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Haven't you heard, the older the buck the stiffer the horn - Yank Rachell, during one of his later hospitalizations, amourously cornering a nurse. As quoted in Blues Mandolin Man

Author Topic: SOTM 17-July-2015: The Venerable Pallet  (Read 1606 times)

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Offline frankie

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SOTM 17-July-2015: The Venerable Pallet
« on: July 16, 2015, 10:48:27 AM »
We are now in the thick of festival season. It may not mean much to the hardened blues nerd, but old-time nerds everywhere are tuning fiddles, banjos, guitars, mandolins and chasing the muse from one southern festival to the next. In honor of that time, I'd like to take a moment to shine a light on a theme that can easily be claimed by both blues and old-time traditions: Make Me A Pallet On The Floor.

It should be said that this is in no way an exhaustive list of "Pallets" and your favorite "Pallets" may have been omitted. Feel free to comment and point them out if so. These are just ones that I felt were interesting. Some of them are favorites of mine.

The song's origins are somewhat mysterious and it is in all probablility of black origin. The lyrics were collected in 1911 by Howard Odum. Blind Boone's 1908 composition Southern Rag Medley no. 1 quotes the melody and the WC Handy 1917 recording of Sweet Child is the first recording to feature the melody. It's the 1923 W.C. Handy and Dave Elman composition of Atlanta Blues that first puts the melody we know together with the words. Sara Martin's recording is an excellent example:

Blind Boone - Southern Rag Medley no. 1:


WC Handy - Sweet Child:
   

Sara Martin - Atlanta Blues:


The theme is a 16 bar proto-blues. The form picks up on the IV chord. All chords get four beats...  expressed relative the key of C:

F | F | C | C |
F | F | C | C |
E | E | F | F |
C | G | C | C |

Of course, this precise harmonization is dependent on the particular preferences of the performer in question. As we'll see not all "Pallets" are created from this cloth, even if they retain the 16-bar structure.

Henry Thomas's 1928 recording of Bob McKinney includes "Make Me A Pallet" as one of the themes, and Mississippi John Hurt recorded a "palletless" Pallet as "Ain't No Tellin'." This is probably the version most dear to country blues enthusiasts everywhere. In his rediscovery period, he also recorded it as "Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor."

Henry Thomas - Bob Mckinney:


Mississippi John Hurt - Ain't No Tellin':


Mississippi John Hurt - Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor:


The notion of the pallet enjoyed popularity in old-time circles as well. The Leake County Revelers recorded a version that is melodically unrelated to the other "pallets," but includes the words as a kind of refrain. The Stripling Brothers recorded a strictly instrumental version closely related to the theme recorded by the Leake County Revelers. These two versions are actually 12-bars in length, but certainly not quite a blues in the typical sense. All chords get four beats... expressed relative the key of C:

C | C | C | C |
F | F | F | F |
G | G | G | C |

Relatively speaking, it's a I-IV-V, but the IV enjoys 4 measures and then the progression moves directly to the V chord for three measures before resolving to I in the 12th bar.

Leake County Revelers - Make Me A Bed On The Floor:


Stripling Brothers - Make Me A Pallet:


Splitting the difference between blues and old-time traditions is the recording of "If You Don't Want Me Please Don't Dog Me 'Round" by the Chatmon Brothers (Lonnie and Sam). This is another "palletless" Pallet, but shares the same melodic theme with Atlanta Blues.

The Chatmon Brothers - If You Don't Want Me Please Don't Dog Me 'Round:


Up to this point, we've been listening to commercial recordings or published compositions. In 1938, Alan Lomax interviewed and recorded Jelly Roll Morton for the Library of Congress. Among the pieces he got was an epic, unexpurgated version of Make Me A Pallet On The Floor. It's definitely NOT for those of you with delicate sensibilities - you have been warned! In 1940-41, The Lomaxes made a trip to Mississippi and encountered Son House, Willie Brown and Fiddlin' Joe  Martin. Among the songs recorded was Willie Brown's swinging, sophisticated version of "Pallet." Both of these share the same basic melodic countours as the 16-bar theme expressed in Atlanta Blues, but with more harmonic flourish, notably in the use of diminished chords by Jelly Roll Morton, and the quick II-V-I in the 14th and 15th bars of the Willie Brown's version:

Jelly Roll Morton - Make Me A Pallet On The Floor:


Willie Brown - Make Me A Pallet On The Floor:


Sam Charters recorded J.D. Short in July, 1962. It was to have been just 4 months before he would die - sadly too early to have enjoyed the real benefits of the "blues rediscovery" period. Short's style had changed from the singer/guitarist of the 30s to favoring a harp in a rack with a strong, strummed accompaniment. His version of "Pallet" retains the 16-bar pattern, but recasts the melody to one unique to him and interperses the "Pallet" theme with 12-bar verses. His version is one of my favorites. His recasting of the melody is lovely, as is his interpretation of the 16-bar form. All chords get four beats... expressed relative the key of G (for a change):

