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"Is your name Rabbit or is that just a nickname?" "No, my name is Lewis Anderson Muse. That's my real name." "How'd they give you that name?" "What, Rabbit? Well, I got that name playing baseball." - Interview with Lewis "Rabbit" Muse, Digital Library of Appalachia

Author Topic: Henry Thomas  (Read 10075 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Re: Henry Thomas
« Reply #15 on: May 24, 2009, 12:22:35 PM »
Hi John C.,
I've been away from my Henry Thomas recordings but should have a chance to listen in the next couple of days.  It's great that you are working on this material.  I love the way that on pieces like "Charming Betsy" he uses the guitar almost as a chordal sort of drum--it's time-keeping with a vengeance, and an almost complete absence of any kind of instrumental filigree.
All best,
Johnm

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Henry Thomas
« Reply #16 on: May 24, 2009, 03:20:41 PM »
"Charmin' Betsy" sounds like another dance tune.  His timing and execution of his guitar accompaniment is stellar.  He has this way of lifting his left hand for the fourth beat of the measure and just strumming the open strings, which in the key he's playing, implies a IV chord.

I've been working on Red River Blues which I think has a similar figure to what you are talking about here, Johnm. But playing the open strings (just the top four, a G6, eh?) just didn't sound right. What I think he is doing, in Red River anyway, is playing X-X-0-4-3-0. What's interesting about this is that it could be seen as a D6add9 which if you think about it is the D pentatonic scale. His V chord is the A6, so I think he is using an index finger barre for most of his chording.

In his response licks, the 2nd, 4th, 6th and 8th measures, he pretty consistently plays the figure going to a "boom" on the 2nd fret of the 4th (and 3rd) strings on the 3rd beat and "changs" the D6add9 or implied IV chord on the and, going back to a boom-chang on the D for the 4th beat. So if you play the D chord with a little three-string barre, you can keep your middle finger on the D note and reach the barre over to get the 4th string (and in a few cases the 5th) and then lift the barre while placing the ring on the 4th fret of the 3rd string and then back to the D chord. That kind of rocking back and forth with a finger planted lick that I think can be done much more quickly than using a normal D fingering.

He also plays the same D6add9 chord for the 4th beat chang to get back from the A6 IV chord to the D. Using these chordings there is only one note in all the chording, the C# in the A6, that is not in the D pentatonic scale and I think that's why he avoids playing the G note, not intellectually, but just 'cause it didn't sound right to him. It kinda muddies things up. And it really means that virtually any part of the melody can be played or sung over any of the chords and that little D6add9 can be stuck in anywhere. Big fun.

Wax

Hi Wax - I'm finding your description confusing. Maybe it's me. :) Response lick? There's no time for one! ;) I can't mentally locate a point of reference for what you're referring to.

So starting from the I chord:

What I hear in the D chord is a somewhat free boom chang. He hits the 2nd fret on the 5th string (the B note) frequently in the bass pattern. So,

A - D - A - D - B - D - A - D. Sometimes A - D - A - D - B - D - A - D/B - D - A - D - B - D - A - D.

Most of the D's are brushes/changs.

Depending on how one ends up playing it, the Chang after that B note can in fact be just a D note bass, a D note brushed with the open G string, or brushed with the open G and 2nd string at the 3rd fret (held through from your regular D chord), or even with the open 1st string. The move made with any of these combinations implies a IV chord to me. What Henry Thomas does isn't solid in my mind yet, perhaps all of them.

That B note on the 5th string is an octave below the "4" in your X-X-0-4-3-0. I don't hear your chord position so far but will listen more. Perhaps you can point to spots where it occurs. Harmonically, they'd certainly fit, as you say. I just ain't hearing them yet.

The V chord, I hear as an A6, x-0-2-2-2-2, as you say, with frequent forays into a long A position, X-0-2-2-2-5.

I agree with JohnM that this is more chordal drumming and time-keeping than precision instrumentation. I think sometimes he's hitting the strings and one or two notes ring, and hits 'em another time and 3 notes ring.
« Last Edit: May 25, 2009, 09:52:10 AM by uncle bud »

Offline waxwing

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Re: Henry Thomas
« Reply #17 on: May 24, 2009, 06:43:10 PM »
I agree that this is all chordal drumming, too. And he clearly is not worried about being too accurate with his bass, which I mostly hear on the 4th string, but, yes, the 5th string comes into play a lot. I'm guessing no thumb pick as the 5th string is often softer, like he's just rubbing it. But I'm hearing him sweep through the treble strings most of the time on his "changs".

