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...that's the biggest disaster, people goin' around goin': 'mah baby left me, mommma...' [laughter]. Hel-lo, y'know? It's like absolutely bizarre. Nobody cares whose voice you sing in as long as it yours - Jerry Ricks, Port Townsend 97

Author Topic: Arthur Crudup  (Read 1926 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Arthur Crudup
« on: April 22, 2006, 11:18:35 AM »
I have just been scanning for somebody researching Arthur Crudup a lengthy feature written in 1971 by British jazz saxophonist Dave Gelly recounting his touring/recording experiences of February 1970. It is far too long to post in its entirety but I thought the following extract is quite well observed and insightful:

"As a person, Arthur is one of the most delightful people you could ever meet, the kind of man with whom you can feel at ease, even if you're not talking. He seems to send our companionable waves. "It's lovely to see him in the British blues scene: the world of roadies and Transit vans and motorway cafes. He manages to be part of it yet separate, beaming down benignly from a great height (he's very tall) and over a gulf  of years (he's getting on for 66).

At those rather silly moments when groups are playing football in dressing rooms with rolled-up crisp packets or chasing other groups down the M1 with much clamour and light-flashing, one becomes aware of Arthur Crudup surveying the whole scene with a kind of amused and beneficent detachment. He's a bit like the universal granddad at such moments, a calm centre to everything. Of course, his years sometimes tell on him amidst the rigours of travelling, and the tour did tend to develop at times into a kind of quest for the holy grail in laxatives, a pilgrimage through the realms of Ex-Lax and Milk of Magnesia, and he was once heard to remark that a ham sandwich tasted like the mule-meat which he had had to eat when he was a small boy.

There was one astonishing moment when we were making the 'Roebuck Man' album last year, when Arthur was singing in a soundproof box for purposes of separation. At one point, where he was supposed to come in, nothing was forthcoming from the box. So, after a few moments, somebody went to the door and opened it. Arthur was fast asleep inside. Upon feeling himself being gently shaken, he awoke with a start and burst out singing as though he'd been awake all the time.

There was one very different episode which looks like going down in blues folklore. During a break in recording we all repaired to the pub across the road where, due to a misunderstanding caused by the eccentricities of the British licensing laws and the considerable differences in idiom between an Irish bartender and a southern blues singer, Arthur thought he had been given the racial brush-off. Although, as he said later, he was hardened to it at home, this came as a shock because he had received nothing but courtesy in England. He was so affected by this episode that he made up a blues on the spot and recorded it. This was 'Roebuck Man'. You hear about singers making up songs like this about deeply-felt emotions and I had always put it down to exaggerated romanticism. But here it happened before our very eyes, and it was revealing and very moving.

Playing with Arthur Crudup made me, as a jazz musician, aware of the blues in a way I had never been before. To adapt one's playing to this very  simple but extremely demanding form was a difficult but very rewarding task. The whole business of blues accompaniment is a matter of complementing and adding to the voice line and the overall sound texture of the band. Harmonically you have to be very restrained and avoid all attempts to extend the harmonic reference of the chords. Any main melody note at a higher extension than a seventh sounds out of place; even a ninth sticks out like a sore thumb, so you have to get your effect in other ways, mainly by the use of inflexion. To add to the band sound is the main thing and the band sound is based on the use of triads and sevenths.

One added difficulty was the fact that, to Arthur Crudup, a blues chorus isn't invariably 12 bars long. It can be as little as 10 bars or as much as 14. Once you get used to expecting this, it's alright, but you have to keep your ears open otherwise you'll get caught out horribly.

It's impossible to explain in words the tremendous expressiveness of a great blues singer because the whole point is in the tiny gradations, little turns in the notes and falls at the end of a line, the very tonal weight of the voice. It is through these that the quality of a blues singer comes out. I imagine that the same kind of considerations apply to. Flamenco music. Unless you've been brought up with it or have immersed yourself in it, it must be impossible really to appreciate what it's all about." (from "One Key, Two Tempos and Elvin Preston", Cream Magazine, May 1971)
« Last Edit: June 13, 2012, 12:05:28 PM by Bunker Hill »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Arthur Crudup
« Reply #1 on: April 25, 2006, 11:00:37 PM »
Hi Bunker Hill,
Thanks very much for posting this piece, I found it fascinating.  It speaks very well of Dave Gelly's musicianship and musical sensitivity that he was working so hard to play in a way that would fit with Arthur Crudup's phrasing and harmonic language, rather than unthinkingly laying down a carpet-bombing string of Bebop licks in the interest of bringing Arthur's music "up to date". 
I think Gelly's comments re Crudup's harmonic language and what does and does not work over it are very astute.  We are accustomed to thinking of Country Blues as being a very strong music, and in many ways it is, but in other ways, it is quite fragile.  I'm thinking in particular of what happens when attempts are made to expand or open up the music harmonically.  Quite often such attempts can have the effect of making what was a beautiful melody when harmonized diatonically, seem clunky or awkward, in addition to impeding the rhythmic flow in ways that a plainer treatment does not.
This is not to say that there is no place for harmonic complexity in the Blues.  Walter Davis and Robert Pete Williams made their more complex harmonies work wonderfully well, but those harmonies were suggested by the the rest of the musical materials in the songs in question--the melodies and phrasing.  Their complexities were not something that was added after the fact to already complete and musically satisfying pieces; rather they were part of those pieces from the word go.
Reading the piece made me want to hear both Arthur Crudup and Dave Gelly.  That's good writing!
All best,
Johnm

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Arthur Crudup
« Reply #2 on: April 26, 2006, 09:48:33 AM »
Here's the cover of the 1992 Sequel CD reissue of the original LP. The pub was in the Tottenham Court Road, London. Long since demolished and replaced with a burger joint! :(

 


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