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Country Blues => Weenie Campbell Main Forum => Topic started by: Johnm on January 19, 2005, 03:33:16 PM

Title: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on January 19, 2005, 03:33:16 PM
Hi all,
I got to thinking recently how sometimes when you listen to a recording, the singer will make the vocal entrance after the first line sooner or later than you thought he/she would.   Generally, when the vocal entrance seems early, the phrase that precedes it is spoken of as being "short".  Similarly, if the second vocal entrance seems late, the phrase that precedes it is considered "long".  The same terminology is used in describing "crooked" Old Time fiddle tunes. 

I first noticed, when working on the Robert Wilkins instructional video, that in a number of his songs Wilkins was long, but in a consistent and predictable way.  Basically, it worked so:  In measures that contained vocal pick-up notes, Robert Wilkins would tack on two additional beats to accommodate the vocal pick-ups, rather than simply using the last two beats of the four-beat measure for the pick-ups.  Here is his "Jailhouse Blues":

https://youtu.be/y7cgcPmTNps

Working that way, his phrasing for "Jailhouse Blues" worked out as follows:  (NOTE:  Unless otherwise indicated, you can assume bars are of four beats.  To keep the form from scrolling, when there is a bar without lyrics, I will shorten the space alloted for it visually.  It is not actually shorter, it just saves space.)
Oh look like I can see trouble in the air          Oh look li-
            |                |      I           | I |I--4+ 2 beats|
-ike I can see trouble in the air           But ain't on-
|      IV         |       IV         |I  |I--4 + 2 beats|
only here, friends, it's trouble everywhere         Now I wish-
 |      Vmin7             |    Vmin7        | I  |I--4 + 2 beats|

Robert Wilkins used the very same phrasing scheme for "Rolling Stone", his debut recording.  When you hear him do these songs, there is never a feeling of him messing up the time, partially because his pulse is so strong and regular.  And if you play and sing these songs, and really spend some time with them, it would never occur to you to do them any other way, I think.

The same approach to treatment of vocal pick-ups can be found in blues where the vocal phrasing sounds short.  One of the greatest examples is St. Louis pianist Walter Davis's version of "Sloppy Drunk Again", on which he is joined by Henry Townsend and Big Joe Williams on guitars.  Here it is:

https://youtu.be/fEjdm0kYdbo

"Sloppy Drunk Again" works out as follows:
 My gal's done quit me found somebody else            My
     |       I                |           I         | I--4 + 2 beats|
gal's done quit me found somebody else            And
|        I              |          I           | I--4 + 2 beats|
Now I'm tired of sleeping by myself               I
|      I             |        I         | I--4 + 2 beats|

In the case of "Sloppy Drunk Again", Walter Davis and his band have chosen to omit the second fill measure at the end of each four-bar phrase, while retaining the two beats needed for the vocal pick-ups.  This song is a one-chorder, by the way, and listening to it has often made me feel like chord changes can be over-rated.  But until you get used to it (or even after) the vocal entrances may seem like they are two beats early.

I recently purchased a Document CD which compiles all of Bukka White's pre-rediscovery recordings, and found that he was very partial to the Walter Davis "short" phrasing scheme employed in "Sloppy Drunk Again".  Here is "High Fever Blues":

https://youtu.be/ZGLbpuZsF-Y

Bukka's "High Fever Blues" works out as follows:
                                                           I'm taken

down with a fever and it won't let me sleep  I'm taken do-
  |        I           |       I                 | I--4 + 2 beats   |
-own with a fever and it won't let me sleep It was about thre-
  |       IV          |       IV               | I--4  + 2 beats       |
-ee o'clock  before heat would let me be         I wish
  |    V7    |            V7                  |I--4 + 2 beats|

Bukka maintains the phrasing throughout the song, and he is so partial to the "short" treatment of vocal phrasing that he uses it to varying degrees on every tune he recorded in the two-day sessions recorded in Chicago with Washboard Sam in 1940.
I think the whole issue of short and long phrasing is interesting because it illustrates the extent to which the blues, at least in its earlier stages, was driven rhythmically not by meter, but by pulse and phrase length.  When you put meter/bar structure in the driver's seat, as they are in a lot of present-day blues, you end up with a situation where the form plays the player rather than the player determining the form. 
All best,
Johnm

 
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: waxwing on January 19, 2005, 04:24:13 PM
Another great topic, John. How did I know when I saw the title you were gonna talk about Robert Wilkins? This is something that I have been trying to be more aware of lately, finding my own singing being a little too "square" at times. I'm kinda going back to writing out the vocal over tab so I can take it real slow and "get it right" before I let go and try to get the flow. I think by taking baby steps at first I can eventually get the feel more readily later when working on new material. What you say about pulse and phrase length is very helpful in looking at this issue. Anyway, back to Jailhouse Blues, one of Gre's favs, again!
Boy, I have to listen to more Walter Davis, too. His vocal quality really gets to me and his rhythmic sense is particulaly interesting. Thanks.
All for now.
John C.
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on January 19, 2005, 04:37:00 PM
Thanks for the good word, John.  I have to admit, I find this stuff incredibly interesting.  The fact that "Jailhouse" is one of Gre's favorites speaks very well of her taste, I think!  One of the really magical things you realize about a lot of these musicians when you start to examine these issues is how independent their vocal phrasing was of whatever time-keeping was going on in their instrumental accompaniments.  It makes for a tremendously dynamic sound.  I think of Roosevelt Graves and his brother doing "Woke Up This Morning with My Mind Standing On Jesus", and Roosevelt's accompaniment and the complexity of how it all mixes and its perfection, and it just cracks me up, it is so great.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: uncle bud on January 19, 2005, 07:29:06 PM
This is something that I have been trying to be more aware of lately, finding my own singing being a little too "square" at times. I'm kinda going back to writing out the vocal over tab so I can take it real slow and "get it right" before I let go and try to get the flow. I think by taking baby steps at first I can eventually get the feel more readily later when working on new material.

Hey JohnC,
If I may be slightly impertinent for a moment. If you're looking to be looser, why not avoid the exacting transcription of vocal and tab and go for singing along with record over and over? You don't think about the guitar and get used to playing with the vocal a bit. Then go to the guitar and see what happens.

Anothe excellent thread, JohnM. The example that always comes to mind re. "short" phrasing from your own teaching at PT is Joe Callicott's Frankie. It really makes the tune that much better, IMO. And he's not always short either: even better.


Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on January 19, 2005, 11:11:19 PM
I agree with you, Andrew.  With regard to this issue, consistency of whatever phrasing scheme is not necessarily the star we should all be shooting for--I think being able to truly be in the moment and change phrasing as impulse and fancy dictate without a train wreck resulting is the real prize.
All best,
Johnm 
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: waxwing on January 20, 2005, 12:49:09 AM
I guess I find that, for me, thinking of the guitar and the vocal as two seperate entities and believing that I can just put them together hasn't really worked in most instances. Those phrasings I seem easily capable of are, as I said, too square, driven by the guitar. I need to learn them together somehow, slowly feeling how they interact. I hope, in the long run, after experiencing many variations thru this, perhaps meticulous, process, that I will develop the ability to synthesize the interplay more spontaneously. It is my experience that after I am extremely familiar with a song, I am able to be more spontaneous with the vocal over the guitar, but this is after having played and sung a song dozens and dozens of times. I am incredibly envious of someone who can quickly learn a guitar part, sing along with the record a few times, and then put the two together in a spontaneous way, that is, none the less, true to the original, not a slap dash version.
I am currently struggling to put together the arrangement of Mississippi John Hurt's 1928 version of Avalon Blues, which I transcribed recently, with his, to me, very difficult vocal inflection. Of course, this song also employs the two pickup beats at the beginning of each sung line. The timing and even the subtle melody seem immensely difficult over the guitar. My attempts so far seem monotonic and too "on the beat". Very frustrating, and boring. And those guitar breaks are no snap, either. I'll get there, tho', and eventually I'll be able to loosen up with it. I have no illusons about getting it up to the young MJH's speed tho'.<G>
All for now.
John C.
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: dj on January 20, 2005, 04:01:22 AM
Quote
I think the whole issue of short and long phrasing is interesting because it illustrates the extent to which the blues, at least in its earlier stages, was driven rhythmically not by meter, but by pulse and phrase length.
Amen to that!  Because country blues is usually heard in a concert setting today, we tend to forget that the pre-war players made their money playing for dances, and if they were to be at all successful, they had to accomodate the needs of the dancers and not of some academic theorist.  I have no idea what kind of dances were done at jukes and piccolos around the South in the 20s and 30s, but I'm sure if I did it would shed a lot more light on both instrumental and vocal phrasing. 

One of my peeves for years has been that when Frank Zappa, for example, throws in a few extra beats at the end of a line, he's hailed as a genius, but when Booker White did it, the comment was always "He doesn't have a good sense of time".     
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: a2tom on January 20, 2005, 04:21:58 AM
ah!  a thread that speaks to my soul, or lack thereof!  I don't have much to add, except a hearty "amen".

trying to avoid square on-the-beat lyrics and train wrecks here in a2,
tom
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: uncle bud on January 20, 2005, 08:39:36 AM
I guess I find that, for me, thinking of the guitar and the vocal as two seperate entities and believing that I can just put them together hasn't really worked in most instances. Those phrasings I seem easily capable of are, as I said, too square, driven by the guitar. I need to learn them together somehow, slowly feeling how they interact. I hope, in the long run, after experiencing many variations thru this, perhaps meticulous, process, that I will develop the ability to synthesize the interplay more spontaneously. It is my experience that after I am extremely familiar with a song, I am able to be more spontaneous with the vocal over the guitar, but this is after having played and sung a song dozens and dozens of times.

Hi Wax - yes, I know what you mean. In part, I guess it depends on the tune as well. In cases where the guitar part is an intricate picking pattern(s) or has fills that overlap with the vocal, it may work better at first to use your approach. Perhaps choosing a tune where this is not the case as an exercise might be good. I'm thinking for example of some of the 60s Joe Callicott material (like his version of Frankie mentioned above) where the guitar underneath the vocal is a lot of boom-chick stuff and what makes the tune is the vocal, the phrasing variations etc. Or a tune that's a very familiar form and progression, an 8 bar blues using I V IV like Slidin' Delta or Crow Jane. You've taken on some fairly adventurous material like Broke Down Engine, Scrapper Blackwell etc., that may not lend itself as easily to a different looser approach as early in the game as something like a common 8 bar form.

Quote
I am currently struggling to put together the arrangement of Mississippi John Hurt's 1928 version of Avalon Blues, which I transcribed recently, with his, to me, very difficult vocal inflection. Of course, this song also employs the two pickup beats at the beginning of each sung line. The timing and even the subtle melody seem immensely difficult over the guitar. My attempts so far seem monotonic and too "on the beat". Very frustrating, and boring. And those guitar breaks are no snap, either. I'll get there, tho', and eventually I'll be able to loosen up with it. I have no illusons about getting it up to the young MJH's speed tho'.<G>

Avalon is great, I had started work on this one a while ago and have meant to pick it up again. Maybe we can compare notes later.
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on January 20, 2005, 08:55:01 AM
Hi John C.
I think I may have over-stated the value of inconsistency.  In some instances, you want a rock-solid, consistent approach to phrasing; it certainly works beautifully in the Robert Wilkins numbers.  In others, a more free-form approach may work really well (thinking of Robert Belfour or some Lil' Son Jackson). 
I know that I never really feel strong with a tune until I am playing and singing it together, and unless I get the music prior to the lyrics I try to do them together always.  Certainly "Avalon" is really tricky to sing and play simultaneously.  I think this is partly because of the pared-back nature of the melody.  It is more like a chant than song melody as we normally think of it.  Moreover, its link-up with the accompaniment varies a great deal from verse to verse--some of those lines like "When I left Avalon, throwing kisses and waving at me" you really have to hustle to fit in!  What a great song, though.  I look forward to hearing you do it at Port Townsend.
All best,
Johnm 
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: waxwing on January 20, 2005, 11:25:06 AM
Well, Andrew, I do occasionally work on less challenging numbers and do have an easier time of it. Been putting together McTell's Searchin' the Desert for the Blues lately and that certainly flows pretty well, with rhytthmic variations following the lyrics easily. Anybody think I can get Farren to sing the female asides? (listen to them before answering)<G>
I often ask myself why I always seem to be attracted to the more difficult songs in any artist's oeuvre, but I guess I need the challenge to keep my focus up for polishing it to performance. But sometimes less demanding tunes can offer a greater opportunity for emotional investment, like George Carter's Risin' River Blues, and that will draw me along. Ah, well. Sometimes I think I am driven to learn the more difficult material before arthritis forces me to lower my sights.
Johnm, it may take me 'til August to feel really comfortable with Avalon, but I'll be there with it. John Hurt really had the most deceptively simple sounding style, yet so hard to really get a grasp of. Having learned later versions of Avalon Blues to some extent, I have always been drawn to the earlier version. It is so fresh and his variance in the number of signature licks between lines really implies the newness of it. He seems to be stalling to remember the next line which he just wrote, eh? Thanks for the "chant" description, I realize I was sort of coming to that view, but hadn't really voiced it to myself. But each line has such a little sort of warble to it (don't know any other way to describe it - a warbling chant - yeah, that works). And the breaks really have a fresh improvisational feel to them, breaking with the form somewhat. It's just really exciting and exhibits his youthful prowess. Hope I can do it justice.
All for now.
John C.
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: uncle bud on January 20, 2005, 11:40:42 AM
Yeah, I wasn't saying give up the hard stuff, especially since the ones I've heard you're certainly doing a nice job on, just toss in some easy stuff to work more on the vocal phrasing aspects you mentioned had sometimes given you trouble. And many of the rest of us too, I should add. I'm not trying to single you out ;D, just using your experience to bounce ideas around for people including myself to try, since I think we've all got issues to deal with in this important aspect of the music. Since you've got a powerful voice it might be fun to have the singing take priority once in awhile.
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: waxwing on January 20, 2005, 11:54:44 AM
Bounce away, UB. I really do wonder about my struggles and motivations and don't mind, even appreciate, being able to air them here, among friends. Thanks for the kind words, too. Every little bit helps.
All for now.
John C.
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: orvillej on January 20, 2005, 01:28:33 PM
i find this to be a pretty interesting topic myself. for my own playing, i am always thinking about how i'm phrasing the vocal over the guitar part. the main activity in my mind boils down to "am i going to pull against the time or try to flow with it?". if i decide to go against it my first act is to avoid downbeats. next is to hold notes across bar lines. i will simplify my guitar part if necessary to keep from messing up the flow of the guitar because without it keeping solid time my syncopation morphs into the dreaded trainwreck. all of these decisions occur with each line of the song as it goes by.
learning how prior artists accomplish this stuff is an interesting exercise, especilly when you discover a consistantcy in what seems to the untrained ear to be inconsistant, as in the case of rwilkins as johnM pointed out. it gives one much more respect for the artistry of these great players and gives the lie to those who characterize country blues as a sort of accidental porch-picking. many of these players were serious artists with a lot of intention in their playing and this type of analysis shows that. thanx for the ideas fellers.
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: onewent on January 20, 2005, 04:38:25 PM
...greetings all ... very, very interesting discussion, thanks johnm for the idea and thanks all for posting personal observations ... I don't have much to add except that this 'phrasing' thing seems to be different from the 'blues voice' thing, and I'd never really overtly thought about it except when I notice my phrasing in certain songs is different from the 'originals' & and even after working on it, still struggle...I think waxwing said it, by saying something about singing 'squarely' above the guitar part and I think I tend to do that ... in other words, I can play some fairly intricate guitar part and sing along w/o much thought, but as soon as I try to tweak the phrasing -- train wreck? ::)?...case in point:? Blind Lemon's Piney Woods Money Mama, Lemon sings this line:? 'She's been tryin' two years to get me, to be her so-on in law'?w/ a pause after the 'me' and stretching the word 'son' ... well, after listening to Lemon and playing that song hundreds of times, I still struggle to stretch that word 'son' ... the only song in which I'm not able to sing the words is Pure Religion ... I've been playing the guitar part about 6 months, but can't get much of the vocal worked in...anyway, great topic...
regards, tomw
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Slack on January 20, 2005, 09:19:16 PM
This is a great topic John, at least I need all the vocal help I can get.  I have a particular;y tough problem 'delta' blues - Depot Blues, Bye Bye Blues - becasue the guitar part is so different from what you sing - hard to find the bread crumb trail along the way.

