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Country Blues => Super Electrical Recordings! => Topic started by: Johnm on January 24, 2005, 12:16:59 PM

Title: Bukka White-The Vintage Recordings (1930-1940) Document DOCD-5679
Post by: Johnm on January 24, 2005, 12:16:59 PM
PROGRAM:  The New 'Frisco Train; The Panama Limited; I Am In The Heavenly Way; The Promise True And Grand; Pinebluff Arkansas; Shake 'Em On Down; Sic 'Em Dogs On; Po' Boy; Black Train Blues; Strange Place Blues; When Can I Change My Clothes; Sleepy Man Blues; Parchman Farm Blues; Good Gin Blues; High Fever Blues; District Attorney Blues; Fixin' To Die Blues; Aberdeen Mississippi Blues; Bukka's Jitterbug Swing; Special Streamline
 
This CD collects all of Booker T. Washington "Bukka" White's pre-rediscovery recordings, and based on its copyright date, 2003, and artwork, it falls into the category of Document CDs that have been re-mastered recently.  This means it should still be available (I bought it last week), and that it is not simply surviving in a relict stock.  I am glad this is the case, because it is a sensational program of music.  I had a lot of the songs on it interspersed through a variety of re-issue anthologies, though not nearly as many as I thought I had, relative to his output, and had the idea that I was pretty familiar with the range of Bukka's early recordings.  I was wrong.  His range, as I listened to this CD proved to be far greater than I had imagined it, and extends to some really surprising and ear-opening material.

I was fortunate enough to see Bukka White perform.  He was a big, robust, impressive looking man, and I remember being surprised when he passed, because he had seemed so strong not that long before that.  He was born in 1909 near Houston, Mississippi and made his first recordings on May 26th, 1930, as a very mature-sounding 21-year-old.  On his first two cuts, "The New Frisco Train" and "The Panama Limited" he is shown as being joined by Napoleon Harrison on second guitar, and "speech" on "The New Frisco Train".  Whether Harrison played on these cuts or not is hard to say--in any event he is inaudible if he did.  Listening to the two cuts, though, it becomes apparent that it was Harrison doing the singing on "The New Frisco Train" and Bukka doing the vocal asides (they sometimes overlap), and Bukka handling all the vocal chores, including the amazing recitation on "The Panama Limited".  Bukka plays both of them with a slide in Vastapol, not yet having converted to cross-note tuning at this stage of his playing.  His slide sound here is somewhat reminiscent of Sam Collins, in that he allows the melody to take the harmony along for the ride occasionally.  The rhythmic engine that Bukka keeps chugging along behind his recitation on "Panama Limited" is remarkable for its power.  For Bukka's next two cuts, "I Am In The Heavenly Way" and "The Promise True And Grand", he is joined by "Miss Minnie", who may very well have been Memphis Minnie, on backing vocals.

After the two religious numbers, Bukka did not get back into the studio for seven years, at which time he recorded two titles with an unknown second guitarist, immediately prior to a stint in Parchman Farm.  "Pinebluff Arkansas" seems very Robert Johnson-influenced (or vice versa).  It is in Spanish and opens with a lick similar to Johnson's "Crossroads", with which it is eerily in tune.  "Shake 'Em On Down", played in E standard, is sung right at the top of Bukka's vocal range, really excitingly, and shares a lot of melodic material with Robert Johnson's "Sweet Home Chicago".

Bukka's next two titles were recorded for the Library of Congress while he was an inmate at Parchman Farms, and signal an entirely different musical direction than his most recently recorded titles, which seemed right in tune with the recorded blues mainstream of the time.  "Sic 'Em Dogs On", played in cross-note, shows a much rawer, more country sound, and the way Bukka lives on the open fifth string, droning an A note against a song in the key of D is really strong.  The whole feel of this tune seems more specific to Bukka and his personal take on the music.  "Po' Boy", played with a slide in Spanish, has a beautiful melody that would not sound out of place on an Old Time record of the era.

The remaining twelve titles on the CD all come from a 2-day session Bukka did in 1940 with Washboard Sam joining him for every number.  The range on these numbers is terrific.  Bukka opens with the "Black Train Blues", in A standard, followed by "Strange Place Blues", in G standard, to which Bukka adds Peetie Wheatstraw's "ooo well, well" vocal mannerism.  The next number, "When Can I Change My Clothes", in E standard, returns to a territory that feels all Bukka's own, like "Sic 'Em Dogs On".  It is a powerhouse chorus blues and the fervor that Bukka sings the refrain with really stays with you.  "Sleepy Man Blues" is Bukka's version of the song melody of Robert Johnson's "Love In Vain" and like "Love In Vain", it is played in G standard.  Unlike Robert Johnson's vocal phrasing, Bukka's is usually short, not only on "Sleepy Man Blues", but throughout all of the twelve songs recorded at these sessions.  "Parchman Farm Blues", in cross-note, seems to supply the archetype for Bukka's hit "Aberdeen Mississippi Blues", but does not employ the flashy rhythmic damping that some of you may have seen Bukka do in person or on videos.  "Good Gin Blues" is done in Spanish, and the excellent "High Fever Blues" is played in C standard, a key I never expected to hear Bukka use.  "District Attorney Blues" is played in E standard, somewhat in the mold of "When Can I Change My Clothes"--Bukka alternates between the open A and D string against an insistent bend at the third fret of the first string (over an E chord!), and the effect is electrifying.  "Fixin' to Die", in Spanish, is perfectly amazing.  Where did it come from?  Bukka apparently had completely forgotten it upon rediscovery and was never able to get it back.  For "Aberdeen Mississippi" and "Bukka's Jitterbug Swing", he has made the conversion from Vastapol to cross-note, and is employing a new form in which the songs have no V chords, only I and IV.  "Special Streamline", another train blues, is similarly in cross-note tuning.

