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Author Topic: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World  (Read 1555 times)

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Offline waxwing

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SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« on: December 18, 2015, 08:48:03 PM »
Here’s one to warm your heart, Frank.

Apparently the version of “Sittin’ on Top of the World” we are familiar with was written by Walter Vinson and Lonnie Chatmon of the Mississippi Sheiks. Vinson claimed to have written it one morning after having played for a white dance in Greenwood, Mississippi. Perhaps the title was borrowed from the song “I’m Sitting on Top of the World” written by Ray Henderson, Sam Lewis and Joe Young, popularized by Al Jolson in 1926, but there are no similarities beyond that. Maybe there had been a request at the dance and Walter decided they needed to have something to play? The band recorded two takes of the song for Okeh on Monday, Febuary 17, 1930, (between “The Jazz Fiddler” and “Stop and Listen Blues”) during their very first session as the Sheiks. The song became a cross over hit, catapulting the Sheiks into a pretty extensive recording career, and was co-opted by covers in various genre of American music, as we shall see.



Interestingly, Charley Patton recorded a version with different lyrics as “Some Summer Day” a few months later in May. Perhaps he had heard the record by then, but I am always interested in any musical connections between Patton and the Chatmons as they are reputedly related by having the same father. This is actually the version that drew me to the song as I’ll describe later.



There were two possible antecedents to the melody recorded as “You Got to Reap What You Sow” in 1929, one by Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell and one, as an instrumental, by Tampa Red (no kazoo!). Both songs have the same 8 bar chord structure and a similar melody through the first six measures, but neither includes a lyric or melody for the final phrase, “Because I’m sitting on top of the world” in the seventh bar. Tampa hints at it occasionally with a fill line but is not consistent. It is possible that this is a source, in part, for the Sheiks melody or perhaps there’s a common source for both.





Quite a few covers were recorded in the pre-war blues era. One pretty direct cover is this one by The Two Poor Boys (Joe Evans and Arthur McClain) in May, 1931.



Sam Collins also did a cover, using slide to get the fiddle melody, in October, 1931.



In March of 1932 Big Bill did two versions of the song as his “Worrying You Off My Mind No. 1 and No.2”





Another interesting version with altered lyrics was Blind Blake’s last recording in June, 1932, “Depression’s Gone From Me Blues”. Altho’ Blake’s technique on his last tunes is often considered perhaps debilitated by alcohol, I noticed that, backing his singing, he is using an up-DOWN syncopated strum in the treble, similar, say, to Jim Jackson’s or William Harris’s “Kansas City Blues”. Yet at the same time it seems Blake is carrying an alternating bass with his thumb, leading me to think he was experimenting with a non-opposing technique, pretty late in his career. Very interesting, to me, anyway. Ironically the Great Depression was about to end his recording career. (Sorry for the digression, but couldn’t resist)



Unfortunately the version by Milton Brown and His Musical Brownies, “Just Sitting on Top of The World”, has been removed from YouTube, but it marked the crossover into Texas swing where it became a staple. Here’s a version (with video) by Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys recorded in 1951.



And this is a pretty well known take by Doc Watson that was on his first album in 1964.



No doubt the most well know post-war era blues version was by Howlin’ Wolf, who had an even bigger hit with the Sheik’s “Stop and Listen Blues” as “Smokestack Lightnin’”. Clearly the first verse gives nod to Patton’s “Some Summer Day” and Burnett may well have learned it while playing with Charley.



And, of course, Wolf’s version was the take-off point for the well known Cream version, which I admit, spent a lot of time on the Garrard in my house during late HS and college. <grin>



I’m sure there are many more versions out there, from other genre and with altered lyrics, too, and I look forward to seeing what other folks bring to the topic. I had fun finding and hearing all these versions.


So, to bring it back close to the source, my interest in the song stems from Patton’s “Some Summer Day” also. I have been trying to work out a few songs on the acoustic single-string diddley bow, and having worked on “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” and “Banty Rooster”, in which the lowest note of the melody is the root of the key, I noticed that the melody of “SSD” (and “SoTotW”) goes down to the V note. To do so on the diddley bow I would have to play the root at the IV note position of the string, i.e. where the 5th fret would be. This required a different way of creating harmony fills and drones under the melody as the open string wasn’t always as appropriate. Anyway, here’s a very rough take of where I’m at now with it. No frets or markers of any kind on the broomstick neck, so I’m trying to play entirely by ear, while singing at the same time. I think it’s fair to say that my arrangement is a little beyond my capabilities at present. Hope you enjoy anyway.



