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Listen, woman - if you talk in your sleep, don't mention my name - Seven-Foot Dilly and His Dill Pickles, Sand Mountain Drag

Author Topic: Cripple Clarence Lofton - 78 reviews 1939  (Read 1675 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Cripple Clarence Lofton - 78 reviews 1939
« on: July 18, 2007, 12:18:33 PM »
What follows was originally published in 1939 in H.R.S (Hot Record Society Rag) jazz magazine. A reprint appeared in the book "The Art of Jazz" edited by Martin.T. Williams, (Oxford University Press, 1959, p. 95-98) from which this is scanned:

William Russell

Solo Art's latest release offers solos by four outstanding boogie-woogie pianists?Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons, Meade "Lux" Lewis, and Cripple Clarence Lofton. In keeping with his fantastic and enigmatic career, Clarence again does the unbelievable and, even among this fast company, carries off honours as the month's most exciting soloist.

Cripple Clarence could well be regarded as the personification of crude, illiterate musicianship. And by the same token Clarence might be hailed as the ultimate in vitality, freshness, and originality.

It is a generally accepted fact that refinement and elaboration in any art are accompanied by a corresponding decline in vital ruggedness, spirited abandon, and in genuineness and intensity of expression. If one had any doubt of the validity of this observation in application to hot jazz, one need only consider the spontaneity, breadth, and forceful expressiveness of the early and cruder Hot Five recordings. Although Louis Armstrong had technique to spare, he played like a veritable wildman on his early records; and as for Ory and Dodds?they always sounded as though their instruments were in danger of being blown to bits.

Cripple Clarence would appear to be good evidence in support of the theory that the origin of boogie-woogie was due to lack of pianistic skill among those self-taught musicians who were compelled to keep their left hand in one position and constantly repeat a figure.

Clarence takes Pinetop's Boogie Woogie and virtually murders it. Some of the rough outlines are crudely sketched with broad strokes, and there is no difficulty during the first part in recognizing what Lofton is trying to play, but soon he rambles off, guided only by his own most individual and productive imagination. Clarence, who boasts that Pine Top was "his boy," and who attempts to show Yancey and Lux how to play, would not hesitate to cut Rachmaninoff, were he by mistake to get into Chicago's Orchestra Hall some evening.

In recent years there has appeared a lot of pretentious nonsense about the unconventional length of the "conventional 12 bar blues." Those who rave about this unusual "folk pattern" would have a tough time explaining Clarence's peculiar phrase and period lengths. In his version of Pinetop's Boogie Woogie, his first three choruses are respectively eleven, ten, and twelve measures in length. In the latter part of the piece Clarence favours fourteen bar construction, with a final chorus of 14 1/2 for good measure. Odd phrase lengths were likewise in his previous Solo Art recording of Streamline Train and Had A Dream, and in I Don't Know, in which pairs of 19 and 20 bar choruses are followed by one of 19 1/2. Quite evidently Clarence did not set out either to make his music screwy, or mathematically complicated?he just played the notes to express what he felt, and couldn't be bothered to count out the number of beats. After all, Clarence does not even regard himself as a pianist, but simply as a singing entertainer who has made good money in his day: "Man, I've made as much as $300 a night," he has said.

The musician's union considers that Clarence is just an amateur. Once upon a time Clarence was accustomed to rove around the vast desolate spaces of the dilapidated and dark South State Street section of Chicago, stopping in every joint that had a piano, "breaking it down" as soon as the regular pianist or orchestra got off the stand. But never having collected enough cash to join the union, he has been chased out of all the dives in which he was once welcome.

An amateur is not to be regarded with condescension, however. A perusal of the history of music and other arts shows that many important creative innovations have been due to the amateur. Usually in art a new style has its beginnings with the people, and not with cultivated performers. Although Clarence has his own kind of virtuosity, which could never be matched by any professional concert pianist, he has preserved much of the freshness, originality, and especially the enthusiasm of an amateur. He has the rare quality of being able to send himself, and is not dependent upon the inspiration of others, or certain favourable conditions, for a rousing performance.

Absolute steadiness in tempo is often considered one of the most essential skills of a good musician. An examination of Clarence's tempi discloses that not only is his closing tempo usually faster than the beginning, but that certain phrases within this gradual acceleration are frequently rushed or retarded. Unless one believes that metronomic rigidity is the rule of life, one must admit that Lofton's free and perhaps even lax procedure is more natural and normal. Certainly the effectiveness and excitement of many dances call for constantly accelerated tempi. It is rather an arbitrary and illogical standard which requires an immobile tempo to be maintained, as though the body of the dancer, once set in motion, must be considered a mechanical clock piece.

Just as Clarence plays in only two different keys, C and G, he tends to maintain his tempi, in all his pieces, around two general speed centres?fast (about 126) and slow (92).

I Don't Know is one of the most amazing piano solos ever waxed. After an amusing one-finger introduction (even then he hits a bum note), Clarence drives into his prize piece with great zest. This solo was originally a vocal number, and after five choruses, in place of a vocal, there occurs a most unusual interlude which sounds somewhat like the "vamp till ready" introductions of early ragtime days.

Especially in the left hand part, with its frequent open fifths in the manner of medieval organum, a distinct modal feeling is prevalent. Actually the bass line does lie within the Dorian mode. As Clarence develops the queer interlude motif and combines it with the original thematic material, some very weird and interesting clashing of harmonies occurs. Accidentally or otherwise, Clarence has stumbled across the most unusual harmony ever used in a blues or boogie-woogie composition. No one can complain of "monotonous tonic and dominant" harmonies in I Don't Know.

When Qualey hopped the bus and went to Chicago last year to record Clarence, he pulled a real prize out of the bag. Maybe Clarence never in his life got a vote in a favourite musicians poll, but there are more kicks and original ideas per inch on these sides than the big ten ever put on record.


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Re: Cripple Clarence Lofton - 78 reviews 1939
« Reply #1 on: July 18, 2007, 01:52:59 PM »
Tha'ts cool, I've been reading and listening to Clarence a lot lately, I like how they described his cover of Pinetop's Boogie.

« Last Edit: July 18, 2007, 01:54:09 PM by mississippijohnhurt1928 »


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Re: Cripple Clarence Lofton - 78 reviews 1939
« Reply #2 on: July 18, 2007, 02:01:15 PM »
Anyone who wants to hear the records that are mentioned in the article can find samples Here:

Online dj

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Re: Cripple Clarence Lofton - 78 reviews 1939
« Reply #3 on: July 18, 2007, 02:37:14 PM »
Thanks for the two Clarence Lofton posts, Bunker Hill.  The dates of publication are a welcome and regularly needed reminder to me that it wasn't my generation - roughly those born in the first 10 or 12 years after the war - that discovered the blues, but that an earlier generation of collectors and researchers did a lot of the work of discovery for us.

Clarence does not even regard himself as a pianist, but simply as a singing entertainer

Given this, it's ironic that so much of Lofton's recorded legacy is instrumental.  He really was an enthusiastic, expressive, and effective singer.     


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