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A skilled trade would mean more to me than a guitar. Some of these guys think they're pretty cute because they can play a guitar, but singing blues and playing a guitar is like molding in a factory except that it's less dependable - Guitar Pete Franklin, from liner notes of "The Blues of Guitar Pete Franklin" Bluesville 1068, Indianapolis 1961

Author Topic: Furry Lewis, Bukka White & Friends: Party! At Home-Arcola Records, A CD 1001  (Read 3071 times)

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Offline Johnm

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PROGRAM:? Bukka White:? Hello, Central, Give Me 49; Gray-Haired Woman; Little Woman's Bed; Tip and Eight Boogie; Talking; Hambone Blues; I'm Drifting; Bukka's Goodtime Swing; Please Ma'am; Talking
Furry Lewis:? Going Away Blues; John Henry; Talking; Skinny Woman; Talking; Old Dog Blue; Talking; Let Me Call You Sweetheart; Talking; Farewell To Thee; Mama's Fish; When I Lay My Burden Down; Kassie Jones and a Message From Furry
 
This wonderful CD was recorded by Arcola Records founder Bob West in 1968, at a couple of home recording sessions/parties, one at the home of Albino Red and two at Furry Lewis's apartment.? The relaxed circumstances in which the recordings were made certainly had a beneficial effect on the music; Bukka White and Furry Lewis are both in outstanding form here, and placing the songs in the context of the parties where they were recorded and including the jocularity and banter of the various friends assembled for the event makes you feel as though you were there yourself.? It really sounds like all concerned had a darn good time.

The program, which is divided roughly equally between Furry and Bukka, is opened by Bukka, with"Hello Central, Give Me 49", a one-chord cross-tuned slide number.? From the opening notes, I found myself staggered by the force of Bukka's playing--it put me in mind of Charlie Patton's aside on "34 Blues":? "My God, what solid power!"? Bukka follows up with "Gray-Haired Woman", similarly in cross-note tuning and working from the "Aberdeen, Mississippi" model, but with a crucial difference:? on "Gray-Haired Woman", Bukka employs a lot of syncopated thumb-popping of the fifth string in conjunction with slides, and the result is riveting.? The lyrics are unusual, too.? The opening verse states,
?I got an old lady and her head is turning gray
?Well, it makes no difference, I ain't gonna throw you away.
"Little Woman's Bed" is played in E standard (you can hear Bukka tuning there from cross-note), and features a descending run as a signature lick that really stays in your mind.? As is most often the case with Bukka's blues, there is no V chord either, it just being hinted at in the treble.? "Tip and Eight Boogie", which I believe Bukka identifies as "Tippin' In Boogie", is a rocking number in A, standard tuning, of a type I had never heard Bukka play before.? He really works the crowd with it by playing a number of false endings, only to start up again when they least expect it.? His "Hambone Blues" which follows, is in G standard, and its intense grooving inspires Furry to shout out, "Oh, play it Mr. Bukka White!? Play it a great long time for Furry Lewis!"? "I'm Drifting", which is back in E standard, shares its accompaniment and melody line with "Little Woman's Bed".? "Bukka's Goodtime Swing" is a hard-driving boogie number.? Bukka returns to cross-note for his closing number, "Please Ma'am", which features a catchy descending run I had never heard utilized in cross-note tuning before.? Bukka's playing throughout his portion of the program has to be heard to be believed.? He was 60 years old at the time, still very strong, and I think his playing here compares favorably with the very best of his pre-rediscovery recordings, like "Sic 'Em Dogs On Me" or "When Can I Change My Clothes".

