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Mmm mm, mmm mm mm, mmm mm mm, mm mm mm. Mmm mm mm mm mm, mmm mm, mm mm mm - John Jackson, Red River Blues

Author Topic: How closely do you mimic styles?  (Read 5873 times)

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Offline dave stott

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #15 on: September 14, 2006, 01:26:09 PM »
I personally think that no matter how hard one tries to mimic another artist....

Their own personality will come out through their playing...

I play because I enjoy playing the guitar. Sometimes it's in front of an audience and most times it isn't..

Do I miss a bass note or melody note every so often from a Big Bill or BBF tune?? Yes, I do!!

Will anyone other than a devotee of the tune or original artist notice it??  I don't think so.....

in the end, what matters is that you enjoy playing the guitar for yourself.... unless you are a professional, of course...

Call it the Zen of Guitar Playing...


Dave




Offline uncle bud

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #16 on: September 14, 2006, 01:27:12 PM »
I just gotta say, this thread has been one of the most important parts of my guitar learning yet.
Thanks everybody.
Your insights have given me about a billon hours of thinking that I now feel I need to do.
JasonE

I agree, Jason. Some excellent food for thought in here.

Quote from: waxwing
I recently asked Ari if a lot of people told him he shouldn't play songs so close to the original. He said, "Yeah, when I used to listen to them."

The people or the songs?  :)



Offline a2tom

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #17 on: September 14, 2006, 03:12:53 PM »
I know there is a lot written here, but in some comments I am not sure it is coming through that a reason to mimic, at least at first, is that is how you learn technique/approach/style/method/whatever you want to call it.  It is a very differnt and separable activity from what you do long term and identify as "me" or "I made that".

In other words, if you START by saying "I'm going to cop this song from <favorite blues artist name here>, but only loosely and really I'm going to make it my own", and as a result only pay attention to the chord changes, melody and lyrics - well, that's great, but you'll miss a good bit of learning along the way about different ways to use the instrument.  It truly is amazing how many way you can approach the same 6 strings.

Obviously, many of us have tendencies that are well known to the group.  It is no mystery to anyone who frequents the Back Porch that much of what I end of playing is pseudo-original.   Am I being disingenuous recommending mimicking of others?  Not at all.  I ALWAYS start there.  I am as weenie-ish as anyone about transcribing old songs - hell I'm writing a computer program to help do it!  Then I try to play it and fail, but embrace the new idea/method/technique etc and it lives on into where I do end up.

I guess the point I'm making poorly is, mimicking and being yourself aren't mutually exclusive when viewed as part of a process of learning.

For example, I can't really play Joseph Spence, my latest endeavor, but I have learned some great new approaches that I am working into "me" - someday, on the BP, someday...

tom



Offline uncle bud

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #18 on: September 14, 2006, 04:58:23 PM »
I agree, Tom, these things are not mutually exclusive, and the "mimicry" aspects are an important part of the growth process for me and others I've spoken to on this subject. I envy those who are performers, have developed their "sound" and style, or are ballsy enough to learn, develop and perform at the same time. But I'm still having a helluva good time in the mimicry stage in the privacy of my home.  :D

Lest I come across as too much of a purist, there are numerous songs that I play, or am working out, where I am just playing what I could only call "my version". Sometimes these are things that just spring up on me after years of listening to a song, kind of what Cheapfeet describes in his recent BackPorch posting. Tommy Johnson's Maggie Campbell springs to mind in this regard. I don't play it like Johnson, sort of integrate aspects of the two guitar parts, am partly working from my knowledge of this particular Spanish tuning guitar part based on similar content in Charley Patton's playing, some Patton stuff that our own Frankie was kind enough to show me over the phone years ago now, and some aspects that are just "me": somewhat heavy time, somewhat sloppy playing, no set framework for variations for the IV chord or the number of extra beats or bars before going to the V chord, just spontaneously going with the flow of the moment. That probably sounds better than the actual result, and is more analysis than I've ever put to my interpretation of the song, but you get the picture. I doubt I ever play it the same way twice. Some of the "feel" I get around the IV chord comes from years of fooling around with unrelated songs like MJ Hurt's Frankie, or Furry Lewis tunes in Spanish and being really familiar and comfortable with those as well.

