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Author Topic: One of a Kind--and Great  (Read 13842 times)

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Offline Johnm

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One of a Kind--and Great
« on: February 03, 2006, 08:52:43 AM »
Hi all,
I've been thinking recently about those songs you encounter from time to time in Country Blues that appear to be genuine one-offs; songs where you can't think of any precursor you've heard and which didn't spawn covers or imitations either.  These kinds of songs are particularly tantalizing when they are strong, for they have a sort of "road taken once and never traveled again" feel to them.
To get the ball rolling, I'll mention a couple of songs/performances that I think fall into this category.  There may be earlier versions of these songs of which I'm unaware, or the same for covers, but here goes.
   * "Hunkie Tunkie Blues" by Charley Jordan.  I know Charley Jordan recycled a portion of his accompaniment to "Hunkie Tunkie" on a later duet with Hi Henry Brown, but in that piece he omitted the first four bars--the most striking and distinctive aspect of this song.  Where did the idea come from?  It sounds to be a Latin-influenced groove, but I haven't heard anything else like it coming out of St. Louis or New Orleans in other Country Blues performances of that era.
   * "Down The Highway" by Charlie Pickett.  This one, recorded by one of Sleepy John Estes's erstwhile accompanists is even farther out of the mainstream.  Playing in E, standard tuning, Charlie Pickett sounds to be flat-picking, closely tracking the vocal melody behind his singing, and then concluding each phrase with a very flashy signature lick run that sounds as though it came right out of Spanish guitar.  I don't know enough about Charlie Pickett's recorded output to know if he returned to this sound in other numbers, but I have never heard anyone else in the style do anything remotely like it.  It is on the Juke, I think.
   * "Prison Cell Blues" by Blind Lemon Jefferson.  I know of no other 8-bar blues that conforms to the structure, let alone the feel, of this beautiful song.  Lemon's definitive performance may have scared off imitators, I suppose.  Like the other two songs mentioned here it was played out the E position in standard tuning.

I'd be interested to know other tunes that people consider to fall into this category.
All best,
Johnm

Offline GhostRider

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Re: One of a Kind--and Great
« Reply #1 on: February 03, 2006, 09:58:24 AM »
Hi:

I really like Hunkie Tunkie and Prison Cell.

One I've always thought was One-of-a-Kind is Church Bell Blues by Luke Jordan.

The rocking back and forth between the two sort of E chords during the  opening I part is unduplicated I think and so effective. And the chromatic (boy, ain't I got these terms now) bass run on the low E string at the end of the V chord section.

But more unique is the total lack of repeated lyrical elements in the song, no line or phrase is sung twice, in any fashion. You don't notice it until you think about it. And I have never found another CB tune with this feature (not that one doesn't exist).

Another is the Gary Davis version of Hesitatrion Blues. Is that opening Am-E (Key of C) phrase ever been  duplicated?

Alex

Offline Stuart

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Re: One of a Kind--and Great
« Reply #2 on: February 03, 2006, 10:15:58 AM »
   * "Prison Cell Blues" by Blind Lemon Jefferson.  I know of no other 8-bar blues that conforms to the structure, let alone the feel, of this beautiful song.  Lemon's definitive performance may have scared off imitators, I suppose.  Like the other two songs mentioned here it was played out the E position in standard tuning.

Whlie we are on the subject--Just who was "Nell" and what did she do?

Offline frankie

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Re: One of a Kind--and Great
« Reply #3 on: February 03, 2006, 11:39:06 AM »
These kinds of songs are particularly tantalizing when they are strong, for they have a sort of "road taken once and never traveled again" feel to them.

I think a lot of Lemon's early recordings might fit into this category, more or less: Bad Luck Blues, Rabbit Foot Blues, Black Horse Blues.  Prison Cell Blues sure is a gem, though.

Robert Wilkins - Get Away Blues - although, just about everything he does is unique in some way

Ramblin' Thomas - Sawmill Moan

Offline Stuart

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Re: One of a Kind--and Great
« Reply #4 on: February 03, 2006, 12:20:28 PM »
Robert Wilkins - Get Away Blues - although, just about everything he does is unique in some way

Robert Wilkins, for sure. "Old Jim Canaan's" jumps out, especially the images evoked by the lyrics, regardless of the fact that the choice of words just might have been a function of their convenient use for rhyming purposes.

Offline MTJ3

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Re: One of a Kind--and Great
« Reply #5 on: February 03, 2006, 10:10:23 PM »
Johnm, Another mammoth and provocative topic. 

Scrapper Blackwell's "Springtime Blues."  I don't know of any other examples of the II/V progression being used in bars 9-10 of an otherwise straight ahead 12 bar blues.  I find this even more interesting than his I-III/VI/II/V in bars 7-10 of "Back Door Blues" (except in one verse) and "Rambling Blues" (in the first instrumental break).