You've also introduced some new terms to me - I'd never heard the term "chorus blues" for example -- very cool!

cheers,
slack
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on January 21, 2005, 09:54:49 AM
Hi all,
Good to hear from you, Orville.  I know what you mean about it being important to give people credit for doing what they did intentionally.  Attributing everything to "instinct" or "talent" doesn't give the musicians nearly enough credit for coming up with what they did.  They thought about it for sure.  TomW, I can sympathize with trying to match Lemon's fluidity of phrasing.  A particularly tough one of his for me is "Bad Luck Blues".  I find it terribly difficult to sing and play at the same time, and the ease with which Lemon was able to fool around with his phrasing on that song, stretch and contract it, really puts my own difficulty in perspective.  He was fantastic!  And John D., I think it can be expecially tough to sing songs in which the guitar part and vocal are pitch-independent from each other--it can be tough just to find the pitch the vocal starts on.  The only thing I can think of doing in such an instance is to sing along with the record so much that your orientation to the pitch at which the vocal enters becomes thoroughly engrained in you, to where it is no longer an issue of searching for that note or phrase.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on January 22, 2005, 12:17:43 AM
Hi all,
I was thinking and came up with a couple of tunes that are short in different ways than any of the songs we have discussed thus far.  The first is Tommy Johnson's "Lonesome Home Blues".  Here is his performance:

https://youtu.be/eYFAaDD0_bI

It works as follows, assuming four beats per measure unless otherwise indicated:

  Wanna live easy  pack your clothes with mine     Well
|       I              |           I                      | I        |
  Wanna live easy  pack your clothes with mine 
|      IV             |          IV                     |    I    |   I   |
  Wanna live easy  pack your clothes with mine
|       V7           |          IV                     |    I    |   I    |

In this instance, Tommy Johnson jettisons the second fill bar at the end of the first 4-bar phrase.  Moreover, unlike any of the other tunes we have looked at so far, he does not handle his vocal pick-ups to the second four-bar phrase as add-ons to the four-beat measure, but instead uses the last two beats of the four beat measure to provide the space for the vocal pick-ups.  So it is that you end up with an 11-bar, metrically consistent blues.  Tommy Johnson adheres to this phrasing scheme throughout the tune.

Another instance of short phrasing different from any that we have looked at thus far can be found in "Freddie", a "ballad/refrain" blues performed by Mance Lipscomb on his first Arhoolie recording.  Mance does it so:

https://youtu.be/Rfjn9AFVyCk


Now, Freddie's woman done something, she had never done before, she was i-
      |          I                   |     I                     |      I          |    I            |            -n the bed  with a-nother man, made Freddie's pallet on the floor, he got
|         I                 |             I           |       I-four beats  + two beats|
mad,  he got bad,  Oh with his gun  in his hand.
|    I           |       I              |      I         |     I       |
In "Freddie", the second fill measure in the second four-bar phrase was jettisoned and the pick-up notes for the refrain are treated as add-ons to the third bar of the second two-bar phrase.  If you have not heard "Freddie", you may want to seek it out.  Narrative country blues are rare enough, but when you combine that narration with a droney one-chord accompaniment you have the potential for something really unusual. 
All best,
Johnm 
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Buzz on January 24, 2005, 07:27:41 PM
Interesting thread,  folks.
Gotta dig up the files of JohnM's lesson on Freddie and play it again. I recall the trance-like droning of the chord, and the intense feelings that come through the lyrics. Great tune.

I agree with you John: sometimes I just have to listen to a tune on continuous replay, playing it over and over , until the pick-up notes, and the vocal come in just at  the time that sounds "right", which to me is as the player is doing it in that recording, since that is the sound that hypnotized me in the first place.. That's what sounds best to me, so I try to emulate it in those instances. Still haven't got  AYHs "Sally, Queen of the Pines", but I will by the end of the decade!
This is an example of how I sometimes focus on 1 tune, it seems to own me for a while, until I am within the ethos of it and until I master it, then I can move on to another one that has snagged me, and play it, and go back to the last one too.

Juke is cool tonite, by the way...countdown. Good work , Slack and Richard.
Miller ;D
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on January 27, 2005, 10:03:51 AM
Hi all,
A couple of posts back I was talking about having a difficult time singing Lemon's "Bad Luck Blues", and so I decided to take a closer look at/listen to it.  What I found, I think, is that it is a one-of-a-kind tune, both with regard to form and phrase lengths.  Here is Lemon's performance:

https://youtu.be/xAruInbDc60

The opening verse goes:

I wanta go home and I ain't got sufficient clothes doggone my bad luck soul
    |        I                  |          I              |      I                  |    I         |
 wanta go home and I aint got sufficient clothes  I mean sufficient
|       IV                    |        IV             |   I   |      I            |
-ient talkin' 'bout clothes, well I wa-
|         I                                   |
-anta go home, but I  ain't got sufficient clothes              I bet my-
|       V7                 |       V7                  |      I      |    I        |

A number of things stand out as you look at "Bad Luck Blues":
   * In the first four-bar phrase it looks like a "response" blues, like "Hey Lordy Mama" or "Big Road Blues", with its response "Doggone my bad luck soul" in the last two measures.
   * In the second phrase it looks like a repetition blues, like "Bullfrog Blues", with the "I mean sufficient, talkin' 'bout clothes" repetitions.  In the other repetition blues we looked at, though, the repetition occurred in the third and fourth bars of the first vocal phrase.  As with the other repetition blues, the lines enter on the + of the downbeat of the measure.  I can't right now think of any other repetition blues where the repetition falls other than in the first vocal phrase.
   * Lemon is long in the second phrase, but instead of being long at the end of the phrase, he is long in the middle of the phrase, with his one-bar pause on the word "clothes".  It puts a beautiful little lull in the middle of all the lyric and instrumental activity.  He could easily have rushed right into "I mean sufficient" and kept the form at 12 bars.  He didn't--genius.
   * The rhythmic tug of the vocal against the guitar part is extreme, and it is one of the things that makes the song tough to sing.  In the entire first verse, there is only one measure, the second measure of V, where the vocal enters on the downbeat of the measure.  Every other place in the verse, Lemon either sings across the bar line or enters on the + of the downbeat of the measure.
   * In subsequent verses, Lemon sometimes plays fills in the next to last measure of the form that are long, at 6 beats.  No need to be consistent if you know what you're doing.

I have always been crazy about this tune, but I don't think I ever before fully appreciated how special it is--a hybrid archetype that is long in a unique way.  I don't imagine all that matters so much though.  It just sounds so great.  I don't think Country Blues gets a lot better than this.
All best,
Johnm

 
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: lindy on February 01, 2005, 11:18:40 AM
Wow, I got a lot of Weenie reading to catch up on.? But I particularly like this thread, because it makes me think of African influences on country blues.

By far the faculty member with the most intriguing sense of time that I ever heard at PTCBW was the kora player who came in 2000 or 2001, and for the life of me I can't remember his name at this moment.? But I remember listening to him pluck the kora strings with three fingers on each hand and sing amazingly intricate lyrics over his playing.? I couldn't understand the language, but I could tell that on some of his songs, there really were no rules as to when he would start a vocal phrase or how long that phrase had to be.? My understanding of griots is that their main job is preserving the genealogies of families and villages over several centuries, and if there's some type of regular meter that they follow when singing about who begat whom, it takes a while for a non-African to feel it or hear it.

I remember hearing a tape that some aspiring ethnomusicologist made back in the 70s.? He took a recording of a Louisiana State Penitentiary prisoner singing the 5-7 second phrase "The blues ain't nothing but a good woman feeling baaaaaad," in a descending series of notes that's typical of Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and hundreds of blues singers since. He then put that recording next to a field recording of a Senegalese villager singing a 25 or 30 second phrase with the same descending scale.? According to the liner notes, the rough translation was "I planted some cassava but the rains didn't come, so I may not be able to afford a wife until next year, and that's why I'm singing this sad song today."

It seems that for traditional African performers, the length of the phrase that one sings is dictated by what one has to say, and the phrase doesn't have to end until the statement is complete.? They also have so much more freedom as to when they start a phrase, sometimes it's hard to say whether they're pushing the vocals, slowing them down, or just picking a point at random to start singing.? You can still hear that in some contemporary African guitarists from countries with a strong griot history.? The one American performer that I feel did the same thing in his songs was Robert Pete Williams, especially on "Free Again" "Church on Fire" and his storytelling songs such as "Hay Cutting Song".

Between the time that African slaves were brought to North America and Charley Patton, that kind of phrasing got reduced to 12 bars (or other blues formats).? I wonder how that happened.? I know that the limitations of a 3-minute recording cylinder had a lot to do with standardizing the form, but there had to be a lot of changes that happened before recordings became commonplace.

Fun stuff to speculate about.? All I know is that in New Orleans, I'm lucky to have a local radio station that 3 or 4 times a day plays recordings by Louis Armstrong.? When you talk about vocal phrasing, he remains the man.

Lindy
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on February 03, 2005, 11:17:10 AM
Thanks for the thoughts, Lindy, it's always good to hear from you.  A tune that I have been thinking about lately that I realized is a natural for this thread is "Lawdy Lawdy Worried Blues", by the St. Louis musician Teddy Darby.  It is a beautiful sort of pre-Blues piece that some of you learned in my classes at Port Townsend and the EBA Blues Week last summer.  Here it is:

https://youtu.be/sLNDO_zNL1M

Its form and phrasing scheme are unique in my experience.  A characteristic verse goes:

  I helped you, baby, when your kinfolks turned you down   Now you're
|  I-four beats                       | I-five beats                 |I-five beats|         
loving someone else, babe, and you done left this town, Lawdy, Lawdy Lawdy
|  I-four beats                       |  I-four beats    | I-four beats + 2 beats             
A couple of points stand out about "Lawdy Lawdy Worried Blues"
 * It is a one-chorder, played in cross note tuning, I believe (EBEGBE a fret high), and Teddy Darby drones on the fifth string with his bass throughout the song, delivering a solid monotonic bass most of the time and intermittent accents elsewhere.
 * It is a kind of refrain blues of its own type, because the line "Lawdy, Lawdy, Lawdy" concludes every verse.
 * Integration of the guitar and vocal on this song is especially close.  In the second five-beat measure in the first vocal phrase, the guitar echoes exactly what the vocal does in the preceding five-beat measure.
 * The two-beat add-on in the closing measure of the form is put in to accommodate not vocal, but instrumental pick-up notes leading into the next verse.
 * Teddy Darby maintains the phrasing scheme outlined here with consistency from the beginning to the end of his rendition.  Partially as a result of that, perhaps, you don't come away from the song with the impression that anything particularly unusual is going on.  The phrasing sounds perfectly natural, as though you had been hearing it all your life.It wasn't until I went to learn and teach the song that I became aware of how unusually it is put together.
A friend of mine in England, John Anderson, pointed out last Summer when we were working on this song that it has basically the same melody as "Rolling and Tumbling".  He's right, and I don't think that would have occurred to me in a million years!  If you haven't heard this tune, you may want to check it out on the Juke.  It's a real beauty.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on September 17, 2005, 12:43:16 PM
Hi all,
A song that falls into this category is Tommy Johnson's beautiful "Slidin' Delta".  It can be found on Document or the JSP set "Legends of the Country Blues", which has the complete pre-rediscovery recordings of Skip James, Son House, and Bukka White, along with all of Tommy Johnson's and Ishmon Bracey's titles.  Tommy played "Slidin' Delta" out of E, standard tuning, and apart from the recording being whupped, you can hear what he's doing really well.  His part is beautifully conceived, and has the wonderful measured quality of his playing on "Lonesome Home Blues", recorded at the same session.  Here is "Slidin' Delta":

https://youtu.be/H6XzU1kIBJU

His phrasing works out as follows; measures are four beats unless otherwise indicated.

