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My money's gone, my fun is gone, the way things look, how can I be here long? Mm mm mm, I got them Eisenhower blues. Thinkin' about me and you, what on earth are we gonna do? - J.B. Lenoir, Eisenhower Blues

Author Topic: Blues of St. Louis  (Read 13750 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Blues of St. Louis
« on: November 25, 2003, 09:52:58 AM »
Hi all,
I've been thinking a lot for a number of months about the Blues that came out of St. Louis in the pre-War and immediate post-War period.  There was tremendous variety and a number of distinctive musical qualities not frequently encountered elsewhere in Blues of that period.  In the very early or almost pre-Blues category you have Henry Spaulding, of "Cairo" and "Biddle Street", and the early Teddy Darby, like "Lawdy Lawdy Blues".  Off to the side you have Clifford Gibson, who really didn't sound like anyone else there.  You have a host of guys originally from Mississippi, like Henry Townsend, J.D. Short, Charley Jordan, possibly Lane Hardin and Hi Henry Brown, who tended to favor E as the key to play in.  Tons of piano players, too, Walter Davis, Romeo Nelson, and guys like Peetie Wheatstraw and Henry Townsend who doubled on guitar and piano.  Henry Townsend told Michael Roach when Michael interviewed him last year that he (Henry) taught Walter Davis how to play the piano!
One of the qualities I have noticed in a lot of St. Louis Blues, from Teddy Darby  to Clifford Gibson to Walter Davis right on up to the present-day Henry Townsend is a less heavy reliance on the common pool of blues lyrics than you encounter elsewhere, resulting (to my ear) in more distinctive and player-specific sounding songs.  There also seem to be more Blues with lyrics speaking to social issues than you encounter in a lot of places.  
Another quality encountered in some of the St. Louis blues is an expanded and sometimes contracted harmonic sense.  On the expanded side, you have Walter Davis, who was utterly distinctive, and such tunes as Clifford Gibson's "Don't Put That Thing On Me".  On the contracted side, you have the early Henry Townsend one-chorders like "She's Got a Mean Disposition" and "Henry Mistreated Blues", that for excitement and varied use of the right hand rival anything Charlie Patton and Big Joe Williams did.
Has anybody else been listening to this stuff?  At PT this past summer I picked up the first and last volumes of the complete Walter Davis on Document.  There are so many ideas to pursue there that it's hard to know where to start.  At the very least, he shows ways to expand the chordal vocabulary  of Blues in ways that sound both different from what we're accustomed to hearing and appropriate.  On the transcription side, such a tiny percentage of the guitar performances have been figured out that there are a tremendous number of sounds that just about nobody is doing nowadays.  I hope to transcribe a Lane Hardin tune for the next on-line lesson.  
Anybody interested in this stuff?
All Best,
John        

Offline Caindawg

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #1 on: November 25, 2003, 04:15:36 PM »
Man I haven't heard of half those guys, but the mule is big with me. Just love his spontaneity and sense for iprov.

I do a version of Henry's "Tears come Rolling Down" on my cd. (clip at http://www.canadianblues.ca/store/caindawgst01.htm)

of course I kinda moved it over to guitar with the use of my artistic license...

I sent him a copy of the cd but he's never replied...




cd

Offline lindy

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #2 on: November 27, 2003, 08:14:38 AM »
John:

Thanks for all the information on St. Louis players, unexplored territory for me, I recognize about half of the names you mention.  I adore the Henry Townsend version of "Cairo" that's on one of those Vestapol "Legends of Country Blues" videos; from your message it sounds like he copped it from another Henry, and I would like to hear the original.  I've been sitting on a list of CDs to buy, and will add a few in this area if you can make some recommendations.  I seem to remember Yazoo having an anthology with a St. Louis focus, any other overview CDs you know of?  

I'm not terribly surprised to hear that St. Louis CB players were distinctive. There was a vibrant jazz scene in East St. Louis in the 30's and 40's--that's where Miles Davis came from--but unlike Kansas City or Los Angeles during the 40's and 50's or New Orleans earlier, there wasn't enough cohesiveness among the players for it to be considered a "sound" (similar to "the Kansas City sound" or "the Chicago sound").  Or maybe it's just the way we categorize these things so that we don't put together all those names you mentioned and view them as something distinctive and unified from that area.  Whatever, I haven't bought a CD in at least 3 weeks, my hands are starting to shake a bit, please make a recommendation or two.

