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Preserving Country Blues through Education, Performance and Technology
November 17, 2011, 06:34:24 PM by Slack
Views: 2433 | Comments: 2

The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Written by John Miller

The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
I have been thinking about pre-Blues material for a long time (years and years) and figured out a long time ago that I particularly like it.  I suppose the question comes up then, what makes a song pre-Blues, as opposed to Blues?  I think two chordal/harmonic characteristics most strongly define pre-Blues songs:

   * Absence of the "blue" IV chord.  Blues have a dominant 7 chord with a flat 7 note relative to the IV chord of the scale.  Pre-Blues material has either a straight major triad for the IV chord or a telescoped major 7 chord off of the IV note of the scale.

   * Absence of the "blue" I chord.  Blues most often have a dominant 7 chord (major triad with a flat 7) off of the I chord of the scale.  Pre-Blues material has a straight major triad off of I, or, as with the IV chord, a telescoped major 7 chord.

What separates Blues chordally from the various western musics that preceded it, is that it has dominant 7 chords off of I, IV and V.  Neither the major scale nor any of the Greek modes conforms to this chordal configuration.  As a result, Blues has both a structure and a sound that does not have commonly known precedents prior to its appearance. Blues is most often described by persons living at the time as having first made an a...
November 17, 2011, 06:33:15 PM by Slack
Views: 2109 | Comments: 6

Sam Collins - Jailhouse Blues
Written by John Miller

Sam Collins - Jailhouse Blues Yazoo 1079
This is not a new CD, but it is a great one, collecting most of the strongest titles of the under-appreciated Mississippi singer and guitarist, Sam Collins, in one place.  According to the CD's liner notes, Sam Collins was born in 1887 in Louisiana, but raised across the border in McComb, Mississippi.  This is in the southern portion of the state, in an area that did not produce many Country Blues musicians who were recorded in the first wave of Country Blues, in the 20s and 30s.  If Sam was indeed born at the time reported, he would be placed in the company of such relative oldsters as Frank Stokes, Henry Thomas, and Gus Cannon, all of whom appear to have been in at least their forties when first recorded.

As represented in this CD's program, Sam's music appears to have had two primary strains:  slide blues and sacred numbers played in Vastapol tuning and raggy and pre-blues numbers played in C, standard tuning.  Whether playing in Vastapol or C, though, Sam Collins's magnificent vocals grab your attention and won't let go.  Sam had an incredibly good voice, really one of the most beautiful in the history of the Blues.  He knew what to do with it, too; sometimes his vocal rendition out-does the expressive content of the lyric.  In "Dark Cloudy Blues" when he ...
November 17, 2011, 06:31:40 PM by Slack
Views: 2252 | Comments: 1

Johnny Temple - The Essential Classic Blues   
Written by John Miller      

Johnny Temple - The Essential Classic Blues, , CBL 200038   

This 2-CD set collects a large roster of the greatest hits of Johnny Temple (1906-1968), a transplanted Mississippi blues singer (to Chicago), who enjoyed a great deal of popularity in the period between his initial recording in 1935, and the early Post-War period.  There are 36 songs included in the set, so you really get a hefty sampling of what Johnny had to offer. 

Johnny's first recorded number, "Lead Pencil Blues", was very forward-looking number--a shuffle with duet guitar accompaniment in which the guitar laying down the time was employing the classic riff associated with Robert Johnson's "Sweet Home Chicago" and countless blues since then.  Also anticipating the future in the cut is the flat-picked lead guitar, something encountered with great frequency on Johnny's later recordings.  Two early recordings, similarly duets, "Big Boat Whistle" and "The Evil Devil Blues", are terrific.  The interplay of the two guitars, one of which was Johnny's and the other, I believe, Charlie McCoy's, is excellent, as was Johnny's singing.  "The Evil Devil Blues" is a bona fide oddity--a cover of Skip James's "Devil Got My Woman" that shows you can really end up with good things occasionally by NOT copying someone too carefully.  Unfor...
November 17, 2011, 06:30:17 PM by Slack
Views: 2666 | Comments: 2

Snooks Eaglin - New Orleans Street Singer
Written by John Miller

Snooks Eaglin - New Orleans Street Singer, Smithsonian Folkways SFW CD 40165       

It was with great excitement that I discovered this CD in a record store a couple of months ago. I will never forget the shock and amazement I felt upon first hearing this music in its first incarnation, as a Folkways album. Snooks's mastery of the guitar was so far beyond anything else I had heard that there didn't seem to be any basis for comparison; it was almost as though he existed as the sole inhabitant of a musical universe of his own creation.

Smithsonian Folkways is to be congratulated for doing this re-issue project up right, including 5 previously un-released and 3 alternate takes (most instructive) and getting Elijah Wald to write the notes, which are excellent. Wald's discussion of sources for Snooks' program is so complete, in fact, that I won't discuss sources here, but instead will refer interested parties to his liner notes for that information. I would like to indulge in some guitar-centricity, because there is not much point in talking about Snooks without obsessing on his playing.

Snooks was 22 years old when he recorded this music and already possessed of one of the most remarkable technical mechanisms any guitarist has ever had. If Blind Blake was the man who played "piano-style" guitar, ...
November 17, 2011, 06:28:29 PM by Slack
Views: 1446 | Comments: 0

J.W. Warren - Life Ain't Worth Livin'
Written by John Miller

J.W. Warren - Life Ain't Worth Livin', Fat Possum Records FP1024-2       

This recent Fat Possum release features the music of J.W. Warren, a musician from Ariton, in southeast Alabama, who was recorded by George Mitchell in 1981 and 1982. Warren, who died in 2003, was born in 1921, so he is on the older side of an "in-between" generation of musicians that includes Frank Hovington, John Jackson, Jimmy Lee Williams, and on the younger side, John Cephas and John Dee Holman. Like these other musicians, Warren's music sounds to have been greatly influenced by recorded Blues, and much of what is most interesting about his music has to do with the way he personalized the music he picked up from recordings.

The program opens with one of Warren's more individualistic pieces, "Hoboing Into Hollywood", a 16-bar blues in dropped-D tuning that shares some of its sound with William Moore's "Old Country Rock" and "One Way Gal", though in this instance, I do not believe Warren learned from Moore's recordings, for their senses of time are quite different. Rather, I think they were both speaking a similar dropped-D "language" and taking what the guitar gives you in that position. Warren's pleasant deep voice really sets the song off well.

"Sundown Blues" is an 8-bar cover of Blind Boy Fuller in A, standard tun...
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