Babe, when I leave I ain't comin' here no more
               |         I          |         I         |    I   |   I    |
  When I leave here, comin' here no more       Lord, I'm go-
|         IV             |        IV            |  I-4 + two beats |
-oin' away to worry you off my mind                  Cryin' Lo-
|      V7          |        V7          |    I   | I-4+ two beats |

A couple of points about Tommy Johnson's phrasing here:
   * As with Robert Wilkins's phrasing on "I Do Blues" and "Jailhouse Blues", Tommy Johnson's phrasing on "Slidin' Delta" is consistent and adheres to the treatment indicated above throughout the song.
  * The sound of Tommy's transition to the IV chord is really eerie, because he is going back and forth between the sixth string, fourth fret, G#, and the open fifth string, A.  Because he continues to hold down the G# note as he plays the phrase, it sustains against the open A string, resulting in a striking, hummy-sounding dissonance.
   * Tommy shortens the fill section behind the second vocal phrase to one measure, and does the vocal pick-ups for the third phrase as a two beat add-on of the type we have encountered previously.
   * Tommy does the fill at the conclusion of of the third vocal phrase for the normal 2-bar length, but does the vocal pick-ups for the next verse as add-ons to the final measure of the form.  The effect is particularly strong, because it has him singing across the form break from one verse to the next.
Probably because of the poor condition of the recording, "Slidin' Delta", seems never to enjoyed the acclaim of other Tommy Johnson titles like "Maggie Campbell Blues", "Big Road Blues", or "Cool Drink Of Water Blues", but musically, I think it compares favorably with any of them, and it is a special treat to hear Tommy play solo.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on October 02, 2005, 12:40:59 PM
Hi all,
One tune that could fit appropriately in either this thread or the "Rag Blues and Circle of Fifths" thread is Bo Carter's "The Law Gonna Step On You".  It is an unusually pretty tune with a one-of-a-kind form and funny lyrics in which Bo counsels caution to a boot-legging girlfriend.  Bo plays it out of his favorite G tuning, DGDGBE, and it employs pretty much the same harmonic vocabulary as that of other tunes of his like "I Want You To Know" and "I Get The Blues", though its first change, to the III7 chord, B7 is unusual and a real knock-out.  Here is Bo's performance:

https://youtu.be/gxn4P1TjSDM

The song's form employs two 9-bar phrases.  Except when soloing, Bo sings over the first nine-bar phrase and uses the second one for an instrumental response.  It works out as follows.  Bars are of 4 beats unless otherwise indicated.
                                                                                            I done
told you, I told you, I told you too, to quit handling liquor and gambling too
|           I                |       III7        |     IV7                      |  IV7   I    |       
Look-a-here, baby, you're goin' too fast the law gonna step on you yasyasyas
|         I                       |       VI7           |     II7                | V7 | V7+2   |   
(Instrumental)
|      I        |      III7      |      IV7     |      IV7--I    |
|      I        |     VI7       |     II7--V7 |     I--IV7    | I--V7  |

A couple of points about "The Law Gonna Step On You"
   *  By all rights, this should be a 16-bar blues.  The way Bo makes his 9-bar phrases sound natural and fluid is really mysterious. 
   *  The conclusion of the first 9-bar phrase is actually not all that fluid.  Bo plays a very rhythmically disjunct run over the V7 chord that he concludes with a two-beat "breath-catcher" add-on.  I reckon the run could be copied with practice, but I suspect that to feel the timing the way Bo did behind it would be pretty elusive.
   *  The way Bo inserts the "yas-yas-yas" refrain at the end of the bumpy run is just funny.  I remember playing this tune on the banjo one year in a banjo workshop at Port Townsend with John Jackson, and it just cracked him up.  After that, I always wanted to play it for him when we had that workshop every year.
This is one of my very favorite tunes by Bo, and you don't hear it done a lot.  Despite an increase of interest in his music in recent years, he still has a wealth of material which, for the most part, has gone unmined.  Steve Cheseborough is doing a a lot to bring attention to Bo's music, and that's great.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: a2tom on October 02, 2005, 02:53:13 PM
interesting you mentioning this tune.  It is one I have tried to copy and play.  Great tune.  The changes up the fretboard out of the DGDGBE tuning are a lot of fun.  And, you are dead on in my case - it is that run down to yas yas yas that was the sticker in really being able to play it convincingly - but at the same time its the feature of the song that is most ear-catching.  I'm sure I'll have a go at it again someday.

tom
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on October 24, 2005, 12:50:24 PM
Hi all,
I was listening recently to Sleepy John Estes's "I Ain't Gonna Be Worried No More", and realized that it qualified for this category.  When I first listened to it after not having heard it for several years, I was caught off-guard by the vocal entrances; they always seemed early.  It is a 13-bar blues in what would normally be a 16-bar form.  The closest model for it is "Mama Don't Allow", which is most often done as follows.  The singing in the first, second and fourth four-bar phrases occurs over the first two bars, and the second two bars are available for instrumental fills or responses.

|    I      | V7(or I)  |     I      |      I      |
|   I      |    I         |    V7    |     V7     |
|  I        |   I7       |    IV     |    IVmin  |
|    I      |   V7      |    I       |    I        |

Here is Sleepy John's recording of "I Ain't Gonna Be Worried No More":

https://youtu.be/enu2c4pCp5o

As recorded by Sleepy John, "I Ain't Gonna Be Worried No More" works out as follows.  The third line of the verse is the only portion of the lyrics that changes from verse to verse

Come on down,  I ain't gonna be worried no more
|        I               |                  I               |   I     |
Come on down, I ain't gonna be worried no more  You know I
|        I            |                 I                   |       V7        |
worried last night and all night before, you know by that I won't be worried no                      more
|        I                       |        I/flatVII    |          IV                   |    IV-I |
Come on down, I ain't gonna be worried no more
|        I            |            V7                    |   I      |

As you listen to the performance it becomes apparent that what Sleepy John Estes did in this song was to halve the instrumental responses at the end of the first, second, and fourth lines.  This has the effect of making the vocal entrances for the first, second and third lines sound early.  The entrance for the fourth line sounds as it normally does for songs with this phrasing scheme, since the third line of the form was not shortened.   
This is a great, really fun song that I would recommend to anyone looking for some interesting, under-performed raggy material.  It is unusual in that it features both Hammie Nixon on harmonica and a very active kazoo player (it's not John Estes--I don't know who it is).  They absolutely get in each other's way in a fashion that is hilarious and a kick, a lot like a great Trad Jazz band on the last chorus.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: uncle bud on October 24, 2005, 12:59:41 PM
John, I agree, it's a neat effect shortening the lines as you say. Great tune. The Document notes list Charlie Pickett or possibly Son Bonds as a second guitar player, and Lee Brown as the kazoo maniac.
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on October 24, 2005, 03:26:04 PM
Hi all,
Yet another tune that fits this category is Sleepy John Estes's "Whatcha Doin'?".  It is essentially an up-tempo cover of "Sittin' On Top Of The World", and features, along with Sleepy John on guitar, Yank Rachell on mandolin and Jab Jones on piano.  Like most of the tunes recorded with this line-up, it moves at a slow 4-beat-per-bar pace, but is enlivened by Jab Jones's predilection for keeping time with a stomping 8-to-the-bar pounding and Yank's very active and slithery mandolin fills.  Here is "Whatcha Doin'":

https://youtu.be/6B__PB02u38

The form works out as follows.  Measures are four beats unless otherwise indicated, and the vocal pick-ups precede the downbeat of the form.
                                                                                                            Now depot
agent, don't tell me no lie, did my baby stop here, did she keep on by, got to give in
|                I            |            I        |             IV                   |       I              |
kind,        just what,     what you do       Now I hate to
|    V7              |     V7              |    I+2 beats          |

Songs of this type are most often done with a two-bar instrumental response period at the end of the form.  As you can see and hear, in this instance, Sleepy John and ensemble shortened the instrumental response at the end of the form by one bar and treated the pick-up beats for the beginning of the next verse as an add-on to the final measure of the form as we have seen many other country blues artists do in this thread.  So much for the notion that formal conventions need to be strictly adhered to in ensemble settings!  Truthfully, I think you can do anything in an ensemble if the players are used to each other and feel rhythms the same way.  I think the chorus, "got to give in kind, just what, what you do" means, essentially, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Once again, I think this tune is a great candidate to be played.  I really like these John Estes covers of common blues forms, they are very distinctive and personal while still having enough familiarity to register.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: uncle bud on October 24, 2005, 05:35:55 PM
John - Sleepy John Estes' "Street Car Blues" is another one with his distinctive oddball phrasing, it seems to me. I'm not able to break it down yet the way you have with the others, but it seems to be a 12 bar form with lots of extensions. It hurts my brain to count it. It's a very cool effect, and for an ensemble to play this must mean as you suggest they are damn comfortable with each other. Part of the great appeal in Sleepy John material is that tension created by the unusual phrasing. He's very cool when he's more regular as well, as in "Floating Bridge" or "Lawyer Clark" (what killer tunes).

"Special Agent" is mostly regular but he's short on the third final phrase most of the time, and it's wonderful. I love the guitar playing in this tune. Can't remember if it's Son Bonds  (my Documents are upstairs), but it's just such a cool guitar part. Anyway, his phrasing is just brilliant almost all the time. For those who don't have his recordings (he hasn't been discussed much on Weenie) do yourself a favor and get them. There is so much great stuff and he is a fantastic singer. He is one of the first country blues players I was listening to and I come back to him again and again.
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: a2tom on October 24, 2005, 05:47:34 PM
Uncle Bud just beat me (gotta get up pretty early...) to saying that Estes Special Agent is one of my absolute favs.  On my long list of songs to learn.  I think he was a helluva singer, and the stompin' guitar part in there is just propelling.  I don't know why Estes doesn't get talked about more 'round these parts.  Good to have John M keeping us honest...


tom
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on October 25, 2005, 11:35:29 AM
Hi all,
Thanks for your interest, Andrew and Tom, and you have both anticipated songs that I planned to speak about in this thread.  As you mentioned, Andrew, "Street Car Blues" is a particularly thorny song in terms of understanding the phrasing, because the means by which the form diverges from the commonly encountered conventions differ from any we have encountered thus far.  Here is the song:

https://youtu.be/UMD76FGX_K8

Instead of shortening the amount of space alloted for an instrumental response or treating vocal pick-ups as add-ons to a measure, "Street Car Blues" is long in a different way.  The first verse works through its 12-bar form in the following fashion.  I will show the vocal pick-ups coming out of the last four bars of the mandolin intro.
                                          Now, I know,
|   V7     |     V7     |   I      |     I             |
FORM BEGINS:
 I know the people  is on a wonder-everywhere     I say I
|            I           |      I--5 beats           |   I  |   I     |
  know the people  is on a wonder-everywhere    Because they
|           IV         |   IV--5 beats             | I   |    I             |
heard of poor John  strolling 'round-'lectric car        Now
|          V7          |     V7--5 beats          |  I   |    I   |

The prevailing phrasing anomaly  in "Street Car Blues" arises out of Sleepy John pausing after the third beat of the second measure of each four-bar phrase.  The great bluegrass flat-picker George Shuffler referred to such pauses as "dwells" and said that becoming accustomed to them was one of the hardest things about playing with the Stanley Brothers for him.  What's interesting about how Sleepy John employs them in the song is that the lines where he sings them could easily be sung without the pause and phrased "normally", so the driving impetus behind the pause is his own sense of rhythmic flow and how the line should be sung (not so surprising, really).  The other interesting thing about the pause is that Sleepy John does not use it consistently from beginning to end throughout the course of the rendition.  Here is how he varies his phrasing in the subsequent verses of the song.
   *  In verse 2, he employs the pause in the second measure of the first and third four-bar phrase, but not the second four-bar phrase. 
   * In verse 3, he uses the pause in the second measure of the first and second phrases, but not the third (The ensemble plays five-beat measures in the fourth bar of the first phrase and the first bar of the second phrase in verse three, as well).
   * In verse 4, He uses the pause in the second measure of the first and second phrases, but not the third phrase.
One of the factors that allows the ensemble to deal so handily with Sleepy John's varying of the phrase lengths is the way they keep time:  it is a very straight-up-and-down feel with no swung eighth notes, with the piano hitting eight to the bar and the piano and Sleepy John landing very heavily on every beat.  With each beat heavily and equally emphasized, the effect of varying phrase lengths is mitigated somewhat.  I think the whole thing shows, once again, that phrase length and pulse are more important driving forces in this music than metric consistency.

