is that the four songs he recorded in Dallas in November of 1930 are all played out of F in standard tuning, and no other songs in his recorded repertoire were played in F, but rather in C and G positions in standard tuning.  In F, he loved a scrunchy F6 voicing that is very Swingy sounding:  1-X-3-2-3-1, with a lot of emphasis on the second string, where the 6th is voiced.  He plays a pretty wooly-sounding moving voicing over the IV chord, Bflat.  He was a very nifty guitar player and sounds like he only played set pieces.  He is one of the least improvisatory-sounding guitarists in the style.
All best,
Johnm 
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: MTJ3 on January 19, 2008, 11:27:53 AM
One oddity of his recorded output is that the four songs he recorded in Dallas in November of 1930 are all played out of F in standard tuning, and no other songs in his recorded repertoire were played in F, but rather in C and G positions in standard tuning.  In F, he loved a scrunchy F6 voicing that is very Swingy sounding:  1-X-3-2-3-1, with a lot of emphasis on the second string, where the 6th is voiced.  He plays a pretty wooly-sounding moving voicing over the IV chord, Bflat. 

Johnm,

I have gone back and forth on the key of those 4 cuts, and my statment about his key choices doesn't reflect that.  My initial reaction was that they were played in F; they are in, more or less, the absolute key of F.  If you are going to play that way, you ought to be playing in F, right? 

On further reflection, however, the guitar sounded to me like it was tuned low.  (In his first session, he tuned a full step low; leaving aside these 4 cuts, he appears to have used a capo or tuned high on all of his sides.)  Additionally, I felt that the repeated chromatic descent from I to V was more effectively executed out of the E shape and, therefore, in the key of G (with, if in the key of G, the E7 played out of the C shape). 

On the other hand, those cuts are totally unlike his other songs that we can clearly identify as being played in G, which sound a lot more like his songs played in C.  In fact, I wondered for a while whether it might not have been a different guitarist on those cuts. (But if it wasn't Campbell, who could it have been?  If they are not sui generis in this genre, they are certainly oddities, as you so aptly put it.  Based on those sides, I thought that he might have been a "band player," and 3 or 4 years ago when I had time for such, I spent a fair amount of it trying to track down a "band player" from that period with the same or even a similar name.) 

In any case, I haven't listened to Campbell for a while, so I think I should do that to try to hear some open strings and get convinced one way or the other.  But you're probably already on top of that.

Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: Johnm on January 19, 2008, 11:50:19 AM
Hi MTJ3,
Yes, I think you have it figured.  All of Gene Campbell's G tunes employ the so-called open G in standard tuning voicing of the I chord:  3-2-0-0-0-3.  These other four songs, "Don't Leave Me Blue Blues", "Doggone Mean Blues", Married Life Blues", and "Fair Weather Woman Blues", all have the closed F sound, in addition to which, in several of them, you can hear him walking a I7 chord down chromatically to the VI7 chord, all voiced out of a C7 shape with the fifth of the chord voiced on the sixth string, 8-X-7-8-6-X walking down to 5-X-4-5-3-X, fret by fret.  I do think it is the same guitarist as on the other songs, the touch has a similar crispness.  I agree, though, that he really sounds like a band guitarist.
Al best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: KC King on April 04, 2008, 11:33:40 AM
John m:

The tunings/positions that Henry Thomas recorded in work out as follows:
   * D position, standard tuning--"John Henry" and 8 other tunes, one of which, "The Fox And The Hounds", periodically modulates to a G position.
   * G position, standard tuning--"Cottonfield Blues" and 5 other songs
   * C position, standard tuning--"Arkansas" and 5 other songs
   * E position, standard tuning--"Texas Easy Street" only
   * Vestapol--"Shanty Blues" only
The two most notable tunings/positions not recorded in by Henry Thomas are Spanish tuning and A position in standard tuning. 


As a 3 month Guitar ultra-novice I'm ill equipped to derive the rest these tunes is there any chance you could give me a leg up on this? I'd love to include the information with the weeniepedia entry - esp. "Honey, Allow Me One More Chance".
As an aside I down loaded three of your lessons on Zip file - Ear Training - and can't seem to find the paypal link.

