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I think I heard the Bob Lee boat when she moaned - Charlie Patton, Hammer Blues

Author Topic: Is Blind Boy Fuller really easier?  (Read 8579 times)

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Offline a2tom

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Is Blind Boy Fuller really easier?
« on: November 05, 2005, 05:00:26 AM »
It's a question that always dogs me - why, or is, Fuller more accessible than some others?  I know I'm not the only person who has had the reaction.  When I listen to Fuller I think "man this guy was great", and he was.  But when I go to learn his songs, I can generally learn them faster than counterparts.  For example, I've tried to play Blind Lemon's Bad Luck Blues for ages.  I can sort of play it, but not convcingly.  Last night I went to learn Fuller Meat Shakin Woman, which is pretty clearly a deivative of Bad Luck Blues.  I picked it up much more easily. 

I scratch my head at this.  OK, I did struggle for a while with the double-thumbing thing which is a stumbling block if you want to learn Fuller, but I more or less have that down now.  But specific issues of technique aside, I guess maybe some of the wizardy of Fuller was to take slightly more straightfoward licks and build them into great songs?   Or is it all a fallacy that its easier - maybe I just "get" his style more than someone like Lemon or Blake.

tom

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Is Blind Boy Fuller really easier?
« Reply #1 on: November 07, 2005, 08:17:52 AM »
Been thinking about this. I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. There are plenty of Fuller tunes that could be qualified as hard. A lot of the stuff in A that derives from Gary Davis (e.g., Mamie and the like)  is quite tricky. Some of the easier raggy stuff gets quite tricky when he speeds it up and embellishes it (e.g., Shake It Baby, Piccolo Rag).

Something like Blind Lemon's Bad Luck Blues may be trickier because the bass isn't what you'd expect, the time is sort of counterintuitively straight and doesn't swing like Meat Shakin' Woman. Lemon in general is certainly quirkier, his time and bass work less predictable, there's more use of less common chord partials and extended riffs. His guitar parts are also tied to the vocal in an unusual way, even though they are usually very different from the vocal, and don't support it in the typical manner of, say, a I - VI - II - V rag from Fuller. (That quality, by the way, is a big part of the magic of Lemon for me). A lot of Lemon's guitar parts sound strange in fact without the vocal on top of them. The two need to go together before you really "get" the song. Fuller's guitar parts are much more rhythm guitar-like, can stand on their own to a certain degree - not speaking in terms of performance here, just in terms of learning.

When Paul Rishell teaches Fuller at workshops, he has high praise for the logical construction of Fuller's guitar parts, which often fit together like well-designed puzzles. Everything flows well, fits neatly, he uses open strings effectively (e.g., tossing them in as part of a melody or bass line while moving from chord to chord), his bass work moves neatly from place to place...

Fuller is also just more immediately accessible. For the most part, it's upbeat, bouncy, melodically and harmonically pleasant music.

I've been listening to Fuller a lot lately. He's highly underrated IMO. A great singer, very good guitar player, a very smooth package. Is he easier to play than Lemon or Blake? Yes, I think so, in many respects and for a certain number of songs. Although if you can play Mamie or Funny Feeling Blues convincingly, you're certainly ready to give some of the trickier Lemon or Blake tunes a shot.