Something that struck my eye in your message was the phrase "Henry Townsend one-chorders."  For a while I've had an idea in the back of my head to ask you and maybe one or two other faculty to do a PT session called "One-chord Wonders" or "Two-chord Wonders" where y'all present just a little bit of information on a whole lot of songs that fit that description.  Let us work on the niceties when we get home.  The potential list of songs is very, very long.  Lots of opportunities to introduce past players we're not familiar with.

The last couple of weeks in New Orleans have been filled with power trios .  Last night was Tab Benoit, a great electric player, with two local blues/funk musicians. A week ago Saturday was James Blood Ulmer, best known as an outside, free-form jazz player who has recently returned to the blues.  Kind of.  Ulmer's solo version of "Trouble in Mind" was a good example of country blues from Mars or Uranus.

Ain't no country blues in the Big Easy as far as I can tell, but I'll keep looking.  Maybe that's why they put Mississippi next door.

Lindy

Offline Johnm

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #3 on: November 27, 2003, 10:20:41 AM »
Hi all,
I checked for good St. Louis CDs, Lindy.  Yazoo had two great anthologies, 1003 St. Louis Town, and 1030 St.Louis Blues, which contained a high percentage of the artists I mentioned.  The only problem is, I don't know if those titles survived into the present day CD era.  I checked the Document catalog, and came up with the following pertinent entries:
DOCD 5036 Backwoods Blues--not a geography-based anthology, but it has the complete recorded works of Bo Weavil Jackson, Boby Grant, King Solomon Hill and Lane Hardin, any one of which would make it worthwhile.  Grant and Hardin are exceedingly under-recorded--two titles apiece.
DOCD-5147 St.Louis Country Blues.  This might be the one to plop for.  It has Henry Spaulding's two cuts, all of Henry Townsend's pre-war solo recordings (15 titles!), and all of J. D Short's early recordings, including the great "It's Hard Time"
BDCD-6042 has the complete recordings of Teddy Darby, 20 titles.  He was a great writer and singer, with a pretty varied sound and great lyrics.
BDCD-6015 has the complete early recordings of Clifford Gibson, 23 titles.  He was a great player and singer, who specialized in Open G, Open D and E standard.  Outstanding lyricist, too.  On one of the cuts he backs up Jimmie Rodgers, the Yodeling Brakeman!
Your observations about St. Louis having an active Jazz scene are right on.  A lot of great players down through the years have come out of the greater St. Louis area, including Clark Terry, Miles Davis, and modern people like Henry Threadgill, Gregory Osby and Marty Ehrlich.  Blood Ulmer is a trip, isn't he?  I saw him a number of years ago with Ornette Coleman and it was pretty wild.
I would definitely be up for a class session at PT devoted to one or two-chord tunes, with an approach stressing right hand techniques and getting a sound as opposed to transcription per se.  The one-chorders tend to be more improvisatory anyway, so it seems to be more of an issue of getting a repertoire of moves and then playing a lot to let the rhythmic feel steep a bit and develop some richness.
I went and listened to your tune, CAINDAWG, good to hear the different approach on Henry's tune.
I hope everybody is doing fine and having a Happy Thanksgiving.
All Best,
John  