I think the mimicry I've done in the past has informed my playing of this song and made me comfortable enough to just play and have fun with it. The first time I tried to play it, I didn't listen to the recording, I just heard the song in my head and had to play it, and played it the whole way through. I'm sure it wasn't spectacular but it sure felt great to have the song just come out of me like that.


chipmonk doug

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #19 on: September 15, 2006, 03:23:58 AM »
Quote
mimicking and being yourself aren't mutually exclusive when viewed as part of a process of learning.


I may be the one who is farthest from being a mimick, but I agree with that.  I'm always saying "how did he get that sound", but the technique/approach/style/method/whatever you want to call it that I learn from that question may or may not go into the song I learned it from and it for sure will go into songs in the future.   ;)

Offline waxwing

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #20 on: September 15, 2006, 09:31:29 AM »
Quote
So, as usual, this topic is rocking my world.

I seem to be the only one coming down on the side of the idea that you can actually perform what everyone else seems to want to call duplications or lifeless copies of the only record we have of how these songs were played by prewar artists. Altho' I really do try to put as much life and spirit into them as my sorry white ass can muster, I'm kinda getting the message that I should cease and desist this useless form of mimicry and go back to the woodshed for as long as it takes me to become a crack rearranger and a brilliant improviser so that I can follow in the tradition of never playing anything the same way twice. From now on I guess I should keep my playing to myself at PT. I didn't realize I was offending everyone so much with my Xerox copies of Clifford Gibson, Willie Brown and McTell.

I guess people feel pretty strongly that the music of the greats should never be heard live again without having been rearranged and then played improvisationally each time, so someone who does what I do is pretty much the lowest of the low as far as the country blues tradition is concerned.

Okay, that's where I was at last night when I read what had been posted during the day yesterday. Pretty discouraged, eh? I feel a little better this morning. But it was pretty hard hearing one of my two primary mentors really disagree so strongly with my position and then everyone else follow suit.

I guess I feel that each person must find their own path, depending on their own aptitudes and abilities. I've really only been playing country blues for a bit over 5 years now, without the advantage of long seasons of no work on the plantation, (okay, I was unemployed for 2 years, but I had a lot of other life issues to deal with). But I do have a strong background in performing after spending 25 years or so as a theatre actor, so I have gone out and performed what I could to the best of my abilities. And I've received quite a bit of encouragement, from peers and uninitiated audiences alike. I may not be adhering strictly to the country blues tradition, but I do feel that I am moving people with the music I play, and possibly attracting more folks to the country blues scene.

I've also heard players among the small group of touring country blues professionals that, to my mind, do a disservice to the music by adhering to the tradition, creating rearrangements in their own style which seem so dumbed down and so similar, from song to song, that I could hardly remember anything they played all evening. It just all sounded the same. I absolutely don't want to fall into that category and I feel that my rearranging and improvising skills are so rudimentary at this point that I could take me a decade or so to get to the level of interest and artistry of the prewar musicians I emulate. I worry that arthritis may cut off any performing I might do before I would ever exceed my own limits of what I feel is presentable.

So after I wrote the above quote last night, I sat down and played my heart out for a while. Man, playing Clifford Gibson's Tired of Being Mistreated, I just can't imagine how long it would take to be able to play it differently every time. I mean, sure, the verses are not linear and could be freely interchanged, but to just toss that song down, off the cuff, at speed, having never played it that way before seems, well, impossible to me. Maybe if I had never played in anything but Spanish tuning for the last 5 years, concentrating only on the licks of CG I could get to the point where I could intersperse the licks (if that's what you call improvisation). But I noticed that Clifford plays the vocal backing, except for having three slight variations to the first line, all repeated, exactly the same every time. And in the two versions of the song he repeats one of the breaks verbatim. Isn't this strong evidence that he played the song virtually the same every time, and he had worked out the breaks in advance?