As I said, second paragraph, by response licks I meant the 2nd, 4th, 6th and 8th bars, between the sung lines, altho' he sings a "dear gal" or "poor boy" over the 6th. And in general he plays a different chord pattern under the pipes (I|I|V|I|I|I|V|I) than he does the vocal (I|I|V|I|V|I|I/V|I). I'm gonna give up on trying to describe with words, so here's tab of the vocal backing. (sorry, I had to make my Screen Grab .tiff into a cumbersome .pdf) Again, this is meant as a generalization, 'cause, well, with these chord forms he can afford to mix it up all he wants, whether by design or just sloppiness, and there's no disharmony.

And counterintuitive as it may seem, I think it may be easier, at speed, to play the X-X-0-4-3-0 than open strings with your hand off the neck, because you can hold down that D note on the 3rd fret of the 2nd string. Try it.

You ever try to play quills while playing guitar? There's a reason he has so little filigree in his quill pieces. Whew!

I look forward to what you hear, Johnm.

Wax
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Offline uncle bud

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Re: Henry Thomas
« Reply #18 on: May 24, 2009, 07:02:54 PM »
Just looking briefly, so far we seem to be pretty much in complete disagreement. I too look forward to JohnM's interpretation.
« Last Edit: May 24, 2009, 07:04:01 PM by uncle bud »

Offline waxwing

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Re: Henry Thomas
« Reply #19 on: May 24, 2009, 11:37:28 PM »
Er, being a logical thinker, I am in complete disagreement with the statement: "so far we seem to be pretty much in complete disagreement." At least your not telling me I'm hallucinating. -G-

Where's the big disagreement? Unless I'm completely misinterpreting what you are saying? I've got all your As and Bs in parens 'cause they don't happen that often to my ears. But he hits them hard now and then. I think I was listening mostly to a later verse, like the "Red River" verse, where he seems to have settled down a bit. But, hey, we're in the same key! Like I said, the tab is just a generalization to get the feel, and, as you asked, to point out spots where the X-X-0-4-3-0 occurs. Did you try to play it?

Wax
« Last Edit: May 24, 2009, 11:41:35 PM by waxwing »
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

“Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.”
Joseph Heller, Catch-22

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Offline uncle bud

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Re: Henry Thomas
« Reply #20 on: May 25, 2009, 07:09:37 AM »
Sorry Wax, my brain seems to be leaving out words. My excuse is it was getting late at night for me when I fired off my response.  :P I meant to type "Just looking briefly, so far we seem to be pretty much in complete disagreement about the bass" since that's what I had been focusing on. Perhaps it's more accurate to say we seem to have opposite views of the bass figures.

If I understand you correctly, and judging by your tab, you're saying you hear him predominantly playing the D string as the bass while allowing for some forays onto the 5th string, either through a loose, brushing stroke, occasionally hitting it deliberately or occasional fretting of the B note. I am saying the opposite: he is using the open 5th string as his home position in the bass for the I chord. Whether he plays

A - D - A - D - B - D - A - D or A - D - A - D - A - D - D - D  or A - D - A - D - D - D - D - D

or the other variations he uses (there are more, certainly with more B notes added), the fifth string is home to my ear.

It sounds to me like Thomas uses that V bass in the I chord all over his work. I'd say that the V bass on the I chord is a real part of his sound for a good half or more of his repertoire - or at least in D and C positions. He does it in Fishing Blues, John Henry, Charming Betsy, Lovin' Babe, Run Mollie Run, Old Country Stomp, Bob McKinney, Honey Won't You Allow Me One More Chance, Jonah in the Wilderness and probably more. I think it sets up a bit more of a droning quality underneath the dance rhythm than one gets from a root position bass.

I haven't checked out the X-X-0-4-3-0 chord yet, but will.

I haven't tried playing quills with guitar yet either, being quill-less, but would love too.
« Last Edit: May 25, 2009, 07:10:46 AM by uncle bud »

Offline waxwing

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Re: Henry Thomas
« Reply #21 on: May 25, 2009, 10:53:06 AM »
Okay, having done some deep earphone listening to the bass, which I guess I wasn't focusing on as much, trying to figure what that little jump chord is, I'll agree with you that he hits the A note, clearly, on the 5th string all the time, but he is definitely not hitting the one string cleanly as, in general, there is a different tonality when he is holding a D chord than when he is holding the A6 chord so I would say he is hitting an AD sometimes and an AE sometimes. Likewise, with the B he is hitting a BE, and sometimes an EA on the 4th and 3rd strings, as he seems to be barring straight across. So I think he's doing a small brush for his "boom".

