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I got a cigar box, I cut a hole in the top, put a board and nail it on there. And I taken four nails, put wire on 'em from a screen door for strings. I couldn't play it, but I rapped the sides, hootin' and hollerin'. I thought I was doin' something you know. - Furry Lewis recalls his first guitar

Author Topic: Vocal Signature Phrases  (Read 7225 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Vocal Signature Phrases
« on: December 20, 2006, 04:53:47 PM »
Hi all,
In the past couple of years, being very busy transcribing the lyrics of various Country Blues musicians, I've noticed how a lot of singers had vocal mannerisms or pet licks or phrases that they employed in song after song.  Over a period of time, a lot of the singer's vocal identity can be attributed to such phrases.  As an example of such a mannerism, one of the most famous and most widely imitated was Peetie Wheatstraw's "oooo well, well", moving from falsetto on the "ooo" to full voice on the "well, well".  The "ooo well, well" is generally inserted halfway through the tag-line of a 12-bar blues.  The power of Peetie  Wheatstraw's signature vocal lick can be attested to by the number of musicians who appropriated it at one time or another for their own songs--Robert Johnson, Sleepy John Estes, Big Joe Williams and even Robert Pete Williams come right to mind, and there are many others.
Another vocal mannerism that comes to assume a kind of mythic stature if you listen to a lot of his music is Sleepy John Estes's line-starting "Now".  You wouldn't think the word "now" could be sung so expressively or carry as much emotional weight as Sleepy John invests it with, but the proof is in the sound and in the delivery that Sleepy John gives the word.  Part of its power resides, too, in how emphatically he places the word, relative to the pulse.  He generally hits it on the second beat of the measure preceding the downbeat of a vocal phrase, holds it through the fourth beat of that measure, and then has a void on the downbeat of the beginning of the phrase, starting the phrase on the + of 1 or 2.  Sleepy John's music has gone relatively un-covered by the present generation of musicians playing Country Blues.  Part of this may be due to the guitar-centricity of much of the interest in Country Blues nowadays and Sleepy John's use of the guitar primarily as a means of time-keeping rather than instrumental fireworks, but I think another reason Sleepy John gets covered as little as he does is that his singing scares off would-be imitators.
Texas Alexander's vocal signature lick would have to be humming, and in particular, his hummed "spirit melody" that occurs in a high percentage of his recorded repertoire.  I don't know if the melody is Alexander's own or if it came from some earlier source, but it is beautiful and expressive, and it's effect seems to gain power as a listener becomes more familiar with it, rather than palling, or "getting old" as it becomes more familiar.
I am curious as to what other vocal signature phrases people can think of that you would associate with different Country Blues singers and to which you could attribute much of their sound.  I know there have to be more of these signature phrases out there.
All best,
Johnm 

Offline Rivers

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Re: Vocal Signature Phrases
« Reply #1 on: December 20, 2006, 05:13:11 PM »
I always pick up on Lightnin' Hopkin's references to himself in the third person, "poor Lightnin'...", "old Lightnin'..." etc. In fact he has a lot of them, "That's what I'm talkin' about" is another. Definitely a trademark that shapes the way we think of him. Big Bill Broonzy did the third person "ol' Bill" thing a lot as well.

Rev. Gary Davis urging his guitar on before the break, "Miss Gibson...". Intrumentals with stop-time passages punctuated by a question: "What?" "Huh?" "Yes?"

Sonny Terry, when asked a musical question by Brownie: <pause> "Are you talkin' to me?" always raises a smile. Those guys had the best comic timing.

Bukkha White, when you can make him out, is a stream of signature phrases. Maybe it was more signature delivery, the way he rabbits on just so he can 'inflect' in that trademark Bukkha way, posing incomprehensible questions or indisputable matter of fact statements at the end of the line... then, bang, he's gone, onto the next unconnected scenario. Boy I would have hated to get into an argument with Bukkha.