Furry opens his portion of the program with "Going Away Blues", a slide number in Vastapol, and it is great to hear how quickly he grabs the listeners' attention.? He is playing with great time and subtlety of touch, in both hands, and, being Furry, can be counted on for some great lyrics.
?I seed your doney, made me think of mine
?I started a conversation to try to keep from crying.
Furry follows with "John Henry" (also in Vastapol), which he announces is being played expressly for Bukka White.? It is a treat to hear unfamiliar lyrics to such a well-known song.
?John Henry told his piker, "I declare you better pray"
?'Cause if I miss that steel with this 10-pound mawl,
?Tomorrow be your burying day, Goddamn!"
Furry moves to Spanish tuning for "Skinny Woman", and despite being plagued by sniffles, immediately impresses his friends with his finesse and bag of tricks (Bukka notes, "That's solid there!").? Hearing Furry get into a nifty lick at the twelfth fret, I was reminded how under-rated a player he was--everything he does here is so nuanced.? He follows with "Old Blue" in which he, true to his word, makes a banjo out of the guitar, at least in his right-hand technique.? Once again, he must be quoted.
?Had a little dog and his name was Blue
?Blue did for me and I did for Blue.
Out of nowhere, Furry launches into the old sentimental song, "Let Me Call You Sweetheart", played as a slide one-chorder in Spanish.? He does an especially nice job of it, and the room silences, except for expressions of praise (from Bukka--"That's pretty.? I like that.? I would buy that.").? Furry follows with another pretty number in Spanish, "Farewell to Thee", in which the solo melds improbably into "Aloha Oe".? You always hear about Hawaiian influence on the early slide players, but this is one of the few instances where it can be heard so explicitly.? "Mama's Fish", also in Spanish, though pitched higher and from a different session, follows, and Furry once again really wows everyone with his bag of tricks, including a syncopated brushing groove combined with tapping on the top of the guitar that sounds like some of the things Charlie Patton did.? I wish I could have seen Furry play this tune.? Furry rounds out the program with "When I Lay My Burden Down" and a strong version of "Kassie Jones".

If my praise of this CD seems a little intemperate, I would say that, if anything, I have understated how good it is.? The playing and singing of Bukka and Furry is stellar throughout, but the additional richness that the circumstances the recordings were made in give to your sense of the time, the place, and the people involved, make listening to this CD a special treat for anyone who really loves this music.? Thanks to Bob West for issuing this material and not just sitting on it.
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: October 14, 2005, 01:57:34 PM by Johnm »

Offline uncle bud

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John, thanks for the review. I'm excited to hear this CD. Furry is a favorite. He cracks me up every time and I agree that he's underrated as a player. His playing sounds easy until you try to copy what he's doing and then realize, whoa, he sounds so relaxed and I sound frantic trying to hit the same things at the same tempo. I think sometimes his postwar slide stuff sounds like he's coasting through the material, but when he's on with his slide, pre or postwar, he's really on. And he is a groove machine.

Of course, Bukka is a bit of a groove machine himself...

Offline Slack

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Yes John, thanks for the reivew - and I agree wholeheartedly - absolutely wonderful CD.  I felt like a fly on the wall listening to it - a rare opportunity to hear two country blues greats in their element -- relaxed and sitting around the kitchen with friends exchanging songs.  And their banter shows that they obviously have great affection for one another.

We're getting behind, we need to get these reviews on the front page. ;)

Cheers,

Offline Johnm

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Hi all,
I have been out of town for several days, and upon returning, read with interest a message from John Billings, who brought to my attention that when Furry goes from "Farewell To Thee" to "Aloha Oe", there is nothing improbable about it, since they are one and the same song!  John has a copy of the original sheet music.  It's good to have these questions cleared up in such a logical fashion.  Thanks to John Billings for the information.
All best,
Johnm

Offline uncle bud

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I finally got around to buying this CD, almost a year after my stated intention. Wow. It's a real blast. I'm a huge Furry fan and he is in fine form here, very relaxed and sounding strong. Some of the postwar Furry recordings available today on CD are marred by either intemperate use of reverb by producers (like the Shake 'Em Down CD), or some fairly shaky performances (like the Fourth and Beale CD). While both of those have a lot to recommend them despite their faults, this one is really excellent, up there with the George Mitchell recordings now available on Fat Possum, and I'd venture to say better. John's dealt with the details, but I have to say Skinny Woman is very cool. I wonder about the relationship to R.L. Burnside's version of this tune, particularly the guitar-smacking. It also made me go back and listen to Sonny Boy Williamson's version from the Bluebird Recordings. Great!

It's also great to hear Furry and Booker talking casually and joking around throughout the recording as well. Furry is downright genteel when opining about the strange old woman who wanders into his home. Booker less so: "I used to leave my door open so women could come in."

Bukka White's performances in my opinion make the CD totally essential. "My God, what solid power" indeed. He is in top form here and I agree with John that it compares favourably with some of his best material. Bukka fans shouldn't hesitate.

Orb Mellon

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I got that CD a couple of years back. It is really great indeed. Uncle Bud, dead on regarding the Booker performances. They are fantastic.