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My bull's in a pasture where there's no grass, every minute seems like it gonna be my last - Charley Patton, Jersey Bull Blues

Author Topic: Rant: Blue weirdness, cultural irrelevance and Sawmill Moan  (Read 6306 times)

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Offline frankie

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Rant: Blue weirdness, cultural irrelevance and Sawmill Moan
« on: March 30, 2004, 03:29:46 PM »
Re: Sawmill Moan

It's freakin' weird on first listen then starts to make sense.

I listened to it once before bed last night and decided I needed to go back and listen to it a few more times before commenting as I am unfamiliar with this tune.? Like UB says, it didn't make much sense to me! hehe

Trust me - I know what you guys mean.? One of the things I struggle with in my taste (or lack thereof) for blues is the WTF factor.? Seems to me that most blues nerds would have a hard time digesting a tune like this (or just about anything by Ramblin' Thomas or Bo Weavil Jackson) on either a listening or playing level.? You might get some spark of recognition from the real crusty-edged blues nerds, but you can just forget anybody else...? At least with Charley Patton or Blind Boy Fuller, their music has informed (no matter how thinned out) the shape of current popular music.? Musicians like RT were just guys standing on the curb of a backroad that flowed into the superhighway of popular culture.

Granted, I'm probably rendering RT poorly (especially the singing), but most people just have no analog whatsoever for a style like this...

I should explain a little about what I like about the tune, I guess:? the overall impressionism of the tune is what initially drew me to it.? At first, I was also struck by the freedom of his timing and the fearlessness of his musical approach - almost no alternating bass, a nod to a twelve-bar structure, plenty of licks, the voice weaves through it all.? In his own way, Ramblin' Thomas is as impressionistic as Debussy - the chords he uses for colors, the sense of confusion he conveys...? On further listening, I realized that while the tune is initially pretty chaotic-sounding, there's an amazing symmetry in the way he lays out the accompaniment.? One you get past the intro, you've basically got three 'patterns' that are repeated in this way:

ABCBA

With the 'how can I love you' verse serving as that interior 'C' section.

Anyway, my estimation of the piece notwithstanding, I'm conflicted about the idea of performing it - there's no reference point for a tune like this for most people.? I can't think of many players among the old ones who so effortlessly evoke a similar feeling of strangeness (or fearless originality, put another way), and even fewer current-day players whose tastes run to such expression....? but then, it seems to me on most days that most guys think that 'acoustic' blues begins with Robert Johnson, ends with Charlie Patton, makes a nodding acquaintance with Gary Davis and Mississippi John Hurt, and should include Aerosmith...

Awwww nuts, I think my inner grouch came out again.

Kim says to play it anyway - I quote:? "F*** 'em".

Love that woman!

? Last Edit: March 30, 2004, 09:22:57 pm by frankie's 2nd grade math teacher, who thinks this whole blues business is a bad idea, anyway ?
« Last Edit: April 10, 2005, 09:54:55 PM by Johnm »

Offline Slack

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Re: Rant: Blue weirdness, cultural irrelevance and Sawmill Moan
« Reply #1 on: March 30, 2004, 08:41:31 PM »
Thanks for the road map frank, I've printed it out and will use it to listen (sheesh, been much too busy lately, not much time to play on the weenie forum!)

I agree with Kim, your playing is so strong - YOU can pull it off.? You never know, if there is ONE person lsiteing who gets it, well, you;ve done your job.? :D

Also, you've inspired me to go dig out my Document Ramblin Thomas CD and give it a listen (obviously been a while since I've listened to RT).

cheers,
slack
« Last Edit: April 10, 2005, 09:56:46 PM by Johnm »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Rant: Blue weirdness, cultural irrelevance and Sawmill Moan
« Reply #2 on: March 30, 2004, 09:00:43 PM »
Well, someone has to be interested in it if Catfish released a whole CD of the stuff. Maybe I'm the only one who bought it. ;D

I was reading an interview with one of the people involved in the rediscovery period and the reissues in the 60s (can't remember who at the moment) complaining about Blind Lemon, how he couldn't get into him, he was too free form, but he did like Hot Dogs - not exactly a representative Lemon piece. On first listen, a lot of his stuff can be a bit weird I guess - I'm too far gone to know anymore! Not to harp on the similarities with Lemon, but there are definitely similar approaches to playing: the free style, the impressionistic chordal bits, the wacky licks and runs, the dissonance and unusual time.

For that matter, Charley Patton can be a little hard to digest for many people.

I think its great to push the limits of the repertoire, seeking out the lesser known but wonderful players like Ed Bell or RT. John Miller has been doing this in his workshops and in the online lessons for awhile and I always come away with some great tune that's new to me or that I never listened to carefully.