Online Johnm

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Re: Is Blind Boy Fuller really easier?
« Reply #2 on: November 07, 2005, 11:08:52 AM »
Hi all,
I agree with you, Andrew, that Fuller is terribly under-rated.  I think in terms of present-day appreciation/estimation of his music, he suffers from the same critical "kiss of death" that Leroy Carr does--they both committed the crime of being very popular and selling a lot of records.  I think another factor that has contributed to a general under-valuing of Fuller's music is that for many years, it seemed as though every time he was mentioned, it was only for the purpose of being compared unfavorably with Rev. Davis or being described as a student of Davis.  I am dubious of the extent to which Fuller was a student of Davis's.  Apart from a few moves in A standard, their playing is really not that similar.  If Fuller was a student of Davis's, I would say he didn't pay attention that well, and we can be thankful for that.  I think we are much more fortunate to end up with Fuller playing as he did and Davis playing as he did, than to have Fuller playing more like Davis.  One Rev. Davis is plenty.
I think Lemon is far more difficult to reproduce than Fuller, because the link-up between his (Lemon's) singing and his accompaniment was so complex, probably rivaled for complexity only by Charlie Patton.  I think also, as you point out, that Lemon's straight eighth notes may be harder to hear and feel than Fuller's swung eighth notes, especially in this post-shuffle era. In a general sense, I think Lemon and Blake were far more technically accomplished players than Fuller, though he was a great player in his own right.
Fuller was just great, and you can't get the full picture of him without taking into consideration his wonderful singing.  It's like he always had the right amount of phlegm rattling around in his throat.  He spawned a generation of imitators in the eastern United States, many of whom were really good players and singers themselves.  As far as I'm concerned, when people talk about Piedmont guitar style, they might just as well call it "playing like Blind Boy Fuller".
All best,
Johnm

Offline a2tom

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Re: Is Blind Boy Fuller really easier?
« Reply #3 on: November 07, 2005, 05:05:26 PM »
You'll get no argument from me as to his greatness.  I agree that the dismissiveness that Davis seemed to have in the famous quotes, etc, seems to have left some collective misimpression about Fuller.  I guess that's what I find odd about the fact that I really have had better success with his material.  I like the notion that his arrangements are so seamless, which many of the ones I know are.  Part of that may be stylistic and historical, but also attests to his ability as an arranger - as someone who messes quite a lot with writing and arranging on the guitar I really appreciate that skill, to make great songs not quite SO difficult to play perhaps.  I also hear you that may be I just haven't gotten to the toughest stuff yet!   Mamie is indeed a favorite (I love when Mamie calls...) near the top of the learn list, as is Untrue Blues.  I play too much rag in C anyway!

Basically, I get better everyday, if only a tiny bit, and maybe someday I'll be really ready for Blake, Davis and Lemon, but for now I feel like I could do a lot worse than systematically work through Fuller's many ideas.

tom

Easy Rider

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Re: Is Blind Boy Fuller really easier?
« Reply #4 on: November 10, 2005, 06:24:19 AM »
I'm curious: 
Where can I hear some of BB Fuller? 
Which CDs should I buy?
Where can I get TAB/Music and instructional material?

Offline Slack

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Re: Is Blind Boy Fuller really easier?
« Reply #5 on: November 10, 2005, 06:57:02 AM »
1) You can request Blind Boy Fuller on Weenie Juke

2) You might start with Yazoo's "Truckin' My Blues Away"

3) Ari Eisingers Blind Boy Fuller instruction video is excellent and it comes with tab (somewhere on guitarvideos.com)

Cheers,
slack

Offline GerryC

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Re: Is Blind Boy Fuller really easier?
« Reply #6 on: November 10, 2005, 11:39:23 AM »
There is an excellent multi-CD set from JSP which contains most, if not all of BBF's output remastered. Available from Redlick Records in Wales - www.redlick.com Stefan Grossman also published [some years ago but I think it's still available] a book/CD combo in his Masters of Country Blues Guitar series which is top-notch, covering numbers in most of Fuller's styles and keys. For a detailed biography of Fuller [and many other Piedmont blues musicians] try Red River Blues by Bruce Bastin, available from Borders.

As you might guess, Fuller is one of my favourite artists too, and I think it was pretty uncharitable of Rev Davis to diss him the way he did...

Cheerily,

Gerry C
I done seen better days, but I'm puttin' up with these...