In "Special Agent", Sleepy John varies his phrase lengths in a different, though related way.  The first verse follows.
                                                                   
                                                                   
                                            Now when I                                                       
|      V7     |      V7     |    I    |     I         |
FORM BEGINS:
 I left for Ripley, the weather was kinda cool   Now when I
|         I          |             I                |  I  |      I         |
 left old Ripley,  the weather was kinda cool        Said
|        IV         |              IV             |  I  |    I      |
Boys, y'all be careful, prob'ly you might catch the flu    Now
|        V7                |     V7--3 beats               |  I |  I  |

Here you can see that, once again, it is the second measure of a four-bar phrase that John Estes alters the length of, this time shortening the second bar of the third four-bar phrase, the tag line.  He employs precisely the same shortened phrasing in the same place in verses 2 and 3.  In the fourth verse he switches to the lengthened second bar for the first and second four bar phrases, as found in "Street Car Blues", and jettisons the short second bar in the tag line.  The final verse employs four-beat bars from beginning to end.
The shortened second bar in the tag line that Sleepy John uses on "Special Agent" is tremendously effective because of the song's rocking forward impetus and very strong signature lick.  That lick arrives on the downbeat of the third measure in each four-bar phrase, and when it arrives a beat early in the third phrase it is completely cool.  I think the kind of fluidity of phrasing that John Estes's recordings show, most often in ensemble settings, is remarkable, and to my taste, places his music at a very high level, especially when taken in combination with his stellar singing and great original lyrics.  I expect to be studying his music for some time; it is so rich.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on April 18, 2006, 04:00:13 PM
Hi all,
There is a wonderful song on the new "The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of" Yazoo set that fits this topic to a T.  It is "Ginseng Blues", performed by the Kentucky Ramblers, who I believe featured Larry Hensley (known for his stellar cover of "Matchbox Blues") on mandolin and vocals along with a guitar player and, I believe, tenor banjo player (could be a five-string).  None of the players are identified on the set, but the song was previously re-issued on an earlier Yazoo "Kentucky Mountain Music" set that is great.  Here is "Ginseng Blues":

https://youtu.be/qZl8hLuXSeo


The guitarist on "Ginseng Blues" is playing boom-chang back-up, and if you have thought boom-chang was a boring rhythmic approach in the past, you should really seek this cut out.  The whole band's time is so beautiful, what I think of as "rocking chair" time, just as natural as falling off a log.  One of the beauties of the guitarist's boom-chang approach here is that he doesn't have to alter a thing in his phrasing or accenting to accommodate the lead singer's phrasing idosyncrasies--he just flips the beat and alternates the boom in the treble-toward-bass direction rather than the bass-toward-treble direction that is most commonly employed in this style.  Because he plays all his bass notes with the same inflection (apart from some rapid bass runs), he ends up with a straight-up-and-down quality that a friend of mine who is a Carter Family specialist has described in counting their rhythms, "one and one and one again.". 
The song phrases as so in the first verse and yodeled interlude.  It is a chorus blues of an unusual length, and subsequent verses do not exactly conform to the metric scheme of either the first verse or the first yodeled interlude.  Bars are of four beats unless otherwise indicated.  The song is played in C, tuned a half-step flat.

   Ain'ta gonna dig no ginseng, we ain'ta gonna hunt no squirrels
   |                   C                     |                   C                   |
   Ain'ta gonna do a doggone thing but love my dear sweet mama
   |                   C                           |             C                    |
   CHORUS:  You can't read my mind.    When you
                 |           F            |         C             |
   Think I'm lovin' you, mama, I'm quittin' you all the
   |                G                  |              G              |
   time.       
   | C-2 beats|

YODELLED INTERLUDE:
   Yo dee oh de lay ee hee, Yo dee oh da lay ee tee hee
   | C-5 beats   |     F         |         F      |       C          |
   Yo da       Yo da layee hee, yo de       lay ee
   |C-2 beats|         G           |G-2 beats|C-5 beats|

In all of the subsequent verses, the vocalist comes out "long" by one beat in the first four bars of the 9-bar form.  It took me a while to figure out why he was doing so.  What he is doing is waiting for the fourth beat of the second measure of the form to hit, thus finishing that phrase before starting to sing the pick-ups to the third measure of the form, like so:

   We ain'ta gonna work on a tipple, we aint'a gonna roll no coal, Put my
        |            C                              |                C four beats + 1     |
   Head out the window, watch the drivers roll, sweet mama,
   |                 C                        |                C                |
   CHORUS:             

When you look at the phrasing written out this way, it looks almost impossibly complex, especially for the yodeled interlude.  In fact, though, it sounds perfectly natural and flies in the face of the notion that once the Blues becomes an ensemble music, freedom of phrasing must give way to metric consistency in the interest of achieving ensemble "togetherness".  You know what?  That conventional wisdom is simply not true, as this piece and many of Sleepy John Estes's ensemble pieces show.  The key is to listen well enough in the moment and be light enough on your feet to feel okay about allowing the vocalist to call the shots with regard to phrasing.  A lot of the impetus for regular phrasing comes from accompanying musicians who want to be able to internalize a metrically consistent form so that they can play it on auto-pilot without screwing up--not exactly setting your sights on a star in my estimation!  Another factor that enables the Kentucky Ramblers to accommodate vocal phrasing that changes from one verse or interlude to the next is the simplicity and economy of the way they are keeping time.
In case I haven't already made it clear, I really love this tune, and I think it has an awful lot to teach with regard to relaxation in keeping time, listening to what is going on around you, and responding in the moment.  The singing is wonderful, too.
all best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Stuart on April 18, 2006, 04:25:15 PM
Great call, John. It is also on the JSP set "Mountain Blues: Blues, Ballads & String Bands 1927-1938," along with several other gems.
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: waxwing on April 29, 2006, 09:41:30 PM
Miller and I found a song with a pretty interesting vocal structure I thought should be in this thread. Viola Lee, by Cannon's Jug Stompers is driven by the very eccentric vocal and harmonica phrasing of Noah Lewis. Starting with a long vocal line over a very standard 4 bars of the I chord, he then shortens the repeated line and ends up singing it over 6 beats in the IV chord and 6 beats in the I chord. The way the instruments are phrasing under the vocal, boom-chick-chick-chick, boom-chick, makes this feel, to me, like a 4 beat measure and a 2 beat measure in both cases. Then Lewis stretches out the final vocal line so that he ends up with two measures of 4 beats plus 2 more beats in the V chord and then ends with two measures in the I chord. But it seems like the two extra beats in the V chord come as a pause  (or dwell?) between the two vocal phrases. So, if I can make this work, it looks like this:
              Form starts
The Judge he pleaded, clerk he wrote it, the clerk he
                   |     I                 |     I                        |
wrote it down in deedy, lord.  The Judge he
|     I                |     I                              |
pleaded, clerk he wrote it          down.                    If you
|    IV               | IV ( 2 beats) |     I          |  I (2 beats ) |
miss jail sentence,                          you must be Nashville bound.
|     V                 | V (2 beats) |   V                                 |   I        |     I     |

This way it works out to a 13 bar form. If you combine the 2 beat measures into 4 + 2 beat measures it ends up as 10 bars. Any thoughts?

And now and then, just to keep the others on their toes, Noah can't wait, and starts his harp solo two beats early, truncating the final bar of I chord. Gus and Elijah Avery seem pretty used to it and snap to the down beat on cue.  Here is "Viola Lee Blues":

https://youtu.be/VXgQSMThBy8

What a great piece of music.

All for now.
John C.
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on April 29, 2006, 11:18:29 PM
What a great call, John C., and you are right, a great piece of music.  I will have to reacquaint myself with "Viola Lee", since i have never listened to it with that analytical bent.  I love the seriousness of Noah Lewis's vocal.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on August 23, 2006, 06:45:46 PM
Hi all,
Lil' Son Jackson's "Rollin' Mill Went Down" was recorded for Chris Strachwitz in 1960, and is remarkable for the varied ways in which Lil' Son breaks up his phrasing.  The song employs a boogieish bass figure, which characteristically has the effect of regularizing phrasing.  Not so in this case; unlike Robert Wilkins or Tommy Johnson, who phrase consistently once they establish their divergence from "normal" phrasing, Lil' Son phrases every verse of the four verse rendition differently, and the ways he varies his phrasing are so subtle and unexpected that it took multiple listenings to sort the phrasing out.
Part of the complication of Lil' Son's phrasing is inherent in the structure of his instrumental lick:  it has a two-beat tail or hitch that he is able to insert either before or after the primary lick (or leave unplayed) as a sort of phrasing "make-weight".  I am accustomed to such partial licks occurring after a signature lick, but not often have seen them starting a measure.  The four verses of the song phrase out as follows, with measures of 4 beats unless otherwise indicated:

   VERSE 1:
   |        I         |         I         |         I + 2 beats |
   |       IV        |        IV         |        I + 2 beats |
   |V7-2 beats + IV-4 beats|        I + 2 beats  |

   VERSE 2:
   |        I         |         I         |         I + 2 beats |
   |       IV        |        IV         |         I + 2 beats |
   |V7-2 beats + IV-4 beats | 2 beats + I |  I + 2 beats|

   VERSE 3:
   |        I         |         I         |         I         |       I + 2 beats |
   |       IV        |        IV        |         I          |      I + 2 beats  |
   |       V7        |        V7        |        I         |       I + 2 beats  |

   VERSE 4:
   |       I          |         I         |         I         |
   |      IV         |        IV         |         I         |        I + 2 beats |
   |      V7        |        V7         |        I          I          I             |

A couple of thoughts about the way Lil' Son varies his phrasing on "Rollin' Mill Went Down":
   * We are accustomed to having the vocal drive phrasing that diverges from the "12-bar, 4 beats per bar" norm.  Absent the vocal driving irregular phrasing, such phrasing is most often driven by a personalized sense of how long the instrumental response to each vocal line should be.  In the case of "Rollin' Mill", the vocal causation and instrumental causation with regard to the phrasing shift back and forth.  There is nothing intrinsic to the length of Lil' Son's vocal phrases that would require him to phrase irregularly, nor does he show a consistent preference for instrumental responses of a particular length.  Both factors change constantly throughout the course of his performance.
   * In every instance in which a measure of the I chord is lengthened by 2 beats, it is lengthened via use of the instrumental tail of the signature lick.  In all but the second bar of the last line of the second verse, the two beats added by the instrumental tail are used as add-ons for the vocal pick-ups to the next line.  This use of added on beats for vocal pick-ups is commonly encountered in Country Blues.  In fact, the one place in the song where Lil' Son does not use this device, at the end of the first line of the last verse, sounds really odd, despite being, ostensibly, the more normal phrasing approach.  What is really unusual is the way Lil' Son lands on the instrumental tail at the front end of the second measure of the last line of the second verse.  I'm sure this happens elsewhere in the music but I haven't noticed it before.
   * The two-beat B7 partial measure in the last line of verses one and two is achieved by lopping off the last two beats of the B7 signature lick.  The way Lil' Son is able to do this and flow seamlessly into a 4-beat IV chord signature lick, all the while having the resulting 6-beat, 2-chord measure sound and feel perfectly natural, is remarkable.
   * This song illustrates, if further illustration is necessary, the inadequacy of the simple counting of beats as a means of analyzing Country Blues phrasing and form.  The last line of the second verse has twelve beats of I chord, which might be assumed to phrase out as three measures of 4 beats each.  Instead, they are two 6-beat measures, phrased 2 + 4 beats and 4 + 2 beats.  Taking a total number of beats for a verse and dividing by four to arrive at figures like a 13 and one-half measure form will never get at the individualities of phrasing.

This song is on the Juke if you care to hear it, and I should warn you that if you don't listen pretty hard to it, you might not notice anything unusual about it.  The instrumental lick and Lil' Son's vocal may lull you a bit, but there is some really interesting stuff going on.  I wondered if the fact that Lil' Son was a bit out of practice when this was recorded might have contributed to its singularity, but there is no stumbling, and the phrasing flows from beginning to end.

All best,
Johnm

                   
     
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on September 01, 2006, 11:23:42 PM
Hi all,
A performance that merits a closer look in this category is Willie "Poor Boy" Lofton's "Dark Road Blues".  I first heard this song on the great old Yazoo anthology, "Jackson Blues", and was immediately struck by the frenetic excitement of Willie Lofton's vocal and instrumental delivery.  The song is in the "Big Road Blues" or "Stop And Listen" family, played in dropped D tuning.  Here is "Dark Road Blues":

https://youtu.be/G1VBHpG6_ro 

Willie begins his performance with IV chord, in the fifth bar of the form, and immediately catches your attention with a rhythmic hitch:  Every time he goes to the IV chord, he adds on a three-eight-note pick-up line to lead in to the IV, so that the count leading in goes like One-Two-Three-Four-AND-FIVE-AND, with the capitalized portion of the count showing where the pick-up notes fall.  So it is, that the intro phrase as follows:

   1 + |    IV      + 1 + |      IV      |       I        |      I       |

         |    V7    + 1 +   |      IV     |       I        |      I--3 beats|

Willie shortens the I chord instrumental reponse at the end of the form, and generally starts the ascending octave lick between the sixth and fourth strings that open each verse on the + of the third beat of the last measure of the form.  Willie Lofton's way of playing the ascending octave lick is a far cry from the stately quality Tommy Johnson and Walter Vinson brought to it; his approach is frenzied-sounding by comparison.  He gets his super-charged sound through a combination of bass string popping and flipping the direction of the lick, as follows, relative to the count:

     +  |     1      +        2      +      3      +       4       +   |
   6th      6th    4th     6th    6th    4th    6th     4th    6th
  open    open fret 2  fret 2 fret 3 fret 3 fret 4 fret 4  open

In the fourth bar of the I chord, he most often starts the the eighth-note pick-ups into the IV chord on the + of the third beat, not adding on to the four beats of the measure to play the pick-ups, but incorporating them into the normal 4-beat flow.  So it is, that a representative verse form for "Dark Road Blues" looks as follows:

   |        I        |        I        |        I        |        I        |

   | IV + 1 beat |       IV       |        I        |        I        |
   
   | V7 + 1 beat |      IV       |        I        |   I--3 beats |

In practice, Willie Lofton varies the form quite a lot.  In the third verse, he has two bars of IV in the final line of the form, and in the last verse of the song he jumps the gun on going to the IV chord in the fifth bar.  Moreover, he is really loose at the conclusion of the form and how he gets into the next verse; he does it about four different ways in the course of the performance.  For his solo, he goes up the neck in D, riffing until he feels like he has had his say and is ready to go the IV chord; he actually puts a kind of musical period or pause at the end of the phrase before launching into the pick-ups that signal the move to IV.
If you like hot playing and have never heard this performance, you need to seek it out.  I'm pretty sure it is on the Juke.  I think some of the excitement in the playing and singing comes from a sense that Willie is barely in control of what he's doing, and may lose it altogether in an instant, though he never does.  This is a kind of playing you don't hear much nowadays, really hot, with a "Go for it!" kind of spirit and a sort of sloppy sound, certainly anything but careful or meticulous.  It's a sound I associate with some of Sam Collins's raggy numbers and some of Rev. Davis's wild sloppy playing.  It may not be pretty, but it sure is strong.
All best,
Johnm           
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Temple on September 02, 2006, 08:34:38 AM
Waxwing,

I know you said that you don't like to think of the guitar and the voice as two separate entities, but I have found it extremely helpful to record myself playing the piano and then practice my singing/phrasing over that.  This is after listening to original recordings 1000 plus times.  It allows for my own feeling for the time and the lyrics to become layered over the phrasing I have learned from the master artist.