On a completely different point, has anybody ever considered the possibility that Henry Thomas played a miniature guitar?  I know there are smaller 6-string guitars in the Mexican tradition, and he did not record a single song at standard pitch in standard tuning, so he was either playing a smaller instrument or was fairly drastically capoed on all of his recordings.


I always wanted a Tenor Uke with Bass Strings  ;D

        Thanks "KC"
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: Johnm on April 05, 2008, 04:46:19 PM
Hi KC King,
I like your idea of adding resources on Henry Thomas to the Weeniepedia, and it would be pretty easy to list tunings/positions for all of his tunes.  I'm away from my records now, but in a couple of days I will post that all here.  I will send you a personal message with the Paypal link information re the ear-training lessons.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: Johnm on April 07, 2008, 11:34:19 PM
Hi all,
As per KC King's request here are Henry Thomas's tunes grouped by the tunings/positions in which they were played.  The re-issue I have of his music does not include session information, so I'll not include that here, and I have not ascertained the pitch at which his various pieces were played.  In a general sense, they were always higher than the concert pitch of the positions in which they were played.  Here goes:
   * D position, standard tuning:  "John Henry", "The Fox and the Hounds " (bridge played in G position), "Red River Blues", "The Little Red Caboose", "Fishing Blues", "Old Country Stomp", "Charming Betsy", "Lovin' Babe", "Bull Doze Blues"
   * G position, standard tuning:  "Cottonfield Blues", "Woodhouse Blues", "Railroadin' Some", "Don't Leave Me Here", "Don't Ease Me In", "Texas Worried Blues"
   * C position, standard tuning:  "Arkansas", "Bob McKinney", "Honey, Won't You Allow Me One More Chance", "Run, Mollie, Run", "Jonah in the Wilderness", "When the Train Comes Along"
   * E position, standard tuning:  "Texas Easy Street"
   * Vestapol, slide:  "Shanty Blues"
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: Johnm on May 05, 2008, 03:59:03 PM
Hi all,
In listening to to the 46 titles recorded by the East Coast bluesman Ralph Willis in the period 1944--1953 that have been reissued on the JSP set, "Shake That Thing", I've come up with the following breakdown of positions/tunings for the songs Willis recorded.
   * 21 titles played in E position, standard tuning;
   * 19 titles played in A position, standard tuning (one of which is a duet in which the other guitar is being played in G position, standard tuning)
   * 5 titles played in G position, standard tuning (one of which is the afore-mentioned duet)
   * 2 titles played in C position, standard tuning.
We end up with, then, the following omissions of commonly played positions/tunings for Ralph Willis:
   * In standard tuning, no songs recorded in D position or F position;
   * No songs recorded in Spanish, Vestapol, or cross-note tuning.

Ralph Willis's positions of choice and notable omissions both suggest some entertaining conclusions.
   * Despite being of a later generation, (born in 1910) than the earliest generation of recorded Country Blues players, Willis, who in all probability grew up hearing recorded country blues, is less versatile in his choice of positions/tunings than many of the earlier players who grew up in the absence of recorded blues, people like Peg Leg Howell, Charley Patton, Henry Thomas and Lemon Jefferson.
   * Did commercial recording practices in Ralph Willis's era encourage or discourage variety in repertoire?  Based on the sampling here, one would have to conclude that the desire to have successful record sales duplicated via the recording of covers operated against variety in repertoire.  Ralph Willis recorded only two tunes in C position, standard tuning, but they are excellently played and don't show the kind of halting unfamiliarity that you get a feeling for listening Blind Blake play in E position, standard tuning on "Cherry Street" and "Depression Gone From Me Blues", where Blake really sounds out of his element.  One wonders how much other strong material Ralph Willis had in C, and wishes that he had lived long enough to record for someone like Chris Strachwitz, who would have encouraged variety in his playing.
   * Willis is an interesting figure, musically transitional in many ways.  One of his early titles played in A standard, "So Many Days", shows a strong Scrapper Blackwell/Robert Johnson influence.  Several of Willis's songs, "Goin' to Chattanooga", "Goin' to Virginia" and "I'm Gonna Rock" sound like precursors of Rockabilly.  Willis also has numbers like "Everyday I Weep and Moan", with relatively modern single-string soloing and others, like "Too Late to Scream and Shout", where he keeps time with a 4-to-the-bar strumming much like Freddie Green's in the Count Basie band.  Willis also shows some harmonic innovation:  on "I Got a Letter", played in A standard, he goes to an E augmented chord, 0-7-6-5-5-X, for his turn-around, a very "uptown" sound.