Offline Mike Billo

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Re: Is Blind Boy Fuller really easier?
« Reply #7 on: November 10, 2005, 12:55:34 PM »
There have been many times over the years, when I've heard people refer to Rev. Gary Davis making unflattering comments about Blind Boy Fuller. I always ask "Really? What did he say?" and no one can ever seem to recall any of the quotes, but they're quite sure that they were uncomplimentary.
   
    For a while I began to believe these stories to be apocraphyl.

   However, since this is a pretty knowledgeabl bunch here and the reference has been made again, I'll ask again.

   What did Rev. Gary Davis say?

   We know that they recorded together and I'm sure that my opinion, which is, "What is there to *not* like about Blind Boy Fuller", is representative of mainstream thought, I can't help but be very curious.

Offline a2tom

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Re: Is Blind Boy Fuller really easier?
« Reply #8 on: November 10, 2005, 02:38:21 PM »
My main inference is from comments Stefan Grossman has made in his works, that Davis had said the he "taught Fuller everything he know" and how little Fuller knew outside what Davis taught him, thus engendering the impression that Fuller wasn't much of a player, or creator, on his own.  You may well say that everyone learned from someone, and saying Fuller was a student of Davis isn't damning, but my barometer is that Stefan notes that early on he did in fact think that Fuller was just a cheap imitation of Davis, a Davis-wannabe.  To me that says that Davis was truly creating a negative impression in the mind of his new student.  Now to be clear, Stefan identifies clearly that he later came to identify Fuller as a great artist in his own right - I recall comments about huddling around a record player...  I'm just saying that my understanding that Davis was dissing of Fuller comes from hearing what Stefan said of his own process of discovering Fuller (sorry I can't recall if these comments were in a lesson or in one of his radio broadcasts).  Contrast this with Stefan's frequent retelling of how Davis liked to applaud Blind Blake with statements like "he had a sportin' thumb".

I am sure others who were contemporary with Davis may have more insight.

tom

Offline Mike Billo

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Re: Is Blind Boy Fuller really easier?
« Reply #9 on: November 10, 2005, 10:23:53 PM »
Thanks for the info Tom. That's more specifics than I'd ever heard before.

   I can certainly see where Davis was indeed creating a negative impression in the mind of his student about Fuller.

    Many, many years ago in my youth, I was very fortunate to come into contact with a few old Bluesmen. There was a prevailing cantankerousness among them, that showed itself by labeling any musician they'd ever come in contact with as their "student".
    I'm guessing that something similar may have been going on in this Davis/Fuller scenario.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Is Blind Boy Fuller really easier?
« Reply #10 on: November 11, 2005, 08:51:20 AM »
Davis allegedly didn't have much good to say about any guitar players aside from Blind Blake, and possibly Willie Walker if I recall correctly (but don't quote me !). Davis's criticism of Fuller comes from Stefan Grossman's Rev. Gary Davis, Oak Publications 1974. Bruce Bastin quotes from it in Red River Blues (I don't have the Grossman book):

Gary Davis never rated Fuller much as a musician [this is Bastin, and one could argue that he is putting words in Davis's mouth here]. "When I first run across him he didn't know how to play but one piece and that was with a knife. He wanted to take some of my training. I'd sit down and he'd come up to my house every day and sit down and play. I taught him how to play. He would have been alright if I kept him under me long enough."

That could actually be taken as critical, or as faint praise.

But Bastin also quotes Fuller's wife, Cora Mae:

Fuller was not blind until 1928 and only then became seriously involved with music. Cora Mae recalled him "messing with (music) a little before, but then that's all he did after." Earlier she remembered that "no one taught him to play. He just took it up on his own. He played by himself as far as I can recall...." "He'd sit down and rehearse that box--sometimes about all day long."

Bastin also notes "Willie Trice remembered that Davis taught Fuller how to play in the key of A, and local bluesmen corroborated this, while many of Davis's guitar characteristics, such as the fast finger-picked runs and the powerful bass line, are to be found in Fuller's playing."

He also quotes J.B. Long: "Every song he knew was some he bought the record and learned from..."