Glad to know others feel challenged by this as well because when you listen to someone who does it so well it sounds deceivingly simple.

Temple
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: uncle bud on September 03, 2006, 09:15:25 AM
Temple, I think I'm with you as a general rule. There are certainly differing opinions about how to incorporate your singing into your playing. Some say learn the part till you can play it in your sleep, then learn to sing over it. Others say start singing as soon as you start learning the song. I know I tend to use both approaches. Mostly it depends on the complexity of the song. Though I probably lean towards learning the part first.

As far as the subtleties of phrasing go, I do think that there is a danger in learning the singing at the same time as the accompaniment. I think it can result in a mechanical sounding phrasing style sometimes, rather than something that floats over the instrumental part. It can lock you into the same phrasing every time, too, instead of being free to change how you sing something, even by just a little bit - coming in a bit earlier, stretching lines out or compressing them, adding melismatic bits to some notes etc.

Waxy, Viola Lee Blues, yeah!
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: blueshome on September 06, 2006, 02:13:44 PM
I've just been listening to Little Brother montgomery's "No Special Rider" and for the first time in 30+ years of hearing this realised that he changes the usual phrasing around on some (most) verses. The first vocal line is immediately repeated and then a fill played, rather than playing the fill after the first vocal line. I wonder how many other songs follow this pattern.
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on September 06, 2006, 06:51:09 PM
Hi Phil,
That's cool to hear that you caught something like that after listening to it for so many years.  It is becoming apparent that so much of what happens in Country Blues phrasing that is not "regular" is a result of jimmying around with the length and positioning of the instrumental responses to the sung lines.  And what is great about this is that if the sound is distinctive and suits the song and phrasing, you may end up with a one-off in which the differences to the standard form are not contrived, but natural and personal sounding, like so many of the songs discussed here.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on August 25, 2007, 09:51:04 AM
Hi all,
A performance that has been deservedly receiving a lot of acclaim on the site that fits this category is Geeshie Wiley's performance of "Last Kind Words Blues".  It is a one-of-a-kind phrasing scheme, notably "crooked", and yet perfectly consistent in Geeshie Wiley's rendition, much as Robert Wilkins's and Tommy Johnson's songs that diverge from conventional Blues phrasing schemes are consistent throughout the course of a performance.  Here is the song:

https://youtu.be/oAKfy2W70Qg

The chord progression/metric breakdown is as follows.  Assume four beats per measure unless otherwise indicated.

   |   A minor   |   A minor   |   A minor   |   E   |

   |   E            |   E (6 beats) |   Bm7 (3 beats) E (3 beats) |

   |   Bm7 (3 beats) E (one beat) |   E    |

Some points about the accompaniment:
   
   * The identification of the third measure as being in A minor is moot, for no chord is ever struck there.  Rather, Geeshie is doing slides to unisons between the fretted second string and the open first string, and then the fretted third string and open second string.  I identify it  as A minor on the basis of the E chord first arriving as a struck chord in the fourth bar, where she does brush strokes in the treble on 2 + and 4+.
   * In the fifth bar, Geeshie begins slides to the fifth fret of the second string alternating them with the open first string, with the slides entering on the + of the first beat and continuing to fall on the + of each beat and the open strings falling on the second, third and fourth beat. 
   * The last open E string falls on the downbeat of the sixth measure, at which point Geeshie begins a slide into the fourth fret of the third string on the + of the first and second beats, contrasting it with open second strings arriving on second and third beat, followed by a descending run that falls on + 4 +.  On beats five and six, she hits a thunderous "down-up" with the thumb striking the sixth string on beat five and a brush in the treble on beat six.
   * In bar 7, Geeshie alternates heavy thumb strokes on the fifth and fourth strings in B minor 7 on beats one, two and three, with upward brush strokes on the second, third and fourth strings on the +s of those beats.  On beat four, she hits a heavy thumb brush of the third and fourth strings with a global hammer into the E chord, and on beats five and six she does a heavy "down-up" a la the fifth and sixth beats of measure six.
   * Measure eight repeats the first four beats of measure 7
   * Measure nine has a heavy "down-up" on beats one and two, as per the fifth and sixth beats of measure 7, followed by a struck sixth string on beat three and the melodic pick-ups on the +4 + of the measure.

What of the vocal?

   * The first four measures are all phrased in front of the beat, with the vocal making its entrance at + 4 + prior to the start of the measure, and then tied into the first beat of the measure.  Singing tied notes across measure breaks can have an almost vertiginous effect, and certainly does in this instance.
   * Geeshie holds the note that enters on the + of 4 in the third bar through the entire fourth bar, thus breaking out of the + 4 + phrasing at the end of the fourth bar.  Instead, she enters the fifth bar on the + of the first beat with another held note or "dwell", which she sustains right through the downbeat of the sixth bar, for a duration of four beats, but off-set from the underlying pulse by a half a beat, like so:
               Held note----------------       
       |   1  +  2  +  3  +  4  +  |  1  +
The effect of this is just magical.  It's like time stops in the middle of a very driving form.
   * Geeshie re-enters on the + of 1 in the sixth bar, with much more crowded phrasing, fitting the words in, tying across the bar line and starting the concluding phrase on the + of the first beat in the seventh measure.  Her vocal phrase concludes simultaneous with the heavy down-beat on beat five of the seventh measure.

It is hard to know what to make of this performance.  There are almost no recordings of songs that bear even a remote resemblance to it.  The only ones I can think of that are vaguely akin to it are Lemon's "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean", "Wartime Blues" and "Right Of Way Blues" and Mance Lipscomb's "Ain't It Hard".  Whatever its antecedents may have been, "Last Kind Word Blues" must stand as one of the most remarkable performances in the style.  Once you've heard it, you can't imagine the world without it.
All best,
Johnm     
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on November 11, 2007, 01:45:17 PM
Hi all,
Ed Bell's "Squabblin' Blues", which he recorded as Barefoot Bill, is an interesting candidate for this thread.  Played in E position in standard tuning, "Squabblin' Blues" employs an accompaniment and phrasing archetype that Ed Bell used several times.  Here is his performance of "Squabbling' Blues":

https://youtu.be/Uo4A-Rou-4U

  The first verse phrases like so.  Note that all measures are 4 beats--the visuals do not allow for equal lengths because of having to fit the lyrics in over some bars.

   My--       baby done quit me,     talk's all over,           I say, town------
   +4+||                                 |                             |                         |
      baby done quit me,    talk's all over, town-----------                      And I'm
   |                             |                        |                 |                    +  4+|
     Too good a man, for to   Let that talk go 'round-----                      Take the
   |                                 |                          |        |          |            +    4 + |

So what is happening with Ed Bell's vocal phrasing here?
   *  He consistently sings the first A line as a three-bar phrase.
   *  His phrasing has a counter-punching sort of quality because he never once sings over the first beat of a measure, except with held notes that were attacked on the + of the fourth beat of the previous measure.  Another melody that shares this quality with "Squabblin' Blues", though an altogether different sort of melody, is the quills tune that Henry Thomas played on "Bulldoze Blues".
   *  This counter-punching quality is stressed in his vocal entries, which consistently land on the + of the third beat of the measure preceding the downbeat of the vocal phrase.  He maintains this pattern for his phrase beginnings throughout the song.
   *  A variable aspect of Bell's phrasing is his handling of the tagline of each verse.  In the first and second verses, he sings and plays the tagline as a five-bar phrase.  In his third verse, he sings it as a four-bar phrase.  In his fourth verse, he sings the tagline as a three-bar phrase with two beats added to the third bar to accomodate the vocal pick-ups for his "break" section, discussed in the Ed Bell Lyrics thread.  Each line of the break (with the exception of the last line) follows the following phrasing scheme:

   |      four beats      |      four beats     |      four beats + two beats  |

The final line of the break is done as a conventional four-bar phrase.

Ed Bell's guitar accompaniment for "Squabblin' Blues" is every bit as distinctive and personal- sounding as his vocal phrasing.  The primary ear-catching aspect of what Ed Bell plays is his maintaining of a droning open A string bass under the E phrases that accompany the opening line of the form.  The sound is one that nags at the ear, for it sounds like he is playing in two keys at once.  When Bell arrives at the second phrase, where the IV chord normally arrives, he keeps the A bass going under a more conventional A phrase, and the tension is released.  He doesn't really resolve to an E chord with E in the bass until the third bar of the second phrase.  Bell never really goes to a V chord, although he does a strongly emphasized rolling hammer into a B note on the fifth string for the downbeat of the first two measures in the third phrase, where the V chord would normally arrive.  The effect of the rolled hammers is beautifully integrated with the vocal phrasing, which in those two measures enters strongly on the + of the first beat, immediately following the hammers.
It is fascinating in looking at a performance like this to see the places where Ed Bell was perfectly consistent in his phrasing, and the contrasting places where he was a little more loosey-goosey, and felt comfortable with variation.  The construction of the piece is such that it argues for it being, except for very minor details, a set piece.
All best,
Johnm                 
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: blueshome on January 23, 2008, 02:36:50 PM
I just been having a go at Uncle Bud Walkers "Stand up Suitcase" and I think it fits well with concept of this thread. I do not feel expert enough to analyse it fully myself, but perhaps jmm would take a listen?
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on January 24, 2008, 10:29:39 AM
Thanks for the tip, Phil.  I will give "Stand Up Suitcase" a listen.  I'm away from my records now.  Is it on the old Yazoo "Goin' Away" anthology?
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: blueshome on January 25, 2008, 03:12:26 AM
John,

I'm not sure which Yazoo as my records are buried in a chest awaiting time to transfer them. It's certainly on one of the Mississipppi anthologies though. I got it off Document.
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on January 30, 2008, 10:32:59 AM
Hi all,
I found Uncle Bud Walker's "Stand Up Suitcase Blues" on the old Yazoo anthology, "Mississippi Moaners" and gave it a listen, and as Phil surmised, it is a natural for this thread.  Uncle Bud is accompanying himself on a 12-string guitar, playing out of A position in standard tuning here.  Vocally, he sounds to be an oldster.  His phrasing is what I would characterize as "variably short".  What he is doing in a consistent way is shortening the time alloted for instrumental responses at the end of each of the lines in his verses.  His phrasing works out so, assuming four beats per bar unless otherwise indicated.  He makes his first vocal entrance on the IV chord, so the first verse's head is lopped off.  Here is Uncle Bud Walker's performance:

https://youtu.be/6Opa2kPK4wU

1st verse:
   |    IV    |    IV    |    I    |
   |    V7   |    V7    |    I    |
2nd verse:
   |     I     |     I     |     I + 2 beats   |
   |    IV    |    IV    |    I     |
   |    V7   |    V7    |    I    |
3rd verse:
   |    I     |     I      |    I + 2 beats    |
   |    IV    |    IV    |    I    |
   |    V7   |    V7    |    I    |
4th verse:
   |    I     |     I     |     I + 2 beats    |
   |    IV    |    IV    |    I    |
   |    V7    |    V7   |    I    |
5th verse:
   |    I     |    I      |    I     |
   |    IV    |    IV    |    I    |
   |    V7   |    V7    |    I    |
6th verse:
   |    I    |    I      |      I    |
   |    IV    |    IV    |    I    |
   |    V7   |    V7    |    I    |
7th verse:
   |    I     |    I      |    I + 2 beats    |
   |    IV    |    IV    |    I    |
   |    V7   |    V7    |    I    |
8th verse:
   |    I     |    I      |    I + 2 beats    |
   |    IV    |    IV    |    I     |
   |    V7   |    V7    |    I     |
9th verse:
   |    I     |     I     |    I + 2 beats    |
   |    IV    |    IV    |    I     |
   |    V7   |    V7    |    I     |
10th verse:
   |    I     |    I     |    I     |
   |    IV   |    IV     |    I    |
   |    V7   |    V7    |    I    |
A couple of notes on Uncle Bud Walker's phrasing:
   *  In the entire course of the song, Uncle Bud never once allots two bars for instrumental response at the conclusion of a vocal phrase.  In his first vocal phrase responses, he most often is "short, but long", in that he does one bar of instrumental response, but adds two beats to it, as in the second, third, fourth, seventh, eighth and ninth verses.  The two extra beats are not add-ons to accommodate vocal pick-ups to the next phrase, as such beats most often are in the music of Robert Wilkins or Ed Bell in such an instance.  Rather, with Uncle Bud Walker, the two extra beats in the third bar seem more designed to allow for instrumental perseveration, or thriving on a riff.
   *  Uncle Bud is perfectly consistent in his shortness at the conclusion of the second and third vocal phrases, in every instance allowing one bar for instrumental response where two bars would be the customary amount.
   *  Uncle Bud achieves a cool effect in the last bar of most of his verses by hitting a ringing stop on the third beat of the measure, letting the instrumental momentum wane, and then striking a treble pick-up on the + of the fourth beat to lead into the next verse.  It's not flashy, but it's really a nice touch.
   *  By shortening his instrumental responses, Uncle Bud is able to sing far more verses than normally fit on a 12-bar Country Blues recording in 1928.  Many of Texas Alexander's performances, for instance, have only three or four verses, because of Alexander's penchant for repeating the tag line of his verses.
For the present-day performer of this music, the question may be, "How carefully do you choose to preserve Uncle Bud Walker's phrasing if you play this song yourself?"  If you straighten out the phrasing by regularizing the time alloted for instrumental responses to fit a "normal" 12-bar with four beats per bar format, you've eliminated the most distinctive aspect of the original performance.  If you assiduously reproduce the exact phrase lengths as recorded by Uncle Bud, though, there's a good chance that you are giving more thought to the varied phrase lengths than he did, for there's no obvious reason pertaining to the song's lyrics to explain why his third bar is sometimes four beats long and sometimes six beats long.  On the recording, he really sounds in the moment, and that's probably the best thing to shoot for--to be able to phrase short, short but long, or regularly, as you're feeling it in the moment yourself.  And if you find a lick you like, why not go really long in a way Uncle Bud Walker never did in his rendition?
All best,
Johnm
 
           
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: waxwing on January 30, 2008, 10:51:40 AM
So, are all of his response licks improvisational and different, altho' chosen to be specifically shorter to get more verses, or is there a set 4 beat response and a set 6 beat response that he switches between, improvisationally? I guess I'm wondering if you think he normally sang it as a 12 bar blues but shortened up the phrases to get those verses in, altho' how you could really tell that I don't know.

