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The piano may do for lovesick girls who lace themselves to skeletons, and lunch on chalk, pickles, and slate pencils. But give me the banjo... When you want genuine music - music that will come right home to you like a bad quarter, suffuse your system like strychnine whiskey . . . ramify your whole constitution like the measles, and break out on your hide like the pin-feather pimples on a picked goose - when you want all this, just smash your piano, and invoke the glory-beaming banjo! - Mark Twain, Early Tales and Sketches, Vol 2 (1864-65)

Author Topic: Jesse Fuller  (Read 6644 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Jesse Fuller
« on: June 01, 2005, 10:57:12 PM »
Hi all,
With all the interest expressed in 12-string guitars and the people who played them, it's a little surprising the Jesse Fuller's name doesn't come up more often.  I've been listening lately to an album of his on the Good Time Jazz label from 1958 ( I got it used).  It is called "Jesse Fuller--Jazz, Folk Songs, Spirituals and Blues", and it is really good.  His program on it reminds me of the breadth of repertoire that people like John Jackson had, and that Warner Williams, who was at PT last summer, still has.  Jesse's repertoire seems to have had more in common with John Jackson's than with Warner's, being a bit more heavily based in Folk and less grounded in Pop.
On this record, Jesse's preferred playing position is definitely G in standard tuning, with C a close second.  He also does one song each in E standard and D standard.  He had a way of keeping time that was really nice, just sort of churning and munching away.  This, combined with the fact that he was a one-man band, accompanying himself on cymbal, guitar and kazoo on a rack (sometimes both on the same song), and an instrument of his own invention, the fotdella, that enabled him to play bass with foot pedals, allowed Jesse to achieve a full ensemble sound all by himself.  His description of how he came up with the fotdella is worth quoting.
   "I took me a whole week one time when I wasn't doing anything,and I made this thing I call the fotdella in my back room.  I just got the idea lyin' in bed one night, just like I write songs. I lie down on the bed and write songs at night.  I thought about doin' something like that so I could have somethin' to go along with me and help me out instead of another fellow.  I just took some masonite, heated some wood in hot water and rounded it off around a wheel.  I learned that in the barrel factory where I used to work--that's the way they do the staves.  They make cotton pickin' baskets the same way.  I tried to use bass fiddle strings, but they don't sound so good, they stretch out of tune so I use piano strings.  My wife named it the fotdella because I played it with my foot, like "foot diller".
Jesse starts off the program with three songs in G, "Take This Hammer", which he describes as his favorite, "Linin' Track", and "I'm Gonna Meet My Loving Mother", which Jaybird Coleman and Ollis Martin did as the great harmonica duet  "I'm Gonna Cross That River of Jordan".  Jesse was fond of going to the E minor chord when playing in G, and often did it in a really pretty, churchy way, using it to precede a D chord near the end of a phrase.  "Tiger Rag", played in C, features some irresistibly funky harmonica playing; in a certain kind of way he is not doing all that much, but his time is so great that he doesn't need to do anything more.  For "Memphis Rag" he returns to G, and "Raise a Ruckus" is performed in C.  Side two opens with the hymn "Bye and Bye", followed by an instrumental, "Fingerbuster" that would be a great candidate for the "Blues and Circle of Fifths" thread.  It is an exceptionally nifty tune in which an extended circle of fifths progression is walked through with a step-wise descending bass line.  Boy, is it put together beautifully!  "Stagolee" follows, and it is really interesting, for it is the only tune on the album Jesse plays out of D standard.  John Hurt similarly played "Stackerlee" out of D, and it seems conceivable that Jesse heard his record of it.  There are a couple of verses in common and the melodies of the two versions are similar.  When the differences in the versions are considered, though, it is just as likely, or moreso, I suppose, that Jesse put together his version based on ways he had heard the song done in his travels, or had come up with on his own.  "99 Years" is played in E standard, and is done using the melody and lyrics I associate with the bluegrass version of the song.  It is nothing like Julius Daniels's version.  "Hesitation Blues" is done in the major, a la Charlie Poole or Buddy Boy Hawkins.
Jesse was born in Georgia but left home at a very early age, and seems to have travelled throughout most of the United States.  Perhaps as a result of having left Georgia in his early life, his playing does not have the Georgia sound of the twelve-string players from there in the late '20s:  Willie McTell, Barbecue Bob, Charley Lincoln, George Carter, and Willie Baker.  I look forward to picking up more of his recordings on Arhoolie and Original Blues Classics.  If you like 12-string guitar and a pre-Blues/songster type of material, you may really like what he did.  Do any of you have other favorite recordings of him or remembrances of him?
All best,
Johnm

Offline Stuart

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Re: Jesse Fuller
« Reply #1 on: June 02, 2005, 05:59:14 AM »
John:

Jesse Fuller has always been a favorite of mine, but the only song I ever learned was "San Francisco Bay Blues,"--and then it was a mish-mash of the various covers that had been done over the years. I have a few of his LPs that I picked up in the early 70s, but they are in Shoreline, WA. When I get back there, I'll go through them--maybe some haven't been issued on CD.?