Offline waxwing

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #4 on: November 28, 2003, 11:38:03 PM »
Hey JohnM, et al,
Funny you should bring this up as I'm working my way through David Evans' Big Road Blues, totally at the other end of the traditional/original spectrum. I'm really enjoying his in depth sense of a local tradition, and it is enhanced by the fact that, even back when he was writing this in the '70's, he was a hell of a player. The book is filled with examples of guitar transcriptions (albeit in standard notation) that have given me a strong musical sense of the Drew tradition and the ways different players put together the elements. And lots of new material to work on. I'm just about to start the chapter on the song itself. I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn't, yet. If it gets too into the details at times, just skip ahead. I haven't had to.
I'm also enjoying my temporary "retired" lifestyle. Perhaps too much? Nah.
Anyway, St Louis. Well, I've known about Walter Davis since I discovered he wrote Come Back Baby, which is really the song that brought me back to the guitar, and more specifically, country blues (thank you DVR). Expanded is right, I don't know of any of the many arrangements of that tune, that capture his harmonic sense. I have vol. 5 of the Document set. You recommended Cifford Gibson to me at PT and, tho' I haven't transcribed anything from the Document CD as yet, I've listened to it quite a bit. When I listened to the mp3 of Charlie Jordan's Big Four, connected to your lesson, I thought I heard some similarities to Gibson's harmonic sense, or voicings. Think I'll take that lesson soon. I have the Document Backwoods Blues CD with Lane Hardin's two songs, tho' I admit I got it for the Bo Weavil Jackson and King Solomon Hill sides. Just gave them a listen and they have a strong pentatonic sound, eh? California Desert Blues seems to work around a C chord, but I can't find an easy way to make it work for Hard Luck Blues, where he seems to slide up to the major 3rd yet still keep the bass thumping. He rarely seems to play the 1st string in either song. Am I way off base? lots of tripled 8th note runs against a thumping bass in any event. Cool.
So why are these St. Louis players so stylistically different? Perhaps there was no strong blues tradition due to the strong jazz presence, but these players were attracted to the solo aspect of the blues they were beginning to hear from outlying areas? Yet they brought a certain jazz urbanity to the form even if they stayed relatively true to the blues harmonic structure. Great topic, John, And more great blues to learn. I listened to the Clifford Gibson CD again, too, and I've just got to choose one to start working on. The choosing seems to be the hard part. They're all great.
All for now,
John C.
« Last Edit: November 28, 2003, 11:40:32 PM by waxwing »
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Offline frankie

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #5 on: November 30, 2003, 07:30:22 AM »
Yazoo had two great anthologies, 1003 St. Louis Town, and 1030 St.Louis Blues, which contained a high percentage of the artists I mentioned.  The only problem is, I don't know if those titles survived into the present day CD era.

They were reissued on CD (I have both of them), but they were allowed to go out of print a couple of years ago when Shanachie/Yazoo sold the last few remaining copies they had in stock.  There might be a few online sellers that have older copies around, and I bought one of mine used, I think...  They're great compilations and worth seeking out if you'd rather not spring for the Documents.

Offline Slack

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #6 on: November 30, 2003, 11:29:20 AM »
I've got both the Yazoo CD's and agree that they are great.  Another alternative is picking them up through Emusic where Yazoo has kindly placed many of their out of print CDs.

Lane Hardin?  Cool, he certainly ranks right up there with obscure artists.  It looks like a total of two sides for Hardin, yes?  I've got a compilation (Greatest in Country Blues Vol. 3) with one of his cuts "California Desert Blues" (reminds me of H Townsend) and notice that Yazoo has another compilation (Hard Times Come Again No More Vol 1) with the other side "Hard Times Blues" - so I'll go grab that and give a listen (and be a Lane Hardin completist.)  Looking forward to the next lesson!

Hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving!

JohnD

Offline waxwing

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #7 on: November 30, 2003, 12:59:55 PM »
JohnM, et al,
Well, in the clear light of a rainy San Francisco morn, I started thinking about Drop D, tuned down to about C. Say, didn't we just work on a song like that? (which the harp player I've been working with loves, BTW. So much so he talked me into playing it at my Third Thursday boat house gig. Perhaps a bit premature, as I stopped and played the intro over, but, once he came in on the harp I was fine, break and all, and folks really liked it. Thanks again, John) Anyway, the drop D tuning makes the bass work pretty easy while doing the pentatonic runs, which work fine around the D chord and make it possible to slide up to the major 3rd on the first string in Hard Times Blues. The slackness from the detuning allows bending of the minor 3rd at the first fret as well, in California Desert Blues. Well, I've just got bits and pieces so far. I could still be in left field.
All for now.
John C.
"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 Johnm

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #8 on: November 30, 2003, 04:12:26 PM »
Hi all,
Neat to see all the activity.  I'm pretty sure, John C., that both "Hard Times" and "California Desert" are in E standard, though tuned quite low, two whole steps, which gets you down to C.  I like both tunes really well, but am nuts about "Hard Times".  I agree, John D., that "California Desert" has a kind of Henry Townsend imprint.  I think the fact that Hardin has the strings so darn slack lets him get those really greasy, highly inflected bends, like Robert Wilkins on "Rolling Stone" or some of the Robert Pete Williams low-tuned G tuning stuff.     Keep going on the low-tuned dropped-D version you're working on, John C., I will be very interested to hear what you come up with.  I'm glad to hear that you played "New Lovin'" out with your harmonica playing friend.  Not hard to see why he would take to the tune.
I listened to the two Lane Hardin tunes today for the first time in a while.  I actually have them on a Mamlish St. Louis anthology.  Are any of you familiar with that label?  It was started by a collector named Don Kent, and generally followed the regional anthology approach of the Nick Perls-era Yazoo.  They were wonderful records, and Kent confined his tune selection to songs that had not already been re-issued by Yazoo and Origin Jazz Library, so it tended to be exceptionally rare stuff.  I lucked into the major portion of the catalog.  I'll post the titles here sometime.  They're really interesting.  Hope all of you are doing fine.  Good to hear that the Yazoo St. Louis anthologies made it into the CD era, Frank, even if they're out of print now.  Who knows, they might show up on Ebay, or could be posted as an Amazon wish.  
All best,
John      