Anyway, I like your version, including the singing. So where are you playing it?  :P


Offline waxwing

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Re: Rant: Blue weirdness, cultural irrelevance and Sawmill Moan
« Reply #3 on: March 30, 2004, 09:10:40 PM »
I know where you're comin' from, Ramblin' Frank (BTW I think that's gotta stick as your "handle"). I was really taken with Sawmill Moan when you played it for us last week, even in the rough. The mp3 sounds great. I absolutely think you should play it. And, as I told you in person, I really think you should be playin' out, a bit, at least. I know, kids and all, but see if you can find a laid back, once a month, happy hour kinda thing. Even in central Jersey there've gotta be a few folks who would support someone with your artistic abilities. And I think you might find some who would be able to hear and appreciate the impressionism of that song. Call me crazy, but I've always been suprised by certain elements in every audience. I'd play it in a second if it was in my bag. Sounds great on that Fraulini'ed Stella, too. I think every artist has to educate their audience. Don't just give in to the norm, you gotta show them what's out there that they haven't heard yet. It always pisses me off that mass media plays to the lowest common denominator. As edgy prewar blues freaks we owe it to each other to play to those who are looking for something different. There, now you got my grouch out, too.
You listen to that woman. And tell her, for me, she makes a fine chocolate torte. Gre says "Hi". Next time we're out we want to hear some fiddle, too.
All for now.
John C.
« Last Edit: March 30, 2004, 09:14:14 PM by waxwing »
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

“Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.”
Joseph Heller, Catch-22

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CD on YT

Offline Rivers

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Re: Rant: Blue weirdness, cultural irrelevance and Sawmill Moan
« Reply #4 on: March 30, 2004, 09:42:25 PM »
You can get away with murder if you tell a good story up front. "This is a really weird song..." sets up people's expectations and you can surf that wave.

"Losin' Out Blues" by Robert Wilkins is one a mutual friend (initials AY) does, explains supposedly for the guitarists present how it took him ages to figure out it goes from C to A flat... the audience then listens out for the strange tones. Works.

Offline frankie

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Re: Rant: Blue weirdness, cultural irrelevance and Sawmill Moan
« Reply #5 on: April 01, 2004, 07:55:17 PM »
Don't just give in to the norm, you gotta show them what's out there that they haven't heard yet

I understand what you're saying, even agree...? it sounds to me like you're much more comfortable performing than I am - I wish I could be more sanguine about it.? I certainly have my own problems with it that are kinda outside the scope of this thread.

Gre says "Hi". Next time we're out we want to hear some fiddle, too.

Hi back at her - I'm sure some fiddle could be arranged for next time.? Some banjo, too - you better be careful!

You can get away with murder if you tell a good story up front. "This is a really weird song..." sets up people's expectations and you can surf that wave.

... the audience then listens out for the strange tones. Works.

Come clean on it, basically - that's an idea.? Not too hard either, because to some degree I think I symapthize with their general feeling of cluelessness, it's just that due to my own boneheadedness or genetic pre-disposition, I was attracted by that sensation rather than repulsed.? Go figure.

On first listen, a lot of his stuff can be a bit weird I guess - I'm too far gone to know anymore

Oi!? Tell me about it...

Not to harp on the similarities with Lemon, but there are definitely similar approaches to playing: the free style, the impressionistic chordal bits, the wacky licks and runs, the dissonance and unusual time.

That's true.? I think that Ramblin' Thomas is one of the only guys (maybe the only) to take something of Lemon's basic feel rather than just copping some lyrics or part of a guitar arrangement, which seems to have been a more common approach.

Anyway, I like your version, including the singing. So where are you playing it?? :P

I was asked to play at a small Old-Time music festival in Coatesville, PA in the middle of May - just a 30 minute slot, so it's not a lot of time to fill...? the audience is going to be people primarliy interested in fiddle-oriented music generally, and probably only peripherally aware of blues at all.? I dunno - I just gotta do what I like...? otherwise there's absolutely no point at all to the whole exercise.

Also, you've inspired me to go dig out my Document Ramblin Thomas CD and give it a listen (obviously been a while since I've listened to RT).