Can anyone post an mp3?

All for now.
John C.
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on January 30, 2008, 10:58:41 AM
Hi John C.,
He did not normally phrase the song as a 12-bar blues--I would bet anything on that.  I would say he did it as he recorded it, but I would be amazed if he did it the same way with regard to details.  In fact there is no way of knowing, but nothing in his playing would seem to indicate that 12-bars was a norm for him.  I think a two-bar instrumental response would seem unconscionably long to Uncle Bud Walker, based on what he did here.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: uncle bud on January 30, 2008, 11:04:54 AM
Uncle Bud - a curious fellow...  :P

Wax, here's Stand Up Suitcase.

I think you're right, John, the only way to play it would be to be "in the moment". Otherwise you'd drive yourself nuts! Or I would anyway...

[attachment deleted by admin]
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: waxwing on January 30, 2008, 11:32:33 AM
Well, now that I have heard the simplicity of the accompaniment, I can see how easy it is to start the next vocal phrase at any point after the previous. I was imagining that he was truncating more complex licks, which, to me, would be far easier to memorize than to "decide" each time, in the middle of a lick up the neck or something, to just cut it short here or there.

Thanks, Andrew.

I really do think people have two entirely different ways that their minds work on these kinds of things. For instance, I might be playing a song in which there are 4 or 5 different response licks in the I chord. It's fairly easy for me to memorize which one to play after which verse, even if they have varying lengths, but if I decide to just choose "improvisationally" which one I'll play after each vocal line, I usually end up playing the same damn one every time ('cause, to be honest, I'm usually too caught up in the vocal) with no variation at all, driving me crazy. Whereas, as Andrew states, for others it is easier to chose in the moment 'cause memorizing drives them crazy.

All for now.
John C.
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: blueshome on January 30, 2008, 02:17:37 PM
Thanks for this John, all is now crystal clear.  I think your suggestion for performing this "in the moment" has to be the way to go. I think I'll make an attempt at this number - I'll either post something in a few weeks or we can look at it at EBA Bluesweek perhaps. I'm a little busy preparing for more recording sessions at the moment.

Phil
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on January 30, 2008, 08:26:07 PM
I will look forward to hearing your version, Phil.  You make a good point, John C., with regard to different players either wanting to know which fill goes where in the song or preferring to hang loose and stick in what seems right at any given time.  It makes me think that the first preference indicates a greater trust of memory and the second preference indicates a greater trust of reflexes.  It is probably one of those areas where it would pay off to try and work in the less comfortable realm to build up that approach.
All best,
Johnm   
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on March 26, 2008, 11:00:05 PM
Hi all,
From the very first of this thread, it has been noted that often when a singer is "long" in a phrase, it is a result of treating the beats needed to sing the pick-up notes to the next vocal phrases as add-ons to a four beat measure, rather than utilizing the last two beats of the measure prior to the downbeat of the next vocal entrance to sing the pick-ups.  Instances of this practice abound.  Robert Wilkins, Furry Lewis, and Ed Bell all used this phrasing treatment with great regularity. 
I've been listening a lot to Lottie Kimbrough lately, and on her very early recording, "Regular Man Blues", take 1, from 1924, she is accompanied by the Pruitt twins, with one of them taking the guitar part and the other the tenor banjo accompaniment.  I noticed some odd lengths in the song's phrasing, particularly when going to the V chord in the 9th bar of the form.  What I figured out is that in Lottie's singing, when the final vocal phrase is preceded by pick-up notes, she is treating them as add-ons to the 8th bar, and allowing two extra beats for them, exactly as Wilkins and the other singers listed earlier would have in the same musical context.  What creates the musical rub in this instance is that the Pruitts are not hanging around in the I chord at the end of the 8th bar for two extra beats to allow for the vocal pick-ups; rather they are going to the V chord right on schedule, after four beats of I in the 8th bar.  As a result, you end up with a very unusual and odd-sounding phrasing where Lottie's taglines to her verses with vocal pick-ups wind up being long, but in the front end, because of the Pruitts' haste to go the V chord.  Of the six verses in the song, only the second verse has no pick-ups into the tagline.  As a result, it is the only verse where the phrasing, when listened to closely, sounds relatively normal.  For the other five verses, the final four-bar phrase conforms to the following, very unusual structure:

   |      V (6 beats)    |        V (four beats)    |        I   (four beats)   |     I (four beats)   |

I would suspect this peculiar effect resulted from the Pruitts being more citified in their notions of phrasing and Lottie being more country.  What this instance illustrates, though, I think, is that it sounds much more natural to treat vocal pick-ups as add-ons and to extend the length of a measure to accommodate them prior to landing on the downbeat of the next vocal phrase than it is to use the "correct" number of beats in a measure in such a context, and thus wind up landing in the next chord before the downbeat of the phrase.  Here is the song so you can listen to the effect:

https://youtu.be/u5fQ4ZKSwJQ


If you would like to listen to this song to hear the effect I've described, it can be found on "Kansas City Blues 1924--1929", Document DOCD-5152, the first track.  I'm sure this must have happened elsewhere, but I've never noticed it before, and it really is an odd sound.  It is only Lottie Kimbrough's great singing and the Pruitts' stellar musicianship that keeps it from sounding much stranger than it does.
All best,
Johnm   
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: blueshome on May 30, 2009, 12:35:17 AM
The Birthday Fairy (Amazon) brought me the Frank Hovington cd yesterday. I noticed that his version of Red River is a good candidate for this thread. He interjects bars in the manner of Willie Trice but more flexibly, drawing out the underlying 8-bar form.
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Mr.OMuck on May 30, 2009, 05:57:04 AM
I can't believe I just came upon this great thread. Well much of it was written before my Weeniefication.
What is the extent to which the narrative content and the choice of words, their particular phonetic structures, determine or influence the decisions singers make? I know for my own singing its as  important a determinant as any other factor. What vocal emphasis or sound will parallel or illustrate the narrative?
What is the best dramatic moment to begin a phrase? When does it serve the music & lyric to truncate a phrase?
Then there's the feeling thing. How the song makes the singer feel and how that influences their decisions, consciously or not. Perhaps we should conduct a neuro-psychological study complete with brain scans! I'm only half joking here, it might reveal surprising things about the process of how and why certain musical choices are made. I
wouldn't be at all surprised if its been done already. I'll ask my neuro-psych friend.
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on May 30, 2009, 03:34:55 PM
You are right, Phil, Frank Hovington's "Blood Red River" is a good candidate for this thread.  After re-acquainting myself with it, it sounds to me as though he had more to say instrumentally than the form, as it is most often played, has space to accomodate.  On this rendition, Frank Hovington has so many instrumental ideas that he ends up doing what amount to vocal fills around his instrumental licks.  Normally in an 8-bar blues, one would go to the I7 chord, as in "How Long" or the V7 chord, as in "Key To The Highway" in the second bar of the form.  For several of his verses, Frank Hovington goes to the I7 chord, late, and then goes to the V7 chord for good measure.  His abundance of ideas on guitar prevents the vocal rendition from having the flow we're most accustomed to hearing.

Your questions are good ones, O'Muck.  Without being able to talk to the various musicians and ask them, it's really difficult to say to what extent their divergence from metric regularity is a function of the text they were singing.  I suspect it may be more a result of their personal feel for phrasing, which tends to be, with tone, a musician's most individualistic quality.  Thinking of two musicians mentioned in this thread, Sleepy John Estes and Lil' Son Jackson, I feel as though I can make sense of their phrasing on a case-by-case basis, but I'm not at all confident that their own sense of their phrasing, as they felt it, is anything like the sense of their phrasing, as I am able to parse it.  (I would be amazed if it were so.)  Lil' Son Jackson, in particular, is a very thorny singer and player to grasp, for his playing and singing are strongly rhythmic with a powerful pulse, at whatever tempo he chooses, but with, at the same time, very irregular phrase lengths and metric shifts all over the place.  Despite all this, he manages to sound simple, and is easy to hear and grasp.  Maybe, it's just a function of how strong his pulse is, it pulls everything together, as in Robert Belfour's music.
All best,
Johnm        
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: blueshome on April 10, 2010, 10:45:56 AM
Following John's comments on his brother Willy Trice being a candidate for this thread in his review of Willie's Trix cd, I was  listening to Rich Trice's recording of Blood Red River Blues. In this there is a long wait between verses while he picks away, as well as a few eccentricities in the verses.
There must be something about this song, what with the Frank Hovington version mentioned above.
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on January 20, 2011, 06:33:31 PM
Hi all,
In listening to Booker White so much lately, I got to thinking about his phrasing on what I think of as his most characteristic sound, his cross-note slide pieces like "Parchman Farm Blues" and "Aberdeen Mississippi Blues".  It is such a distinctive sound, the way he comes running out of the repetition of his opening lines into the taglines of his verses.  I wondered what the degree of freedom was with which he phrased his songs that employed that basic sound.  What I found in checking "Parchman Farm Blues" and "Aberdeen Mississippi Blues" is that his phrasing for those two tunes at least was perfectly consistent, interrupted only by his solo, which is not a solo on the form but more like a vamp.  Here is how the phrasing works out for a verse of "Aberdeen Mississippi Blues", assuming four beats per measure unless otherwise indicated:
T h e r e' s      two little  women that I ain't      never seen                   they has
     ||                          |                         |                       |                          |
      two little  women       that I ain't never seen,  these 
     |                           |                     + 2 beats         |
    two  little women       just from New Orleans                                           I'--------m
     |                          |                        |                        |                   + 2 beats|

Booker phrased his form, then, with his his vocal entrance usually coming at the upbeat of the fifth beat of the last measure of the form, and holding that note across the downbeat of the form, through the second beat of the first measure of the form.  For the remainder of the first line of each verse, his phrasing has a tremendous counter-punching sort of feel, entering on upbeats for the most part.  His phrasing tends to square up in the repetition of the opening line and in the tagline.  You can see how Booker achieves his sort of run-on sentence effect in the transition of his repetition of the opening line into the tagline; instead of allowing some space for an instrumental response after singing the repetition of the opening line, Booker just tags on two extra beats to accommodate the vocal pick-ups for the tagline and launches right into it.  At the end of the form he concludes with essentially two four-beat measures in which to play his instrumental signature lick.  In the second off those measures, he adds two extra beats to accommodate the entry of the held note that will begin the next verse.  He does maintain this phrasing model with great consistency throughout the course of his renditions of these songs.  Here is Booker White's performance:

https://youtu.be/H6vFPHtkCYs


I've never heard this particular phrasing model used prior to Booker's use of it, and you have to give him credit, first of all for devising it, and secondly and perhaps more significantly, for having such utter mastery of such an unusual form that he was able to sound completely loose and natural singing to it.  He is obviously perfectly well oriented to his musical surroundings on these songs and it's a treat to hear the strength with which he delivers them.
All best,
Johnm
 
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on April 27, 2011, 06:38:01 PM
Hi all,
There's been a lot of talk around here recently of Shirley Griffith, and he deserves every bit of attention that comes his way.  I recently figured out his "Shaggy Hound Blues", the first track on his Blue Goose album, "Mississippi Blues", my favorite of all his tunes, though closely rivaled by "River Line Blues", both of which were posted in performance recently by bayrum78 to the Back Porch.  Shirley's versions of the songs can be heard and requested on the Weenie Juke, too.  Here is Shirley's performance of "Shaggy Hound Blues":

https://youtu.be/-o6D6R993RA


"Shaggy Hound Blues" has haunted me for years.  It starts with an eerie signature lick, in E position in standard tuning, and the phrases have unusual lengths, in addition to which the rhythmic emphasis seems to flip when Shirley goes to the tag line at the end of each verse.  After much listening, I discovered that the song employs the following form.  The vocal phrasing follows a three-line AAB format like most twelve bar blues, but it is phrase as follows:
     V-------O-----C-----A----------L  SIGNATURE-------- LICKS Voc. pick-ups
   |   A7   |    A7   |   A7   |   A7   |   E   |   E   |   E   |   E   |   A             |

     V-------O------C------A--------L  SIG.  LICK   V. P-U
   |   A7   |    A7   |   A7   |   A7   |   E   |   E   |   A   |
     V-------O------C------A--------L  SIGNATURE----------------LICKS  V.P-U
   |    E    |    E     |    E    |    E    |    E    |    E    |    E    |    E    |    A    |