Does Jimmie Rodgers yodel count?
« Last Edit: December 20, 2006, 05:48:00 PM by Rivers »

Offline banjochris

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Re: Vocal Signature Phrases
« Reply #2 on: December 20, 2006, 05:59:57 PM »
Tommy Johnson's falsetto leap/yodel thing, which Howling Wolf and others picked up on

Walter Vinson's intrusive "r" -- e.g. "Oh rit's done got wet," and many other instances

Charlie Patton's late period "Aw, sho" along with his habit at that same session of saying part of the last line of a verse before he sings it -- in "Love My Stuff" "Jersey Bull" and "Revenue Man" -- interesting that he does these things in what is essentially the same song -- and his vocal asides in general

Blind Boy Fuller's "hey hey" substituting for the first part of the second line of a verse (he may have picked this up from Josh White's falsetto thing that he used to do at this same part of some verses)

Kokomo Arnold's humming to himself under his instrumental breaks, as well as the falsetto thing he does in the stop-time verse of "Milk Cow Blues" that got imitated by absolutely everybody.

On every track I've heard by Edith North Johnson, she ends the song with a little scat-singing variation on the same basic melody.
Chris

Offline Slack

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Re: Vocal Signature Phrases
« Reply #3 on: December 20, 2006, 08:59:31 PM »
Bo Carter's "Yeah!" comes to mind - not sure it contributes much to his over all sound, but it is surprisingly effective at adding exitement to and propelling some of his instrumental breaks.  Can be heard in Old Devil, Arrangement For Me Blues, Let's Get Drunk Again.... among others. 

Offline Chezztone

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Re: Vocal Signature Phrases
« Reply #4 on: December 20, 2006, 10:54:10 PM »
Also Bo tends to introduce phrases with "Says..." And he also inserts the R between two syllables when one ends with a vowel and the next starts with a vowel, as banjochris noted that Walter Vincson does. A common example from Carter is "day'r and night." I hear that in other Mississippi singers, including Joe McCoy, but not singers from other states. And I've never heard a Mississippian (or anyone else) use it in speech. Only in song.

Offline dj

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Re: Vocal Signature Phrases
« Reply #5 on: December 21, 2006, 04:06:58 AM »
Blind Boy Fuller's scatting, usually starting the scatted phrase with "Zee dop...".  It's interesting that Fuller used "Aw, shaw" a lot, as did Charlie Patton at his last session.  Probably just a coincidence...

Offline Johnm

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Re: Vocal Signature Phrases
« Reply #6 on: December 21, 2006, 12:03:40 PM »
Hi all,
It's great to see all the vocal signatures that people are coming up with.  I thought of a couple of others, Charley Lincoln's laugh and Lil' Son Jackson's "you know", that he used much as Sleepy John used "Now".  I think the insertion of the "r" between a syllable ending in a vowel sound and one beginning with a vowel sound is not confined just to Mississippi singers, Chezz.  I have found it in Peg Leg Howell's recordings and Texas Alexander's, as well, so the speech mannerism was found in Georgia and and Texas too, at least to that extent.  Perhaps there's a generational element to its use.  It is certainly most commonly found in singers with Mississippi origins though.
All best,
Johnm

Offline waxwing

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Re: Vocal Signature Phrases
« Reply #7 on: December 21, 2006, 12:57:59 PM »
McTell, too, inserts the "r" sound.

McTell brings to mind another vocal mannerism, not exclusive to him, but distinctive. The insertion of the phrase "I mean" befort the tail end of a line, sometime repeated.

All for now.
John C.
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Offline Johnm

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Re: Vocal Signature Phrases
« Reply #8 on: March 01, 2007, 11:07:34 PM »
Hi all,
Robert Wilkins often addressed his earliest recorded songs to "friend", and Robert Pete Williams often sang to "darling".
All best,
Johnm

Offline tenderfoot84

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Re: Vocal Signature Phrases
« Reply #9 on: March 02, 2007, 02:34:34 AM »
i'm also a very massive fan of jack gowdlock's pronunciation of the word 'do' on his 'rollin' dough blues'.

looka here, looka here what lovin' made me do

he sings this in both the first and final verses and i think there's just a wee smidge of a difference between the two with one being held for longer.

it's amazing. i got it on 'the stuff that dreams are made of' set.
Cheerybye,
David C

mississippijohnhurt1928

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Re: Vocal Signature Phrases
« Reply #10 on: March 02, 2007, 01:27:28 PM »
And Of Course, There's Peetie Wheatstraw's "Ooh Well"

Offline Coyote Slim

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Re: Vocal Signature Phrases
« Reply #11 on: March 04, 2007, 10:35:29 PM »
Okay...so about that "r" thing.