Offline waxwing

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #9 on: December 13, 2003, 10:19:47 AM »
Hey JohnM,
Well, as soon as I read your post, I remembered you saying that pentatonic lick in the treble was a good indicator that the chord forms were in E. I guess I just couldn't get myself to hear it that low. I'm learnin', tho'. I'll keep working on ''Desert'' in Drop D, assuming you're gonna do ''Hard Times''. You're right, tho' I can't really get the expressiveness of his bends at the first fret. Now you've got me going back to some of the Tim Wilkins songs from your vid that I haven't played in a while, particularly ''Jailhouse'' and ''Fallin' Down''. Great stuff.
All for now.
John C.
"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

http://www.youtube.com/user/WaxwingJohn
https://www.facebook.com/WaxwingJohn

Offline Johnm

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #10 on: December 14, 2003, 09:52:28 AM »
Hi John C.,
Good to hear you're going back to some Wilkins songs.  He's a particular favorite of mine, and has some great tunes I have yet to figure out, in particular "Nashville Stonewall".  
Re re-casting Lane Hardin's "Desert" in dropped D, you might find bends you prefer to the first fret of the first string at the fifth or sixth fret of the second string.  The second string is a bit looser there and a bit more bend-friendly.  I think doing songs in positions different from those in which they were originally played often yields really interesting results.  Or you can just take a song type and play it in a tuning/position in which you seldom hear it.  Why don't you ever hear someone do an 8-bar blues in C?  I don't know, but it's there to be done.  Take care.
all best,
John    

Offline Rivers

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #11 on: December 16, 2003, 11:03:20 PM »
Alvin Hart got me totally hooked on early Henry Townsend during one class. I like the way Henry capoes up 3 on the National in open D tuning and plugs away, deep dark modal blues. It's eerie hearing it coming down through the years.

Often the IVs and Vs are just implied with a lick over the top. Sounds more Delta than Delta to me. My faves are Sick With The Blues and Henry's Worried Blues.

I agree with you, both Yazoo St Louis CD comps get a lot of spin time at my house.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #12 on: January 06, 2004, 12:59:20 PM »
Hi all,
This is not so much a reply as a "heads up", I guess.  The last four days or so, I've been engrossed in figuring out Lane Hardin's "Hard Time Blues".  Yesterday afternoon I taped a lesson on it, and mailed it off to John D. this morning, so it should appear on the Weenie site reasonably soon.  I am really excited about this song and would rate it among my very favorite ones I've ever figured out.  It is in the "Cairo Blues" family, but with a lot of its own distinctive touches.  Anyhow, it is on the way.
All best,
John

Offline Slack

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #13 on: January 08, 2004, 08:14:40 PM »
Here is "Hard Time Blues" to keep you tided over until I get the lesson processed.? Absolutely beautiful.

Hard Time Blues MP3 - Lane Hardin

Cheers,
JohnD
« Last Edit: April 10, 2005, 09:37:46 PM by Johnm »

Offline Slack

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Re: Blues of St. Louis
« Reply #14 on: January 09, 2004, 09:12:11 AM »
OK, the new lesson has been posted.? I keep thinking I have this tune in my collection but cannot find it - so I ordered the "Hard Times Come Again No More, Vol. 1" Yazoo compilation.

After listening to the tune a few times, I think that it has? to be one of the prettiest turn arounds I've heard... seems prefect in the context of the song.?I wonder how old Lane Hardin was when this was recorded - he sounds like an old man, but that may be just because of his wavering vocal style, hard to tell.? What incredibly solid playing, his guitar has so much sustain that I think it must be a resonator..??

cheers,
JohnD
« Last Edit: April 10, 2005, 09:40:01 PM by Johnm »

 


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