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Author Topic: Native American influence in Blues  (Read 7987 times)

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Offline Cambio

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Native American influence in Blues
« on: June 07, 2004, 06:06:39 PM »
Recently on another Forum, someone posed the question about whether or not Charlie Patton was influenced by Native American Music.  He had thought that at times, he heard Native rhythms in some of Pattons music.  The thread didn't go very far.  However,  this is something that I have wondered about for a long time and feel is a neglected area of research, as I too have heard what I perceive to be a Native American influence.  It only makes sense to me that due to the number of tribes that were spread throughout the south and southeast, and due to the Native American ancestry of so many blues musicians, some of the influence had to have been passed down.  I have heard it in some Leadbelly, Blind Willie Johnson and Memphis Minnie and all over the music of the lesser known Eddie Lee Jones.  Now maybe I'm crazy... well OK, maybe I'm crazy on this point, but has anyone else heard or thought about such an influence?  In the past I have wanted to cross reference early Native American field recordings with early blues to see if there are any definable commonalities.  I have to say that I didn't pursue it that hard, but found that early Native American field recordings are hard to come by.  Yazoo or Document hasn't reissued any yet.  So how about it.  Has anyone else heard it?  Is anyone familiar with early Native recordings?  Am I half cocked?
Todd

Offline Johnm

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Re: Native American influence in Blues
« Reply #1 on: June 07, 2004, 06:53:27 PM »
Hi Todd,
I think there is little chance of Native American recordings ending up being re-issued on Yazoo or Document because so little Native American music was ever released commercially, and commercial recordings comprise the backbone of the Yazoo and Document re-issues.  I'm pretty sure Moe Asch put out some Native American music on his old Folkways label, any titles of which are supposed to be available from Smithsonian Folkways--it used to be they would tape you a cassette of any item from the Folkways label which had not been re-issued.  In this day and age, seems like they would burn you a CD.  You might e-mail them for info on the old Folkways catalog.  Other possibilities would be the Library of Congress or various university ethnomusicological archives.  A web search might turn up something. 
Re Native American influence on Charley Patton, I have to admit I don't hear it, but I don't know enough about the Choctaws' music to know its characteristics.  I hear a lot of Mexican/Spanish influence in some of the Country Blues, particularly Leadbelly (Irene Goodnight), Charley Jordan (Hunkie Tunkie) and Charley Pickett (Down The Highway).  Good luck checking this stuff out.
All best,
Johnm   

Offline waxwing

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Re: Native American influence in Blues
« Reply #2 on: June 07, 2004, 07:50:09 PM »
Hey Todd,
Haven't had a chance to welcome you to the WCB. Having discussed your work on various forums it's a pleasure to make your acquaintance.
Did you see my recent post on that thread on the Forum? There has been quite an ongonig discussion on the PWBL about several references by Patton in Down the Dirt (Dark) Road, which seems to be culminating in an article about it in B & R. I'll copy my post here:
There will also be an article in the Words column of B & R by Kieth Briggs, discussing this very lyric. He points out that many of these "Indians" had Blacks as slaves before they were relocated from the south eastern states, and that they took these slaves with them on the "Trail of Tears" to the Indian Nation, which actually only comprised a part of what later became the state of Oklahoma. These slaves later became tribe members and other blacks were welcomed into The Nation, where there was some intermarriage. It seems to be accepted that Charley is referring to his own "Indian" ancestry.
However, in the readings I've done I haven't really seen any mention of Native American influences in the melodic content of the blues. It is a very interesting point. Of course, since most were cleared from the south eastern states before the Civil War, as mentioned above, one would expect their influence would only be in areas near the Nations (OK), such as the Delta and Texas, which is kind of born out if one thinks about it. This might be a great question to pose on the PWBL, so, I just did, what the heck. I'm pretty much a lurker there, but lets see what the pros say.
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 frankie

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Re: Native American influence in Blues
« Reply #3 on: June 08, 2004, 05:22:47 AM »
I've seen this suggested a number of times over the years - part of the problem from my end is that I'm not sure I understand what elements of CP's music (or blues in general) can be attributed to Native Americans.  I guess part of the problem is that I know next to nothing about NA music in any case - the few examples that I've heard sound nothing like blues in any way.  On the other hand, I've never heard anyone define what they describe as "the influence of Native American music".  Is it certain rhythms?  melodies?  song constructions?  types of performance?  I'm not saying that there isn't any influence, just that I'm not sure what's meant beyond some vague feeling that there's some connection.