I guess I can think of more examples of players repeating the vocal backing, or repeating two or three distinct variations, than I can of players obviously improvising behind every vocal verse. Often the little variances I hear seem to be more likely fluffs than improvised variations. I guess I'm not convinced that in the era of solo vocalist/guitarists, that improvisation was such a strong tradition. Sure, once in a band setting where the individual players were not responsible for the whole sound, the jazz tradition of improvisation could be brought over to the blues. It seems likely that the few players, like Blake, who did feature strong improvisation in their solo play were greatly influenced by the jazz tradition?

I'm not really trying to argue against anyone's belief in what they do or how they approach their own music. Quite the opposite, I am arguing more for an acceptance and inclusiveness of different approaches. And I don't see any one approach as being any better than any other. I think that it is important for beginning players to get out and perform as soon as possible. I worry that the discussion so far will discourage those players who, having mastered a handful of arrangements, will be dissuade from going out and performing because they haven't yet developed their own arrangements or are not yet capable of playing different improvisations every time. Perhaps these abilities will mature in time, perhaps not, but I don't think this should deter anyone from sharing the music, especially with audiences who may only be familiar with that music which has followed the tradition all the way to electric instruments in a band setting and is not aware of its roots.

Fortunately (or not, depending on your view), my own resolve, tho' daunted at times, is pretty firm and I plan to continue as I have been. Perhaps, in time, I may develop arrangements of my own that transend the music of the greats, and perhaps I will become adept at improvisation while my fingers are still capable of playing. I don't know. But I will continue to share the music as best I can.

All for now.
John C
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

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Offline Prof Scratchy

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #21 on: September 15, 2006, 10:55:52 AM »
This has been a great thread wth, as you'd expect, a number of different approaches represented. Here's my two pence worth (convert to your local currency)! Do I mimic? Absolutely! Trouble is, I'm not as good at it as some because I just don't possess the 'magic ear' of some of my favourite contemporary players - Johnm/ Ari/ Steve Phillips spring to mind.  When I see and hear these folks it instantly comes home how way off track I've been. And, having seen, do I steal? Yes I do! What this then all turns into is the development of different languages in different keys, tunings and positions - and really I think that's the nub of it, and was the nub of it for many of our pre-war heroes. Robert Johnson had one language in A, Blind Boy Fuller another. For each of them the syllables didn't all come out in the same order every time - and would no doubt have differed from performance to performance of the same song. Over time we absorb bits of a lot of players' languages and mix them on our own versions of things. However, I do need to spend more time in the language lab...

Offline uncle bud

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #22 on: September 15, 2006, 11:44:23 AM »
Hmm, I'm a bit surprised by your reaction, Wax. I thought I was pretty heavily in the mimic camp and others have spoken of the many benefits. I particular like what you and Cheapfeet had to say about capturing what's unique about these old styles, the music that was there before being run through the various shallow modern blues pablumizers, and how that aspect of what we're calling rather disparagingly here "mimicry" is so important in the current players and playing we appreciate today.

Anyway, I'm behind you man, recreate away. But I think you are already fooling around with things in ways that make them your own and are likely to do it even more in the coming years. Tying two versions of Tired of Being Mistreated together. Playing Broke Down Engine slower and with more pauses. Working out mandolin, guitar and jug parts in the Hohoppas. Putting a Willie Brown accompaniment where it didn't exist before.

Part of one's own style too is the overall sound, the guitar and voice together, as well as touch and time. You can be playing what is essentially a recreation of an old blues tune but still sound like yourself. Ari, in many of his recreations of the style of Blake or Lonnie Johnson or whoever, isn't doing note for note copies. He's just so good at it that it sounds that way sometimes. (Sometimes he is more note for note, but not as often as you'd think.)