I really think Ralph Willis is terribly under-rated and his music warrants some serious listening.  He's a bit like Furry Lewis, not musically, but personally, in that his predeliction for humor in his delivery and subject matter can distract you from his musical excellence unless you are really paying attention.  I know that Post-War blues tend not to have the cachet of Pre-War blues for most present-day listeners, but I find that I prefer much of Ralph Willis's recorded repertoire to the popular Blues recorded in the '30s.
All best,
Johnm       
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: Slack on May 05, 2008, 08:52:21 PM
Johnm, thanks for the continued bias and pointer to Ralph Willis - I cannot believe you've been listening to him for about 4 months now!  I have to admit, that I bought the JSP set but have not really given him a fair listen (other than the few tracks you suggested earlier).  But will do so!
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: Johnm on September 25, 2008, 12:11:47 PM
Hi all,
Peg Leg Howell is a very interesting musician with regard to this issue.  Like Papa Charlie Jackson and Rev. Gary Davis, the omissions in his recorded works of any of the commonly played tunings/positions are virtually non-existent, for he recorded at least one tune in each of the following keys and positions:
   * Spanish tuning--many tunes, the preponderance of his recorded repertoire;
   * Vestapol--likewise, many tunes, and all of his slide numbers;
   * E position, standard tuning--one tune, "New Prison Blues";
   * A position, standard tuning--one tune, "Fo' Day Blues";
   * G position, standard tuning--one tune, "Chittlin' Supper";
   * D position, standard tuning--one tune, "Away From Home";
   * C position, standard tuning--two tunes, "Banjo Blues" and "Turkey Buzzard Blues"
   * F position, standard tuning--two tunes, "Sadie Lee Blues" and "Turtle Dove Blues"
   * Peg Leg's 5Root35Root3 tuning--two tunes, "Low Down Rounder Blues" and "Fairy Blues"
It is difficult to make a case for B flat and E flat in standard tuning being notable omissions for a Country Blues guitarist.  And Peg Leg Howell must be given special credit for utilizing a tuning, whether he did it in C, GCEGCE, or B flat, FBflatDFBflatD, that no other Country Blues guitarist to my knowledge ever used.  He really was a wonderful and distinctive musician.
All best,
Johnm 
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: Johnm on February 04, 2010, 07:39:52 PM
Hi all,
The recent transcribing I was doing of the lyrics to Memphis Willie Borum's two solo Prestige albums from the '60s, "Introducing Memphis Willie B." and "Hard Working Man Blues" gave me an opportunity to see what positions/tunings he chose for his solo recorded repertoire.  The breakdown is as follows:
   * D position, standard tuning:  9 songs
   * C position, standard tuning:  2 songs(one with racked harmonica)
   * Vestapol tuning, non-slide:   2 songs
   * E position, standard tuning:  2 songs
   * G position, standard tuning:  9 songs(seven with racked harmonica)
Probably the biggest surprise here, in terms of notable omissions, is the complete absence of any songs played in either A position, standard tuning or in Spanish tuning.  Memphis had a pretty strong tradition of players who worked in those tunings, notably Furry Lewis and Jack Kelly in Spanish, and Robert Wilkins and some others in A position, standard tuning.  It's a little surprising how small a percentage of Willie B.'s tunes were played in C, but in the main he did not appear to gravitate towards the type of raggy or pre-blues material that is most often played in C.  The biggest surprise among the positions he did play in is the relatively heavy preponderance of tunes played in D position, standard tuning, a playing position altogether eschewed by such Country Blues greats as Charlie Patton, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Luke Jordan.  In the extent to which he favored D position in standard tuning, Willie Borum occupies a position analogous to Gabriel Brown's pronounced preference for dropped-D tuning, very much swimming against the musical tide of their fellow players.
All best,
Johnm
 
