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Author Topic: SOTM July 18 - 44 Blues  (Read 464 times)

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Offline Thomas8

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SOTM July 18 - 44 Blues
« on: July 02, 2018, 05:43:03 PM »
For SOTM, (though I'm aware most of you weenies are guitarists) I have chosen one of the quintessential barrel house piano themes the "44 blues".

it's an unusual piece with idiosyncratic timing to say the least, the main motif played after each verse goes from the I chord to the IV chord and back to the I chord.

According to Little Brother Montgomery, it was formulated in the early 1920's by Little Brother, Dehlco Robert and Long Tall Friday along with several other barrel-house pianists that played in lumber camps across the south and was passed around from there.

Obviously, 44 Blues has taken on a life of it's own since the 20's and has been played and recorded in a number of different settings away from the rough sounding pianos. (Most Versions I've heard are usually derived from Howlin' Wolf's)

Though, heard in the right context, the piece I think is one of the best examples of "barrel-house" piano there is. It has a rolling bass with tons of attitude and follows the vocal line in a very gritty manner. It's not a pretty piece by any means though there is some BEAUTIFUL chords to be found in some versions, which we'll get to shortly.

As the story goes, Little Brother Montgomery encountered a fellow travelling pianist by the name of Leothus "Porkchop" Green and taught him the 44 blues sometime during the early 1920's. Green then moved to St Louis and worked as piano player in the theatres for silent movies, which was where a certain Roosevelt Sykes met him in the mid 1920's. Green became Sykes's mentor and is credited often by Sykes as the man that showed him how to play blues, which included the 44's.

So, when Sykes was snapped up and whisked away to New York City by Jesse Johnson on the 14th June 1929, the first piece Sykes recorded was his version of the 44 blues.

Here it is:



Sykes's version is played with unmistakable virtuosity it really is striking how his right hand through all those notes manages to mirror the vocal line, though for my money he plays it a little too quickly. His vocal style in the early years is very similar to that of Lee Green's which REALLY works well with the accompaniment. It is a classic blues recording undoubtedly.

Several months later Green had his go with the 44's, recording it as Number Forty-Four Blues. Here's his version:



Green's version is quite different from Syke's. For a start the key is different C instead of F, the timing is much more idiosyncratic and the main motif discussed earlier is played numerous times in quick succession rather than the more familiar. DUH duh Duh. This version is a real favourite as well.

You'd think Little Brother Montgomery might have been pretty pissed off by the fact that his piano theme had already been recorded by two other pianists before him and proved to be a success. It wasn't until the following year that Montgomery finally got his chance to record it and by Jove was it worth the wait! He reshaped it as Vicksburg Blues.

Here it is:



Little Brother's version is much more refined, with really jarring bass rolls and he places the motif front and center. The slower tempo allows the piece to really shine through and goodness his nasally vocals are just something else. I tend to use this recording to test people on whether or not they would actually like blues music, for as I'm sure you all know REAL blues is not necessarily pretty or perfect, but MAN it's got guts! and if you can't latch on to THIS, there's something wrong.

CHORDS, let's talk about those GORGEOUS chords, most of them are your bog standard one's with a few sixths thrown in which are fairly common in blues piano, but there is a few that REALLY standout. The one he finishes each AAB stanza with for example is a beautiful Cm11 consisting of the notes (in order of the pianos right hand) Bb,C,Eb,F. In confluence with the left hand's descending bass it really sounds magical.
Speaking of magical what about that ending! Not content on finishing with a run of the mill turnaround he finishes with a striking descent down from C# to C to F. It really is quite something and comes out of nowhere, and cements the recording as a masterpiece.

Montgomery recorded the piece several more times but never as well as he did the second time as Vicksburg Blues No.2 in 1935:



His introduction is breathtaking moving from C to Gm to Bb to C and eventually resolving to F. His vocals are intense and just downright heart-wrenching. His piano chorus in the middle is just as remarkable recalling Sykes's recording but with SO much more feel and you can even hear someone hollering affirmations of YEAH MAN half way through it. 

All things considered I maintain that Little Brother was the master of the forty four blues and knew exactly what it was supposed to sound like.

So there we are, I know I didn't discuss the lyrical content a tall, however I vaguely recall reading something here on that exact topic. I also realise I didn't post many versions but I prefer the SOTM's personally where one is not bombarded by numerous different versions in the first post.

I'd love to see you post your favourite versions of the song, and perhaps even maybe post a version of your own...
 
Extra points are awarded if you can plonk it out on the piano :P

Offline Johnm

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Re: SOTM July 18 - 44 Blues
« Reply #1 on: July 02, 2018, 06:29:16 PM »
Thanks very much for your excellent Song of the Month post, Thomas, your choice and the accompanying text.  I particularly appreciate the musical analysis--I'm happy to see more of that around here!  Well done!
I took the liberty of moving your post to the Back Porch since that is where we've been posting the Song of the Month threads.  I look forward to hearing the versions other folks post, and please remember, folks, no more than two per post, please.  Leave some for other people to find and post.
All best,
Johnm 

Offline Slack

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Re: SOTM July 18 - 44 Blues
« Reply #2 on: July 02, 2018, 07:50:47 PM »
Great post Thomas! 