Wax
« Last Edit: December 19, 2015, 06:10:59 PM by waxwing »
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

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Offline Prof Scratchy

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #1 on: December 19, 2015, 04:10:42 AM »
Great choice, Wax! Here's a favourite version of mine:
« Last Edit: December 19, 2015, 04:13:24 AM by Prof Scratchy »

Online Johnm

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #2 on: December 19, 2015, 06:49:02 AM »
I agree with Scratchy, Wax, a great choice!  Here is Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys' version from "Knee Deep In Bluegrass", complete with triple fiddles!



All best,
Johnm

Offline Lastfirstface

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #3 on: December 19, 2015, 08:49:51 AM »
Nice post, Waxwing. I'm weirdly fond of the sort of the slightly disjointed Alabama Sheiks version:


Offline harry

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #4 on: December 19, 2015, 09:21:45 AM »
Thanks Wax, I love this song, particularly the spin-off "Things 'Bout Coming My Way"




Offline harriet

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #5 on: December 19, 2015, 10:35:48 AM »
Thanks Waxwing.
I'd like to include Big Joe accompanied by Bob Dylan...




Offline frankie

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #6 on: December 19, 2015, 07:25:04 PM »
Great topic, Wax...  The Cream rendition is based more on Howlin' Wolf's take on it more than the Sheiks,  think - the defacto standard in Chicago blues circles:



Interestingly, the Sheiks covered Things About Coming My Way (Tampa Red) which, as Harry noted, is, if not a cover of, is at least in the same "tune family" as Sitting On Top Of The World...  and then there are the follow-up recordings - Sitting On Top Of The World No. 2



and New Sitting On Top Of The World - not on YT, at least that I can find....

If we're going to allow the "song family" concept, you'd have to admit everybody's second favorite Robert Johnson song:


Offline blueshome

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #7 on: December 20, 2015, 04:59:21 AM »
Wolf again, near his best.


Offline frankie

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #8 on: December 20, 2015, 06:15:13 AM »
Threw this together, none too carefully:


Offline JRO

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #9 on: December 20, 2015, 09:06:08 AM »
I have been hooked on this song from late 1970's when I heard Carter Family's version of it. It's on lp Carter Family in Border radio so it must have been put in the can 1939 acording JSP box Early Country Radio booklet. I didn't find it from YouTube.

Here are few versions.

Light Crust Douhgboys:

Ray Charles:

Carl Perkins:

John Lee Hooker:

Jazz Gillum:

Offline waxwing

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #10 on: December 20, 2015, 08:24:44 PM »
Glad folks are enjoying this song. Sure were a lot of covers. You folks are posting some great ones.

I was driving over to San Francisco today, in the rain, and discovered two more with altered lyrics just listening to my iPhone on shuffle. Funny how they jump out at me now that I've got the song on my mind.

Here's Curley Weaver, with Ruth Willis, singing "Some Cold Rainy Day".



And another by the Shieks, with piano, titled "I'll be Gone, Long Gone".



Wax
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

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Offline Lastfirstface

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #11 on: December 21, 2015, 05:55:02 AM »
"Some Cold Rainy Day" was also recorded by Bertha "Chippie" Hill, The Georgia Cotton Pickers (Hicks, Weaver and Moss), and again by Moss during the George Mitchell recordings.

Offline frankie

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #12 on: December 21, 2015, 05:58:44 AM »
"Some Cold Rainy Day" was also recorded ....  [snip!] again by Moss during the George Mitchell recordings.

what a great recording!!!


Offline eric

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #13 on: December 21, 2015, 09:25:45 AM »
Quote
Quote
what a great recording!!!
No kidding, what a great player Buddy was.  Cool photos too.
--
Eric

Offline frankie

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #14 on: December 21, 2015, 06:43:45 PM »
The REALLY interesting thing about Sitting On Top Of The World is that, although it's a "standard" in blues circles by any convenient definition, it is NOT a standard song structure. It has the reputation of being an 8-bar blues, but if you actually sniff test that, you'll find that it is not... at least in the more typically phrased versions by Big Bill Broonzy and Howlin' Wolf - those are phrased as 9-bar blues - owing to the need to incorporate the "chorus."