Throughout the music on this CD, Bukka is never less than very good, and on the best numbers, "Panama Limited", "Sic 'Em Dogs On", "When Can I Change My Clothes", "District Attorney Blues", "Fixin' To Die" and "Bukka's Jitterbug Swing", Bukka takes the music somewhere it had not been before.  It is really great music.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Bukka White-The Vintage Recordings (1930-1940) Document DOCD-5679
Post by: uncle bud on January 26, 2005, 08:26:58 AM
Hi John - Thanks for the review. It got me digging out my Bukka White CD, which I have on a Drive CD (seems to be out of Germany) called Good Gin Blues. Two tracks are omitted on this disc - Sic 'em Dogs and Po' Boy. Seem like odd choices to leave off.  "Strange Place Blues" reminds me somehow of Son House, those descending treble riffs. "When Can I Change My Clothes" is fun to compare to Alvin Youngblood Hart's version on Down In the Alley. Talk about finding an obscure selection to cover! Great tune. I agree about Pinebluff Arkansas, very Robert Johnson, right down to the falsetto 'oooh!' notes. Good Gin Blues seems like it would be a fun easy slide tune to learn that no one plays (and few would know).

I also really like the two religious tracks, the singing is great, and the responses from "Miss Minnie" add an extra Amen! dimension I really dig despite my agnostic inclinations. It had never occurred to me that this might be Memphis Minnie. The voice is pretty close, actually, though hard to hear, and she sounds like she is relatively unfamiliar with the tunes, so not always belting it out.
Title: Re: Bukka White-The Vintage Recordings (1930-1940) Document DOCD-5679
Post by: Suzy T on April 06, 2016, 08:24:05 PM
How is Bukka White's guitar tuned on Fever Blues?  I am obsessed with this song!!! 
Title: Re: Bukka White-The Vintage Recordings (1930-1940) Document DOCD-5679
Post by: Lignite on April 06, 2016, 09:14:33 PM
Sounds like he's playing in standard tuning for a change (not his usual Dm) but tuned low so he's playing C chord positions in B flat.
Title: Re: Bukka White-The Vintage Recordings (1930-1940) Document DOCD-5679
Post by: banjochris on April 07, 2016, 02:51:58 PM
He plays in standard quite a bit on those 1940 recordings, but always tuned down, as Lignite said.
Title: Re: Bukka White-The Vintage Recordings (1930-1940) Document DOCD-5679
Post by: Suzy T on April 07, 2016, 07:11:44 PM
I'm hearing him playing in regular tuning out of A position.  John Miller, what do you think?
Title: Re: Bukka White-The Vintage Recordings (1930-1940) Document DOCD-5679
Post by: frankie on April 07, 2016, 07:17:28 PM
FWIW - Lignite and banjochris have it right...  C standard, toont low.
Title: Re: Bukka White-The Vintage Recordings (1930-1940) Document DOCD-5679
Post by: Suzy T on April 07, 2016, 08:14:01 PM
Okay, I hear it now.  Thanks all.
Title: Re: Bukka White-The Vintage Recordings (1930-1940) Document DOCD-5679
Post by: Johnm on April 07, 2016, 10:51:57 PM
Hi all,
All of the playing positions and lyrics to Booker White's early recordings are in the Booker White Lyrics thread (with the exception of "I'm In The Heavenly Way"), and in Weeniepedia, too.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Bukka White-The Vintage Recordings (1930-1940) Document DOCD-5679
Post by: Suzy T on April 07, 2016, 11:03:44 PM
Well, I feel very silly.  Looking for Bukka when I should have looked for Booker. 
Title: Re: Bukka White-The Vintage Recordings (1930-1940) Document DOCD-5679
Post by: banjochris on April 08, 2016, 11:22:32 AM
All of the playing positions and lyrics to Booker White's early recordings are in the Booker White Lyrics thread (with the exception of "I'm In The Heavenly Way"), and in Weeniepedia, too.

I started transcribing "I Am in the Heavenly Way" back when we were doing a lot of those lyrics and all the "joy, the joy the joys" were killing me. I should revisit and finish it, it's partially done!
Chris
Title: Re: Bukka White-The Vintage Recordings (1930-1940) Document DOCD-5679
Post by: Johnm on April 08, 2016, 04:45:20 PM
If you wanted to do that, Chris, it would be great to have all of Booker's early recordings transcribed.
All best,
Johnm
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