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: Johnm on July 10, 2010, 04:01:43 PM
Hi all,
After going through Libba Cotten's three Folkways albums and figuring out her tunings/playing positions used there, the breakdown is as follows (with pitch at which the guitar was tuned not taken into consideration):
   * C position, standard tuning--30 titles
   * Spanish tuning--11 titles
   * Vestapol tuning--2 titles
   * G position, standard tuning--3 titles
   * A minor, standard tuning--1 title
   * F position, standard tuning--1 title
   * A position, standard tuning--1 title

If you look at these totals,a couple of things stand out:
   * The overwhelming predominance of tunes in C position in standard tuning as a percentage of Libba Cotten's repertoire.  Even players who recorded quite a lot in C in standard tuning, like Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake and Blind Boy Fuller didn't record nearly as high a percentage of their repertoire in C.
   * The unusually high percentage of tunes played in Spanish for a player from the Carolinas.  You can go a very long time without finding any recorded non-slide performances in Spanish from players in that part of the world.
   * How close Libba came to voids in three other playing positions, A minor, F and A in standard tuning.  In each of these positions she recorded only one number.  In a way, her A tune, "Street Blues", might more aptly be described as being played in A, standard tuning in the F position, for she plays it using the closed F shape up at the fifth fret, not the partially barred A chord at the base of the neck.  It is perhaps an indication of how far Libba Cotten stood outside of the common musical traditions where she was raised, that A, a mainstay for many of the East Coast/Piedmont players, is all but absent from her repertoire.  Another factor that may have had an effect on this is that Libba Cotten had already joined the church and given up playing by the time Blind Boy Fuller came along.  She may possibly never have heard his records.
  * The most commonly encountered playing positions that are notable omissions from Libba Cotten's recorded repertoire are E in standard tuning and D in standard tuning.  As a notable omission, D in standard tuning is not altogether a surprise, for Charlie Patton, Lemon Jefferson, and Luke Jordan, among others, I'm sure, never recorded a piece played out of D in standard tuning.  To not play in E in standard tuning is truly a notable omission, though.  If you exclude players who played in only one tuning/position (like Roosevelt Graves in Spanish) and players who recorded so few titles that it can't be said with any degree of surety whether or not they played in other positions (like Garfield Akers), I've never previously encountered a player who did not play at least one tune in E in standard tuning.  The absence of E tunes from Libba Cotten's recorded repertoire may be an indication of the remove at which she was from blues playing and recorded blues.  What makes it all the more baffling, though, is that E, was and has been for many players, like Lemon Jefferson the playing position of choice for religious material.  At this stage, there is no way of knowing why Libba Cotten so thoroughly avoided E position, particularly when a reasonably high percentage of her C tunes go to E at some point. 

In some ways, the information from the poll of recorded titles raises more questions than it answers, but it's always interesting to see how a player diverged from his/her contemporaries.
All best,
Johnm   
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: Johnm on September 07, 2011, 04:18:36 PM
Hi all,
Bo Weavil Jackson/Sam Butler is an interesting musician to examine in terms of notable omissions in the positions and tunings in which he recorded.  He recorded early, going into the studio for the first time in 1926, I believe, and next to nothing is known about him in the biographical sense, though on the basis of his playing style, I know some pundits have labeled him a Mississippi player.  I'm less confident of such a regional identification for Jackson/Butler because his playing is so different from anyone else that I don't see him falling into any obvious regional sound.  In any event, the playing positions/tunings for his recorded repertoire are as follows, including the pitch at which he played the different songs.  Where the pitch at which he recorded is flat of standard tuning, it is indicated with a minus sign (-), where sharp of standard tuning it will be indicated with a plus sign (+).