The Sheiks work it out a bit differently - for them, it's an 8-bar blues - BUT - the first two measures are each a 6-beat phrase:

Code: [Select]
G / / / / / | C / / / / / | G / / / | G / / / |

D / / / | C / Bb / | G / / / | G / / / |

The "Chicago" way gives a full four beat measure to each of the I, I7, IV, and dim chords:

Code: [Select]
G / / / | G7 / / / | C / / / | C#dim / / / |

G / / / | D7 / / / | C / / / | G / C / | G / D7 / |

Interestingly, no matter how you slice it, it's a 36 beat musical statement... unless you're talking about the Bill Monroe version, which I think is a 16-bar pattern...

Offline joebanjo

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #15 on: December 22, 2015, 02:42:57 AM »
Thanks to Waxwing for the thorough and thoughtful post! Also, to Frankie for charting out those two versions.

I just wanted to chime in and point out that Willie McTell's "Cold Winter Day" is obviously in the same tune family, and clearly bears close relation to the other Georgia bluesmen's versions of this song:


Offline JRO

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #16 on: December 22, 2015, 06:32:34 AM »
Here is Carter Familys version of . It's 12. song on the list and starts 18.35 min.

Online Johnm

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #17 on: December 22, 2015, 11:40:54 AM »
Hi all,
Frank anticipated me in talking about the structure of "Sittin' On Top of the World", though I'd parse it a bit differently than he did.  The song is a chorus blues, and would be an 8-bar chorus blues, were it not for the fact that its chorus takes three bars to sing rather than two bars, as is more often the case.  The portion of the lyric that changes in each verse is that which is sung over the first four bars of the form, four brief interjections that are phrased in front of the beat, like so, showing how the first verse is phrased.  Each of these vocal phrases enters on "+ 4 +" preceding the downbeat of the measure.  Here's how it sits:

  Was all the Summer            and all the Fall            just tryin' to find my           little all-in-all             but now she's
     +   4   +  |1    +    2    3    +   4   +  | 1   2    3    +    4      +| 1    +   2    3   +    4  +|1   2     3    +   4      +    |
                  gone                   I don't     worry                  I'm  sittin' on         top of the world  (Instrument)    (vocal)
                  | 1         2       3   + 4        | 1  +   2   3    4    +  |   1     +    2     3   +  4    +     | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 + 4 + |

Chordally, Walter Vinson gives the song an unusual twist by changing to the IV chord half-way through the second bar, so that the chords backing the singing and fiddle end up like so:

   |           G            |      G        C        |             C          |          G            |
   |           G            |           D             |    C      G/Bb      |          G            |            G            |
I don't know of any version of the song other than the Sheiks' original version that copies Vinson's changing to the IV chord halfway through the second bar.  Apart from Walter Vinson's unusual chord change halfway through the second bar, though, the real innovation here looks to be the three-bar vocal refrain, with the vocal pick-ups starting at the end of the fourth bar.  I had been under the impression that the various "tune family" songs that were posted as being similar to "Sittin' on Top of the World" were all actually conventional 8-bar chorus blues, but was surprised to find, upon re-listening, that Charlie Patton's "Some Summer Day", Blind Blake's "Depression Gone From Me Blues", Big Bill Broonzy's "Worryin' You Off My Mind", Tampa Red's "Things 'Bout Comin' My Way", The Sheiks' "I'll be Gone, Long Gone" and Robert Johnson's "Come On In my Kitchen" all share the 9-bar chorus blues format and melody of "Sittin' On Top of the World".  I think all of these songs, with the possible exception of Patton's, may fairly be said to be covers of "Sittin' On Top of the World", but with new lyrics, since they ape both the melody and the form of the song.

It seems likely that Walter Vinson got the melody for "Sittin' On Top of the World" from Leroy Carr's "You've Got Reap What You Sow", though the long refrain seems like it was Vinson's own innovation.  Incidentally, I don't hear the Jazz Gillum version of "You've Got To Reap What You Sow" as being related to "Sittin' On Top of the World" at all, since it is a 12-bar blues, with an altogether different form and melody.

Tampa Red introduced an element in his versions of "You've Got To Reap what You Sow" and "Things 'Bout Comin' My Way" that was picked up by a lot of later artists, most notably going to the IV minor chord in the fourth bar of the form.  Howlin' Wolf goes to the IV minor chord in the same place in his versions of the song.