Wax


"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
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“Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.”
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Offline Johnm

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Re: Henry Thomas
« Reply #22 on: May 25, 2009, 10:34:04 PM »
Hi John C. and Uncle Bud,
What I hear when listening to "Charming Betsy" is all the "booms" falling on the fifth string, and all fifth strings open, except when he hits his implied IV chord.  For that, he booms on the fifth string second fret and opens up on the first and third strings for the following "chang", so that the left hand for the implied IV chord is:
   X-2-0-0-3-0
I don't believe he ever frets a B note on the G string at the fourth fret--it's in the wrong octave, and is physically implausible with the second fret of the fifth string being struck immediately prior.  The move to the IV chord as fingered above, from D and back to D is dirt simple, and would sync right in, even at the very quick tempo he took "Charming Betsy".  Every time in the song's accompaniment he hits a chang that includes an open first string it is preceded by the second fret of the fifth string in the bass.  That's how I hear it, anyway. 
All best,
Johnm 

Offline Deluge

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Re: Henry Thomas
« Reply #23 on: May 26, 2009, 07:12:06 AM »

Offline waxwing

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Re: Henry Thomas
« Reply #24 on: May 26, 2009, 08:50:45 AM »
Well, it's possible he does different things in different songs, but maybe I just need to clean my ears better and listen harder next time. Thanks Johnm and Uncle Bud for clearing this up for me.

Wax
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

“Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.”
Joseph Heller, Catch-22

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Offline uncle bud

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Re: Henry Thomas
« Reply #25 on: May 26, 2009, 10:41:40 AM »
Well, don't know how much cleaning is actually needed, since when you get down to it, your suggested chord is really only one octave note off. Perhaps the B an octave lower is playing a trick on your ear? Different songs could of course have different moves, but to my ear, he uses the same B bass/IV chord move in various ways in John Henry, Old Country Stomp and Lovin' Babe, in addition to Red River and Charmin' Betsy.

I listened through again and tried the X-X-0-4-3-0 chord, and I still don't hear it.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Henry Thomas
« Reply #26 on: May 26, 2009, 03:24:29 PM »
Hi all,
I agree with uncle bud that Henry Thomas's basic time stroke for his tunes that do not involve actual picking entails having his right thumb pretty much live on the fifth string for the "booms" in his cut-time approach, with the "changs" falling on the first three or four strings on the off-beat.  Having the V note in the bass for the tunes played in D position does give a more droney sound than the root would, as he noted, and I think also that having such a uniform approach in the right hand results in a very strong and consistent pulse, while paradoxically accentuating the minimal changes in the harmony as the songs go along.  Having such a reduced harmonic pallette has the effect of bringing the melody front and center and featuring it very strongly.  This can especially be noted on the tunes with quills.  Henry Thomas really had a wonderful sound,  and in some respects I think his time is his most elusive quality.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Johnm

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Re: Henry Thomas
« Reply #27 on: May 28, 2009, 11:02:47 AM »
Hi all,
The question of what Henry Thomas was doing in his right and left hands on "Charming Betsy" made me curious about his playing in the C position.  When I went back and listened to those tunes, I found his approach differed quite a bit from how he played in D position. 
For whatever reason, in C position, he was much more inclined to play an alternating bass.  In "Bob McKinney", he starts out doing an alternation under his C position chord going from the third fret of the sixth string to the third fret of the fifth string, a very unusual alternation I've almost never encountered in this music.  For his IV chord, F, he often frets the first fret of the sixth string, but I've never yet heard him fret the first fret of the first string--he leaves it open.  He tends to hit multiple strings a lot, with big thumb brush strokes as he does his alternation, and also will drop the alternation intermittently and do monotonic brush strokes.   He plays no quills on any of the songs he played out of C position, and since he was either capoing or playing a smaller version of the guitar for his recordings, the reason for not using C position to back up the quills is not obvious.  There are lots of mysteries with Henry Thomas and his music, as there are with many players of his generation.
All best,
Johnm

Offline crawlinkingsnake

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Henry Thomas
« Reply #28 on: March 24, 2013, 10:33:08 AM »
Always knew there was more to the Canned Heat recording "Going Up The Country" than most were aware. But until now I had no knowledge of Henry Thomas and his "Bull Doze Blues" [http://fingerstyleblues.com/bull-doze-blues/] from 1928.

Most glad to fine this out. Guess it just goes to show you can sometimes teach an old dog new tricks.  :)

Offline wreid75

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Re: Henry Thomas
« Reply #29 on: March 24, 2013, 01:56:51 PM »
For anyone that is willing to put up an investment that likely never pay off there is a wealth of information that Mack McCormick has.  People focus heavily on his RJ research but what he has on Ragtime Texas is impressive from what I have been told by several sources.  Hell the cat even gives out his home phone number.


[url=http://nonjohn.com/Mack%20McCormick.htm]http://nonjohn.com/Mack%20McCormick.htm]

[url]http://nonjohn.com/Mack%20McCormick.htm]http://nonjohn.com/Mack%20McCormick.htm]http://nonjohn.com/Mack%20McCormick.htm]

[url]http://nonjohn.com/Mack%20McCormick.htm
[/url]
Robert "Mack"


Wreid, I removed the address and phone number , we discourage it and I think have a policy on it.  Thanks.

Slack
« Last Edit: March 24, 2013, 02:25:19 PM by Slack »

 


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