So it is that Shirley starts each verse's opening vocal phrase over the IV chord, sings over the IV chord for four bars, follows that with four bars of his signature lick (two bars repeated) and then goes to A for one bar to get the vocal pick-ups for his next phrase.  Once that phrase lands, he again sings four bars over his IV chord, but upon returning to the I chord, does his signature only once (two bars), then adding on a bar of A for the vocal pick-ups to his tagline.  He anticipates the downbeat of the tagline on the fourth beat of the vocal pick-up measure at the end of the second phrase, and for the remainder of the sung tag line phrases in front of the pulse by one beat, which is what gives that effect of having the beat flip, or turn over on itself.  After four bars to sing the tag line, he returns to his signature lick for four bars, and then as with the previous phrases, adds an extra bar to accommodate the vocal pick-ups for the next verse.  What keeps the form from being altogether symmetrical is the fact that he plays his signature lick only once in the second phrase, instead of twice as he does in the other phrases.  It should be noted that he added a measure to accommodate the vocal pick-ups to the first verse at the end of his intro, too.
I had always assumed that "Shaggy Hound Blues" was Shirley's composition, but uncle bud recently pointed out to me that Teddy Williams, who was recorded by George Mitchell in Mississippi and has some cuts on the "George Mitchell Collection" (though not "Shaggy Hound Blues") also recorded a "Shaggy Hound Blues", which upon listening proved to be the same song as Shirley's, though in a much simplified, one-chord version.  What's interesting about Teddy Williams' version is that he clearly sings the notes to a IV chord over his first two vocal phrases, despite playing the whole song in I. 
The fact that Teddy Williams also played the song would seem to make it implausible that Shirley wrote the tune, for he left Mississippi for Indianapolis as a young man and lived the remainder of his adult life there, I believe.  Who then, might be the source for the the "Shaggy Hound Blues" that both Shirley Griffith and Teddy Williams played?  My suspicion would be Ishmon Bracey.  Shirley played other covers of Bracey songs, notably "Saturday Blues", and Bracey demonstrated in his "Four Day Blues" a very complicated compositional sense in dealing with the musical materials of the blues, winding up with an altogether unique 17-bar form.  I think Bracey, rather than Tommy Johnson, Shirley's other primary Mississippi influence from early in his life, is the more plausible source for "Shaggy Hound Blues".  I don't know if we'll ever know for sure where the song came from, but I would rank "Shaggy Hound Blues", as performed by Shirley Griffith in the absolute top tier of recorded Country Blues performances.
All best,
Johnm 
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on November 20, 2011, 10:16:44 AM
Hi all,
Tommy McClennan's version of "Bottle It Up And Go" offers a neat variation on the 12-bar chorus blues format.  Tommy lengthened the fourth bar to allow for the vocal pick-ups leading into the chorus, and is short on the instrumental response section at the end of the first phrase of the chorus.  So it is that the first phrase includes the opening two lines and two beats added on to the last bar to accommodate "she got to bottle it up and", for the word "go" arrives on the down beat of the second phrase, simultaneous with the arrival of the IV chord.  The second line of the form, with lyrics inserted, looks like this, then:

| go                |  she had to bottle it up and | go     + 2 beats     Them|

The final line of the form is conventionally phrased, with four measures each of four beats, as follows:

|high-powered women | sure got to bottle it up and | go            |               |

Taken as a whole, then, the form looks like this, assuming four beats per measure unless otherwise indicated:

|                            |                          |                           |          + 2 beats |         

|                            |                          |            + 2 beats   |

|                            |                           |                           |                         |

So you end up with an 11-bar form which has the same number of beats as a 12-bar form of 12 measures each with four beats, but in the instance of "Bottle It Up And Go", the first four-bar phrase has two extra beats, and the second phrase has only three measures and is short two beats.  It must be said, too, that in performance, the phrasing of "Bottle It Up And Go" looks and feels perfectly natural, so it is a textbook instance of the phrasing determining the form rather than the opposite.  Here is Tommy McClennan's performance:

https://youtu.be/Be_-JMotkYI


All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on October 25, 2013, 10:10:10 PM
Hi all,
Charlie Pickett's "Down The Highway" is a very unusual song for its genre in a number of ways.  In his accompaniment, Charlie Pickett practically avoids playing chords at all, choosing instead to track his vocal very closely on his guitar, in the treble.  This sound, taken in combination with a complete absence of any kind of regular time-keeping in the bass, very free vocal phrasing, and a brilliant, almost distracting Flamenco-sounding signature lick makes it really tough to feel fully oriented to the form Charlie Pickett is utilizing (or even to say with certainty where his downbeats are).
Studying the song and the way Pickett set up his vocal phrases, yielded a surprising result.  The song, is, in fact a 12-bar blues, but one in which the first bar of each 4-bar phrase has 6 beats instead of the four beats that all the other measures have.  Each of Charlie Pickett's vocal phrases has a little hesitation or dwell built into the first measure of each 4-bar phrase, and then after sort of picking up new momentum adds a couple of beats to the measure and goes on from there.  Here is where the lyrics to the first verse sit relative to Charlie Pickett's form.  Lengths are not shown to scale

Now, I'm-a leave here walkin', gwine down High-way 61                           Now I'm gonna
                     |                    6 beats              |              |  Signature | Lick                        |


                     leave here walkin', gwine down High-way 61                         Now if I
                   |                     6 Beats                  |              | Signature   |  Lick                   |
                   
                     find my sweet mama, babe and me gon' go have some fun
                    |                    6 Beats                      |                               |  Signature      | Lick                   |

Each of the vocal phrases has a little built-in pause, along about the third or fourth beat in the first measure of each line, after which it re-introduces the pick-ups that opened the phrase.  It is a tribute to Charlie Pickett's skills, both as a singer and as a guitarist, that he could flow through such a rhythmically disjunct  way of phrasing a melody.  And in terms of the mood of the song, Charlie Pickett's choice to have his guitar accompaniment shadow the vocal in the treble, rather than laying down a regular bass line that would sound the pulse, gave the song it's distinctive sound. 
If you've not had an opportunity to hear "Down The Highway", it is well worth seeking out.  It's not that often that you hear something in the style that seems to be so totally without precedent.
All best,
Johnm


 
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Gumbo on October 26, 2013, 03:24:09 AM
Thanks for opening this one up, Johnm. Puts me in mind of Frank Floyd a bit the way those licks take off.

Charlie Pickett ~ Down The Highway (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8_5jTOWefw#)
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Slack on October 26, 2013, 07:22:21 AM
Hauntingly beautiful Johnm, thanks for breaking it down and posting it!
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on October 26, 2013, 07:58:14 AM
Thanks John D., it's an amazing tune, isn't it?  And thanks, Gumbo, for posting the video of it--I usually forget to do that and it makes all the difference for folks who have never heard the performance before.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on November 04, 2013, 01:08:46 PM
Hi all,
I've had occasion recently to work on and study Henry Spaulding's "Cairo Blues" towards the end of really understanding it, after loving the song and Spaulding's performance of it for more than forty years.  For the song, Henry Spaulding accompanied himself out of the EAEGBE tuning, pitched at F#, so he either capoed to the second fret, did the whole tuning a step lower and capoed to the fourth fret, or least likely, went to the tuning a whole step high (unlikely because doing that would require him to raise the fourth string two whole steps).  Capos were in common use among St. Louis players of Spaulding's era like Charley Jordan and Clifford Gibson, so there's no strong reason to assume he did not use one.
The song is a bit reminiscent of Teddy Darby's "Lawdy, Lawdy Worried Blues", not musically, but in as much as it has an unusual, "one-off" form that it adheres to consistently through-out Henry Spaulding's rendition (apart from the third verse, where he goes long).  The song is a 9-bar blues that breaks out as follows.  Assume four beats per measure unless otherwise indicated.

   |       I      |      I (6beats)  |      I (6 beats)    |

   |       I      |      I (6 beats) |      I (6 beats)    |

   |       I       | I    IV           I| I  IV    I            |

Every measure in the form with the exception of the seventh and eight measures concludes with a little two beat instrumental lick that has you ending up at the fourth fret of the first and third strings.  In the last two measures of the form, Henry Spaulding rocks between a I chord and a IV7 chord before finally resolving back to his ascending lick that leads to the next verse.  In the 6 beat measures that conclude the first two phrases, the two extra beats are to accommodate that ascending signature lick.  In the first measure of the first two phrases, the vocal is shorter, so that the two additional beats are not needed to create the space for the lick.
An interesting thing about the vocal on "Cairo Blues" is that it enters on the upbeat of the first beat in the the first and second measures of the first two vocal phrase,  This gives it a strong counter-punching quality, coming in right after the downbeat hits.  Only in the final vocal phrase does the vocal anticipate the downbeat of the last phrase, entering instead on the tail end of the last measure of the second vocal phrase.
Henry Spaulding engages in some V chord avoidance in "Cairo Blues", never hitting anything that could be construed as a V or V7 chord in his verses.  In the third verse, Spaulding goes long, and plays a little solo in which he goes to a IV7 chord with its root in the bass for the first time in his rendition, following this with a brief syncopated passage that hints at a V7 chord (though with no root of the V chord in the bass).
I think "Cairo Blues" must rank, along with "Last Kind Words", "Motherless Child Blues" and a few other songs as one of the most beautiful and remarkable Country Blues set piece performances.  I can't even imagine how it could be any better, it's just perfect.  Here is Spaulding's performance of it, for those of you have not heard it before.

Cairo Blues by Henry Spaulding (1929) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Kk72ucJv_E#)

All best,
Johnm   
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on February 26, 2014, 09:53:00 PM
Hi all,

'Mamlish Blues' (1927) ED BELL, Alabama Blues Legend (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPEsp4NQ9DM#)


I've been working recently on Ed Bell's "Mamlish Blues", and as so often seems to happen when you really study something, noticed some aspects about the the song, and particular its phrasing that I had never noticed before.  Put in brief, "Mamlish Blues" turns out to be a 12-bar blues, but one in which the vocal phrases work out to be three bars, four bars and five bars long, like so, assuming 4-beat measures unless otherwise indicated:

You used to   be my sugar but   you ain't sweet no,   mamlish more, used to
                  |     E/A                |        E/A                |          E/A                      |                 

                     be my sugar,        you ain't sweet no more                                                     'Cause you
                   |       A                |          A                     |     E, sig. lick              |   E, sig. Lick + 2 beats     |

       mistreated me and you  drove me from your door                                                                 Mama
      |      E/B                       |           E/B                   |   E, sig. lick        |    E, sig. lick     |   E transition     |

Each verse begins with pick-up lyrics which fall in a transitional measure that Ed Bell inserts between the two signature licks he plays at the end of the third vocal phrase and the downbeat of the beginning of the next verse.  The form starts with some real tension in the accompaniment, for he is bending an E figure up the neck (the song is in E) but with a non-chord tone A in the bass, droning away.  He sings the opening lyric idea, which is essentially a 2-bar phrase, but then extends it an additional bar with the "mamlish measure", going from there immediately into the second vocal phrase.  The second vocal phrase continues to have the A note droning in the bass, but since it now has an A figure over it in the treble, it's as though the other shoe dropped, harmonically, and the tension has been resolved.  In the second phrase, there is no mamlish measure, and the vocal phrase is followed by two repetitions of the song's signature lick, the second of which has two beats added after its completion to accommodate the vocal pick-ups to the tagline of the verse.  Ed Bell delivers the tagline in the first two bars of the third phrase, under which he plays a nifty little call-and-response lick in E, but with a B note in the bass.  He follows the tagline with two signature licks, each a bar in duration, but then tags on an additional bar to make the transition into the next verse.
Ed Bell adheres to this phrasing model very strictly in the course of his rendition; it is very much a set piece.  The EAEGBE tuning which uncle bud suggested that Ed Bell used for "Mamlish Blues" and many of his other songs works like a charm.  The great majority of the song can be played with no more than two fingers in the left hand fretting strings at any given time.  Ed Bell's phrasing model that he utilized in the song is the kind of thing that if someone were instructed to write as an exercise would probably end up sounding just like that--an exercise.  Ed Bell makes the whole thing sound so masterful and seamless that you might know the song really well without ever being aware of how unusual its phrasing model is.  That is artistry.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on December 08, 2014, 03:18:30 PM
Hi all,
I purchased a 2-CD set, "Essential Detroit Blues" on Not Now, NOT2CD445, when I was in the Orkney Islands this past summer, and have been listening to it a lot.  There is a very strong cover of "Bumble Bee", "Bumble Bee Blues", by John Lee Hooker on the set, and I thought it would be interesting to look at how John Lee Hooker phrased the song.  He does it in a small ensemble with his own guitar, piano, bass and drums, and it's fascinating to hear the musicians in his band go right with him as he diverges from the 12-bar blues form as it is most often played today.  Below is a representation of how he negotiates the rendition from his first verse to the end.  I will attach an .mp3 of the recording so you can listen to it and get the effect of his phrasing in musical time.  Assume measures of 4 beats except where a greater length occurs, indicated by a + of the number of beats added to the measure.  NOTE:  Relative lengths of measures are not shown accurately due to having to fit lyrics in and keep phrases on one line each rather than scrolling.  For the piano solo, only the final phrase is shown, since it includes John Lee's vocal entrance for the last verse.  The first two phrases of the piano solo are the conventional first 8 bars of a 12-bar blues with four beats per measure throughout.
VERSE 1:
Bumble bee, bumble bee, bumble bee              Bumble bee, please come back to me                  Bumble
             |        I                             + 2, IV7 |                   IV7                                 |    I      |     I         |
Bee, bumble bee, bumble bee            Bumble bee, please come back to me                        Bring me my
|               IV7                       + 2 |                       IV7                                  |     I              + 2            |
granulated sugar, bumble bee,  and try to ease my baby to me                                 She stung me this
|              V7                          |              IV7                             |        I               |      I                         |
VERSE 2:
Morning                               I been lookin' for her all day long                                                 Yes, she
|              I                      |                     IV7                      |                 I            |                I               |
Stung me this mornin', yes, yes   I been lookin' for her all day long                                Carry me to the
|            IV7                +2         |            IV7                                  |             I                      + 2          |
Place, one time            Hate to see my bumble bee leave home                              My bumble bee got a
|          V7                 |                          IV7                             |        I          |          I                           |
VERSE 3:
Stinger                                 Just as long as her right arm                                                         Yes, my
|            I                  |                                |           I                          |                 I                             |
Bumble bee got a stinger      Just as long as her right arm                                                Yes, time she
|           IV7                 +2 |                IV7                        |                 I                                + 2          |
Sting me                       Hate to see my bumble bee leave home
|           V7                |                       IV7                                    |               I           |            I             |
LAST PHRASE, PIANO SOLO:
                                                                                                                                            Yes, buzz
|           V7                |                     IV7                           |                   I                               +2          |
VERSE 4:
me, buzz me, buzz me 'til I don't want no more  buzz me, buzz me, bumble bee, buzz me all night long,
                                                                                                                                           now I say
|              I                 |           IV7                    |          I                                    |             I                   |                             
buzz me                   buzz me all night long                                                                I say, buzz
|          IV7             |              IV7                      |                           I                        +2           |
me, buzz me             I don't want no more
|          V7               |              IV7                   |                       I                     |                I                  |