Walter Vinson really hit a home run when he came up with this song.  It's strength shows in its adaptability to so many different kinds of treatments, and to the strong songs that it inspired, using the same form and melody.  It's a great one.

All best,
Johnm   
   
   
« Last Edit: December 22, 2015, 03:27:00 PM by Johnm »

Offline Zoharbareket

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #18 on: December 27, 2015, 05:22:12 AM »
Wow, what a great thread!!!!

I just cant have enough of this tune!

Thank you Wax and all!

Offline Rivers

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #19 on: December 27, 2015, 06:43:10 PM »
Great work Wax, and to everyone who posted follow ups, that really built on the excellent foundation. Like the rest of the world I've always loved the tune, and now I have a better idea of why it's so great.

Offline bnemerov

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #20 on: December 28, 2015, 03:56:54 PM »
Rivers, Wax and all,
There's this piece from "All Things Considered" of a few years ago with some additional context.
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6697365
Disclaimer: It wasn't my idea; I was asked to contribute a musical item to a series of essays and I just happened to pick this song. Smallish world, innit?
best,
bruce

Offline iantonionni

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #21 on: December 29, 2015, 02:15:03 AM »
Here is an excellent addition to the song's legacy, Worst Enemy, by Joe Filisko. It appears on Joe Filisko and Eric Noden's cd 'On The Move". Here it is played in Brighton with Joe accompanied by Adam Franklin.

Offline frankie

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #22 on: December 29, 2015, 05:01:30 PM »
"I'll Overcome Someday" was brought to my attention in one of the comments to a youtube post. It would have had to have been recorded REALLY early in 1930 to have been earlier than the Sheiks (17-Feb-1930), but it's very interesting...  kind of a square version of "Sitting On Top Of The World" in that it's a fairly conventional 8-bar blues. He's also accompanied (to my ear) by Charlie McCoy, which seems to suggest a connection to the Mississippi Sheiks as well...  It could be simply a squared-up cover of "Sitting On Top Of The World" but it's also a remotely possible antecedent...  Anyone know the exact recording dates of the song? 


Offline waxwing

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #23 on: December 29, 2015, 09:12:01 PM »
Not until December, 1930, Frank. In fact I posted the topic one day late for the 85th anniversary of Caldwell Bracey's "I'll Overcome Someday" session. At eight bars and missing the final vocal phrase this seems more in the family of the Carr/Blackwell and Tampa Red recordings of "You Got to Reap What You Sow" from August, 1928 and June, 1929 respectively.

Thanks all for the many versions and variations posted so far. This topic took off a lot more than I thought it would.

Wax
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

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Offline JRO

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #24 on: December 31, 2015, 05:48:19 AM »
Here is pair of versions I think belong to same songfamily.

Big Maceo Merriwater: Some sweet day. I supposie both has influences of Worried life blues also.

Fred McDowell:

Offline Zoharbareket

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #25 on: January 04, 2016, 01:42:39 AM »
This one also fits right in!



« Last Edit: January 04, 2016, 01:47:34 AM by Zoharbareket »

Offline evan

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #26 on: May 06, 2016, 06:45:07 PM »

Offline Lastfirstface

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #27 on: August 25, 2016, 07:58:27 AM »
Just stumbled across another recording by Louisiana fiddler Wayne Perry from John and Alan Lomax's 1934 trip.

http://www.lomax1934.com/sitting-on-top-of-the-world.html

(Also worth checking out on that site: the complete recordings of Wilson "Stavin' Chain" Jones)

Online Johnm

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #28 on: September 18, 2016, 11:45:25 AM »
Hi all,
Here's one from Buddy Moss, "You Need A Woman", from 1941, that I just realized yesterday is a cover of "Sitting On Top of the World", at least in its form and phrasing.  Here's the song:



All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: September 18, 2016, 09:38:53 PM by Johnm »

Offline Mark Miller

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Re: SOTM - Dec. 18, 2015 - Sittin' on Top of the World
« Reply #29 on: October 03, 2016, 10:58:33 AM »
Thanks everybody.  What a great song, with so many great versions.  But special thanks to waxwing and frankie for the diddly-bow and file versions.  It's great to see the folk music tradition being kept alive in this way, and those are both haunting and beautiful examples of it.

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