Way to keep SOTM going, and I agree, I know I?m often overwhelmed by the number of versions posted, I?m much more likely to listen to two or three at a time.   

Offline Rivers

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Re: SOTM July 18 - 44 Blues
« Reply #3 on: July 03, 2018, 03:41:27 PM »
Great choice and analysis, long time favorite of mine. I agree with what Johnm & Slack said.

Offline Johnm

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Re: SOTM July 18 - 44 Blues
« Reply #4 on: July 04, 2018, 06:39:48 AM »
Hi all,
Here is a version by Eugene Powell.  I recorded this song in an arrangement based on his for a tribute CD for Eugene Powell a number of years ago, and I tried to post that version, but the file was too big, since the rendition was 4:53 long.  Anyhow, Eugene's version transfers some elements of piano versions to the guitar, especially a sort of slow tremolo in the treble.  Hacksaw Harney liked to use that device, too.  Here is Eugene Powell's version:



All best,
Johnm

Offline DavidCrosbie

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Re: SOTM July 18 - 44 Blues
« Reply #5 on: July 04, 2018, 10:40:20 AM »
Both Little Brother Montgomery and Roosevelt Sykes recorded reminiscences and fine performances of this song for Paul Oliver in 1960, with extracts published in Conversation with the Blues and on the accompanying LP.

Somebody has uploaded the CD version to YouTube. Little Brother's reminiscence starts at 53 minutes in:

« Last Edit: July 04, 2018, 10:42:21 AM by DavidCrosbie »

Offline Thomas8

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Re: SOTM July 18 - 44 Blues
« Reply #6 on: July 04, 2018, 11:02:39 AM »
That's Excellent David, thanks a lot I had no idea this was on YouTube. :D 59 minutes him and Roosevelt speak of Lee Green and the 44's

Offline DavidCrosbie

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Re: SOTM July 18 - 44 Blues
« Reply #7 on: July 05, 2018, 09:33:31 AM »
In his next book after Conversation with the Blues, Paul Oliver went further on the trail of 44. There's a whole chapter in Screening the Blues titled The Forty-Fours.

Of course, he repeats the story of Little Brother, Lee Green and Roosevelt Sykes. And he gives some musical analysis ? including some transcriptions. This is a great background to what Thomas8 has said ? and the rest of the chapter is full of interesting goodies.

One theme is the development of 32-20 recordings. Pretending to be a different artist called Willie Kelly, Sykes recorded 32-20 Blues based on 44. This was covered in this great record by Big Maceo Merriweather  as Maceo's 32-20



Another theme is the resemblance to Rollin' And Tumblin' and associated songs ? which needs a whole thread of its to do it justice.

Oliver wonders whether the influential Crudup's Vicksburg Blues caused the demise of the song as a piano piece. There was a decade between the recordings we've heard here and this by Otis Spann



(Possibly learned from Friday Ford, who possibly was one of the original creators.)

That's used up my two-link allowance. If anyone wants to explore YouTube further, I can recommend Memphis Slim's 44 Blues,  Johnny Temple's New Vicksburg Blues, James Boodle It Wiggins' Forty-Four Blues accompanied by Blind Leroy Garnett. With different lyrics there's  Happy Home Blues by Mississippi Matilda accompanied by her then-husband Eugene Powell recording under the name of Sonny Boy Nelson, and there's 5 Feet 4 by Jazz Gillum accompanied by Big Bill and a very recognisable Roosevelt Sykes.

If like me you're interested in how songs developed in local traditions outside the music business, check out Cat Iron's Got A Girl in Ferriday One In Greenwood Town, and versions of 44 by Butch Cage and Henry Thomas ? and (my favourite) by Scott Dunbar. Oliver also cites an early recording by Dunbar of Vicksburg and Natchez Blues, which was probably more interesting than his later Vicksburg Blues ? only the later recording is available on YouTube.

Offline Pan

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Re: SOTM July 18 - 44 Blues
« Reply #8 on: July 05, 2018, 03:10:21 PM »
Thank you, Thomas8, for this topic.

I'm delighted to see some more piano content on this forum, and I have a feeling, that I'm not the only one. It is very important to listen to the piano players, even if you are not a pianist. How else would we have gems like Mississippi Blues, played on a guitar?

I do like the version by Sam Chatmon, he's not trying to re-create Montgomery's piano playing, but rather makes the song his own. I like his bass lines a lot.



Cheers,

Pan

Offline Johnm

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Re: SOTM July 18 - 44 Blues
« Reply #9 on: July 09, 2018, 05:33:25 PM »
Hi all,
I found a couple of guitar-based versions of "44 Blues", the first from Detroit-based Bobo Jenkins:



Here is a version from Son Thomas that preserves a lot of the ideas from the piano accompaniment but which goes altogether different places lyrically:



All best,
Johnm

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