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I don't like to play this but once in a while, you know, but sometimes I get the Blues - Napoleon Strickland

Author Topic: Johnny Shines and the "gutbucket blues"  (Read 2347 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Johnny Shines and the "gutbucket blues"
« on: June 01, 2006, 12:46:22 PM »
What follows is extracted from a longer interview conducted by Max Jones for the Melody Maker when Shines toured Britain in March-April 1970:

When I heard Shines at the 100 Club there were requests for some Johnson items ? songs closely associated with him ?and Johnny obliged with a few. After he had knocked out a few contemporary-sounding songs I even heard cries of " How about a folk-blues?"

I asked Shines how he reacted to all these strange British customs. He said he had not been troubled. Audiences were audiences and he had long ago learned to tailor his programme to suit their tastes.

"Here, he said, "I have to do my own show. "On a previous visit to Europe, with the Chicago All Stars organised by Willie Dixon, it had been different. Then they featured the group.

As for the folk-blues requests, Johnny's opinion was that "when they say a folk-blues I guess they mean the gutbucket blues." And if that is what the crowd demands, that is what he tries to give them.

"I arrange my programme according to my audience, to how they're feeling at that particular time. I always have done that, so this is no different to me."

"Once you're in a place and have met your audience, you plan your programme. Of course you can't always stick to it because you get a reaction  to certain songs. to a tempo, a certain beat, and that changes your plan.

"Sometimes you run into a crowd that likes to up the tempo, and you may go all the way up to that 6/8 tempo. Then you run into a crowd that like the real down home gutbucket blues.  And when you find that, you begin to play the old original blues with the four four beat and the 12-bar form."

When Shines plays the old blues he is prone to use the steel tube on his left hand for the bottleneck styling at which he excels. On this subject, as on others I raised, his attitude was reasonableness personified.

"I play a lot with the slide, and then I play a lot without it. One time I had to rely on it because I was short on fingering without it. I used the bottleneck to make up the rhythm and the singing of the strings."

So far as the make of his present guitar goes I drew blank. I suspect that it is a Japanese model, but all Johnny would say (after laughing at the thought of it) was: "The one I'm now playing is imported."

Offline MTJ3

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Re: Johnny Shines and the "gutbucket blues"
« Reply #1 on: June 02, 2006, 11:09:25 PM »
BH, What a tremendous talent he was, both as an instrumentalist (especially evident when you listen to his variations on "Delta standards") and a singer with an unparalleled voice.  Years ago, when Johnny Shines was still alive and residing in Alabama, he mentioned in an interview that he had written an autobiography.  Do you have any idea what happened to it and why it has never seen the light of day?

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Johnny Shines and the "gutbucket blues"
« Reply #2 on: June 04, 2006, 01:24:37 PM »
BH, What a tremendous talent he was, both as an instrumentalist (especially evident when you listen to his variations on "Delta standards") and a singer with an unparalleled voice.  Years ago, when Johnny Shines was still alive and residing in Alabama, he mentioned in an interview that he had written an autobiography.  Do you have any idea what happened to it and why it has never seen the light of day?
Wasn't John Earl actually shown some of the "manuscript" by Shines? I seem to be missing that stupendous 1973 issue of Blues World - 20/30 pages of which were devoted to Earls's "A Lifetime in the Blues: Johnny Shines" - to check.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Johnny Shines and the "gutbucket blues"
« Reply #3 on: October 30, 2006, 12:53:41 PM »
Prompted by Stefan's latest discography "under construction" (Johnny Shines) I unearthed the first substantial piece of writing on Shines by Mike Rowe in Blues Unlimited 37 (Oct 1966, pages 3-5). In June that year Pete Welding had recorded Shines extensively though the album wasn't released until early the following year so, ironically, portions of what follows were actually cited by Welding in those liner notes. The "Robert Johnson fervor" hadn't got into full swing at that point which accounts for the cursory discussion of the subject!

Johnny Shines
Mike Rowe

When we called on Johnny Shines at his home, he had taken the day off work in order to play for us. A very powerfully built man, he works for a construction firm and lives with his second wife. They've only been married a year and live in a flat out on South Woodlawn, one of the better Negro suburbs on the South Side.

Johnny doesn't have a guitar at the moment and we had to hire one for the afternoon. Despite his lack of practice, and the fact that it wasn't the greatest guitar in the world, he played some thrilling music including traditional numbers like "l Cried". He played in four tunings which he described as "Natural", "E Natural", "Crossed Note" and "Spanish".