What conclusions can be made about the way John Lee Hooker phrased "Bumble Bee Blues" on this particular day in the studio? 
  * It seems like John Lee heard/felt a little 2-beat dwell or time for an instrumental response at the end of the first measure of his first and second vocal phrases.  He's less consistent about leaving that 2-beat space between the first two bars of the opening line of each verse, leaving the space in the first verse, and in the third verse, though in the third verse he gets caught by the pianist and bass player not acknowledging the dwell, and going right back to the I chord after four beats of the IV7 chord in the second bar of the phrase.  John Lee is more consistent going long in the second line of each verse, putting in two beats between the two halves of the vocal phrase over the IV7 chord.  Only in the final verse, does John Lee sing over the two bars of IV7 in the second vocal phrase without adding the two beats. 
   * John Lee is perfectly consistent in shortening the instrumental response to the second vocal phrase of each verse, giving it 4 beats + 2 extra beats to accommodate his vocal pick-ups to the tagline of each verse.  This shortening of the instrumental response to the second vocal phrase is not as uncommon as you might think it to be.  Bukka White did that very thing in his instrumental responses to both the first and second lines of almost every song he recorded in his amazing 17-song session with Washboard Sam, and Walter Davis did it in his great recording of "Sloppy Drunk Again", with Henry Townsend and Big Joe Williams.
   * I think the ways that John Lee inserts some dwells and shortens the instrumental response elsewhere are not jarring at all--in fact, if you're not listening carefully, the changes in the form as it is normally played might not even register to you.  On the other hand, though, I think that a great deal of what is distinctive and personal to John Lee Hooker, apart from his vocal tone, is imbedded in these subtle changes he felt and made to the 12-bar form.  And in fact, if you're primarily a solo player, there's absolutely no reason not to take similar liberties with phrase lengths if the sound and feel that results please you.  Even in an ensemble, such changes need not be considered taboo.  John Lee's group here sounds just fine, and Sleepy John Estes' ensemble work with Jab Jones and Yank Rachell was able to work with idiosyncratic phrasing without any big problems.  I think it's something that is definitely worth thinking about and even working towards, in the interest of expanded phrasing options and a bigger vocabulary of sounds.

All best,
Johnm   

Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on March 22, 2016, 12:33:57 PM
Hi all,
I have had occasion to figure out Bobby Grant's "Lonesome Atlanta Blues" in order to do a lesson on it, and was surprised to find that it used a phrasing archetype I had never encountered before in a 12-bar blues, breaking each verse down into one 8-bar phrase and one four-bar phrase.  Here is his performance of the song:

https://youtu.be/ZAHEicqoGuE

The phrasing works out that way because Bobby Grant perseverates in his lyrics over his first melodic idea, making his vocal statement there 6 bars followed by a two-bar instrumental fill.  He then follows with a 2-bar vocal phrase which is followed by the same instrumental fill as followed the first vocal phrase.  So it is that his phrasing works out as follows, imagining the first 8-bars in one line and the last four bars in a second line:

I'm so lonesome, gosh I's lonesome, hear me crying, baby, I ain't lying, I'm so lonesome, 
|                       |                            |                        |                          |                          |
Got those lonesome Atlanta blues                                     I'm so
|                                            |   (fill)                |     (fill)              |
Sad and lonesome mama, I don't know what to do                                    When you
|                          |                                             |   (fill)              |   (fill)                    |

At first I thought Bobby Grant phrased his 12-bar blues in two 6-bar phrase, a scheme I've only encountered in Robert Wilkins' "I'll Go With Her", but no, Bobby Grant did an 8-bar phrase followed by a 4-bar phrase.  There were a lot of things done outside of the normal formal conventions in this music--I have to remind myself to stay alert to them and note them when I encounter them.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: blueshome on October 22, 2016, 07:10:39 AM
This appeared on the RBF forum.
Really unusual structure plus Sam Chatman on slide.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1AnyH_kh7Q
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Prof Scratchy on October 22, 2016, 09:22:55 AM
Great performance!


Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on October 24, 2016, 06:32:10 AM
Thanks for posting that, Phil.  Boy, Sam was such a great singer!
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on November 14, 2016, 09:46:53 AM
Hi all,
I returned recently to Sam Chatmon's recording of "I Stand And Wonder", and was so struck by the simultaneous novelty and naturalness of Sam's phrasing of the song that I decided to figure it out--and it took a while. One of the amazing things about Sam's phrasing of the song (or perhaps not so amazing) is that he phrases the song perfectly consistently, from beginning to end of his rendition.  Here is his form, with only chords and meter of each measure indicated:

| 4/4    I    | 6/4    I    | 4/4    I    | 3/4    I    | 4/4    I    | 6/4    I    |

| 4/4   IV   | 4/4  IV    | 4/4    I    | 6/4  I     |

| 4/4  V7   | 4/4  IV    | 4/4    I    | 6/4    I    |

Characteristically, Sam has a rush of vocal pick-up notes on the fifth and sixth beats of the final measure of the form, following the completion of his signature lick.  He plays his signature lick in the third and fourth bars of the second and third lines of the form, and true to Country Blues phrasing, he does not interrupt the signature lick with singing; rather he tacks on two extra beats at the end of those lines to accommodate the vocal pick-ups that lead into the next vocal phrase.  Here is how the first verse phrases out over the form:

Says, I hate that train, baby,          runs out Easter day,      runs out Easter day, Lord
                            | 4/4                 | 6/4                            | 4/4                     | 3/4         |

                               I hate that train that    runs out Easter day, Good Lordy
                            |  4/4                             | 6/4                                           |
                     
                               Same old train that        carried my baby away      (signature lick)    (signature lick)  Oh                           
                            | 4/4                              | 4/4                              | 4/4                    | 6/4                        |

                                Hate that train that        runs out Easter day        (signature lick)    (signature lick)Says, my babe's in     
                             | 4/4                              | 4/4                              | 4/4                    | 6/4                                           |
                                             
Listening through Sam's rendition, it becomes apparent that what makes the phrasing work, to a great extent, are the little interstitial interjections:  the "Lord" in the fourth bar, the "Good Lordy" in the sixth bar, and the "Oh" at the end of the tenth bar.  And I find myself taking away the idea from this song that there are so many possible ways to vary the blues form and yet have it end up still being very recognizably a blues.  For those of you out there who write your own songs, that's a good thing to remember, and if you end up with something that phrases out as punchily and rhythmically exciting as what Sam Chatmon did with "I Stand And Wonder" you will really have accomplished something.

All best,
Johnm                       
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: blueshome on November 14, 2016, 11:53:19 AM
Thanks for the analysis John.

I'm trying to work up a version of this song. I'm finding the dynamics of the vocal especially during the descending phrases the most difficult part.
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: harriet on November 14, 2016, 02:27:34 PM
Thats pretty interesting, at leat to me, the break down of the form, thanks for the presentation. I like seeing the different meters noted down. Some of slide that I listen to and attempt is never even in tempo, the lyric, dialect and singing dictate the tempo in an intuitive manner and interweave with a supporting vocal almost as if the lyric is the form
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on March 09, 2018, 12:24:23 PM
Hi all,
We were discussing Larry Johnson over on the Licks and Lessons board and I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the structure of Larry's arrangement of "Ragged and Dirty".  Larry played the song out of D in standard tuning--note that I don't say D position in standard tuning because he avoids the D chord as it is played in standard tuning at the base of the neck, choosing instead, 7-7-7-!0 on the fourth through first strings, (4th through 1st, left to right) for his "home position" D chord and point of resolution; a "long A" position moved up five frets.  Here is Larry's performance of "Ragged and Dirty":

https://youtu.be/1FqQYIqpTeM

Larry begins the song with a 6-bar intro, playing two bars each, successively, of his IV chord, G, his V chord, A and his I chord, D.  As Larry begins the first verse, it quickly becomes apparent that he is employing a doubled up form in which everything is held twice as long as it normally is, so you suspect the form will end up being 24 bars long.  Here is how the form works out:
VOCAL---------------------------------- SIGNATURE LICK----------------
   ||    D    |    D    |    G    |    G7    |    D    |    D    |    D    |    D7    |
 VOCAL----------------------- SIGNATURE LICK-----------------
   |     G    |    G    |    G7   |     D    |    D    |     D   |    D7   |
  VOCAL-------------------------------- SIGNATURE LICK-----------------
   |     A    |    A7   |    G    |    G7    |    D    |    D    |    D    |    D      |

You can see that Larry is short in his second vocal phrase, relative to the rest of his form.  This is because when he sings the repetition of the A vocal line with which he begins each verse, he truncates the front end of the line as he goes to the IV chord for the second phrase, shortening it.  He keeps the signature lick consistent throughout, changing it only to resolve to a D chord at the end of the form, as opposed to the D7 he resolves to in the first two phrases.  It's just a subtle little change, but it sure worked nicely, and gives the rendition a freshness and unpredictability.

In working through a number of Larry's arrangements of standards, in which he invariably worked up his own version rather than playing anything even loosely based on previous recorded versions, I found that one of his favorite devices was extending the time allowed for instrumental responses in the call-and-response between guitar and vocal that is the hallmark of blues phrasing.  At this point, I believe Stefan Wirz has the entire program of Larry's great Blue Goose album, "Fast and Funky", up on his youtube channel, so if you've not heard it before or want to refresh your memory of it, give the songs a listen there, and if you think of it, listen to how Larry varied his form lengths by according different amounts of space for vocal and instrumental responses than we're most accustomed to hearing.

All best,
Johnm 
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: blueshome on September 20, 2019, 09:22:41 AM
This must be a prime candidate for this thread
https://youtu.be/UXWzQi7sbbM
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Johnm on September 20, 2019, 05:32:34 PM
Hi Phil,
He sounds like he is just loving playing in cross-note.  If you think of blues as call-and-response between the voice and instrument accompanying the voice, he is just devoting way more time to the responses than the calls--and he is not consistent in the amount of time he devotes to the calls and responses in different verses.  In a 3:15 track, he doesn't hit the downbeat of the first vocal until :58 of the rendition.  Here's how the first verse shakes out with vocal bars indicated with a V and guitar responses with a G.

   |    V    |    G    |    V    |    G    |    G    |    G    |

   |    V (6 beats|    V    |    G    |    G    |    G    |    G    |    G    |    G    |    G    |    G    |    G    |    G (6beats)|

   |    V (6 beats)|    V    |    G    |    G    |    G    |    G    |

In the second phrase you can see he adds a new perspective to the idea of "going long".  And why not?  He's playing by himself and getting into it and it doesn't sound like people are paying much attention.  His playing throughout is really beautiful, I think, and there are a lot of ideas to mine there for playing in cross-note.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: Slack on September 20, 2019, 06:14:40 PM
Just wonderful.  You want it to go on and on.... way too short.  I wish I were at the gathering!  Must go play it again.  Thanks for posting Phil!
Title: Re: Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It
Post by: waxwing on June 14, 2020, 01:32:05 PM
Lately I got interested in the Isaiah Nettles (Mississippi Moaner) song, It's Cold In China Blues. Embarrisingly, shortly after I was drawn to Garfield Aker's Dough Roller Blues and it wasn't until I read Johnm's topic on the Hernando "A" sound that I realized the similarities between the two. Anyway, once I got into transcribing the Nettle's number I realized it would need to go into this thread as he seems to get both the long and the short of it.

The short comes, as is often the case, in the last bar of every verse where he drops a beat for a 3 beat measure, starting the vocal on or about the "and" of three. It also seems to me his intro, a thrice repeated 3 beat lick, is best scored as 3/4 time. He also goes a little short in the 5th verse, 1st line, where he sings the rhythmically different "Hey, cryin’ now, Papa, Babe, do love, do doub’, do doub’, do looove you" line, but I'll discuss that below.

As for the long, I think it's best to look at the 3rd verse as he doesn't go long in it and it works out to a 10 bar blues all in 4/4 time except for that final measure in 3/4. I think that's the basic structure, and by stanzas it works out as a 4//3//3 form.

In all the other verses he goes long either in the 1st bar of the 1st stanza, the 1st bar of the 2nd stanza, or both. He  stretches it out to as much as 7 beats. His accompaniment consists mostly of one beat licks comprised mostly of 1/16 notes (and you could say that the time is really 8/8), which makes it relatively easy for him to stretch the measure on demand. Here's a chart of the beats per measures with // for the stanza breaks:

v1:  //7/4/4/4//6/4/4//4/4/3//
v2:  //5/4/4/4//4/4/4//4/4/3//
v3:  //4/4/4/4//4/4/4//4/4/3//
v4:  //5/4/4/4//4/4/4//4/4/3//
v5:  //4/4/2/4//5/4/4//4/4/3//
v6:  //5/4/4/4//6/4/4//4/4/3//
v7:  //5/4/4/4//5/4/4//4/4/3//

As mentioned above he sings a rhythmically different 1st line in the 5th verse and this is over 10 beats before a 4/4 bar ending the stanza. To keep the bar count at 10 for the verse I scored this a 4/4 for 2 bars and a bar of 2/4, but it could just as easily be 3/4 for 2 bars and a bar of 4/4. Again the entire line is sung over a repeated 1 note lick.

I have versions on the Yazoo Lonesome Road Blues compilation and, I think a better one, on Vol 15 of the Blues Images calendar CD. Here's one I found on YouTube

 https://youtu.be/RqLcOfP43hI

Wax
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