It's clear that there are a number of references to Native Americans that occur here & there in blues verses, but I have a hard time with defining that as "influence", or as something that informed the music in some strict sense.

Offline Cambio

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Re: Native American influence in Blues
« Reply #4 on: June 08, 2004, 07:12:30 AM »
OK, it is a vague feeling and I have nothing to back it up.  I just thought that it was an interesting thing to think about and possibly look into because, as waxwing points out there is a definate history there and there is some cultural overlap.  After all, blues isn't purely African, as popular culture would lead one to believe, there are lots of influences.  I think that it warrants research.  I'll have to look further into the recordings that John suggests (the remark about Yazoo and Document was a failed attempt at sarcasm).  I have also heard of a female anthropologist who made cylinder recordings of different tribes in the early part of the 20th century.  Ring any bells?

Offline frankie

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Re: Native American influence in Blues
« Reply #5 on: June 08, 2004, 01:55:46 PM »
I don't mean to call you guys on the carpet (you'd probably kick my butt anyway) - I'd be as interested in a real connection as the next guy.  You can browse the Smithsonian Folkways catalog online, and they will make you a CD of anything in their catalog.  It can get expensive, though.  This list might have a few things that could be interesting:

American Indian recordings

I wonder what the Library of Congress might have...

strathchailleach

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Re: Native American influence in Blues
« Reply #6 on: January 27, 2009, 12:36:24 PM »
When I was about 12, I watched a Canadian documentary called 'Walking in a Sacred Manner'. It was made up of quotes from Native Americans, mixed with lots of stills. At the beginning and the end there was audio of Native singing/chanting. I recorded most of the programme it onto old cassette tape. The whole thing is haunting, and the singing stuck with me. When l learnt some blues progressions on the guitar, and I later tried singing them back to myself in the bath, I was suddenly struck with the similarity to the native music. I have wondered at the connection ever since. After googling 'native American influence on blues' this evening, I soon arrived here. I know this thread is old, but do any of you have any developments.

Offline Slack

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Re: Native American influence in Blues
« Reply #7 on: January 27, 2009, 12:52:32 PM »
Welcome strathchailleach!

Offline jpeters609

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Re: Native American influence in Blues
« Reply #8 on: January 27, 2009, 01:11:03 PM »
I came across the following article a while back on the Music Maker Relief Foundation website. It's lengthy, but I pasted it below if you care to read it. It can be found at http://www.musicmaker.org/articles/index.php?ind_article=a040

"American Music's Native Roots"
Native Americans shaped the various sounds and styles of American music
by j. poet, Grammy Magazine - April 22, 2005

To most non-Natives, the music of North American Indians sounds almost otherworldly, the sound of a culture as far removed from the mainstream as may be possible in this modern digital world. That perception, however, is essentially wrong; Native people, like their sisters and brothers from Africa, have been influencing American music and culture ever since the first Europeans, Natives and slaves from Africa met on this continent almost 400 years ago.

Pura F? ? a Tuscarora woman known for her work with Ulali, an a cappella female trio that blends Native music with contemporary styles ? has been investigating the connection between Native and African-American music for decades. On her Follow Your Heart's Desire album, she blends both styles to make this connection clear. "People forget Charley Patton [the Father of the Blues] was Choctaw, Scrapper Blackwell was Cherokee, all the early jazz and blues people were mixed; it was like another race that gave birth to this rich musical culture, a race that's largely been forgotten about. My people, the Tuscarora of North Carolina, were known for harboring runaway slaves ? black, white and Indian. They were escorts on the Underground Railway and helped stir up the slave uprisings that happened around here, so the races have been mixing and influencing each other for a long time.

