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I'm goin' down to the pawnshop, see if I can pawn my guitar - Blind Boy Fuller, Three Ball Blues

Author Topic: Blind Blake off record  (Read 923 times)

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Offline Old Man Ned

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Blind Blake off record
« on: January 14, 2018, 01:08:14 PM »
Here's something I've been pondering over and wondered if anyone had any thoughts to share on this.

Blind Blake has recorded a number of pieces ie West Coast Blues, Southern Rag, Sea Board Shuffle which share various licks or some similarities. I'm unaware of any interviews with people that heard him play live at house parties and such, that mention what he played. The thing is, the more I get into his tunes, the more I can't imagine him sitting down and playing something like West Coast Blues or Southern Rag as individual pieces.  I can more imagine him playing, at a house party for example, variations on these general themes that could last for half an hour or more.

Is this my imagination running away with me or a rationale thought?

Offline Johnm

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Re: Blind Blake off record
« Reply #1 on: January 14, 2018, 04:29:16 PM »
Hi Old Man Ned,
I think there is something to what you say.  If you look at Blake's instrumental pieces with spoken commentary, "West Coast Blues", "Seaboard Stomp", "Southern Rag", and without commentary, "Blind Arthur's Breakdown", they all have compositional "bones", you might say--structures that are built around, or main motifs that are returned to in the course of the renditions, but there is also quite a lot of musical connective tissue that sounds and was almost certainly improvised.  Paradoxically, I think that connective tissue is too complex to have been composed, but with Blake's facility and reflexes it could very plausibly have been rattled off in the moment.  It reminds me of what John Coltrane is reputed to have said when a fan showed him a transcription the fan had done of Coltrane's solo on "Giant Steps":  "I can't play that, it's too hard."

Of the instrumentals with commentary, I feel like "Seaboard Stomp" was probably the most composed, if only because it actually has a story, and has the passages with Blake imitating the different instruments in the band.  "Southern Rag" and "West Coast Blues", after the initial statements, sound like spritzing to me.  "Blind Arthur's Breakdown", while wonderfully executed, seems patched together, compositionally, and I'm confident that Blake could have patched the same material together any number of different ways, and may have done so in performance situations, or to amuse himself.

Blake's facility and enormous bag of tricks, I think, placed him in the camp of players that rely on reflexes rather than memory.  He's nowhere near as compositional and as prone to play set pieces as someone like Tommy Johnson, who appears to have played only set piece arrangements.  Listen to a performance like Blake's "Georgia Bound"--he plays solo after solo, not repeating himself, and he doesn't sound like he's anywhere near running out of ideas.  I think Blake was like Lemon in this regard, that he probably played some set pieces, but was also perfectly comfortable with a loose framework that presumed he'd be doing a lot of improvising.
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: January 14, 2018, 08:55:58 PM by Johnm »

Offline Prof Scratchy

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Re: Blind Blake off record
« Reply #2 on: January 15, 2018, 02:58:00 AM »
  I think that?s right. He appears to have had a huge box of tricks, especially in C, which he could draw on as the moment took him. He had numerous hot sellers and had to re-record certain tracks when the original masters wore out. The CD set ?All the Published Sides? contains the different versions he recorded of West Coast Blues, Early Morning Blues, Dry Bone Shuffle, and others. I haven?t listened to the different versions side by side for a long time, but must do so again soon to see to what extent the versions differed, or could be said to have been set pieces.


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Offline Parlor Picker

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Re: Blind Blake off record
« Reply #3 on: January 15, 2018, 07:23:30 AM »
Amongst many other old blues pieces, my friend and British bluesman/guitarist Roger Hubbard plays a version of Blake's "Detroit Bound Blues". I must have seen him do it live dozens and dozens of times and it's never the same twice. He inserts different chord progressions, runs, etc. He says it stops him getting bored...
"I ain't good looking, teeth don't shine like pearls,
So glad good looks don't take you through this world."
Barbecue Bob

Offline Stuart

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Re: Blind Blake off record
« Reply #4 on: January 15, 2018, 02:03:18 PM »
IMHO, talented musicians like Blind Blake had a wide musical vocabulary with which to express themselves, and while individual songs had their own identity so to speak, their overall structure functioned as a frame in which there was a lot of room to work. Thus, the variations. As for ?spontaneous composition,? I don?t know whether or not?specifically when or where?it ever actually occurred while they were being recorded, like it would when one was playing live to an audience. But I suspect that it did, even though I find it difficult to imagine that the recording engineer would say, "When the light goes on, you have three minutes to play something--anything." (But, Hey--it could have happened...  ;D)

Offline Old Man Ned

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Re: Blind Blake off record
« Reply #5 on: January 15, 2018, 02:53:15 PM »
I was going to say it's unfortunate we only have Blake's recordings but stopped myself on realising how grateful we all are for those.  What I meant to say was it's unfortunate, to my knowledge, there's no accounts of him playing live.  I recall an interview with Little Brother Montgomery who recalled Blake playing at house parties and rated him the best guitar player he'd heard, but as for the material he played, I've not heard any mention.

I can't imagine him sitting down to play his greatest hits but like the idea of him utilising his box tricks off the cuff to rattle off a tune in C in the vein of say, West Coast Blues. Out of the tunes mentioned, Blind Arthurs Breakdown, to me, sounds most off the cuff.  I can imagine him going in to record this tune and winging it for the recording.  I'm hearing a hugely accomplished guitar player, with masses of confidence and he always sounds like he's playing with a huge grin on his face.

Thanks all for your thoughts on this. I'm really into Blake's playing at the moment and it's been good to bounce this around.

Cheers,
Old Man Ned

Offline oddenda

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Re: Blind Blake off record
« Reply #6 on: January 15, 2018, 05:23:21 PM »
Folks -

          Do not forget the non-blues numbers he recorded that give us a taste of his larger repertoire. The "jjazz" sides with Johnny Dodds, for example, any with a pianist, and his vaudeville pieces. They give us a taste of what he might have played outside of the recording studio. He was a professional musician who had to adjust his daily repertoire with his audience's desires, be the street, house party, or stage.. Paramount wanted blues, but his black listeners  probably had wider interests and requests. Remember that the concept of a blues singer/player qua blues singer/player is a more recent concept. Honeyboy Edwards probably filled that niche, but McTell was a much broader performer back in his day.

pbl

Offline Stuart

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Re: Blind Blake off record
« Reply #7 on: January 15, 2018, 06:04:12 PM »
I agree, Peter. As with most working musicians, I'm aware that we are only hearing the tip of the iceberg.

Offline Old Man Ned

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Re: Blind Blake off record
« Reply #8 on: January 16, 2018, 12:50:03 PM »
Yes, good point Oddenda.  On the recorded tunes with Dodd's and pianists, he sounds so comfortable in that setting it seems he was no stranger to that set up.

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