G | G | G | G |
C | C | G | G |
D | D | C | C |
G | G | G | G |

He retains the 16-bars, but dispenses with the IV at the top, and the III chord in the 12th and 13th bars, going with  V chord. A friend of mine would call this: straight through wrong into RIGHT! Once you hear him do this, it's hard to imagine NOT doing it this way, it sounds to natural and sweet. I'd like to point out the way he articulates the pulse as well - neatly splitting an old-time boom-chang approach AND a more subtle triplet subdivision  by anticipating the "boom" with a quick downstroke, and the "chang" with a quick upstroke. He does accelerate through the song (as he does in nearly all of his pieces) and as he does, he subtly changes the character of his accompaniment. The subtelty with which he does this is downrigh t breathtaking, so it's worth the effort to listen closely to his guitar playing, especially if you think it's "just strumming." Guess again!

JD Short - Make Me Down A Pallet:


Make Me A Pallet has been recorded many, many times by many, many artists. You can find current day versions by the Wood Brothers, the Punch Brothers, Gillian Welch and the North Mississippi All Stars. They all follow the basic 16 bar form. A few years ago, I had the occasion to play some music with John Miller and he shared this 12-bar version of Pallet with me. I have to say, the simplicity of it completely knocked me out, and like the best things, it somehow manages to sound much older than it really is. We improvised a set of lyrics and came up with the attached recording. I hope you like it as much as I do!

So there you have it - a theme that likely arose out of the mists of the late 19th century and enjoyed a long and colorful life during the 20th century, continues to be played, recorded and interpreted in the 21 century. How about that?

Offline One-Eyed Ross

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Re: SOTM 17-July-2015: The Venerable Pallet
« Reply #1 on: July 16, 2015, 12:37:08 PM »
great stuff!  Although, my personal preference is Sam Chatmon

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Offline frankie

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Re: SOTM 17-July-2015: The Venerable Pallet
« Reply #2 on: July 16, 2015, 01:01:43 PM »
Who doesn't love Sam?

Here's Dan Gellert having a go at one of the old-time versions, and then I spring John's setting on him. He always sounds so good.


Offline Old Man Ned

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Re: SOTM 17-July-2015: The Venerable Pallet
« Reply #3 on: July 16, 2015, 02:19:56 PM »
Wonderful post.  The Willie Brown version has always been a favourite.  I love the pace of the Jelly Roll Morton version.  It's so relaxed it makes the others seem positively up tempo.  The first couple of minutes is fascinating too...kidnappers in New Orleans and it wasn't against the law though it was ok to kill them!  Yeah, I can understand why you'd want to stay over.  As for the lyrics, well, I guess that's what you get if you were brought up playing in what I believe were called 'sporting houses'.

Offline CF

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Re: SOTM 17-July-2015: The Venerable Pallet
« Reply #4 on: July 16, 2015, 02:37:25 PM »
Great post Frank! I've been picking the Willie Brown version a bunch recently, I might even try it in public soon :)
I like John's arrangement too. I'm find I'm constantly reconfiguring these standards at different times in my life . . . I guess that's the idea!
Stand By If You Wanna Hear It Again . . .

Offline Prof Scratchy

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Re: SOTM 17-July-2015: The Venerable Pallet
« Reply #5 on: July 17, 2015, 03:47:33 AM »
Another great SOTM. Many of these versions were unknown to me. Particularly liked the Sara Martin track, and the Jelly Roll Morton one too. But they're all good, aren't they? Have always loved the Chatmon brothers' take on the melody, and you can't beat that mellifluous fiddle playing. The JD Short link doesn't seem to work in Scotland, so here's a link that does:


One of my favourite performances of the song is the one recorded by Jimmy and Mama Yancey. Here it is:
« Last Edit: July 17, 2015, 03:48:38 AM by Prof Scratchy »

Offline Parlor Picker

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Re: SOTM 17-July-2015: The Venerable Pallet
« Reply #6 on: July 17, 2015, 06:14:41 AM »
The first time I ever heard the great Jo-Ann Kelly, a much-missed friend of both Prof. Scratchy & myself, she was doing the Yancey version on the radio, accompanied by Bob Hall on piano.

Here she is from a live radio broadcast with Stefan Grossmann and Sam Mitchell on guitars:


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Offline blueshome

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Re: SOTM 17-July-2015: The Venerable Pallet
« Reply #7 on: July 17, 2015, 07:57:31 AM »
Easily the swingingest version - Willie Harris
« Last Edit: July 17, 2015, 01:35:17 PM by blueshome »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: SOTM 17-July-2015: The Venerable Pallet
« Reply #8 on: July 18, 2015, 09:04:12 PM »
Nice roundup, Frank. I hadn't heard heard the Sara Martin before. Can't hear the Handy in Canada. The JRM version certainly expands on the theme in detail. I had Part 3 come around on shuffle mode one night among company unexpectedly. It really jumps out at you.