"The call-and-response thing in blues and gospel and its modulation is what Indians call Stomp Dance," Pura F? explained. "The blues shuffle rhythm is a Round Dance, the heartbeat of Native music. Taj Mahal talked about this with me. I had been singing with Lee Gates, who is Albert Collins' cousin, and he pointed out how similar my wailing was to the sound of Lee's guitar. Taj said that the wailing guitar you hear in rock and blues is the sound of the powwow singers; nowhere in Africa do you hear that kind of guitar playing. It's obviously a Native expression."

"The majority of African-American people have some Native blood," said Taj Mahal, another blues artist who has spent time investigating the connection between African and Native American music and culture. "Oscar Pettiford, Lowell Fulsome, T-Bone Walker, even Snoop Dogg, you can see the Native blood in his face. He's so laid-back and bluesy and has such different sound, possibly a Native sound.

"That fast vibrato you hear in the vocals of Little Brother Montgomery, in songs like the 'Vicksburg Blues,' it's both African and Native. That vibrato and tone, you have to work at it from the back of the throat and nose to crank it and go up into that falsetto that happens. He might look Creole, but when you hear him sing, it's Native America singing.

"There were 100 years where the races blended hard core," Mahal said. "There were Black Indians in jazz, blues, gospel, everything. It's an untapped history and when people start investigating it, they're going to be surprised."

There is one place in the United States where the Black Indian connection is close to the surface: New Orleans. Black Indian tribes like the Wild Magnolias, Wild Tchoupitoulas, Fi Yi Yi and others celebrate their shared heritage every Mardi Gras season. Cyril Neville of the Meters and the Neville Brothers ? a musical family with roots in the African, American Indian, French, Spanish and Caribbean communities ? has been investigating the African?Native American connection all his life. "We have Native blood, but we're not sure what Nation," Neville said. "It goes back hundreds of years. The shuffle and hesitation in the second line rhythm is probably a combination of the two musical cultures. Africans and Natives had similar ways of worshiping and playing music, and they were thrown together by racism and slavery. I think the history of American music is more Native and black than European.

"My uncle, Big Chief Jolly [George Landry of the Wild Tchoupitoulas], said the Black Indian tribes were started out of reverence for the help [Indian Nations] gave us during slavery. There are a lot of Native/black people in this country who have forgotten their tribes and languages and origins. New Orleans is the only place that it's celebrated."

New Orleans also produced songs that trace their origin to both African and Native American roots. "Before the Dixie Cups did 'Iko Iko,' it was done by Danny Barnes, in 1947, as 'Jockamo,'" Neville said. "It's probably a combination of Indian and African with a bit of Creole thrown in, but ask 100 people, you'll get 100 different answers."

Neville says the unique interracial and intercultural blend of New Orleans could be traced back to Congo Square, a gathering place where races and cultures mixed musically, socially and sexually. The square was outside the city proper and served as a market where slaves and Indians sold and bartered goods. Music eventually entered the mix, and gave rise to the New Orleans sound.

"Congo Square was named after the fact," Neville said. "It was a Native gathering place where they probably had corn festivals and harvest festivals. After the Haitian Revolution in 1804, where people with hoes and clubs threw out the French slave masters, the slaveholders in New Orleans ? some of them rich escapees from Haiti ? decided to appease the slaves by letting them blow off steam. My assessment is that in the beginning the Africans were going out there to worship and play music with the Native people and they'd all cook and play music together and eventually it attracted the Europeans. They came to see what the hullabaloo was about and they [the Europeans] started throwing money at the players. It was the first time that Africans played music for anything but to honor the ancestors or religious rituals. The Europeans allowed it so Haiti wouldn't happen in America. That's my version of the story, anyway."