This one's low hanging fruit, high cotton, easy.  If there's anything more deserving of being called "sui generis" (--and great) than BWJ's "Dark Was The Night, Cold Was the Ground,"  I don't know what it is.
« Last Edit: February 08, 2006, 12:33:04 PM by MTJ3 »

Offline Johnm

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Re: One of a Kind--and Great
« Reply #6 on: February 04, 2006, 05:40:39 PM »
Hi all,
I realize I'm going to be thinking about songs that fall into this category for a while.  Two that belong in this category, I think, come from that Mississippian transplanted to Indianapolis, Shirley Griffith.  They are "River Line Blues" and "Shaggy Dog Blues".  "River Line Blues" was first recorded on Shirley's '60s album on Prestige Bluesville, "Saturday Blues".  He plays it out of E, standard tuning, and the way his guitar part interacts with his vocal is really exciting.  The first chord change is a shocker, too--I have never heard it elsewhere in the blues.  He takes an E7 played out of an A7 shape barred at the 9th fret, 0-X-X-9-9-9-10, and resolves the shape intact down three frets to a C#7, 0-X-X-6-6-6-7.  The sound is electrifying in the context and made more eerie by the tug between the open E sixth string and the E# third of the chord, voiced on the second string.  The song never goes to a IV or V chord.  It is really terrific.
Shirley recorded "Shaggy Hound Blues" for his '70s Blue Goose album.  It is also in E, standard tuning, and apart from the similarity in its lyrics, appears to bear no resemblance to Ishmon Bracey's "Saturday Blues" (which Shirley also played).  Its signature lick is a kind of eerie holding pattern in which Shirley moves freely between open sixth and open fifth strings in the bass while playing a repetitive figure in the treble.  What is the tonality?  E, I guess, but it is very ambiguous sounding.  This is trance music of the highest order. 
Shirley's singing is outstanding on both numbers.  They are both on the Juke, and from my point of view, at least, merit a pile of requests.  If you haven't heard them before, give them a try.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Gingergeezer

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Re: One of a Kind--and Great
« Reply #7 on: February 07, 2006, 04:09:58 AM »
Mississippi Blues by William Brown. I've never heard anything else like that, a great tune, some lovely picking and great words! Whatever happened to him?

Offline dj

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Re: One of a Kind--and Great
« Reply #8 on: February 07, 2006, 03:21:08 PM »
I was just listening to Piano Blues Volume 5 on the Document label and came across something that might fit here.  At least the "one of a kind", I'm not sure about the "great".  Monroe Walker recorded 2 sides for Columbia in Atlanta on April 21st, 1930, accompanied by (probably) Clancy Morris on piano.  Walker doesn't have a real blues voice - he sounds more vaudevillian to me, with a light tenor voice that's got a lot of vibrato on the longer notes.  And the singer and accompanist don't seem to be overly familiar with each other, as Morris plays the intro at a medium tempo and then has to slow down to match Walker's doleful pace.  At any rate, "Black Heart Blues" is a fairly straight ahead 12 bar blues, until Walker gets to the 4th verse.  The entire verse is "Can't you see, sweet woman, what a fool you've made of me".  What makes this one of a kind is that the "see" takes the place of the first two lines of the standard twelve bar phrase.  Walker hits a falsetto b-flat on that word on the first beat of the verse and holds it for 8 vibrato-laden beats, then comes back down to his normal tenor to sing "sweet woman, what a fool you've made of me" as the last line of the verse.  Neither the song nor the singer is especially memorable, but that 8 bar b-flat sure makes you sit up and pay attention!

Both this song and Monroe Walker's other recorded title are on the Juke.
« Last Edit: February 17, 2006, 03:23:44 AM by dj »

Offline Johnm

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Re: One of a Kind--and Great
« Reply #9 on: March 20, 2006, 03:04:33 PM »
Hi all,
One song that I think fits in this category is George Carter's beautiful "Rising River Blues".  The way he opens the first two lines of each verse over the IV sixth chord is really haunting.
All best,
Johnm

Offline waxwing

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Re: One of a Kind--and Great
« Reply #10 on: March 20, 2006, 03:12:42 PM »
Except that he recorded another song with exactly the same guitar and melody, Ghost Woman Blues, about a woman flagging a ride next to a cemetary. But really, you're right, John M. what a beautiful guitar and melody it is. And noone esle ever recorded anything like it.

All for now.
John C.
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Offline Johnm

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Re: One of a Kind--and Great
« Reply #11 on: March 20, 2006, 05:08:48 PM »
Good catch, John.  I guess the fact that George Carter recorded another song with the same melody and accompaniment does keep "Rising River" from being one of a kind, though not from being great, as you say.
All best,
Johnm

AX17609

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Re: One of a Kind--and Great
« Reply #12 on: March 23, 2006, 03:40:28 PM »
Another is the Gary Davis version of Hesitatrion Blues. Is that opening Am-E (Key of C) phrase ever been  duplicated?

   St James Infirmary?

John

Offline Doc White

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Re: One of a Kind--and Great
« Reply #13 on: March 23, 2006, 04:46:56 PM »
Hi Guys,
Great thread.
Last Kind Word by Geechie Wiley - eerie use of Am to E as mentioned before (by the way that progression pops up all the time in things like St James Infirmary Blues and Rope Stretchin' Blues), You Shall by Frank Stokes which I think is played in F using D position chords (it's been a while since I played that one) but a great rhythm and idiosynchratic chord changes, wonderful lyrics (anything that pricks the pomposity of organised religion is fine by me), YoYo Mama by Barbecue Bob - played with a flatpick in G - tuning - rhythmically interesting - turn it up loud get up and bop
Cheers,
Chris

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: One of a Kind--and Great
« Reply #14 on: March 24, 2006, 04:07:34 AM »
   * "Prison Cell Blues" by Blind Lemon Jefferson.  I know of no other 8-bar blues that conforms to the structure, let alone the feel, of this beautiful song.  Lemon's definitive performance may have scared off imitators, I suppose.  Like the other two songs mentioned here it was played out the E position in standard tuning.
Whlie we are on the subject--Just who was "Nell" and what did she do?
Sure as hell wasn't the person he was married to at the time, her name was Roberta which is hard to rhyme with "cell". :)
Perhaps when Paul Swinton finally gets his 30+ years of Jefferson research published as a book all will be revealled.
Apologies for this intrusion, just couldn't contain myself! :(

 


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