And he says "Fuller's role in the evolving fabric of the Carolina blues needs thorough revision." He claims Fuller was not an originator of a style but a "master of eclecticism".  He also writes: "It was plain at that time [i.e., the writing of Bastin's Crying for the Carolines] that Fuller had drawn heavily on other artists and on recorded examples, but it was not so evident that perhaps a chief source of his inspiration and certainly of his musical improvement had been Gary Davis."

Later in the chapter he reiterates the Davis influence. "Fuller in his turn was to become the most influential bluesman in the southeastern states, and there can be few bluesmen of the late 1930s and 1940s who hadn't heard his records. Much of what they heard was really Davis. If Fuller's influence was direct, via record rather than in person, Davis's influence was implicit rather than obvious."

Now, I'll concede that even lessons from Gary Davis limited to the key of A would be grounds for tremendous "musical improvement", but I just don't buy Davis as Fuller's chief source of inspiration and influence  or that many characteristics of his playing can be found in Fuller's playing.

I think Bastin and Grossman are in large part to "blame" for the typical perception of Fuller as a lesser artist and a poor man's Gary Davis. (But Bastin's book should be on every Weenie shelf: it is tremendous despite my criticism here.)

And I think Mike has hit the nail on the head and that there is a good bit of the bluesman bullshit in all of this! Davis was more than capable of it.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Is Blind Boy Fuller really easier?
« Reply #11 on: November 11, 2005, 11:11:53 AM »
Just to clarify a couple points, when I say Bastin "claims Fuller was not an originator of a style but a master of eclecticism", I actually agree with him to a certain extent there. Also when I assign blame to Bastin and Grossman, I'm being slightly facetious and perhaps should have put a wink there. Fuller is indeed, in my opinion, a "lesser artist" than Davis, or perhaps it's better to say he's not the genius Davis was. But he's still often not given his due as one of the great country blues artists, and as far as his reputation of the past several decades, Bastin and Grossman's comments seem to have been influential.

Offline waxwing

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Re: Is Blind Boy Fuller really easier?
« Reply #12 on: November 11, 2005, 12:12:52 PM »
I think a lot of this depends on whether you take a guitar centric or a more holistic view of these artists. No one can deny that the Rev. is the darling of the guitar centric crowd and was a strong proponent of it, in a very competitive way, himself. (I mean, anyone who wouldn't bother to take his cigar out of his mouth to sing a song must not really give much shrift to the vocals, eh?) I'm trying to remember where I recently read of the Rev. dissing even Lemon, by playing a Lemon lick and then letting out a blood curdling scream, claiming that Lemon just screamed louder than everyone else.

But there are many blues artists who created great blues without being the greatest guitarist in the world. They were great singers, or great lyricists, or just created a great package, with everything coalescing to be a moving piece. I think Fuller, when looked at in this way, created some wonderful blues, more moving to many, perhaps, than some of the Rev.'s pieces, impressive as they may be to a guitarist. I guess it's often a question of taste

Maybe this doesn't address the original question of this thread. I would say all guitar players are easier than some, but harder than others, but I would still rank Fuller up there. Perhaps not as stellar as Davis, Jefferson and Blake, but better and more imaginative than many.

Interesting fact perhaps relating to some of the discussion in this thread: Terry Robb mentioned last night that Stefan owns the publishing rights to the name Reverend Gary Davis, hence Woody's book of Davis' tab is titled Rag Time Guitar.

All for now.
John C.
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Offline Prof Scratchy

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Re: Is Blind Boy Fuller really easier?
« Reply #13 on: November 12, 2005, 03:45:00 AM »
A naive European question: how on earth can someone be allowed to own the publishing rights to someone else's name? Has the world gone totally crackers??

norman

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Re: Is Blind Boy Fuller really easier?
« Reply #14 on: November 13, 2005, 12:39:42 PM »
it does sound very strange. please enlighten us

 


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