TITLE                     PLAYING POSITION/TUNING                  KEY
1)Pistol Blues                       E position, standard tuning                          F#+
2)Some Scream High Yellow   G position, standard tuning                         A flat+
3)You Can't Keep No Brown    Spanish tuning, slide                                  F#+
4)When The Saints Come       Vestapol, lap slide                                     G
   Marching Home  
5)I'm On My Way to the         C position, standard tuning                          C+
   Kingdom Land
6)Why Do You Moan?             C position, standard tuning                          C+
7)Devil and My Brown Blues    G position, standard tuning                          F#+
8)Poor Boy Blues                   Spanish tuning, slide                                  G
9)Jefferson County Blues        Vestapol tuning, slide                                  D+
10)Jefferson County Blues,       Vestapol tuning, slide                                  D+
    alt. take
11)You Can't Keep No Brown     C position, standard tuning                          C
12)Christians Fight On, Ain't Long  Vestapol, lap slide                                  G
13)Heaven Is My View              Vestapol, lap slide                                     G

A couple of observations with regards to Jackson's playing positions/tunings and repertoire:

   * Of the most commonly played in positions in standard tuning, Jackson/Butler showed notable omissions in A position and D position.  D position has proven to be a pretty common notable omission in standard tuning, and is one that Jackson shares with Lemon Jefferson, Charlie Patton, Luke Jordan and Libba Cotten, among others.  Not having recorded any songs in A position is less common, though Charlie Patton recorded only one such song, "Devil Sent The Rain".  Jackson recorded no songs in F position in standard tuning, but it would probably be a stretch to describe not having played in F as a notable omission;
   * Like Lemon Jefferson, Butler used C position in standard tuning for both secular numbers ("You Can't Keep No Brown" and "Why Do You Moan?") and religious numbers ("I'm On My Way to the Kingdom Land")
   * Jackson/Butler was a versatile slide player, working out of Spanish and Vestapol tunings and playing slide out of both the conventional playing position and lap-style.  He recorded only blues in the conventional position when playing slide in Spanish tuning.  In Vestapol, he did one slide blues played with the guitar in the conventional position, and the remainder of his slide tunes in Vestapol were sacred songs, played lap-style, in the key of the IV chord relative to the tuning (playing in the key of G in open D tuning).  Jackson's approach to playing slide on these sacred numbers is discussed in more detail here:  http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?amp;Itemid=60&topic=7891.0.

Even if Jackson's slim recorded legacy accurately reflected the breadth of his playing style in its entirety, it is nonetheless a shame he did not record more titles, for his playing and singing were so distinctive and exciting, both with and without a slide, that it makes his fans long for a larger sampling of his work.
All best,
Johnm  
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: alyoung on September 08, 2011, 04:32:32 AM

 And Peg Leg Howell must be given special credit for utilizing a tuning, whether he did it in C, GCEGCE, or B flat, FBflatDFBflatD, that no other Country Blues guitarist to my knowledge ever used.  He really was a wonderful and distinctive musician.
All best,
Johnm 

The unissued Sylvester Weaver instrumental eventually released as "Soft Steel Piston" is in C tuning .. or in a tuning using the same intervals (I never have checked to see if he's in concert).
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: Johnm on September 08, 2011, 06:41:20 AM
That's a good find, alyoung, and well heard.  Welcome to Weenie Campbell.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: alyoung on September 08, 2011, 07:32:55 AM
That's a good find, alyoung, and well heard.  Welcome to Weenie Campbell.
All best,
Johnm

Thank you kindly ... it's give and take, because until I read on Weenie about the Peg Leg Howell recordings in C, I thought Sylvester Weaver has the only C-tuning piece in blues recording. I recorded Weaver's piece myself years ago ... I thought the Soft Steel Piston name was a bit naff, so I called it Sylvester's C Piece. It's not that hard, but you have to be in C tuning.
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: banjochris on September 08, 2011, 09:18:10 AM
If Weaver's tuned in regular guitar open C on that piece, though, it's CGCGCE -- at least that's the modern open C (and the logical guitar version of banjo open C like Uncle Dave Macon used), which makes Weaver and Howell both unique for country blues.
Chris
Title: Re: Notable Omissions
Post by: Johnm on September 08, 2011, 09:47:08 AM
After re-listening, you are right, Chris.  Weaver hits a low root on the I chord that is not available in the tuning Peg Leg Howell played in, so they were working in different tunings.
All best,
Johnm
EDITED TO ADD:  Thanks for joining in, Al and Chris.  It's nice to have some discussion.
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