I think John's examples of different songs being given different settings by different artists don't mean that a radical rearrangement of a song is the only route to take. I looked at those as more illustrative of a particular point, one that we all obviously think about at some point: how would I play this song and make it my own.

Re. Tired of Being Mistreated, it sounds like more of a set piece to me, though the solos are different in each version you hear, so Gibson is varying things. Does that mean they're improvised? I dunno. I think improvisation is being over-emphasized and hope I didn't contribute to that with my example of Maggie Campbell. Maggie is a simpler part, and many of us have learned various songs that feature variations on this part (Screamin' and Hollerin' the Blues, Future Blues etc) and could throw ideas from these in together to create what amounts to an improvised version of a song that wouldn't sound the same way twice.  As for you improvising while playing Tired of Being Mistreated, I know that you have not played a lot of stuff in Spanish tuning and suspect that 1, 2, 3 years down the road that would not be out of the question for someone playing at your level. It might not be necessary, but it would be thinkable. More likely, you'd come up with your own solos and throw those in.

« Last Edit: September 15, 2006, 11:50:05 AM by uncle bud »

Offline dj

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #23 on: September 15, 2006, 11:45:45 AM »
Hey, waxwing,

Not everybody's lined up against you.  I've been doing my best to say "this is what I do, but whatever works for you works for you".

To sum up my position:  If you're just playing in your house to please yourself, whatever you enjoy doing is your path to enjoying the music, and that's great.  If you're going to present yourself to an audience, your primary responsibility is to that audience - to present something the audience will at some level react to and enjoy.  As long as you do that, whatever you're doing is ok.

And from what I've heard, you're not half bad at the latter part of that equation.   :)

And don't go being too respectful to any tradition, style, person, or whatever.   Or, if you're going to respect them, do so with a smile and a laugh, not with solemnity.  :P

(Seems like we need a couple of new threads - one on improvisation and one on preserving vs. recreating tradition.)

Offline a2tom

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #24 on: September 15, 2006, 04:16:35 PM »
I agree with Wax that so many players 'dumb down' more difficult material & really lose the essence of what makes that song so singular in the first place & so that is the nobility of recreation

I am not disagreeing with this, but it is a succinct summary of why I'm not generally that interested in posting recreations - I'll never capture the singularity of the original (even the easy ones) - I mean, really, these guys were great.  Anything I do will be inevitably be dumbed down and essence-free.  But I do feel that I can learn the rudiments of the language (yes, that's it!) and then mutter a bit on my own.  Make a bit of my own, admittedly pathetic by comparison, essence.  Without any doubt, the nobiility of recreation, as you say!

tom

Offline dave stott

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #25 on: September 15, 2006, 04:35:42 PM »
hmmm... maybe I am totally off base... it's been a tough week...

But, I thought the whole reason we all played the guitar was for the love of being able to actually play music... it didn't matter whether it was for the entertainment of others or for yourself...

yes in high school, we played guitar to get chicks... but I digress

it would seem by some of the comments that some people play the guitar to carry on a tradition and others attempt to mimic other artists..

if you are carrying on this tradition... who exactly are we passing it on to?? are you teaching youngsters these songs??

if you are mimicing artists... I am certain that there is a thrill  from matching the artist note for note.... but I don't get it...

 Dave...

Offline Richard

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #26 on: September 16, 2006, 04:47:22 AM »
.............. I live in a small community & all i ever hearda blues growing up was Vaughn or Clapton & then there were the guitarists in the community who figured all blues was in E & played like an inferior Jimmy Reed tune, you know, with the 'Sweet Home Chicago'-like boogie beat. I've noticed that most guitarists i meet, whenever they learn i play the blues, & wanna jam, they start playing those licks............ So I think that, altho' much older in practise, these older styles are so much more refreshing really, there's so much more to them, & each key is a different world full of different possibilities. I found Weenie Campbell from asking about Patton & T. Johnson licks in C position on a guitar players forum. . .most guitar players don't even realize you can play blues in C, or G, or F or even D..........
I know that point is on slightly different tack but I agree entirely as invariably things turn into a shuffle as that seems to be the definition of blues to so many guitarists........ can't anybody play a slow solid four any more!