Johnny Shines was born in Memphis on April 25th, 1915, into a family with some musical tradition. Both his brother and his uncle played guitar while two cousins played "bones" in church! Johnny first started playing in 1932 and first of all learned "Bumble Bee Blues" and "Milk Cow Blues". His main influences were Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lonnie Johnson, Scrapper Blackwell and Charlie Patton. Quickly his style developed and he first attracted attention when Howlin' Wolf was playing a date for Will Weillers. In the interval Johnny picked up Wolf's guitar and played to the acclaim of the audience and Wolf s astonishment! By 1933-34, Johnny had become proficient enough to turn professional and he played around Memphis with other artists of that time. Those he remembers include Ted Owen, Willie Tango, Willie Bee Borum, "Honey Boy" Albert Shaw, Calvin Frazier (a cousin to Johnny, who now lives in Detroit) and, of course, Robert Johnson. Robert he met in 1934 and guessed he was about 22 or 23 at the time, just older than himself. With Robert, he travelled through Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri until 1937, playing together and sometimes opposite each other. If there were two dances in the same area and they couldn't both be hired by the same man Robert would work one dance and Johnny the other. Robert he described as "the greatest and a crowd pleaser in every way, and of the similarity in their styles he said "Yes, we had similar styles. You see we both liked the same artists. That way we were a mixture of Blind Lemon, Lonnie Johnson, Scrapper Blackwell and Charlie Patton!"

Johnny moved to Chicago on September 25th, 1941 and remembers playing first at "Frost s Corner". His first recordings were made for Lester Melrose in 1944 and he remembers cutting six numbers (These would presumably be the unissued Columbia sides, though the date for these is given as 1946 and four sides only are listed). About this time he was leading a trio including the mysterious "Porkchops" and a boy called "Spoon"; they played out of town at Robbins, Illinois. For the first night he was paid only 3 dollars, having been promised 20 to 30 dollars! Not unnaturally he decided to quit. "I told him if that was all he could afford to pay me he obviously needed it more himself!" However, the promoter managed to persuade Johnny to get a five-piece band together with trumpet, piano, bass, guitar and drums for the next week and he booked them for 35 dollars a night. Johnny kept his group and they played at Robbins through 1943 to 1945 when the pianist was killed in a car crash while returning from Wisconsin. This broke up the band and Johnny opted out for a less hectic way of life.

His JOB recordings were made in 1953 and until recently he hadn't recorded with anyone else, but said he had been used as a sideman on dates by Snooky Pryor (with Moody Jones) for JOB, Homesick James and Arbee Stidham. The very few records under Johnny's name can be explained by a disagreement with Al Benson that effectively finished his recording career. Apparently Benson was so influential in Chicago at the time that anyone who fell foul of him found it virtually impossible to get a contract. In spite of this Johnny was still fairly active well into the 'fifties and played through 1956/ 57 with Sonny Boy Williamson. Since then he has become more and more disillusioned with the music business and plays only occasionally for informal functions within his social circle.

In the evenings he has a sideline as a freelance photographer working the clubs where Wolf, Muddy and sometimes B.B. King and Lowell Fulson are playing. Physically very impressive he has a natural dignity plus a serious and intelligent approach which immediately commands one's respect. As he says, he has not quite retired and modestly adds, "I never have given up the idea of being good at the business." With his rediscovery and new recordings for Pete Welding and Sam Charters there has been a certain amount of pressure on him to take up music again as a living but he is fully aware of the remoteness of financial success and no doubt his earlier experiences have engendered in him a great deal of caution. Perhaps he senses that his is a more solo talent, while he himself would prefer to work with a group. However, with his wife and eldest daughter encouraging him one gets the impression that if he ever does turn professional again it will be a well thought out venture and one worthy of all our support. And if he doesn't well, it will be our loss.

Offline DC42

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Re: Johnny Shines and the "gutbucket blues"
« Reply #4 on: January 22, 2015, 08:48:24 PM »
Hey y'all...of late cannot get enough of Johnny Shines. Some searching brought me to this post. When we talk tunings as mentioned:

"He played in four tunings which he described as "Natural", "E Natural", "Crossed Note" and "Spanish."

Spanish = Open G
Crossed Note = For example E minor (E B E G B E)
E Natural = Standard?
Natural = Now I am over thinking it...and confusing myself in the wee hours.

Can anyone enlighten and correct where needed?

Thanks,

DC

Offline waxwing

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Re: Johnny Shines and the "gutbucket blues"
« Reply #5 on: January 22, 2015, 10:45:36 PM »
Well, just speculation, but I think "natural" is probably "standard" and "E natural" is probably "vastapol" altho' you likely think of that as "open D". But Shines would have surely recognized that the intervals of the tuning are identical to an E chord in "standard" or "natural". But it's also possible that "E natural" could be EAEGBE, which has been getting a lot of discussion here since Johnm has revealed it's use by many prewar guitarists, mostly from the general part of the country, let's say the Mississippi-Chicago diaspora, as Shines. But, as I think he was predominantly a slide player, at least in his rediscovery phase, "vastapol" would seem more reasonable.

BTW, good chance he tuned Spanish at A as most players did, not at G, altho' tuned anywhere it would still be Spanish. It actually does have exactly the same intervals as the common A chord in standard, so he could have called it "A natural". But Spanish was pretty ubiquitous. Similarly, "vastapol", "crossed note", and even standard are all the same no matter what pitch they are tuned to. There are many ways to tune an open G chord, but only one Spanish.

I'm sure there are those here who know exactly where he tune whatever songs he recorded. But he might have played songs that day which were never recorded.

Wax
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Offline DC42

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Re: Johnny Shines and the "gutbucket blues"
« Reply #6 on: January 23, 2015, 03:51:39 AM »
Thanks Waxwing....appreciate the reply.

 


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