Cool - that's the best compliment I've had all week!
« Last Edit: April 10, 2005, 09:59:57 PM by Johnm »

Offline waxwing

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Re: Rant: Blue weirdness, cultural irrelevance and Sawmill Moan
« Reply #6 on: April 01, 2004, 10:18:19 PM »
Do it, Ramblin' Frank! With your chops you should be way more relaxed than me. I'm serious, you have such a great freewheeling feel, I felt so controlled next to you, which isn't exactly what I'm going for. I just happen to have spent about 30 years as an actor so being in front of a room full of strangers is a little easier to take. Sometime I'll tell you about the TWO times I actually fell asleep, on stage, in front of full houses of 500 people, two different plays, dead center stage both times! But the important thing is, like you just said, play what you like, what turns you on, 'cause it's infectious, the audience can feel it.
And next time, bring on the banjo, we can take it.
All for now.
John C.
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

“Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.”
Joseph Heller, Catch-22

http://www.youtube.com/user/WaxwingJohn
CD on YT

Offline CF

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Re: Rant: Blue weirdness, cultural irrelevance and Sawmill Moan
« Reply #7 on: January 30, 2009, 05:02:05 PM »
Hmm, sorry to piggyback here guys (& reanimate an old thread) (Great insight on 'Sawmill' by the way Frankie . . . & why the hell aren't you playing publicly yet??) but I figured this question didn't need a new thread . . .
I just purchased the Catfish Ramblin' Thomas CD (you're not the only one UB) & I checked the track list against B&GR's RT entry & I see that somewhere between B&GR's publication (4th ed., 1997) & this Catfish release (2000) 'Hard Dallas #4' turned up. Did B&GR just goof (they seem to have no knowledge of its existence) or was this thing stumbled upon? Anyone know any details? I couldn't find anything on a google or WC search. Thanks.
Stand By If You Wanna Hear It Again . . .

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Rant: Blue weirdness, cultural irrelevance and Sawmill Moan
« Reply #8 on: January 30, 2009, 05:27:05 PM »
HI CF - yes, strange there's no listing in B&GR. One for the update thread. Hard Dallas Take 4 does appear on Too Late, Too Late vol 10, DOCD-5601. I have no idea when or how it was found.

No problem reanimating an old thread. Ignore the software warnings.

Offline CF

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Re: Rant: Blue weirdness, cultural irrelevance and Sawmill Moan
« Reply #9 on: January 30, 2009, 06:54:18 PM »
Just hearing this Ramblin' Thomas stuff for the first time . . . whoo-hoo this is some good shit! That break in 'Lock & Key Blues'?? Ridiculous. Frankie, your version of 'Sawmill Moan' is crazy. A++. You really have to hear someone actually cover this material to believe it's possible. & re: performing this kinda song live or getting an audience interested . . . I think that if all you do with it is post an mp3 of your stellar version for sympathetic listeners, well, there's nothing wrong with that. Seriously, John Q. Music fan ain't gonna enjoy it as much as one of us blues nerds anyway. There's a lot of material I play at home for myself. I might show a friend or two who say 'cool', post an mp3 at WC & that's basically it. I'm not saying don't stop trying to convert the masses, keep that up diligently & absolutely, but I've learned that my enthusiam for this arcane stuff is much more personal & rare than I'd like it to be. 
UB, as soon as I posted this here I sat down & remembered I started a thread about B&GR corrections . . . oops! I'll post there later.
« Last Edit: January 30, 2009, 06:56:36 PM by cheapfeet »
Stand By If You Wanna Hear It Again . . .

Offline Rivers

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Re: Rant: Blue weirdness, cultural irrelevance and Sawmill Moan
« Reply #10 on: January 30, 2009, 07:38:54 PM »
Yeah we should hack that warning warning danger will robinson thing to say "Good work! You are about to reactivate a cool topic that went quiet for a while". When you're discussing 70+ year old music it never goes out of style and there's always more to uncover.

Offline Slack

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Re: Rant: Blue weirdness, cultural irrelevance and Sawmill Moan
« Reply #11 on: January 30, 2009, 07:42:34 PM »
Yeah we should hack that warning warning danger will robinson thing to say "Good work! You are about to reactivate a cool topic that went quiet for a while". When you're discussing 70+ year old music it never goes out of style and there's always more to uncover.

I agree, remind me to hack that out - how can there be a 'too old to post' warning for country blues! 

Offline Rivers

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Re: Rant: Blue weirdness, cultural irrelevance and Sawmill Moan
« Reply #12 on: January 30, 2009, 08:12:33 PM »
LOL! We'd never hear from Frontpage again...
« Last Edit: January 30, 2009, 08:17:39 PM by Rivers »

Offline oddenda

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Re: Rant: Blue weirdness, cultural irrelevance and Sawmill Moan
« Reply #13 on: January 30, 2009, 10:56:11 PM »
Hell, brother Jesse can be pretty odd at times, too - consider some of his solo/el gtr releases post war... RPM or Miltone! What an idiosyncratic guitarist.

Peter B.

Offline Bill Roggensack

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Re: Rant: Blue weirdness, cultural irrelevance and Sawmill Moan
« Reply #14 on: January 31, 2009, 12:42:50 AM »
Rivers - what's that you say?
Cheers,
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