As Dave Stott has it (or at least, as I understand his last post) this topic seems to be getting a little heavy in that at the end of the day we are playing the kind of music that we love.

Some are able to do a fabulous take on the original which must be enourmously satisfying to work out and play in itself, whilst the rest of us do our best to learn by rote or copy\imitate\emulate but the point is we are all getting something out of it in our own way and hopefully getting nearer the original style in the process.
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline Johnm

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #27 on: September 16, 2006, 08:52:40 AM »
Hi all,
I agree with Richard's concluding point.  I realize that my earlier posts did not respond to the thread's title, which is simple enough, "How closely do you mimic styles?", not "What role should mimicry play in the making of this music for everyone else" or "What role has mimicry played in the Country Blues historically?".  Playing this music is hard enough without having to satisfy everyone else's notion of how it should be done, which is impossible anyway.  Everyone has to come to his or her own terms with the way of making the music that seems to work the best.  Please yourself first and you have a better chance of pleasing others with what you do.  I don't think that style points are a part of the blues tradition either.  I'm sorry for any bad feelings my unsolicited views have caused.
All best,
Johnm 

Offline uncle bud

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #28 on: September 16, 2006, 10:31:31 AM »
it would seem by some of the comments that some people play the guitar to carry on a tradition and others attempt to mimic other artists..

if you are carrying on this tradition... who exactly are we passing it on to??

Anyone who'll listen. Cf. Ari's comment about people buying Lemon or Blake CDs quoted by Waxwing. Another example: I have heard so many of the teachers at Port Townsend talk about passing on this tradition, ensuring that it is a living thing, regardless of what many people might say about it being dead. They never sound like they're saying that because they're supposed to say such things at a blues workshop. They really sound like they mean it. Hey, it's also in the subheading of Weenie's front page: "Preserving Country Blues through Education, Performance and Technology." That may sound a little presumptuous, but it is still the lofty intention of WeenieCampbell.com. :P

Quote
if you are mimicing artists... I am certain that there is a thrill  from matching the artist note for note.... but I don't get it...

I think I and others have been fairly clear about what the mimicry provides us with: a deeper insight into playing the music, the satisfaction of playing in a style that is truer to the original forms and players and is not smoothed out and dumbed down by modern popularized forms and styles. Numerous other reasons. Maybe some obsessive compulsive disorders as well.

As this thread has progressed I've grown more uncomfortable with the word mimicry. It's starting to carry connotations more associated with Elvis impersonators or something.  Whereas I think it's more about an effort to capture sounds, styles and riffs that make the playing of this music more true to its original sounds and idiosyncratic stylings. And it is definitely all for the love of music.

To use a non-blues example, there's a big band expert and university educator named Andrew Homzy who has had big bands playing really authentic arrangements and bringing those original Ellington charts and what not to life again. While I'm far from an expert on this, sometimes it's more "authentic," sometimes it may be his arrangements done "in the spirit of". Solists wouldn't duplicate solos but the overall sound is trying to be true to the original sound. They're not trying to sound like Charlie Haden's Liberation Orchestra (also great!) or a Mingus band (actually they might have done some Mingus) or something. There is a historical context to what they're doing.

Offline Bill Roggensack

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #29 on: September 16, 2006, 02:29:45 PM »
Well said UB - mimicry is not the right word; it's more like "becoming one" with the playing style of a particular artist, and a good example of this is comes to mind immediately:
When Ari plays Blind Blake, he _is_ Blind Blake, complete with random improvisational abilities. He can do that because he has studied BB so intensively that he has internalized BB's approach to playing. What a great feeling that must be.
 :)
This afternoon, I have been listening to Rory Block's latest CD - "The Lady and Mr. Johnson" - and she has acieved a similar level of internalization with Robert Johnson's music.
Cheers,
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