The Tuscarora of North Carolina and the Black Indians of New Orleans are only two echoes of what must have been a common sound in the American South during the early history of our country; Africans, Indians and sometimes European indentured servants mixing cultures, bloodlines and music, but as Pura F? says, the story of this self-created race is still to be told.

"I've been trying to get people to hear these connections and recognize [Native] contributions to the blues for years," Pura F? concluded. "It's an important story and when its descendants tell it right, it will build a bridge between Native music and the mainstream. People will finally acknowledge our part in the creation of American roots music and culture."

(j. poet is the music editor of Native Peoples magazine. He lives in San Francisco and writes about Native, folk, country, Americana and World music for many national and international publications and Web sites.)
Jeff

Offline daddystovepipe

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Re: Native American influence in Blues
« Reply #9 on: January 27, 2009, 03:42:12 PM »
I used to play a lot of Native American flute and since the music for it uses mostly a pentatonic scale it has some simularities with blues.  Bends, whoops and slides are very common. I would place the music more to the field hollers than to country blues as we know it.
The origins of the flute are shady but its construction (two chambers) is unique to North America.

Here are two songs played in a very traditional way - Kevin Locke is the most known player in this style - most of his songs are vocal songs he learned from elders and were transposed to the flute


Offline dj

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Re: Native American influence in Blues
« Reply #10 on: January 27, 2009, 04:33:06 PM »
I don't know enough about Native American music to comment on what it might or might not have influenced, but I'm always wary of statements like "...nowhere in Africa do you hear that kind of guitar playing. It's obviously a Native expression...".  Humans have similar vocal ranges and seem to have hardwired basic musical instincts, no matter what their culture or ethnic origin.  So just because one culture's music sounds like another's doesn't necessarily mean that they're related.  And a lot of the form that instrumental music takes derives ultimately from the capabilities of the instrument.

I'm not saying the two musics are related, and I'm not saying they're not.  I'm just saying beware of the word "obviously".

Offline Rivers

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Re: Native American influence in Blues
« Reply #11 on: January 27, 2009, 06:57:46 PM »
I believe a synthesis was occurring. Patton's ranting, hollering, growling, mumbling and percussion could have at least gained support from something much older.

Patton's the obvious example. Who else can we include in this? Maybe Robert Pete Williams, much later but he sometimes seems to me to be like a shaman, chanting and intoning, playing the guitar mostly for its sounds and with no unhealthy interest in any unnecessary technical stuff. Maybe they were all bombed out of their gourds on peyote.
« Last Edit: January 27, 2009, 07:11:14 PM by Rivers »

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Native American influence in Blues
« Reply #12 on: January 27, 2009, 08:12:01 PM »
Far Fuckin' out Carl! Very Shakuhashi sounding! Really beautiful. Love to learn how you came to study this stuff. The whoops especially are redolent of field hollers and certain Blues.
People have sited "I'm a man's" signature stomp as being native people derived.
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
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Offline Parlor Picker

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Re: Native American influence in Blues
« Reply #13 on: January 28, 2009, 01:43:35 AM »
Stovepipe strikes again! Is there no end to this man's talents?
"I ain't good looking, teeth don't shine like pearls,
So glad good looks don't take you through this world."
Barbecue Bob

Offline Coyote Slim

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Re: Native American influence in Blues
« Reply #14 on: January 28, 2009, 09:44:21 AM »
I don't know enough about Native American music to comment on what it might or might not have influenced, but I'm always wary of statements like "...nowhere in Africa do you hear that kind of guitar playing. It's obviously a Native expression...".  Humans have similar vocal ranges and seem to have hardwired basic musical instincts, no matter what their culture or ethnic origin.  So just because one culture's music sounds like another's doesn't necessarily mean that they're related.  And a lot of the form that instrumental music takes derives ultimately from the capabilities of the instrument.

I'm not saying the two musics are related, and I'm not saying they're not.  I'm just saying beware of the word "obviously".

I have to agree with you on this.  Musical sounds also develop over time.


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Tags: Charlie Patton