As you point out, he certainly didn't limit himself to what we might refer to "strict blues" (if indeed this categorization really makes any sense upon closer examination). There's a lot of interesting territory to be explored in this man's music and I would encourage folks to take a listen.

Stuart

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Jesse Fuller
« Reply #2 on: June 02, 2005, 06:56:23 AM »
Hi John,

I enjoy Jesse a lot and am also surprised he's not referred to more in general. Like you say, he's a rhythm machine, and I think a really fine singer with a great gravelly, raspy voice. I have the album you mention and like it a lot - Take This Hammer is simple but beautifully done. I think "Fingerbuster" is one he's also recorded as "Tickling the Strings". Serious picking.

There's a CD called Brother Lowdown that is "double-length" and is essentially the SF Bay Blues album and the Jesse Fuller's Favorites album put together I believe. Probably my favorite tune of his is Red River Blues from the Favorites/Lowdown records, based a little bit on One Dime Blues but it's own tune and a smokin' good one. I've tried with limited success to work it out. It can be a little tricky I find trying to distinguish low bass notes on the 12-string from the fotdella sometimes. You Can't Keep a Good Man Down is another great one, same record. I am interested in hearing the Arhoolie, which I don't have.

Edited to add: The "Favorites" record is on the Juke, by the way.
« Last Edit: June 02, 2005, 07:03:28 AM by uncle bud »

Offline Stuart

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Re: Jesse Fuller
« Reply #3 on: June 02, 2005, 10:51:57 AM »
Uncle Bud:

Looks like "Brother Lowdown" is the CD version of the original Fantasy 2 LP set. As I recall, the Fantasy Grey/Silver 2 LP series was a re-packaging of the earlier Prestige/Bluesville LPs, but I could be wrong. Anyway, one thing that I have found is that the CDs often have tracks left off owing to the CD time limit. So much music, so little time!

Stu

Offline Stuart

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Re: Jesse Fuller
« Reply #4 on: June 02, 2005, 10:59:07 AM »
One more thing--here's the URL to the FantasyJazz.com page:

http://www.fantasyjazz.com/catalog/fuller_j_cat.html

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Jesse Fuller
« Reply #5 on: June 02, 2005, 11:21:53 AM »
Uncle Bud:

Looks like "Brother Lowdown" is the CD version of the original Fantasy 2 LP set. As I recall, the Fantasy Grey/Silver 2 LP series was a re-packaging of the earlier Prestige/Bluesville LPs, but I could be wrong. Anyway, one thing that I have found is that the CDs often have tracks left off owing to the CD time limit. So much music, so little time!

You're right, Stu. Also, doublechecking the tracklists, Brother Lowdown incorporates all the tracks from the "Favorites" record, and others that came from the original "San Francisco Bay Blues" record from 1963 on Prestige Folklore (FL 14006  or FL 14023 or Prestige 7718 - thank God for Stefan Wirz's discography site: http://www.wirz.de/music/fullefrm.htm). Weirdly, there is another record with a very similar title, "San Francisco Bay Blues: The Amazing One Man Band,"  with different tracks, which is the SF Bay Blues CD currently available from Fantasy and listed on the link you posted. I got really confused looking at the Fantasy website and the tracklists because of this! Also means I've got another Fuller CD to buy.  :o

Thanks for the info.
« Last Edit: June 02, 2005, 11:33:50 AM by uncle bud »

Offline Cambio

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Re: Jesse Fuller
« Reply #6 on: June 02, 2005, 11:27:24 AM »
I am also a big Jesse Fuller fan. ?"Jazz, Folksongs, Spirituals and Blues" has a permanent place in the music rotation in my truck and my shop. ?It's such a great, up beat record, perfect for driving or getting things done!
He is one of my favorite harmonica players, not to mention the fact that he's playing on a rack. ?He does play in a very rhythmic old time style, which reminds me of the way my grandfather used to play the harp. ?His solo on Fingerbusters is absolutely perfect.
I remember reading an interview of Jesse Fuller, where the reporter was asking some very leading questions, trying to get the sort of answers that a young, white reporter might want to hear. ?He asked Jesse who his favorite musician was and Jesse replied, "Tony Bennett". ?He more than likely gave that answer because of the royalties he received for Tony Bennett's recording of San Francisco Bay Blues, but he really threw the reporter for a loop.

Offline Eldergreene

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Re: Jesse Fuller
« Reply #7 on: June 13, 2005, 12:34:08 PM »
Hope y'all don't mind if I bump this thread; some 30+ years ago I had an album by JF that contained a song I loved called "Fables Ain't Nothin' but Doggone Lies", I can't for the life of me recall the lyrics now, & wonder if anyone out there can supply them?