I love the version John and you do. Like you say, sounds old, one good test of a successful arrangement. I like the way it's all pitched high too. Really works. Seeing you and Dan Gellert do it is a total bonus.

Gus Cannon does a standard version on Walk Right In, doesn't seem to be on YouTube. And Jerry Ricks did New Pallet On the Floor, with new lyrics and a bluesier, more modern guitar backing that reminds me a little of Brownie McGhee. Also not youtubed that I can tell.

That Willie Harris version is just great, blueshome.

Offline Suzy T

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Re: SOTM 17-July-2015: The Venerable Pallet
« Reply #9 on: July 19, 2015, 05:40:16 PM »
All I can say is....wow. How wonderful to hear so many different versions!  Makes me feel some regret at not getting to Clifftop this year, although I'll be in a different fun place (Grand Targhee Camp in the Tetons, with Eric, Jody Stecher, Kate Brislin, etc.).  I'll miss hearing you and Dan Gellert going to the dark side, though.

Online Johnm

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Re: SOTM 17-July-2015: The Venerable Pallet
« Reply #10 on: July 20, 2015, 01:38:32 PM »
Thanks so much for putting together the topic, Frank.  It's fascinating, and I've still not listened to a bunch of the versions.  I'm particularly looking forward to the Leake County Revelers take on the tune.  It's really neat to see and hear you and Dan Gellert doing the "Old Time Pallet" at Clifftop.
I thought I'd transcribe the Jaydee Short version, just because I pretty much am crazy about everything he did musically.  It's neat the way he switches to a 12-bar form for some of his verses.  Here goes:

INTRO SOLO

Make me down one pallet on your floor, Lord, Lord, Lord, now
Make me down, pallet on your floor
Won't you make me down one pallet on your floor
Oh, fix it so your man will never know

Make it down, 'hind your front door, oh baby, baby, baby
Make it down, 'hind your front door
Won't you make me down one pallet on your floor
Now, fix it so your man won't never know

SOLO

Honey babe, my back don't never get tired, oh yeah
Honey babe, my back don't never get tired
Now, sugar, my babe, my back don't never get tired

Make me down one pallet on your floor, oh, oh, oh now
Make me down, pallet on your floor
Won't you make me down one pallet on your floor
Now, fix it so your man won't ever know

SOLO

Uh, late last night when I come walkin' in, oh, oh, oh, baby
Late last night, I come walkin' in
Now, late last night when I come walkin' in

I found a man, hangin', 'round my den, oh, oh, oh
I found a man, hangin' around my den
Now, I found a man, hangin' 'round my den

Get my old .44, he won't hang there no more, oh, ho
Get my old .44, he won't hang there no more
Get my old .44 and he won't hang there no more

SOLO

Now, make me down one pallet on your floor, oh baby
Make me down, pallet on your floor
Won't you make me down one pallet on your floor
Now, fix it so your man won't never know

SOLO

All best,
Johnm






« Last Edit: July 20, 2015, 04:03:22 PM by Johnm »

Offline Lastfirstface

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Re: SOTM 17-July-2015: The Venerable Pallet
« Reply #11 on: July 21, 2015, 04:38:11 AM »
Great post Frank. It was fun playing this one with you and Jim and the Frolic. I was in a bit over my head with Jim's fiddle tunes and you kicking off Pallet did manage to pull us back together.

Offline Zoharbareket

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Re: SOTM 17-July-2015: The Venerable Pallet
« Reply #12 on: July 27, 2015, 11:49:20 AM »
Thank you for a great post Frankie, very interesting and VERY educating!

Zohar

Offline Pan

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Re: SOTM 17-July-2015: The Venerable Pallet
« Reply #13 on: August 14, 2015, 03:33:56 PM »
I'm terribly late catching up with these great SOTM threads, but would just like to thank Frankie for discussing one of my favourite tunes in such a great detail!

Great versions by you and Johnm and Dan Gellert. Your vocals sound fabulous.

I hadn't heard J.D.Short's version earlier, and his way of simplifying the harmony works great, as you say.

The Willie Harris version Blueshome posted is a new favourite as well!

You guys are certainly setting the bar very high, and I'm starting to worry, what can I possibly come up with in my turn in December!  :-X

Cheers

Pan



Offline frankie

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Re: SOTM 17-July-2015: The Venerable Pallet
« Reply #14 on: August 20, 2015, 12:53:29 PM »
Glad you all liked the post! I'm a sucker for a good "pallet," too... :)

It was fun playing this one with you and Jim and the Frolic. I was in a bit over my head with Jim's fiddle tunes and you kicking off Pallet did manage to pull us back together.

You were fine - it was fun playing with you, too! Jim is kind of a fast horse when it comes to fiddling...  just gotta kinda give him his head and let him go!

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