That was one of the first things I noticed about the dialect the old guys were singing in.   I wondered why in the hell they would stick an "r" in there.   I think the first time I heard it was in Big Bill Broonzy's "Worryin' You Off of My Mind" which sounded a lot like "worryin you Roffa my mind."

Well, it's not so much that they are intentionally putting an "r" sound in there, so much as that when they are moving from one vowel ... from "you" to "off" or from "oh" to "it's" or or from "day" to "and" the tongue is moved rapidly from a "closed" to an "open" position in the mouth (and also from a long note to a shorter one), so that it causes an "r" like sound.  I think it's more an indication of how they were singing.

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Offline blueshome

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Re: Vocal Signature Phrases
« Reply #12 on: March 05, 2007, 12:00:47 AM »
As  far as the "r" sound is concerned, it's been noted elsewhere that a very common instance is the singing of No-r-ah instead of Noah.

JasonE

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Re: Vocal Signature Phrases
« Reply #13 on: March 05, 2007, 10:40:34 AM »
I had never thought of it explicitly before this thread, but I guess I have my own signature phrases.

I throw "Good God D@mn" and "Lordy Lordy" in a lot.


Anyone else have their own signatures?


JasonE

(btw, I hope this isn't a thread hijack. It seemed more approapriate than starting a new one, any input?)

Offline Bricktown Bob

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Re: Vocal Signature Phrases
« Reply #14 on: February 09, 2008, 12:29:57 PM »
I think the insertion of the "r" between a syllable ending in a vowel sound and one beginning with a vowel sound is not confined just to Mississippi singers, Chezz.  I have found it in Peg Leg Howell's recordings and Texas Alexander's, as well, so the speech mannerism was found in Georgia and and Texas too, at least to that extent.  Perhaps there's a generational element to its use.  It is certainly most commonly found in singers with Mississippi origins though.

For a while now I've been tracking, in a desultory way, this intervocalic intrusive 'r' with some sort of vague idea of doing something with it.  Examples would be greatly appreciated.  So far I've noted it in these singers:

Big Bill Broonzy, Joe McCoy, Memphis Minnie, Freddie Spruell, Sweet Papa Stovepipe (McKinley Peebles), Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Wille McTell, Leadbelly, Willie Reed, Lightnin Hopkins, Texas Alexander, Muddy Waters, Big Walter Horton, Hosea Woods, George Torey, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Lonnie Clark, Peg Leg Howell, Bo Carter, Walter Vincson, Joe Hill Louis, Mississippi John Hurt, Mississippi Bracey.

Some are represented by only one or two examples (MJH and Muddy, for instance); others (especially Big Bill) do it regularly.  The one Hosea Woods example I've heard is spoken: "Play that harp, Norah, play it."  In "At the Break of Day," Big Bill produces an intervocalic 'n': "I got my arms around the pillow where my baby (n) used to lay."  I seem to remember Blind Boy Fuller using an intervocalic 'm' but I can't put my finger on it right now.

Most of these singers are from Mississippi, but they range from Virginia to Texas -- essentially the range of pre-war country blues.  The prevalence of Mississippians might simply be an artifact of my sample.

One thing I wonder is how much can be attributed to the native dialect of the singer and how much to a presumed "blues dialect."  McTell is interesting in this regard; his dialect seems to float.  Sometimes he does not realize final r's, sometimes he does; sometimes he speaks of Atlanter and Georgie, sometimes of Atlanta and Georgia.  From his talks with John Lomax, I'd guess that his native spoken dialect is rhotic -- but the standard blues dialect is non-rhotic, and that's the way he mostly sings.

In "Rollin' Mama Blues," Ruby Glaze sings: "Want you to roll me, baby, like a baker rolls his dough"; McTell completes the couplet: "And if you gets all my loving you won't want your rider no more."  Now in standard blues dialect dough/more is a true rhyme, with "more" realized as "mo."  But here McTell articulates the 'r' in "more" -- and it's still a true rhyme because Glaze pronounces "dough" as "door."  So, did McTell articulate the 'r' because Glaze said "door," or did Glaze say "door" because she knew McTell was going to articulate the 'r'?

 


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