Thanks

EG

Offline Stuart

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Re: Jesse Fuller
« Reply #8 on: June 13, 2005, 02:24:18 PM »
EG:

Looks like it is on both "Brother Lowdown" and "Favorites." Both are available on CD. However, I don't have the lyrics.

Stu

Offline GerryC

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Re: Jesse Fuller
« Reply #9 on: June 27, 2005, 10:23:18 AM »
I don't have the Jesse Fuller version of 'Fables', but a few years ago the song was recorded by the English singer/songwriter/guitarist Ralph McTell on one of two CDs he made as a tribute to his early blues, ragtime and jug-band influences. The lyrics Ralph sings are as follows:

1. Uncle Josh's nephew was a student of letters, come home with a? ? ? ? book one night;
Said he to his uncle, 'This is Aesop's fables and I don't understand it right;
Will you kindly explain what it means by a fable, does it mean what I think it might?'
Uncle Josh's eyes looked extremely wise and thoughtfully he replied...
Fables are stories often told in ordinary walks of life
Fables are stories that a wife tells a husband and a husband tells a wife;
Fables are stories we really believe 'til somebody puts us right;
In the olden days they called 'em fables but they nothing' but doggone lies.

2. [First part harmonica break]
Fables are stories told by candidates just before election day;
Fables are stories told to the wife when her husband's far away;
Fables are stories we really believe 'til sombody puts us right;
In the olden days they called 'em fables but they nothin' but doggone lies.

3. Now they tell us that Adam was the husband of Eve, he was the first with the Lord's consent.
Now we can't deny there was no other person to give him an argument;
He was made outta mud by a fence that stood there 'til the Lord come and give him sense;
But what puzzles me most and I'd like to know, who in the dickens built that fence???
Fables are stories when a girl of sixteen may tell you that she never been kissed;
Fables are stories when a just-arrived sailor sees just how bad he's missed;
Fables are stories that eyes can tell when eye looks into eye;
In the olden days they called 'em fables but they nothin' but doggone lies.

As I say, I haven't been able to compare Ralph's version with the original, but he is faithful to the original lyrics on the other songs he recorded on these CDs, which are Called 'Blues Skies, Black Heroes' and 'Stealin' Back'. I think they're still available from Ralph's website www.ralphmctell.co.uk He's not the greatest blues singer - as he would be the first to admit - but he really puts over well the ragtime and jug-band stuff. And he's a fine guitarist by any standard. Oh and a GREAT songwriter.

Cheerily,

Gerry C
« Last Edit: June 27, 2005, 10:31:54 AM by GerryC »
I done seen better days, but I'm puttin' up with these...

Offline Eldergreene

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Re: Jesse Fuller
« Reply #10 on: June 28, 2005, 03:50:56 PM »
That's great Gerry - thanks indeed

Easy Rider

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Re: Jesse Fuller
« Reply #11 on: August 29, 2005, 07:49:49 AM »
Does anybody here play Jessie Fuller's "The Monkey and the Engineer"?

I would LOVE to get a TAB/Music transcription, so I could learn it.

Offline JuanA

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Re: Jesse Fuller
« Reply #12 on: August 29, 2005, 04:54:28 PM »
I play a version of this song for my nieces and nephews.  The Grateful Dead did this song on I think "Reckoning " and there is a tabbed version @ rukind.com. Little kids love this song when I play it on my style N.
-John
 :)

Offline Slack

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Re: Jesse Fuller
« Reply #13 on: September 03, 2005, 11:10:02 AM »
Welcome SpikeDriver!

Offline dj

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Re: Jesse Fuller
« Reply #14 on: July 27, 2006, 01:49:16 PM »
I was just browsing in Bruce Bastin's Red River Blues (you'd think I'd have it memorized by now), when I came upon some interesting information apropos of this thread.  Jesse Fuller was born in Georgia.  In Jonesboro, just south of Atlanta, to be exact.  It's worth quoting Bastin here:

"As a boy, he heard his first guitar blues - "frailing blues", perhaps like the Hicks brothers - in Stockbridge (Henry County), adjoining Newton County.  Moving to Red Oak in the southwest outskirts of Atlanta, he learned to play banjo from a brother-in-law, Melvin Moore.  He used to travel to McDonough (Henry County) to hear blues, where many others recalled fine musicians from the past, but eventually took off on his travels, which modified his style.  By no means a Georgia bluesman as such, he plays a twelve-stringed guitar."

Note:  Newton County, where Fuller heard "frailing blues", was the childhood home of Curley Weaver and Robert and Charlie Hicks (Barbecue Bob and Laughing Charlie Lincoln).

 


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